Peace is something that we all say we want, but few of us actually possess. What makes peace so elusive? Perhaps peace eludes us because we do not understand what it is or we do not chase it with the same fervor as our other goals. In this article, I’ve invited four female winners of the Nobel Peace Prize to teach us what they know about peace. From closely observing their lives, we learn how we too can become women of peace.
There are nine women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. For the sake of brevity, I’ve only presented four of these award winning women here. They come from various nationalities, religious traditions, and socio-economic statuses. Yet, each of these women distinguished themselves by living a life dedicated to peace. There example encourages others to do the same.
Mother Theresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Born into an Albanian Roman Catholic family in Yugoslavia, she felt called as a teenager to a life of service to the poor and disenfranchised. At the age of 18 Mother Theresa left her family and country to live a life of service in Calcutta, India. She worked with people who were not of her race, religion or nationality. Mother Theresa committed herself to working with the poorest of the poor. She established a new order, Missionaries of Charity, to do precisely that. Missionaries of Charity soon spread to many other countries. This order mobilizes thousands of people around the world to join Mother Theresa in her mission of peace.
Jane Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Jane Addams was born in the suburbs of Chicago to an affluent and privileged family. Addams is known as one of the founding mothers of sociology and social work. Although she considered herself a sociologist, Addams chided the profession of sociology for its elitism and sexism. She advocated a vision of academic knowledge used in the service of society. She wanted sociology to solve some of our world’s most pressing problems, such as poverty and war. Addams was a lead advocate on both these issues.
Addams founded the country’s first settlement house: Hull House. Hull House provided comprehensive community based services to low-income and immigrant families in Chicago. Hull house became the model for social service delivery across the country and around the world. Addams also regularly lectured on peace and the need to end war in this world. She served as the president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom for a decade. Through her teaching, writing, and organizations, Addams embodied the virtue of peace and encouraged others to do the same.
Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991; but she could not be present to accept it because she was imprisoned by the military dictatorship of what is now Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned for her leadership role in a peaceful, non-violent, social movement for the liberation of her nation of Burma. She modeled her life of peace based on the tactics of Gandhi and her father Aung San who was also a leader in the liberation struggle. Aung San Suu Kyi continued their legacy of peace, holding tight to the principles of democracy, respect for human rights, reconciliation between groups, non-violence, and personal and collective discipline.
In 1992, The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rigoberta Menchu Tum “in recognition of her work for social justice and ethnocultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.” Tum is a Mayan Indian born in Guatemala. Military soldier murdered her mother and brother and burned down the building where her father and his compatriots were gathered in peaceful protest. This pervasive regime of state sanctioned violence led Tum’s remaining sisters to join the guerrilla resistance force. Yet, Tum remained steadfast in her commitment to nonviolent resistance.
Even when personally confronted with such brutal violence, Rigoberta Tum refused to perpetuate that cycle. The chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee describes Tum as “the shining individual examples of people who manage to preserve their humanity in brutal and violent surroundings, of persons who for that very reason compel our special respect and admiration. Such people give us a hope that there are ways out of the vicious circle.”
So what do these women of peace have in common? What do these patterns tell us about the necessary components of peace?
These women shared a unshakable believe that the world should and could be better than it was in the present. They believed in the intrinsic value of human life and worked diligently to preserve that life. It did not matter if the life represented a gender, racial, ethnic, religious, political group different than their own. Their commitment to peace required these women to challenge the social, economic, and political systems threatening the well being and security of others. This shared faith in the value and dignity of humanity comes from a variety of different religious traditions as well as secular humanism. The virtue of peace itself models the common brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity. It is only once we realize this that we can ever posses peace.
These women did not have easy lives. Their commitment to peace cost them dearly. Sometimes it costs them their freedom and security. For others it costs them their personal and professional relationships and social standing. Many of the women who won the Nobel Prize were unable to make it to the presentation ceremony because of exile, imprisonment, or deteriorating health. These women had given their all in the service of others and we continue today to reap the benefits of their labor.
These women worked diligently for peace in the face of strong opposition. They did this because they believed that their goal would eventually be realized. Their faith in evident in their clear resolution to struggle against odds, to withstand various disappointments and defeats, and to never to give up. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul writes about this type of faith when he encourages his fellow believes to do all that they can and then to stand. Stand in the confidence that God is standing with you and is working to bring about the peace you seek. Although the women of peace presented here come from various religious traditions, they each demonstrated great, unshakable faith.
It is precisely that unshakable faith that gave these women the courage to act in such dangerous times. It took great courage for Aung San Suu Kyi and Rigoberta Menchú Tum to stand up to the soldiers who threatened them. It took courage Mother Theresa to commit to living the rest of her life in a foreign land with people who did not share her culture, religion, ethnicity, or social standing. Jane Addams demonstrated great courage in her decision to commit all her talents and resources in solving a problem that most people thought of as “the natural way of things.”
We honor these women of peace because they symbolize the best in us. They are ordinary women who have done extraordinary things. They show us the beautiful and powerful pieces of ourselves that may have been forgotten or overlooked. So how can we use their legacy to help us practice lives of peace?
It does not matter if others agree with or can see your vision. Women of peace have learned how to focus in on their vision of the beauty and dignity of life, in spite of the brutality that surrounds them. They know that even if others may be living according to such base motivations, there is an underlying reality that is more beautiful and more true. This vision fuels their actions and empowers them to create the world they already see within.
You too possess this creative power. Whatever you focus on will direct your behavior and magnify its presence in your life and in our world. It requires effort to see beauty in the midst of brutality. The fact that others do reminds us that this too is our choice. The lives and legacy of these women of peace show us that this is also the most effective choice. As Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Hate can never drive out hate; only love can do that.”
You have the power to choose your vision. What do you see?
You do not create the life you seek by merely wishing it. It requires consistent and sustained action. We learn from the lives of these women that peace is not a passive attribute. Peace requires action. We create peace for ourselves and others based on the choices that we make each day.
Many times the choice for peace is the more difficult choice. It is easier to go with the flow and model what everyone else is doing. But everyone else does not have peace. They do not see your vision of life as it can be. Thus, they need you to show what is possible. Our world needs for you to “bring peace” with you so that we can see a better vision of life as it can be.
The fact that others don’t already see your vision means that you will need faith to carry it through to reality. Your faith in your vision, yourself, and the righteousness of your cause empowers you to stand in the face of opposition. Whether that faith is grounded in a specific religious tradition, a more general spirituality, or a secular humanism, your faith ensures your victory.
Most people do not believe that peace is possible. I see this in the political discussions of nations eager to go to war. I see our eye for an eye thinking in the street code of violence or public discussions about the death penalty. I see the lack of faith in peace in our tolerance of poverty and injustice. While we might say that we want peace, most of us think of it more like a children’s fairytale or Santa Claus.
