Lessons From A Shining Star - Maya Angelou

Oft quoted, there's so much we can learn from Maya Angelou - notably one of the most inspirational teachers, poets and authors of our time.

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Today the world mourned the loss of US poet, activist and author, Maya Angelou. She passed away at her home aged 86.

Maya was one of America's national treasures and, in recent years, one of the most quoted females on topics ranging from equality and peace to tolerance and forgiveness. Her multi-volume memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is considered an American classic.

Her life story is rich in personal trials and tribulations having overcome many adversities from childhood rape and teenage pregnancy to racial discrimination and prostitution. She used those dark experiences in her work to inspire others, thus becoming a poster woman for diversity and the celebration of life itself.

Oft quoted, there's much we can learn from Maya - notably one of the most inspirational teachers, poets and authors of our time.

From practising kindness by trying "to be the rainbow in someone's cloud," and focusing on making others FEEL good, as Maya noted, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel," to practising forgiveness - "It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody," she said, or making the most of every precious moment: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away." Indeed Maya had a lot of wisdom to pass on.

But the one quote that sticks with me, that I use and spread through my work as a promoter of the concept of flourishing, is this:

"You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."

Therein lies the key to well-being. Your decision to respond a certain way to all that happens to you, even the very worst stuff, even when times are tough, especially when times are tough.

When bad stuff happens to you or to people we cherish, those events can reduce you to tears; reduce you to bitterness. They can dilute your passion and drive and reduce your spirit. As such, a tragic circumstance or awful adversity can define you and determine how you behave, think, feel from that moment onwards. You become a victim of those circumstances.

Or, conversely, those terrible times can act as fuel to spur you onward. Instead you can accept that you can't change the past and that negative events have shaped you in a positive way. Try it...

  1. Write down three sad experiences that you no longer wish to dwell on and, next to that event, write down one or two positive lessons that it taught you about yourself. For example, to appreciate all that you do have, that you are stronger than you thought you were because you got through it somehow, that you have supportive friends, that you were lucky not to get that job because rejection led you to a new career that you love, and so on.
  2. Consider how you have coped in the past with challenges and setbacks; who has supported you? Which character strengths have helped you through? Resilience is the ultimate key to psychological and emotional fitness. When you realise that you did it, you came through a dark period in your life, you realise that you are better equipped and more resilient than you thought you were. You're still here. Even when the worst case scenario happened, it was the worst feeling ever, but you survived and here you are. Wounded but alive, and with so much more to give, receive and enjoy.
What's done is done. You can't do anything about events that have happened to you, but you can choose how you react and respond to them; how you use them to bolster your strength and resilience and what you learn from them.

Sometimes those events really do make us stronger. Downpours of rain happen so that we cherish the sunshine and appreciate the blue skies when they appear. If life was rosy all the time we wouldn't appreciate it and we wouldn't grow. We're the sum of all that happens to us, including all the crappy stuff. If there was no struggle, there'd be no joy of achievement, so we should value the rain. Let's face it, when life is down, the only way is up. Misfortune and mistakes provide us with learning opportunities; tragedies provide us with the chance to recognise what really matters in life and to value what we do have.

Ultimately, if we let ourselves be reduced by events we create a double loss (the event and the negative feeling of sadness, heartbreak, bitterness, resentment or anger).

So let's honour Maya who suffered many harsh tribulations in her own life and could've cracked and let those events define her in a negative way. She didn't and went on to empower and inspire many. Let's make that right choice, because life is precious. Lets decide to let events empower and strengthen us rather than reduce and weaken us.

You can follow Cheryl on Twitter @theflourishers

Cheryl Rickman is author of The Flourish Handbook and creator of The Flourish Challenge.

Cheryl Rickman

Flourisher, Ghostwriter, WellBeing Ambassador & Author of The Flourish Handbook, -

Aiming to make the world a little less frowny and a lot more appreciative, positive & resilient