Throughout Maya Angelou's 86 years, she provided the world with countless bites of wisdom—particularly with her critically-acclaimed written works. With a plethora of noteworthy poems and books under her belt, Angelou's wise words are never too far out of one's reach.
Recently, Angelou began trending on account of news that she's appearing on a new batch of U.S. quarters and being honored with a Barbie doll. While she's making headlines, now would be a good time for young adults and adolescents to take the time to soak in some of her teachings.
In Angelou's honor, we're looking back on a few different life lessons we can learn from some of her works.
Never shy away from speaking your truth
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you," Angelou notes in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her first memoir.
This quote takes on additional power when you acknowledge that Angelou opened up about her traumatic upbringing and childhood— effectively reclaiming her story by sharing her truth with the world.
As young Americans continue to break generational curses and practice emotional transparency, it's essential to acknowledge the trailblazers, like Angelou, who exemplified the power that exists in breaking down one's walls and truly sharing their truth.
Embrace love's paradoxes
In "A Brave and Startling Truth," Angelou drops some words of wisdom on love.
"Love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free. A Brave and Startling Truth, she writes.
With these reflective words, she puts a core paradox of love on full display, notably, it requiring wholehearted commitment while simultaneously bringing about true freedom. However, rather than lamenting it, Angelou instead celebrates this contradiction, referring to it as a "Brave and Startling Truth"—a pill that's tough to swallow but must nonetheless be faced.
Readers can take these words as advice to approach love with an open mind while embracing the journey.
Honor yourself above all else
"Don't let the man bring you down," Angelou notes in The Heart of a Woman, her fourth memoir.
While this is objectively a rather generic saying, young adults nonetheless have to keep it in the back of their minds at all times. Some individuals are just itching to ruin another person's life, and anyone can switch up and show nefarious intentions.
In an uncertain world, one has to be firm in their convictions and determined not to let people with bad intentions get a hold of them. "The man" can represent various adversaries, but—no matter the situation—one has to remember always to put themselves first and stay true to their desires.
Practice self-love and affirmations
Angelou was out here saying affirmations long before it was trendy, and "Phenomenal Woman" is the perfect example of this. Throughout this powerful piece, she continually writes, "I'm a woman phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me."
This poem serves as a reminder to celebrate yourself and never think about practicing self-hatred. While the entire piece embraces self-love, the repetition of the lines mentioned above truly exemplifies the power within affirmations.
Partnering this poem up with Whitney Houston's rendition of "I'm Every Woman" is sure to give the boost of confidence everyone needs now and then!
Cherish those close to you
In another poem, "Alone," Angelou seemingly cautions readers against lives of solitude. "Alone, all alone. Nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone," she writes.
From this somber message, young adults gain a different perspective on loneliness. It's common to long for some alone time or cut people off now and then, but Angelou reminds us that nobody can thrive in true solitude.
This piece serves as a cautionary tale against embarking on lives of loneliness, giving young readers a new perspective on just how valuable their friendships and bonds genuinely are.
Don't let adversity crush your spirit
"Still I Rise" is one of Angelou's most well-known poems, and its inspirational lines seem to lend one strength and resolve instantly. In short, she expresses that she will continue to rise above all the obstacles thrown her way.
"You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I'll rise," she noted.
This piece explicitly encourages readers never to falter or cave in, a lesson that can be particularly inspirational for people going through rough patches in their lives. The lessons from this piece are rooted in the power that one can channel with a firm soul and genuinely change people's lives for the better.
Let's keep these six lessons in mind as we continue to honor Maya Angelou's legacy.