Visionary legend Maya Angelou, known for her 1969 debut novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, among many other award-winning compositions, exemplifies the unshakable fearlessness and grace cultivated among someone who embraces their individuality. Angelou was the first black woman in the 20th-century to release an autobiography that reached such a large, comprehensive audience. Documenting her encounters of the Jim Crow South, Angelou turned her struggles into triumphs. Her lyrical accounts throughout her life embody the importance of maintaining courage and strength, prioritizing self-love, and being a guiding light for others.
Maya Angelou is one of the first people that comes to mind when I consider what symbolizes the importance of upholding one’s individuality and finding beauty in their imperfections.
Through studying Angelou’s work and overcoming some of my own life experiences, I have become very passionate about empowering others to discover the power within the differences they hold.
I call this the Maya Mindset.
Your differences are the only thing separating you from everyone else. Conforming to societal standards only dims your light and limits your ability to assist others who may benefit from your different perspectives and diverse sources of knowledge. I strongly believe we are not supposed to be like everyone else. Consider some of the most influential female leaders: Alice Walker, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. These leaders are impactful because they provide something others don’t; they lead through their unique distinctions, not by parallelling already existing beliefs and ideas.
Being different helps you make a difference. In an interview, Angelou states, “courage is the most important of all the virtues. Without courage you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.” Courage to take on a battle head-on. Courage to think, look and feel differently in a world where most people submit to silence. She goes on to explain how through fostering self-love and discovering her unique talents (i.e. writing, poetry, singing as well as being a memoirist, and civil rights activist), she was then able to become a blessing to others. This process of self-discovery is imperative, as you can not offer anyone anything you can not offer yourself. That’s the issue with today’s society. We are encouraged to “fit in” and behave in a way that is reflective of the general population. Our ability to serve others in this role is restricted because it comes from a place of naivete and deceptiveness.
How do we teach others to love themselves if we don’t love ourselves first?
This idea of conformity resides from the idea that relationships are only acquired by having things in common with others. There is some truth in this; the initial connection may it be similar interests and beliefs are what attracts you to certain people. But passively absorbing thoughts and ideas of others without critical consideration in the form of feedback diminishes value within a relationship. How do diverse views and perspectives come about? Through our differences and our ability to be innovators; distinctive of progressive thinking versus stagnant thought.
A power each of us hold but very few actually utilize.
Reflecting on the importance of embracing individuality, I think about those who have influenced me: my parents, my grandparents, my brother, close friends, and mentors. All these people found strength in themselves during times of darkness; this is always apparent in the way people lead through their words and actions, the way they pour into you. Maya Angelou talks about the adversity she’s endured, those dark times in her life when someone came in and acted as a guiding light. She states, “I’ve had rainbows in my clouds, and the thing to do is prepare yourself so that you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” Embracing your individuality is a form of self-love; love that acts as a support system not only for yourself but others you come in contact with throughout your life.
Others observe every word we speak, our actions, decisions, and beliefs. We influence people who look up to us, whether we are aware of it or not. Therefore it’s crucial always to be the best version of yourself so that you can be a blessing to others. You never know when you’ll so desperately need a rainbow in your clouds.
We should all desire to leave here, knowing we positively impacted others’ lives, that our legacy lives on years after we are gone. As Maya Angelou might say, through embracing our individuality, we have the power to keep rising.
This week I encourage you to take note of what makes you different. Dive back into things you once loved: writing, painting, drawing, playing an instrument, photography, whatever it may be.
Pour into yourself, so that when the time comes, you can step up and be a leader for someone else!
All my love,