But there are some of us who believe in the practical reality of peace. Like these Nobel Peace Prize winners, we know that peace is not just a way, but the only way to ensure our individual and collective well-being and survival. If you share this faith, guard it dearly. Protect it against the cynicism, fear, and apathy that would try to undermine your vision. Faith is the bullet proof vest that you can use to protect your vision for peace.
Courage does not mean fearless. Courage is the ability to act in the face of your fears. Courage empowers you to follow your internal compass when it leads you on a path different from those around you.
These women of peace were also women of courage . There vision of what should be inspired them to act courageously in the face of the world as it was. Their courageous action inspired others to do the same. Your individual actions posses that same power to enact change and to inspire others to do the same.
There’s no need to wait for someone to say or do something about this situation. You are here. Stop waiting, step into your vision, and act courageously. Others will be blessed by your example.
I’d love collecting stories of inspirational women; some famous and some unknown. Please share believe your personal role models of peace. You might also like to post quotes or resources that help you to live a life of peace. Thank you for demonstrating the faith, hard work, and courage that it takes to make your vision a reality!
How can effective time management help us support ourselves? Many of us are great supporters of other people. But, we have never thought about what it means to support ourselves. We are great supporters of our family and friends. Great advocates for the social issues we care about. We take pride in the myriad of ways we help others achieve their goals. So what does it mean to support yourself?
Supporting yourself involves the same activities we engage in to support others. Supporting yourself means developing your capacity to live your best life. It means directing your attention and resources in developing your potential to the fullest. This involves investing the time to needed to identify your life purpose. Then, focusing with laser like precision on expressing that purpose in your life. Effective time management enables you to create a life that supports you.
I have been obsessed with time management ever since I can remember. As a child I loved the book Cheaper By The Dozen. I was enthralled by the father who sought to do everything in the most efficient manner possible. This made sense to me because I knew that time was a limited resource.
Time is the great equalizer, in that we all are given the same 24 hrs in a day. How we spend those 24 hours determines how many days and how fulfilling the future days will be. I remember my father explaining to me that if our entire lives were compressed into a day, we would only be in school for a few hours. But, those few hours of the day would make the rest of the day more enjoyable. I’d have resources and freedom to pursue my inner desires. That seemed like a fair trade to me and I decided that suffering through a little bit of pain or boredom was a reasonable exchange for my future enjoyment.
I spent much of my time trying to find the most efficient way to manage my obligations. This would enable me to have the most enjoyment of the rest of my life. This approach to time management was limited in its effectiveness. As the tasks I had to do became longer and more complicated, the dreaded tasks still took many hours, weeks, months or years. Worse yet, I was setting myself up to live my life “later”, after I had completed X, Y, or Z tasks.
I know that I am not the only one who struggles with this approach to work and life. Many people are waiting for “the summer”, “the next promotion”, “retirement”, “marriage”, “children”, “an empty-nest”, ect until you feel free to “live your life”. Stop waiting. Now is the only time you have. Now is the perfect time to support yourself.
Completing the tasks in front of you and enjoying your life need not be mutually exclusive activities. You do not have to wait for “your turn” after you have finished all the tasks on everyone else’s list. You can structure your daily activities, and your life, so that you are productive AND filled with excitement and joy. The secret is learning how to manage your energy.
Many people mistakenly think that enhancing your capacity to be creative and productive is only about managing your time. While time management is important, managing your energy is a more effective means to enhancing your creativity and productivity. Managing your energy requires becoming more aware of your moment by moment energy levels and the life factors that influence them. As you become more aware of what influences your energy level, you can delegate energy draining activities and limit your exposure to energy draining people.
Like time, your energy is a valuable and limited resource. If you do not manage it well, you will find that there is no energy left for you to do the things that you want to do. You don’t have the energy left to write your book, exercise, socialize, ect. Even though these activities are important to you, you can’t find time to do them. At the end of the day, all you have energy for is vegging out on tv and dreaming about your future life. The future is when you believe that you will have the opportunity to live out your desires.
Unlike time, you can actually “create” more energy. By managing your activities well, you can plant seeds that will “grow” your energy levels. You do not have to settle for your current amount of energy. You can expand your energy reservoir by intentionally choosing energy expanding activities. This approach to life will enable you to get more done and feel better about yourself and your life in the process.
Below I discuss two actions will substantially expand your energy levels while improving your productivity and creativity. Implementing these actions, will help you to go to bed happier, having accomplished more in your day, sleep better, and wake up feeling more refreshed and excited about your day. This is how you support yourself. This is giving yourself what you need to live your best life now, not “someday when…”
I encourage you to practice these two actions daily. Make sure to track the changes you observe in yourself and your life as you do.
The definition of energy expanding activities is any thought or action that fills you with energy and joy as you take part. For obvious reasons, what counts as an energy expanding activity varies from person to person.
To identify your energy expanding activities, you can track your energy levels throughout the day. On a hourly basis, asses you energy level on a scale of 1-10. Notice, how the level increases or decreases throughout the day. Write down recent activities that you think might be associated with the changes in your energy level.
Try to identify at least 20 energy expanding activities of various forms. Some you can do with others, some you do alone, some cost money, so are free. You get the point. The goal is to have a variety of energy expanding activities that you can add to your day on a regular basis. You also want to have some that you can add “as needed” to help pull you up after an unexpected energy draining activity. Think of this as your emergency self-care kit.
Too often we blur the lines between these two types of activities. That is a serious drain on our energy level and a damage to our quality of life. But, when you distinguish the must list from the should list, you can manage your energy more effectively.
“Must list” is important because it helps you achieve what you truly want. It is connected to your life purpose and allows you to fulfill the personal goals you’ve set for yourself. If your goal is to be an Olympic swimmer, you must practice on a regular basis. But if it is your mother’s goal for you to be an Olympic swimmer (or get married, or move closer to home, ect), then the activities associated with this goal does not belong on your “must list.” These activities are examples of “shoulds”.
Shoulds are only important because they help you to conform to what others want you to do. When you find yourself saying “I should do…..” what you are actually communicating is that someone else wants this for you more than you want it for yourself. “I should exercise… study… go out more”. All these activities are things you think others expect from you. That is why doing them feels draining.
The best way to expand your energy and live a productive and creative life is to eliminate everything on your should list. Once you stop doing the things on your should list, you will have more time and energy for your musts. What?! Am I suggesting that you don’t exercise, study, or get out of your comfort zone? If you can not connect these activities to goals you find personally meaningful, your attempts to do them will be unsuccessful and draining.
Respect what creates energy for you and focus on deleting the things that drain your energy. Connect your regular activities to things that give you personal meaning. This produces a magical multiplication of hours in the day. You will get more accomplished in a day and feel happier doing it.
You do not have to wait for the future to start living the life you desire. Support yourself today. Restructure your activities around your purpose and watch your energy and joy grow!
