Dr. Maya Angelou Says Develop Courage, Celebrate Success and Don’t Let Anyone Bring You Down

Dr. Maya Angelou by Dwight Carter
Photo: Dwight Carter 2001
A few years ago, while I was working at the television show NOW on PBS, I asked the celebrated poet, writer and civil rights activist  Maya Angelou what advice she had for a new generation of women seeking power. This is what she told me.

“I think women have to develop courage. You’re not born with courage, but you develop it. Try to develop your courage with smaller things. If someone wants to pick up 100 lbs, they start by picking up 5 lbs, and then build up their muscles. It’s the same with courage.

One way to develop courage is to not entertain company who debase you. Don’t laugh at someone who is laughing at you or putting you down. Take offense. When someone says ‘I hope you won’t be offended,’ then you probably will be.

Whether you’re black, white, Asian or any race, don’t let pejoratives be used around you; just leave. Otherwise, you will have participated in bringing someone else down. You don’t need to say why you’re leaving — say you’re on your way to Bangkok or something.

Do little things that make you proud of yourself. If you want to cook, then cook. If you want to start exercising, don’t try to walk 10 miles; walk three blocks. If you want to read, take the time to do so. If you want to learn a new language, get a book or audio cassette to help you. No one has to know or see what you’re doing.You will like yourself more when you have a few victories under your belt.

Once you have a few victories under your belt, you will realize that you are worth it. That’s how you become powerful, by building yourself up through small victories.”

Video: Maya Angelou reading her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1993 presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton, a personal favorite.