20 Maya Angelou Quotes: Life Lessons From a Legend

Maya Angelou was an amazing woman, no doubt. Here are 20 less-known, but equally inspiring Maya Angelou quotes to get you going when the going gets tough.

Dr. Maya Angelou: Author, producer, actress, and civil rights activist. A woman who was willing to fight for what she believed in. A woman who undoubtedly changed the world with her courageous actions that are simply too numerous to mention. However, her actions aren’t the only things that have made a difference. Her words have had an important impact, too.

Maya Angelou’s quotes are full of wisdom

Maya Angelou’s life and work have been a source of inspiration for many people, and her quotes are no exception. They can motivate us to pursue our dreams, overcome adversity, and live our best lives.

Many of Maya Angelou’s quotes speak to universal experiences and emotions, making them relatable to people from all walks of life.

Here is a collection of 20 Maya Angelou quotes, with one bonus one, as well as the lessons behind them to motivate us all to live a life worth living:

Maya Angelou was a champion of social justice and equality, and her quotes often promote empathy, understanding, and compassion for others.

#1 “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.”

Maya Angelou quotes

Perhaps one of the most well-known of Dr. Angelou’s quotes, this one reminds us that as our memories begin to fade, we will lose the details of our interactions with others, but not what they inspired (or didn’t inspire) in us. Treat others so that the memory you leave them with is one that makes them smile instead of frown. Make them feel as if they are important, cherished, and loved and you will positively impact them forever.

#2 “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”

This particular quote says two different things. First, the way in which you say something has the ability to either build someone up or tear them down. Certainly, choose your words cautiously, but be just as diligent when choosing your tone.

Second, in this world of texting and emailing, messages can get misconstrued. Don’t be afraid of personal, one-on-one contact as this is still the most effective form of communication. That way, others can learn who you are by how you speak, and not necessarily by the words in which you speak.

#3 “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Maya Angelou quotes

While it is understandable to want to give a person a second chance, doing so with your eyes shut tightly can end in misery. Instead, pay attention to what qualities and characteristics the other person is exhibiting and trust yourself to realize when you’re getting played. As is often said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

#4 “You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, I forgive. I’m finished with it.”

To merely say the words “I forgive you” isn’t enough. True forgiveness comes from deep within. It involves loving both yourself and the other person enough to mean it with all of your heart. Further, it is releasing yourself from the grasp that the offense has on you and walking away from it for good. It is no longer pondering it obsessively and allowing it to drag you down, but cutting the cord and letting yourself fly away to higher, better places.

#5 “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”

No one is better (or worse) than anyone else. Even if you have more education, more money, better looks, or a larger circle of friends, it does not raise you higher up on the level of humanity. So, treat everyone and everything else with the same respect as you require because, deep down, we’re all human beings.

#6 “All great achievements require time.”

all great achievements require time

Although some people may seem to acquire success overnight, what you may not see is the behind the scenes work that they did to get where they are. It takes a long time, often years or even decades, to achieve great things. This can be hard to accept in this I-want-it-now day and age but it is a reality nonetheless. You’ll get there in the end as long as you just keep going.

#7 “My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.”

Knowledge isn’t something that can be measured solely by the grades that you receive in class or the number of degrees hanging on your wall. It is also obtained through life and learning from the world around you. So, don’t discount those around you simply because they don’t have an academic education. That doesn’t make them unintelligent any more than not having a million dollars in your bank account doesn’t mean that you’re not rich. There is more than one way to measure things.

#8 “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Living in the past and constantly mulling over decisions you wish you hadn’t made or reliving things you probably shouldn’t have said serves no useful purpose . Instead, learn the lessons that your past actions have to teach you and move on. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is necessary if you want to move forward in life.

#9 “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

While it is great to be able to go with the flow and take whatever comes your way, at some point, you need to take action to go where you want to be. Whether it is standing up for some global issue or simply doing something to make a better life for yourself and your family, it requires physical action on your part. Don’t be afraid to show the world who you are. It will never know if you don’t.

#10 “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

Complaining about something won’t change your circumstances and it definitely won’t ease your angst as all it does is fuel the flame and make you angrier, sadder, and more frustrated. If something is wrong in your life, fix it. And if you can’t, if it is truly beyond your control, alter your perception of it. Find the reasons it is good for you (as it makes you stronger, more passionate, or whatever the case may be) and focus on those instead.