You have a unique set of talents and a distinctive perspective that is unlike any other. Developing your talents and perspective are the keys to your financial freedom and happiness. Yet, you may be undermining your talent, freedom, and happiness with comparison thinking.
Making comparisons is useful when it comes to shopping for cars or shoes. But, it’s deadly for our self confidence and quality of life when we compare ourselves to others. Comparison thinking has always been with us, but the age of social media seems to have kicked it into high gear. Now it seems as if we can follow people’s life moment by moment on FaceBook and Twitter. This tempts us to compare our daily existence with those we see on social media. Are our children as cute? Do we look as good as she does in her selfie? Is our relationship as happy as theirs? Are our cars/homes/vacations as glamorous as theirs?
I once heard an quote “don’t compare your real life to someone’s Facebook life.” There is both humor and truth in this insightful quote. We must remember that Facebook is a constructed image of snapshots of people’s lives. This is equal to the highlights reel of a sports game. Comparing ourselves to anyone else’s life, virtual or real world, is a dangerous error that undermines our success and well being.
Confidence is defined as “a feeling or belief that someone or something is good or has the ability to succeed at something.” In the psychological literature, confidence is referred to as self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the sense that you have the ability to accomplish a task and make good things happen. This feeling of confidence, or self-efficacy, is critical to many our short and long-term success and happiness.
Comparative thinking is destructive because it undermines our confidence in our abilities and perspective. It’s your uniqueness, not your similarity, that is the keys to your freedom and happiness. But, it’s hard to trust in our uniqueness with so much emphasis on being like the others that we see around us.
Psychological research shows that confidence, or self-efficacy, is associated with increased level of success and personal well being. Self-efficacy produces positive mental health, high levels of educational achievement, improved physical health, and increased earnings. There are many reasons why confidence is connected to these various forms of success.
Confident people view new activities as tasks that are to be mastered rather than tasks that avoided. They are willing to begin activities with which they have little experience because they believe they can learn new things.
Since confident people believe in their ability to learn new things, they are more likely to see challenges and setbacks as learning opportunities than failures. Thus, they remain engaged in getting better at the tasks even when it is difficult. This ability to begin and sustain engagement in difficult tasks, increases their level of mastery and their confidence that they can achieve.
Thus if there’s something that they find displeasing in their life, they focus on how they can improve the situation. Whereas less confident people tend to see life as happening to them rather than being shaped by them. Thus, they tend to focus on what is negative about their life rather than how to change it. This type of thinking is associated with increased levels of stress and depression.
You may think of confidence as something you have or don’t have. But research suggests that confidence can be developed by particular ways of thinking and behaving.
A large part of communicating confidence is through nonverbal behavior. We broadcast our levels of confidence to others constantly without knowing it. More recently, scholars and practitioners have been telling us the benefits of “fake it till you make it”. We are instructed to learn and use the nonverbal behavior associated with confidence until it becomes a natural part of our identity.
I definitely agree with the validity of this behavior your way to success approach. Yet, I’d like to draw your attention to how your thinking influences our levels of confidence. Comparative thinking is destructive because it undermines our confidence. Here are two ways that making comparisons undermines your levels of self confidence.
You may see the success that the person you admire is experiencing and think that you have to be “just like them” to achieve similar results. Since it’s clear you are not like them, you may stop trying before you actually begin. Or you may ignore your distinctiveness and try to immediate the other person in the hopes of experiencing their successful outcome. You will always be a second rate someone else, but you can be a first class version of yourself. Living with courage means embracing your unique gifts and sharing them with others.
Even comparisons in which we see ourselves “on top” undermine our confidence and success. Rather than focusing on your continued growth and development, this kind of comparison leads you to a path of atrophy. You lose the fire because you think that you’ve already won. Yet the race is not run against other people; it is always within yourself. This is why I loved being a cross-country runner. I realized from a young age that my race is a race of one. I am focused solely on betting my personal best from last time. Focusing on others around you, distracts your focus from accomplishing your personal best. This leads to overconfidence where your confidence exceeds your ability and effort. Don’t allow comparisons to draw you into this trap.
The key to building your confidence and creating the success you desire is to eradicate comparison thinking of all forms and at all time. In comparing of yourself with people you’re never comparing apples to apples. Just because she is a woman, or a singer, or a mother doesn’t mean that she is like you. You are so much more than those titles. You perform the same activity or where the same dress, but the way you do will be totally different. There are people who will be moved only by your voice; by your perspective; by your vision. You owe it to them and to yourself to be authentically you.
Instead of comparison, think collaboratively. The next time you see someone and and tempted to think of yourself as in competition with this person, ask yourself “How can I use my unique gifts to complement this person?” This perspective will allow you to celebrate the success of others and nurture your own.
Confident women collaborate, they don’t compete. Hold yourself up to your own independent standards and encourage others to do so as well. Then you can have success without envy, confidence without arrogance, and pride without self-centeredness.
Where are you comparing yourself to others? Make a commitment to live collaboratively rather than competitively. If you would like support and a reminder to live without comparison, consider writing out the affirmation below. Post it in places where you will see it daily.
“I can now see the destructive pattern that’s produced in my life by making comparisons. I refuse to do that to myself and my dreams. I am not them, but that does not mean that I can’t have the desires of my heart. Being fully myself can bring me all the success I desire….Being fully myself will bring me all the success I desire….Being fully myself will bring me all the success I desire.”
Please share below your suggestions about how to build your confidence and live a life without comparisons. We all have a gift to share with the world. Help others live into their gift, as you nurture and share your own!
People who are successful in life and their careers have mastered the skill of saying no. They don’t say no to everything. Instead, they say no to people, projects, and activities that are in not line with their core values and life purpose. In this article I share how this simple word can help you create balance in your life and work. I also share two easy techniques to help you develop the habit of saying no to everything that is not in line with your core values and purpose.
Early in my career as a college professor, I was overwhelmed with service obligations. I was new on campus and everyone wanted to take advantage of my new energy and areas of expertise. They frequently invited me to participate in their projects, classes, and committees. Additionally, the fact that I was also one of a handful of black faculty on campus meant that I was the first person to come to mind for any request related to diversity.
Service is my way of life. I am always looking for ways that I can add value to others through my unique gifts and talents. I was also eager to get to know and work collaboratively with my new students, colleagues, and administrators. But the expansiveness of my service and teaching obligations made it difficult for me to find time for my research, my family, and my other life priorities.
I quickly learned that I needed to perfect the art of saying no if I was going to be able to thrive in this career and in all the other areas of my life.
Developing the habit of saying no to most request was difficult for me and is challenging for many of the women I work with. Many of us pride ourselves on being helpful to others. We are also very concerned about hurting others feelings or disappointing them. However, once you fully understand the value of saying no, it becomes clear that this is a loving and compassionate act for you and others.
By saying no to most request, we protect our time and energy. This enables us to say “yes” to things in line with our core values and life purpose.
