19 simple lessons from Maya Angelou that will change your perspective on life

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American poet, civil rights leader and author Maya Angelou (Marguerite Johnson) changed the world forever. 

Angelou grew up in beginnings so miserable that many wouldn’t have made it out, but in the heart of the pain and tragedy of her life she found unshakeable courage and strength. 

Growing up in the segregationist South, she was raped as a young child by her boyfriend’s mother who was murdered as a result. 

Angelou was struck mute, unable to talk from the trauma for a number of years until climbing her way out of the nightmare through a series of hard jobs. 

Becoming a celebrated writer, actress and activist, Angelou changed America and the world with what she had to say about justice, perseverance and meaning. 

Here are the simple lessons from Maya Angelou that will change how you see life forever. 

1) Respect and love yourself

Angelou emphasizes that it all starts with respecting yourself

Know your value and stand up for it. 

You’re here for a reason and you have huge potential. Believe in that!

“If I am not good to myself, how can I expect anyone else to be good to me?”

2) Love those who gave you life 

Many of us have difficult family situations or even parents who we’ve fought with. 

Angelou is understanding of that but she exhorts us to love our parents while they’re here. 

“I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life.”

3) Don’t overvalue people who don’t value you

In a world of swiping and hookups, Angelou has advice that has stood the test of time. 

Don’t ever chase somebody who doesn’t care about you or just wants you as a backup.

It’s a waste of time and you’ll lose your self-respect in the process. 

”Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”

4) Love is worth the pain 

Angelou had struggles with love and knew the pain when it doesn’t work out the way we hope it will. 

But she never gave up her belief that love is absolutely worth it. 

“First best is falling in love. Second best is being in love. Least best is falling out of love. But any of it is better than never having been in love.”

5) Love is looking for you

Many of us have experienced the pain of feeling we’ll never meet a real match or find the love we’re hoping for. 

Angelou urges you to trust in life and know that love is looking for you. 

Love is already on its way, trust the process. 

“To those who have given up on love: I say, “Trust life a little bit.”

6) Save your energy for those who matter most

Many of us find it hard to love those closest to us. 

Angelou advises the opposite: 

Appreciate what you have and show love to those close to you, instead of giving it away to strangers or random people you come across. 

“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers.”

7) Complaining is for suckers 

When things get rough, many of us turn to complaining. 

This has the unfortunate effect of reinforcing what’s wrong. 

Unless complaining is aimed at actual change, Angelou is not a fan.

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

8) Never stop learning

Life is a process of continual learning, and Angelou suggests treating our experiences as a giant feedback loop. 

You do what you know how to do, and continually upgrade as you improve your knowledge.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

9) How you treat others leaves a permanent mark

This is one of Angelou’s most famous teachings:

That how you treat people around you is extremely important. 

Never downplay it and always remember that the energy you put out can change (negatively or positively!) somebody’s whole life… 

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

10) Stop giving abusers respect

Angelou worked for a time as an escort and many jobs at the lower rungs of society. 

She saw how some people treat you when nobody’s watching and you don’t have social status. 

And she advised that when somebody shows you they have bad intentions or behavior, stop giving them chances. 

Respect yourself and your boundaries! 

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

11) Focus on what’s in your control

Angelou’s advice rivals the best self-help writers out there, in fact I’d say it’s better. 

She tells us all to focus on what’s in our control instead of worrying about death, illness and accidents out of our control. 

Take that energy and use it for something in your control!

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”

12) Be proactive in your life

Angelou could have stayed a victim forever. 

But she refused to do so and cultivated a can-do attitude the rest of her life, even signing her signature with joy! written above it. 

Instead of waiting to see what life throws your way, start throwing back! Have your own dreams and your own plans. 

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.”

13) Creativity generates more creativity 

The greatest thing about being artistic and creative is that it’s not a finite resource. 

In fact, as Angelou pointed out, the more you create the more energy you get. 

The momentum continues to build and build!

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

14) We can only learn from history by facing it

Angelou cautions us that the best way to avoid repeats of the worst parts of history is to be honest about it. 

We can’t undo what’s been done, but we can find out the truth and face it.

“History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again.”

15) Live life with style and panache

If anybody knew how to live life fully with pizzazz and style, it was Angelou. 

She urges all of us to start seeing life as a place to thrive and love our time instead of just a mortal sentence to serve out impassively. 

Live a little!

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

16) Take a real break from time to time

In the midst of all the noise and hubbub, Angelou understood the need for a real break. 

This is when you shut off all the devices, close your eyes and listen to the water lapping on the shore or the birds singing. 

Treat yourself!

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.”

17) Try to laugh as much as you cry

A life well lived includes finding humor in the midst of the pain. 

For Angelou this means that when you look back on your life you see as many moments of true, deep laughter as you do of tears. 

“The main thing in one’s own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.”

18) Find your passion and pursue it with your whole heart

What makes you lose track of time and feel more alive than you ever believed possible?

Angelou advises you to find that and then double down on it. 

Do what you love and love what you do. The rest will fall into place.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

19) The ultimate meaning of life is…

Angelou, who passed away in 2014 at age 86, offers all of us simple advice about life.

If you want to know the ultimate meaning of life, it’s to care about somebody else for real. 

If you have this in your friendships, in relationships, in your family and in your work, then you have found and made the meaning of your life. 

“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.”

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