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20 Maya Angelou Quotes That Apply To Business

Maya Angelou

When it comes to business, inspiration has been found to be a much more powerful motivator than degradation. As a result, the inspirational quote has become a cornerstone of the employer/employee relationship in the business world. Whether the business is small or large, modestly successful or has taken the world by storm, positivity and surroundings that inspire seem to be everywhere in the workplace, and that in many forms.

The biggest and most popular form of inspirational motivation is the quote. Sent plastered on memos, framed and hung strategically on the walls around cubicles and in boardrooms, and on Post-It notes stuck hastily on partition walls of the same cubicles, positive quotes that related to being one’s best and giving things his or her all can be found all around when we’re out earning that dough. Some are good; others are great. With that being said, one of the most quoted women on the planet, Maya Angelou, has her words featured more than most anyone else. While much of her wisdom can be applied directly to business, some was stated in regard to other life events, but still do the trick when it comes to keeping people moving when they are discouraged and down-and-out. This makes her words ‘go-to’ in day-to-day business, and countless employees probably still have their jobs, thanks to her.

For those not familiar with her, Angelou was a writer, poet, activist, singer, and much more. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, her parents divorced when she was only three after years of conflict between them. She was subsequently sent to live with her father’s mother, who was financially well-off due to owning and operating a general store and making a number of smart investments over the years. Obviously, the woman shared much of her knowledge and wisdom with her granddaughter during the four years they were together. Unfortunately, she was returned to her mother after her father returned to her life, and she was forced to face traumatic and painful experiences at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend, including molestation and rape. These things resulted in Angelou being mute for nearly five years after, but she was able to overcome and live a successful, happy life as an adult.

We thought it would be interesting to cover some of the best quotes noted by this strong overcomer and professional success, quotes that either clearly apply to business or were found to help immensely, after-the-fact,s at the old 9 to 5. In our quest to find her very best we discovered it was hard to nail down only a few…they’re all so good! So we went with 20 of her best, and we have put them all together in one of our lists…a ’20 Things’ list, to be exact. Below you will find our choices, along with a brief breakdown of each. If you’ve been in a rut on the work front, lately or ever in your lifetime, you have likely heard one of these more than once, but if not, well, they’re bound to help get you moving.

So, settle in with that cup of coffee in the break room and have a dose of motivation, courtesy of Maya Angelou herself. We’re willing to bet you have at least a little more pep in your step when you head back to that desk. Not to mention the promising fact that your attitude is certain to improve greatly. Read on…

1. “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.”

This particular quote by the late author encourages us to go above and beyond, which is more than pertinent in our professional lives. Most of us definitely desire to rise above the rest, but for the time being, rise above who you were yesterday, and do it with love for what you are doing. This will help you to do more and more, better and better.

2. “All my work, my life, everything I do, is about survival, and not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.”

We are all going to experience ups and downs, both in day to day life, and in the professional realm. How we respond to both will determine our successes. The fact that we will not always come out on top is a given, but you don’t just curl up and die because you didn’t win once. If you are ever to win at all you must keep playing the game.

3. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

What is your definition of success? This basic definition given by Maya Angelou says it all for me. If you don’t meet these three criteria, are you successful? Have you reached ‘it’? And if they aren’t being met, what is the point of any of it at all?

4. “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make ‘money’ your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Have you ever sat down and really thought about the work you are doing and how you feel about it? When you do, what emotions surface? If ‘love’ isn’t on the list, you should likely rethink your choice of job or profession. After all, what are the chances of rising to the top playing a game you clearly hate playing?

5. “Courage is the most important of all virtues, because without courage, you cannot practice any of the other virtues consistently.”

While it may not be obvious in life, this quote is spot on. We must be able to face who we are currently and compare that to who we long to be tomorrow, if we are to grow in any amount. Professionally we must be courageous, or we risk stagnation and disappointment in both our careers and our lives. We must be willing to face things if we desire rising above to the next level.

6. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, [and] people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Are you one who sits back and would rather blend in that be a part of the force that induces change? Or are you the person who inspires passion and drive in those around you, causing them to really push forward to make things better and more constructive? Which one do you want to be? Really? The choice is yours, so understanding this and making a firm decision are vital to business.

7. “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

(From ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’)

Preparedness (or lack thereof) can easily determine the outcome of most situations, and the same applies to business. If you haven’t pondered all possible scenarios in any given situation, you won’t have pondered your responses. Take the time to think things through, if possible. If it’s not, be sure to slow down and give yourself a few seconds so that your response is appropriate and, hopefully, productive.