We all have a finite amount of time and energy. Spending time on a non-priority project provides less time for our high priority projects. Many of us are overwhelmed because we are doing too many activities. When something that we really want to do comes along, we add it to the list because it’s too great to pass up. But adding to a crammed schedule means that we will not have the focus and energy to do our best in this activity. We may not even enjoy it as much because we’re exhausted from all the other activities jammed into the day.
Often times we don’t want to say no because we don’t want to disappoint the person making the request. Just imagine how disappointed they will be when you don’t complete the job. What about when you don’t do your best work because it’s not high on your internal priorities?
People make requests of us because they value our talents and competencies. They expect us to bring our best game to the requested project. That’s difficult to do when it’s not something that we value. This is what often leads to “forgetting” to do an activity or missing a deadline on a project. It may seem as if we are disorganized or too busy. But in fact, we are unwilling to prioritize that activity given our limited resources. If we communicated this to the person at the time of the request, they could have found someone else who could focus on the activity. But, now they are doubly angry. First, because their activity didn’t go off as envisioned. Second, because they believe that you are the reason that it didn’t.
It is disingenuous to accept a project that is not in line with our purpose and values because we can not do our best work. It’s better to say “no” upfront. We will experience a smaller level of disappointment compared to the disappointment later in the process when we haven’t performed our best.
Resentment occurs when we feel out of control. Saying no helps us to regain control of our life choices. This prevents our growing resentment of others for the choices we make.
Accepting projects based on other people’s values and priorities creates resentment. We act as if they “made” us do something. This resentment is compounded if we think that they are not grateful for our “sacrifice”.
When you do things because they are in line with your purpose and values, you’re not disturbed by the outcome.
If the outcome is different than you expected, or if others don’t appreciate it, you still believe it’s valuable. It’s always nice to have your work valued and appreciated. But when you work on things that you value, it is already valued and appreciated!
We do our best work when we are focusing on projects and activities in line with our core values and life purpose. This is how we get in the flow. In flow, we are fully engrossed in a activity that we find intrinsically meaningful. As such, we are willing to go the extra mile to achieve optimal results.
Also, we gain energy when we work on activities in line with our purpose. This energy enables us to remain engaged in action. It also provides us with creative insight that isn’t available to people with more peripheral interest.
Have you found that when others tire and shut down, you can sustain your engagement? Are you able to see possibilities and opportunities more clearly than others? This resilience and problem solving ability comes from your sincere passion and curiosity. It is easy to do your best at things in line with your purpose. Your passion gives you the curiosity, insight, and motivation needed to excel.
Reflecting upon how you feel after an activity is an indicator of its relationship to your purpose and values. If you feel physically tired but emotionally energized, you are likely doing something in line with your purpose. If you feel drained and depleted, you’re probably not working within your purpose.
While the work may not be easy; it is easy to excel at activities in line with your purpose.
You owe it to yourself, and others, to only accept projects that bring out your best. This is where you can make your greatest contribution.
You understand why it’s critical to say no on a regular basis. Now let’s consider how you are going to build that habit into your life. Having “yes” as our default position has become a habit for many of us. That bad habit is not going to change without intentional intervention.
I’ve listed two proven strategies to help you address your habitual yes. These techniques will shift your default response from “yes ” to “no to anything that is not in line with my purpose and core values”.
Fasting means to refrain from food or activities for a specific period of time. The purpose of the fast is break existing habits. It is also intended to promote reflection and introspection.
Taking a yes fast means that you will say “no” to all requests of you for a specific period of time. That period may be a month or a year. I suggest at least a month so that you can say “no” long enough for it to become your new default. It will also give you enough time to observe the consequences of saying no. This will help you become more comfortable with the new habit.
At first saying no may feel very uncomfortable and others may exert even more pressure on you. This is especially true if you’ve developed a habit for saying yes. But, staying the course will allow you to observe that others’ can adjust and the world will go on. Although you may believe (or people may suggest to you) that you are the only one who can do this activity.
Saying no allows you to see that other people really can step up and do the activity. Or if the activity doesn’t occur, perhaps that’s fine as well. Perhaps that was not the best way to meet the need/goal anyway.
This will be a scary experience in the beginning.
Developing a habit of saying no requires both faith and courage.
Faith to believe that you really are meant to do those things in line with your life purpose and core values. Courage to protect the space to do that. Your faith and courage will reward you with increased time and energy. This reclaimed time and energy can be invested developing yourself and your purpose.
If the thought of saying no to absolutely everything is too scary for you, set a narrow parameter. Your parameter should require you to say no to 90% of new requests but allows a small fraction to still get a yes.
After my early years of teaching, I realized I needed to change from my default yes. But, I felt unprepared to go 100% cold turkey no. After discussing this with my trusted friends and mentors, I decided to say no for an entire year to any request that would take more than two hours of my time. The two-hour time limit included the time to prepare and participate in the activity. This was a very difficult thing for me to do. I called my closest friends on a weekly basis with all the reasons why I should make exceptions to my rule. Thankfully, I have great friends who continued to remind me of my commitment and why it was important.
With the help of my support team, I was able to stay the course. By the end of the year, my default was no longer “yes”. I was able to experience the value added to my life of saying no to the many “good, but not purpose-driven” requests made of my time.
Another option to help you move from a default of yes is to establish a No Committee. The No Committee takes the stress away from you of deciding whether to say no.
You select close friends and family members that know you, your work, and your life well. You then explain to them your intention of saying no to non-purpose driven activities. Clearly articulate to the No Committee your life purpose and core values. This will become their guide for all their decisions. Inform them that you commit to abiding by the decisions of the committee.
Because the committee is made up of people who love you (but are not you) they can evaluate the request with emotional distance and clarity. They agree to compare the request to your established priorities and core values. Then make their decision based whether the request is line with your purpose.
The No Committee must have an odd number so that there is never a tie. The committee must agree to respond with a quick turn-around to any request that you pass along to them. I’ve served on a No Committee for years. I have found it a useful and effective way to support my loved ones in achieving more balance in life and work.
Your balanced life can begin today! It requires you to prioritize activities related to your purpose and core values. Say no to everything else! You’ll be amazed at how you can increase your impact on the world and your own happiness. If you’d like other resources to help you better manage your time and balance your energy, check out my YouTube videos on time management and emotion management.
Share you thoughts on effective strategies to create balance in your life. Let’s keep the wisdom flowing! Comment below.
It always seems impossible until it’s done. – Nelson Mandela
Have you ever had someone refer to you as a “dreamer”? Was that intended to be a compliment?
Many times people speak about dreamers as if that is something negative. They seem to imply that you should give up your dreams and live in the “real world.” Yet everything in our “real world” existed first only in the dreams of someone.
Google is well known for being on the cutting edge of technology and creating the tools and ideas of our future. Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots for Google X, shares how Google produces such innovation. The company creates a team that encourages people to develop moonshot projects.
