Novelist, poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou is famed for many things, including her unflinching honesty. Not only did Angelou write about fighting a daily battle against racism, but also her rape at eight years old. The trauma of rape and the fear that her testimony had caused the perpetrator’s murder left Angelou mute for the next five years.
If anyone had the right to wallow in self-pity, Angelou did. Yet she is rarely remembered for the abuses she endured. Instead, she showed incredible faith in herself and in the future. Today, Angelou is remembered for her strong spirit, joie de vivre, and for daily demonstrating the importance of self-empowerment.
Here is some of her advice on self-empowerment:
Step 1: Refuse to be a Victim
“Self-pity in its early stage is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.”
“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”
While you may find temporary relief in self-victimization, self-pity is not a place you want to stay for long. This is the time to have your cry, take a few deep breaths, and then resolve not to let your past dictate your future.
Step 2: Forgive
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
Forgiving is usually a long and difficult process, but in the end you are the one left with a lighter heart and brighter future. Have faith that sacrificing your grudge will lead you to the kind of healing and freedom you seek.
Step 3: Reject Defeat
“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
Life will throw everything it has at you—that doesn’t mean you can’t throw a few things back. Hold your head high, throw your shoulders back, dig your heels in, and make up your mind to come out the winner. You have the ability to emerge from life’s storms a stronger, better person than you were before, but it’s going to take equal measures of faith and gumption on your part.
Step 4: Create Your Own Happiness
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
“Determine to live your life with flair and laughter.”
Life has an abundance of both woe and wonder, but what we find is what we look for. Have the courage to create happiness for yourself.
Angelou was never one to take a back seat in life. Despite her trials, she declared, “You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Even when life seemed impossible, Maya Angelou had the faith to create a better future for herself. She showed us that we have the power to rise beyond tragedy and hurt. Life was meant to be enjoyed, and like Angelou, we should allow nothing to hold us back.
Camille Ward is a student of English Education at BYU. She loves to spend time with her family and is not to be trusted with a budget in bookstores or bakeries.