#11 “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

try to be a rainbow in someones cloud

Everyone you meet is struggling with something. Maybe they’re dealing with a health issue that they’ve never revealed. Perhaps their family is facing eviction because of the economic downturn but they’re too proud to say it. Don’t add to their turmoil. Be the person who extends a loving hand and says, “I’m here with you.” Help them realize that although life isn’t perfect, it can still be beautiful in the storm.

#12 “What is a fear of living? It’s being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself – for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.”

This quote suggests that, at the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own outcomes. Our successes are on us, but so too are our failures. Blaming others for our lot in life does nothing as it is when we realize that we, ourselves, hold the key to our own destiny that we become the most powerful.

Secondarily, it also states that it can be easy to get caught up in what our purpose is on this earth. We search and search and search to find that one thing that we were meant to do. but, while we’re looking, we don’t have to just stand still. As long as we are doing good things, we are still moving forward toward our ultimate destination.

#13 “Nothing will work unless you do.”

nothing will work unless you do

It takes great amounts of effort to succeed in life. And although some things happen to us without us asking for them, we will not achieve wonderful and amazing things without putting in a lot of work and effort. Be willing to go the extra mile and you will be rewarded in the end.

#14 “Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.”

The reason that so many people are successful beyond the mind’s comprehension isn’t necessarily that they’re exceptionally great at what they do. It is that they are passionate about it. It is that they want to do what they are doing so badly that they’re willing to give up life’s little conveniences in order to do it. They’ll spend hours and hours on end perfecting their craft because they believe in it. That is what makes them so great.

#15 “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

It’s easy to tell ourselves that some things don’t matter. So we ate a little more than we should, what’s the harm? Maybe we didn’t give a project our all; it’s irrelevant in the long run, right? Wrong. Everything we do and every action we take molds us. Therefore, it is necessary that we choose to do things that mold us into a person that we are proud of – someone we can look at in the mirror and be content with the image staring back at us.

#16 “I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter.”

All it takes is one little act of kindness. When you treat everyone as if they matter, it has a ripple effect and they’ll treat everyone as if they matter, and then the world becomes better because of it. Your actions aren’t just affecting the people whom you deal with directly. They also impact the people who they interact with and the people they interact with, so keep that in mind.

#17 “We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”

we may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated

Hurdles only become STOP signs when we let them. We will always have obstacles thrown into our path, but we cannot let them prevent us from doing what we long to do to make our lives feel complete. Never, ever give up on what you believe in.

#18 “I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.”

In order to effect true change, you need to be willing to stand up for what you believe in. No more sitting on the sidelines and wishing things were better. You’re going to have to get into the game and fight for the causes that rest in your heart for it is then that you will find true happiness and contentment.

#19 “A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”

You can’t go around picking fights with everyone you disagree with, but that doesn’t mean that you have to let them trample on you either. Feel free to challenge what you don’t believe in, but do so with respect and integrity . Let others know, in a nice way, that you will not stand down.

#20 “All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.”

Even though we may have many differences on the outside, inside we are very much the same. We all have fears, joys, sorrows, and pain, which means that we can communicate on the most basic level, even if we don’t speak the same language or come from the same background. So, instead of looking at someone else and thinking that you’re from different worlds, remember that you have the same feelings in your heart. In other words, you’re more alike than you are different.

That is just a mere tip of the most inspiring quotes from Maya Angelou’s glorious life. So, I’d like to end with one more bonus quote that makes her death not feel so sad or like so much of a loss.

Here it is: “My life has been long, and believing that life loves the liver of it, I have dared try many things, sometimes trembling, but daring still.”

Even though some things were scary to her, Dr. Maya Angelou lived her life. She did things that made her shake to the core, but she did them still. Can you say the same? If not, maybe it is time that you change that…

By the way you should definitely check out our inspirational quotes infographic if you’re looking for more motivational quotes.

About the author

Christina DeBusk

Changing careers mid-life from law enforcement to writing, Christina spends her days helping others enrich their businesses and personal lives one word at a time.

1 Comment

Click here to post a comment