Moonshots are experimental projects focusing on solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. The moonshots team dream up bold ideas to solve these pressing social problems. Then they works to turn today’s moonshot dreams into the realities of tomorrow. In his Ted Talk, Astro Teller identifies four habits contributing to the success of moonshot projects.
I’d like to share how you can incorporate Google’s secrets of success into your life. By practicing the habits of the Moonshot team, you too can bring your bold dreams into reality.
Dreams are what allow us to create a better future for ourselves and our world. Dreams inspire us to reach beyond ourselves and accomplish more than we have thus far. In fact, dreams promote our personal growth. This is because we often have to learn new skills or habits to fulfill our dreams. Honoring the soft whispers of our hearts is the first step in cultivating a life of greatness.
Our dreams are deeply personal to us. They are the specific longings of our souls and they compel us to explore, learn, and grow. You owe it to yourself and to our world to develop your dreams. They are the vehicle through which you make your unique contribution to our world.
It may not materialize the way you expect; dreams rarely do. But the journey of pursuing your dreams will grow you into the person you are meant to be. It will fill your life with joy and meaning. It will create a meaningful impact on the lives of others.
“A dream without a plan is just a wish.”
Dreams inspire us to action. Our motivation to see our dream fulfilled, energizes us to put in the work to do it. If you have dreams that you are not willing to work for, I would argue that those are not “your dreams.” They may be dreams other people have for you or dreams you believe you should want. But they are not yours. Your dreams will inspire you to work to achieve them.
Your dream encourages you to stretch beyond yourself. There’s a quote that says:
“If your dream doesn’t scare you, then it isn’t big enough.”
Big dreams provoke us to plan how to get from here to there. The planning process requires us to honestly assess where we are currently . It also helps us to identify the additional actions needed to reach our goal.
No one accomplishes her dream on the first try. Remember dreams are much bigger than us. We must grow into them. That increase in skill, knowledge, and maturity takes time and deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is where you do an action and get feedback on its effectiveness. You then incorporate that feedback into your revised action and reassess your results. This cycles of action-reflection-revision continues until you have reached your goal. So practice itself doesn’t make you better. If you practice doing the same mistake over and over again, you will not get better. But learning from our mistakes does make us better. This is why “failure” is actually a great teacher and critical to us accomplishing our goal.
Celebrating failure helps us to recognize and honor critical moments in our success journey. The fact that we have failed shows that we have tried something new and different. That itself should be celebrated. It means that we are stepping out of our comfort zone and adding to our knowledge and experiences.
Failure also shows that we were courageous enough to try. It is much easier and safer to stay the same than it is to grow and change. But growth and change are a part of life and whatever does not grow or change dies. There’s a saying:
“If you stop learning today, you stop teaching tomorrow.”
Lifelong learning is important to our development, regardless of our profession. Failing simply means we are learning something new. That is worthy of a celebration.
Another reason to celebrate failure is that failure helps us to learn. This is true whether we are attempting to learn a new skill, habit, or develop a character trait. If we use failure as an opportunity to reflecting on the results of our behavior, we are better able to adjust our behavior to get improved results. Teachers or coaches are useful in providing feedback on how to adjust our behavior to get better results. Yet, the teacher or coach can not give the needed feedback that without observing our failure. When we try our best and miss the mark, we learn what specifically needs to be added to our best. This knowledge should be celebrated. Thanks to failure, we are now better equipped to achieve our goal!
We often have more than one dream. And our dreams are so big that they have many new steps and skills needed to reach the goal. If we are not careful, the knowledge of how much needs to be done to reach our dreams can immobilize us. Our we can switch from one dream to another in a manner that never allows us to make sustained progress on any. Prioritization helps us to avoid these problems.
Prioritization requires us to ask ourselves:
“What is the one goal that can produce the most benefit for achieving my dream?”
Continue asking yourself this question until you’ve drilled down to a specific goal. The goal should be specific enough to begin today and focus all your attention on it. You no longer have to question whether we should be doing this action. You’ve given thought to the big picture and decided that this is the most useful focus of our time. Now, you can give yourself wholeheartedly to accomplishing this goal. This is because you know accomplishing this goal will bring you maximum benefit. It will move you closer to your larger goal. This level of focused action in needed to create forward movement on our dreams.
Brilliantly, Google X encourages the people most invested in the ideas to be the strongest critics of the project. The Moonshot employees would create a series of test designed to kill the project they’d conceived. The company would then celebrate their failed projects. Why? Because the employees showed they had courage and integrity. It takes courage to propose and moonshot idea and integrity to acknowledge it is not workable.
Too often we romanticize our dreams and are unrealistic about the challenges to them. This naivete results in surprise and discouragement when things don’t go as easily as we envisioned. Yet, by actively challenging our own ideas, we can use that information to make our ideas stronger. This is how we kill and resuscitate our dreams.
I encourage you to make a list of all the things that may go wrong and all the reasons why pursuing your dream won’t work. There is a value in listening to your inner critic. She is trying to protect you and warn you about impending danger. Too often we either ignore her insight or use her warnings as a reason not to try. But, you can use her wisdom as a trusted advisor.
Once you have a list of all the potential problems that may prevent you from accomplishing your goal. Thank your inner critic for her insight and dismiss her. Then invite your problem-solving mindset to brainstorm potential solutions to each of those problems.
For every problem, there is a solution.
By bringing a new mindset to your discussion of the problem, you are better prepared to see the solution. Your inner critic is great at seeing the problems. Thus, she is an essential part of crafting your plan for success.
Once you have brainstormed many solutions for each identified problem, you can generate your rules of order. Rules of order is simply a list of what actions you will take when (not if) the problem arrives. This exercise now takes the stress of decision making out of the situation. When the problematic situations occurs, you are well prepared with an appropriate plan of action. Your rules of order will keep you on your success journey.
Being called a dreamer is not an insult. Your dreams are the key to your individual, and our collective, success. If you connect your dreams to a concrete plan of action, learn from your failed attempts, prioritize your activities, and try to kill (then resuscitate) your dreams, you too can create the future of tomorrow today. You already have step one accomplished. What else do you need to manifest your dreams? Commit to taking that step today.
Part of giving birth to your dreams is to speak them into existence. By publicly stating your commitment and next action steps, you create both the motivation and accountability needed for your success. Use the comment box below to share with our community your courageous commitment to manifest your dreams. Taking yourself and your dreams seriously inspires others to do the same.
If there’s anything I can do to help support you in your process, please share that as well. Cheers to you and your moonshot projects!
Are you looking to resolve relationship conflict and improve the quality of your relationship? Does it take longer than it should to get a task accomplished because the people you are working with don’t trust your intentions? Do you long to experience intimacy and connection in your current relationships? Practicing courageous conversations can address all these relationship problems allowing you to create the intimacy, trust, and cooperation necessary for quality relationships.
