Author and poet, Dr. Maya Angelou inspired many during her incredible life. As President Obama so beautifully put it, she is “one of the brightest lights of our time.”
One fascinating aspect about Maya Angelou’s career is that it had many pivots. Long before she became famous for her writing or her civil rights activism, she had already been a dancer, streetcar conductor, cook, prostitute and madam, calypso singer, magazine editor in Cairo, a Tony-nominated actress and an administrative assistant in Ghana.
The 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree has shared so much of her wisdom with the world, but this piece, an excerpt from a letter to her younger self, spoke particularly loudly to us:
“Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin - find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.
The person may have keener eyesight, a better ear, the person might have a more live body and can dance, but the person cannot be more human than you.
That is very important because that ensures you that you are a human being and nothing human can be alien to you.
You will be able to go around the world, learning languages, speaking to everybody, because no one can be more human than you or be less human.
They can be meaner or crueler, or sweeter or prettier, younger, richer, but they can’t be more human than you. Remember that.”
On your quest to live in the grey, don’t compare your journey to the journeys of others. While each of us has different talents, we are all human. Use the stories of others to inspire you, as you would a beautiful piece of art, but remember you are just as human - no more, no less - as them.
We all make mistakes, we’ve all been wrong, and we’ve all failed (often times, horribly). We all arrive at our own pace. Allow yourself that freedom and balance the passion you have with patience.
Thank you, Dr. Angelou for sharing your beautiful art with us.