Relationships are an important determinate of the quality of our lives. The quality of our relationships predicts our health and mortality. The quality of our relationships with our co-workers determines our productivity and effectiveness. Thus, if we want to improve our health, career, and quality of life, we can begin by improving our relationships.
I’d like to share with you a secret to immediately improving all relationships in your life. You can use this technique to improve any relationship that is important to you. Your relationship with your children. Your romantic partner. Colleagues and business associates. Family and friends. Better yet, you can start this today and it’s totally free. Ready?
The best way to improve your relationship is to improve the quality of your conversations.
The quality of your conversations determine the quality of your relationship. Superficial and conflict-laden relationships are filled with small talk and one-sided conversations. There is little revealing and sharing of the true self because the person does not feel it is safe to do so. Cooperative relationships are built on trust and need openness and a willingness to truly see the other person. Emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and courage are necessary for effective communication. This is what I call a “courageous conversation”.
Courageous conversations build trust, cooperation, and intimacy within our relationships. Most people in our culture do not practice courageous conversations. But, this communication style is seen among great leaders and people who have high quality relationships. I’ve listed below the structure of a courageous conversation to help you practice this skill in your relationships.
Courageous conversations consist of five distinct parts. 4/5 of a courageous conversation involves listening to yourself and the other person. Only 1/5 of the conversation is actually about speaking. Too often we get this ratio backwards and focus more on speaking than listening. To have a conversation that really builds trust, intimacy, and cooperation, the primary focus needs to be listening.
A courageous conversation first begins with listening to yourself. What are the stories you believe about yourself, the other person, and the situation? Stories are our unique way of understanding the world around us and they included our assumptions, attitudes, biases, and beliefs. The stories we already believe about ourselves and the situation limit the possible outcomes. For example, believing that the other person is unreasonable and irrational, leads us to be defensive. That defensive posture closes off any possibility of cooperation and mutual benefit.
Recognizing the stories that we already hold allows us to shape them to our benefit. We can challenge the stories that are not serving us. We can also develop better stories that will create the opportunities for trust and connection that we seek.
Our emotions are a direct result of our thoughts. Thus, as we reshape our stories to be more in line with our relationship goals, our emotions will follow. But, it takes time to fully internalize our new stories. Meanwhile, our emotions can quickly become activated within the conversation.
Focus on becoming aware of your emotional state. Making sure that negative emotions do not hijack your goals for courageous conversations. Take responsibility for your feelings. Connect with your highest intention. Practice courage.
Recognize that you alone are responsible for your feelings. You choose how to respond to those feelings. The other person does not “make” you angry or happy. That is your choice.
Connecting with your highest intention focuses you on your goal of building trust. It prevents you from falling into a tit for tat banter. This is particularly important when you are feeling hurt, angry, and frustrated. At these times, ask yourself “What is the highest intention I have for this conversation, this relationship, this person?” Let that highest intention guide your behavior and not your temporary emotions.
Finally, managing your emotions requires practicing courage. We often avoid challenging conversations out of fear. Fear of rejection, fear of losing the person, fear that they will no longer think highly of us. You can not let fear determine your conversations, your relationships, or your life. Courage is action in the presence of your fear. You must speak up and engage in the conversation, even when you’re afraid to do so.
Listening is a powerful form of communication . As you listen, practice listening for the other person’s stories. What are their beliefs, assumptions, attitudes? Listening for the other person’s stories helps you better understand their feelings. It will also help you better predict how they might respond to your thoughts or requests.
Listening well also helps the other person to feel better. We all want to be heard and having someone truly listen to us is a great affirmation of our dignity and value.
You must become aware of your own emotions and learn how to manage them before you can effectively deal with the emotions of others. Managing your emotions and deep listening, equips you to effectively respond to the other person’s emotions. Remember to always be respectful, trustworthy, and curious in your response.
By being respectful, you affirm and protect the dignity of the other person. There is nothing that begins or hardens a conflict more than being disrespected.
Allow the person to share opinions that you don’t agree with or like. This demonstrates trustworthiness and openness. This communicates that you value the other person, their ideas and perspective.
Finally, responding to the other person’s emotions requires that you get curious. If someone is furious, get curious. What’s triggered their pain? What value was violated? Anger is a powerful signal of pain resulting from a violation of personal values. We are often so fixated on the anger that we forget to get curious about what’s generating the response.
The meaning of communication is not defined by what you are saying, but rather by what is being heard. Insights about that person’s stories help you to organize your communication. You can now frame your thoughts, questions, and request in a way that can be heard by that person.
In reflecting on how the person will listen, consider their stories and values. How can you connect your comments to their beliefs and values?
Also reflect on your responsibility in creating the current situation. You are not a helpless victim. Taking responsibility for your role creates new possibilities for the future. It also helps you to resist your ego’s desire to prove your righteousness or their wrongness.
Finally, reflect on your highest intention for that person, your relationship, and this conversation. Let that intention guide your thoughts, words, and responses. It may be helpful to write down key points in advance or practice the conversation.
Identify a specific person with whom you’d like to have a courageous conversation. Identify the goal of this conversation. This goal becomes your intention. Continually return to your intention throughout the conversation.
In the beginning, focus your intentions on understanding the other person. Don’t start with a goal of trying to tell them something or get them to do something for you. This will help to distinguish this conversation from the many others before. Previous conversations, when your focus has been on getting your point across, have alienated the other person. This is what has created the conflict and lack of trust you are experiencing now. Setting your intention to understand, lays the groundwork for a different relationship dynamic.
Consider the best time and place to have your courageous conversation. Do not start these conversations when you or the other person is feeling tired, hungry, or pressed for time. If possible, invite the other person for a walk.
Walking will help lower any tension associated with the conversation. It will also give you two a common visual perspective. Many times women assume that the best way to have a conversation is staring into each other’s eyes. But, an unbroken gaze is quite anxiety producing and intimidating. Consider how primates stare down each other to determine who is the alpha male. Walking provides a shared perspective. Each party has the freedom to start and stop eye contact as needed. You become a team rather than opponents.
Before you begin the courageous conversation, take time to reflect on your stories. Consider your stories about communication in general and about this person in particular. What are your assumptions, attitudes, and potential biases? Challenge the validity of your stories. Reflect on whether they are serving you. If needed, create new stories that are more helpful in promoting courageous conversations.
Consider what emotions may emerge for you in this courageous conversation. Identify the emotions and whether it will serve your intention. Consider ways to manage emotions that are inconsistent with your intention. How can you mitigate these negative emotions? How can you prevent them from subverting your intention in this conversation.
Now you have your strategy for implementing your courageous conversation. You have a plan for managing your emotions. You are ready to begin your courageous conversation. Remember to focus on your intention above all else.
Imagining yourself as a writer may help you in seeking to understand the other person’s story. Imagine you want to be able to represent this person accurately in a biography. What is his/her motivations? Points of pain or struggle? What is his/her desire in this current moment? Remember that the most important answers are rarely spoken so pay attention to body language and what is not said.
Equipped with this knowledge, you are now able to speak to their listening. You can communicate to them that you understand and support them and their goal. This is the most important point for you to communicate. If you are not in support of their most immediate goal, try to find a deeper goal that you can support.
If you can not support your teenager’s desire to spend all day playing video games, support the function that those games serve for the teen. Say something like,
“Friends are an important part of our lives. I understand that these people you meet online are valuable friends to you. I support your motivation to get and maintain quality friendships.”
This allows you to negotiate the strategy of developing friendships. You can now have that conversation without the conflict of your teen feeling misunderstood. Keep your intentions at the forefront of your consciousness.
When you take the time to practice having courageous conversations, great things happen. Remember, the quality of the conversations determine the quality of your relationships. Upgrade your conversations and your relationships today!
Let me know how practicing courageous conversations improves your relationships. If you need more support strengthening your relationships, sign up for my newsletter. It is filled with practical tips to help you improve your relationships and improve your life.
Courage is a character trait that is rarely associated with women because we are socialized to be overly cautious and perfect. In her inspirational Ted talk “Teach girls bravery, not perfection”, Reshma Saujani describes the damage that is done to individual women and our society as a whole by socializing women to be overly cautious. She recounts an HP report that shows that men will apply for jobs if they meet 60% of the qualification criteria, but women will not apply unless they meet 100% of the qualification criteria. That difference creates significant gender differences in the career trajectories and incomes of men and women. In addition to limiting the career potential of women, this over cautiousness also limits their family’s earnings as well as the growth of our national economy. As Saujani states, “ our economy is being left behind on all the innovation and problems women would solve if they were socialized to be brave instead of socialized to be perfect”. This illustrates the deep connection between our personal development and collective development on a local, national, and global level. The world is significantly improved by you developing yourself and your abilities Click & Tweet! .
So how do we correct our national deficit in bravery? Reshma Saujani suggests that “we have to show [women] that they will be loved and accepted not for being perfect but for being courageous…. women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us.” In response to Saujani’s call to action, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post to 12 courageous women who gave up the pressure to be perfect in pursuit of being their fully authentic selves in the world. Through their courageous choices, these women made the world a better place for themselves and for us all.
It took courage for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer to attempt to register to vote in rural Mississippi in 1962. Her act of bravery resulted in her being fired from her job as a sharecropper and her and her husband losing their home. Rather than see these negative results as a reason not to take a stand, Mrs. Hamer became even more resolute in her commitment to courageously pursuing freedom for herself and her people. Thank you Mrs. Hamer for your courage to stand up for justice regardless of the personal costs.
It took courage for Arianna Huffington, an ambitious entrepreneur and founder of The Huffington Post, to redefine success for herself. Although her personal definition of success conflicted with larger cultural expectations, Huffington reorganized her life according to her priorities. In her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder, Huffington describes the risks involved in rejecting the culture of the rat race and prioritizing sleep, family, and generosity. Arianna Huffington courageously refused to sacrifice personal and family well-being in pursuit of an external definition of success. Thank you Arianna Huffington for your courage to form your own definition of success and for encouraging us to do this for ourselves.
It took courage for Jillian Mercado, a woman with muscular dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair, to submit her photo and letter for an open casting call to model for Diesel jeans. She risked rejection, ridicule and destroying her lifelong dream of working in the fashion industry. Jillian Mercado’s courageous act has created modeling opportunities for herself and for other individuals who aren’t typically including in fashion. Mercado states “I kind of took it on as a challenge to make sure that I represented all those girls that didn’t see themselves in the industry.” Thank you for Jillian Mercado for your courageous act to show your unique beauty and creating a more inclusive space for us to do the same.
It took courage for Robin Emmons to leave a 20-year career in corporate finance to nurture herself, her family, and her nation. After placing her brother in a mental health facility, she witnessed first hand the damage that is caused by regular consumption of unhealthy food. Emmons bravely dedicated herself to providing fresh produce to individuals and communities that have limited access to healthy food. Through her courageous act of founding Sow Much Good to address head on the systematic injustices creating food deserts and poor health outcomes in working poor and minority communities, Robin Emmons has provided thousands of people who are food insecure with the opportunity to have quality nutritious food to promote their health and well-being. Every time I eat a fresh delicious apple, I think of Robin and thank her for her courage to propose new strategies to solve our pressing social problems.
It took courage for Adrienne Rich to refuse the National Medal of Arts in 1997 because she disagreed with the politics of the White House administration. She risked public shaming and the end of her career as a beloved poet. Yet, Rich was brave enough to protect her personal integrity even at the loss of public support. Thank you Adrienne Rich for producing years of courageous social justice poetry and for showing those words in action in your own life.
It took tremendous courage for Cynthia Cooper to publicize the fraud of WorldCom, a company in which she was the Vice President. Her career and professional reputation was on the line and it would have been easier to ignore the fraud that she discovered in her internal audits. Yet, Copper’s bravery protected the financial security of many Americans who were being tricked by the telephone company’s misrepresentation of their financial status. Cooper received a public thank you for her bravery in 2002 when she was named by Time magazine as one of the “People of the Year”. Thank you Cynthia Cooper for demonstrating the public benefit of courage and honesty.
It took courage for J.K. Rowling to continue to pursuing her goal to be a novelist in spite of the numerous rejection letters she received. Had she not continued to risk rejection, we would not be able to enjoy the “Harry Potter” series. However, J.K. Rowling also did another courageous act of publicizing a recent rejection letter she received while writing under a pen name. She wanted to make her rejection public as a way to encourage other aspiring writers to bravely pursue their own paths. Thanks J.K. Rowling for courageously making your private failure public so we could be emboldened to take our own risks.
It took great courage for Toshonna Ross to commit to living after enduring years of physical and emotional abuse. In fact, the pain of her life was so great that she attempted suicide multiple times. Yet, Ross found the courage to commit to herself and to build a life for herself that was better than what she had experienced thus far. As Ross rebuilt her life, she courageously shared her experiences with other women in similar situations. The bravery that Toshonna Ross’ demonstrated in rebuilding her life and sharing her experience reminds us all that our tragedies can be triumphs if we face them courageously Click & Tweet! . Thank you Ms. Ross for your inspirational courage.
It took great courage for Zenzele Johnson to resign from a successful career as a youth educator. She was well loved by her students and served as a strong advocate from them, often going above and beyond the call of duty. Yet she knew that continuing to be in this position would lead to burnout and a compromise of her health. Johnson’s brave choice to prioritize self-care was a bold declaration of the new life she was creating. As Johnson states “Taking care of oneself is a true testament to growth and for that it will always be a step in the right direction, it will always be brave.” Thank you Zenzele Johnson for courageously valuing and protecting yourself and reminding us to make the same brave choice.
It took courage for 13-year old Mo’ne Davis to step into the national spotlight and dominate little league baseball, a sport that for decades has been thought of as male only. Numerous women who have courageously played “male” sports recount the taunts that come from players, opponents and fans. It takes tremendous fortitude to remain in such settings, let alone thrive. A significant part of Mo’ne’s success on and off the field is her unwavering confidence, even in the face of her obvious difference. In describing her dominance on the field, Mo’ne explains “I throw my curveball like Clayton Kershaw and my fastball like Mo’ne Davis.” Thank you Mo’ne for having the courage to be uniquely yourself in the national spotlight and inspiring us to do the same.
It took courage for me to risk my professional status as a social science researcher and commit to engaging and helping women through life coaching. I risked losing the esteem of my colleagues and my financial stability, but the opportunity to have this knowledge applied and used to make people’s lives better was worth that risk. Now as I witness the growth that my choice has produced in myself and my clients, I am so glad I exercised my courage.
Although I may not know you personally, I know that you have tremendous value, a distinctive set of talents, and a unique perspective on the world. I realize that your uniqueness may not always be celebrated and it takes courage to be different. Your acts of developing yourself and your talents are valuable contributions to our world. I thank you for exercising the courage to be your authentic self and share that with our world.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the willingness to act in spite of the fear. As Arianna Huffington explains “Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it, the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me.” Courage is a skill that can be learned like any other skill set Click & Tweet! . Courage is best learned in “small moments” when the stakes are less high. It takes courage to raise your hand in class and ask for clarification. It takes courage to voice an opinion different from those around you. It takes courage to speak of your dreams and ambitions that are outside of the norm. Practice taking these small risks daily and you will see your courage muscles grow Click & Tweet! .
Please share below your small and large acts of courage so that we all can be inspired to courageously be our unique selves.
So that’s my top ten list of inspirational quotes from Maya Angelou. I’d love to hear which quote inspires you the most or which one you’d like to add to this list.
In 1928 Marguerite Annie Johnson, the great spirit that we have come to know and love as Maya Angelou, began her life journey. Maya gained strength and wisdom from her family and community that enabled her to thrive in spite of the oppressive force of Jim Crow segregation. Through her writings, Maya Angelou taught us how to transform our own suffering into triumph Click & Tweet! . As I reflect upon her legacy, I am struck by three major themes that shaped Maya Angelou’s life and writings. These themes present important life lessons to us about how we can transform our suffering, maximize our joy, and impact our world. Click & Tweet!
As a woman who enjoyed a long and prosperous career as a writer, poet, actor, and singer, it is hard to believe that Maya Angelou’s voice was ever silent. Yet from the ages of 7-12, Maya experienced selective mutism. Maya Angelou was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. Shortly after her telling her brother about the abuse, the man who abused her was found dead. Maya refused to speak believing that her speaking caused his death. Even her silence was a result of Maya’s belief in the power of voice. Fortunately, Maya regained her willingness to speak and through her writings has helped so many people who were also victims of sexual abuse also find their voice.
The first of her autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, discussed this traumatic event and other painful memories of growing up under racial segregation. This book was an immediate national and international success, catapulting Maya Angelou onto a worldwide stage. It also made literary history as the first non-fiction best seller written by an African American woman. Maya Angelou’s willingness to courageously voice her truth paved the way for her success and enabled her to help countless people around the world who have read and benefited from her work.
This is the power of voice. Imagine how your life can change and how other people can benefit from the contribution of your voice. Do not shrink from the challenge of the task by playing small and suggesting that there is nothing for you to contribute. Your challenges and triumphs have given you a unique perspective that will add value to others if you are willing to give it voice. If there is something you want to say, chances are there is someone who wants to hear it Click & Tweet! . Activate the power of your voice.
Maya Angelou’s artistic career began in her late teens and continued until the time of her passing in 2014. She was always producing without recognition of the clock of ageing and cultural expectations about slowing down. Maya Angelou published her first memoir at the age of 41. She began her academic career as a college professor at the age of 53 and was invited by President Bill Clinton to write a special poem for his Presidential Inauguration at the age of 65.
Much of the reason for Maya Angelou’s longevity in her career is the vitality with which she approached life. She was always learning and growing which enabled her to continually make fresh contributions to our world. The writings of Maya Angelou are not recycled versions of her earlier work; they reflect change and growth. Maya demonstrated a willingness to engage in new forms of expression and start new careers past the age when society expects us to retire from life.
Maya Angelou serves as a positive model for aging, especially for women who are often taught to connect our vitality to youth. I remember the wisdom she shared with Oprah about the glory of life after 50. Although I was barely 20 at the time that show aired, I remember thinking how excited I am about turning 50! And then Maya returned to the Oprah show to report that 80 was even better!
Maya Angelou showed us that our beauty, vitality, and ability to make valuable contributions to the world does not stop at any age Click & Tweet! . Her commitment to life-long learning and her openness to sharing makes Maya’s legacy so impactful. She did not shrink from the painful, dark places both internally and externally. She faced them with courage, humor, and love and invited us to do the same.
Maya Angelou spent much of her time in the 1960’s living abroad. She lived in Egypt for some time and worked as an editor of the English language weekly, The Arab Observer. Later Maya Angelou move to Ghana where she worked as a freelance writer and editor of The Ghanaian Times. These extended travels outside of the United States helped to expand Maya’s understanding of herself and her place in the world. She later returned to the US to help her good friend Malcolm X build his new organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity(OAAU).
The experiences and relationships that Maya formed during her travels expanded her understanding of the human struggle and the possibilities for our collective future. Travel can do the same for us. Too often we remain in our comfort zones, interacting only with people who share our identities and perspectives. Whether we are traveling across town, across the country, our across the world, travel can disrupt our comfortable notions of ourselves and our world Click & Tweet! . This disruption is valuable because it requires developing a bigger, more comprehensive perspective that can incorporate the new perspectives and experiences of the diverse people we encounter through our travels.
Maya Angelou has given us a precious gift by sharing her life and her art with us. Although we can no longer ask her questions about the new challenges of our day, we can continue to draw upon her wisdom. We are the beneficiaries of Maya Angelou’s legacy and we can commit to making sure that this powerful legacy does not end with us. We can choose to share the courage, wisdom, and love that Maya shared with us Click & Tweet! . We can give the gift of our voice, commit ourselves to lifelong learning and growth, willingly share our contributions with the world, and expand our horizons by engaging people and places outside of our comfort zones. In doing this, we rise to greet the possibilities of each new day with the hopefulness embedded in Maya Angelou’s poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” Please listen to the poem below and imagine Maya Angelou speaking to you about the power and potential that exists within you at this moment.
I invite you to share your own reflections on the legacy of Maya Angelou for you below.
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