8. “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.”

Maya Angelou’s grandmother ran a general store and made other investments; the quote here was a lesson she learned directly from the woman that she applied successfully to her life. So, the fact of the matter is that if you are involved in business on any level (even as an employee, which is the most important position of all), you are getting paid…somehow. With that being the case, give 200% to your patrons or other clientele. Make sure they are getting the best of you, above and beyond, with nothing lacking. And if you have gained an ounce of knowledge from your experiences, give a pound to the person next to you.

9. “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude; don’t complain.”

This is such meaningful (and powerful) advice that practicing it (or neglecting it) can make or break the morale all around the workplace. Your business can suffer greatly, and in the end, you and those you employ will be hurting the most. Keep that morale at its peak through encouragement, compassion, and positivity in the workplace, no matter what area you are leading, or are in.

10. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

This may not seem to pertain to business at first glance but think about it. Everything you see around you began as a dream…a story, so to speak. What kind of place would the world be if no person had the courage to release the untold story that resided within them? It would indeed be sadly lacking, so be sure to give your dream or story the attention it deserves and speak it out. That’s how it will begin to be born, and your business will come to fruition.

11. “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

Keeping in mind, as well as in practice, the fact that diversity is the spice of life, will be one of the best business decisions that one can make. Today, according to Biz Journals, business owners today are finding fresh, new ways to diversify in the workplace, and it is theorized that diversification is likely one of the key contributors to a company that is truly experiencing success.

12. “Nothing will work unless you do.”

This very basic, matter-of-fact statement pretty much sums up everything in a nutshell about business: It takes work, and without work, it isn’t going to work…period. If you are in business already, you likely know this all too well; if you are considering getting into business, or just starting with the red tape, you are going to learn it, if you haven’t already. Be prepared to roll up your shirt sleeves and be ready to give your venture everything you’ve got.

13. “I know very well that you would not furnish me a peaceful or pleasant environment in which to work. That is not how you work, so I am obliged to refuse any offer you might make.”

(From the memoir, ‘Letter to My Daughter’)

This was said by Ms. Angelou during a meeting she had with four producers, one of which was a woman with something of a self-righteous attitude toward her. The woman made several sarcastic comments to put Maya in her ‘place’, By the time the producers got around to making her an offer she already knew she had no desire to work with them, and the quote above was her rejection. The bottom line? Know your worth, and don’t accept any less. Most of all, don’t let others try to convince you that your value is low at any time.

14. “I agreed a long time ago, I would not live, at any cost, if I am moved or forced away from what I think is the right thing. I will not do it.”

(From Twitter)

This was a tweet posted by Maya Angelou on Twitter on April 16, 2014. She was basically backing up the quote from number thirteen, above. Just because you want people to like the product or service you are in business to sell doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to do whatever anyone asks or desires. Apply consideration, which enables you to choose who to say yes to in accordance to when it is good for you, your business, and your employees. Make sure that your choices line up with what you are doing and what you stand for.

15. “Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.”

What is the mission that drives your business, whether it is large or small? Every company should know exactly what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how those things represent the moral compass you use in life. You don’t want to give one message with your words and another with your actions, and your business is part of what you do…your actions. You will find that your business is benefiting the public, or society in general, when it is open and running for the right reasons.

16. “All great achievements require time.”

This is another basic truth that truly hits home when it comes to being successful in business, and should be considered long and hard by those new to their enterprises. We have the dream, and typically it resembles the finished work more than the process it takes to get there. When it doesn’t happen as fast as we think it ought to, we can get discouraged, and even consider giving up. But all you have to do is always keep in mind, from the beginning, that time (and work) are behind every successful business; it will not happen overnight. When you keep this fact in mind it will be easier to keep your attitude positive during the journey itself.

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

Being the boss certainly sounds more appealing than standing in the shoes of the employee, but rarely is the job as glamorous as we imagine. The fact is that judgement calls have to be made for the good of the company, and sometimes that means being brutally honest with ourselves about employees and/or those we do business with, and this can lead to ending business relationships. But it has to be done, and if someone is giving you a reason to pursue separation, consider the reason twice. You’re feeling apprehensive for a reason.

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

While Maya said this to women, we must admit that it truly applies to all, and is particularly applicable to the business realm. If we have made enemies in business, we are focusing on the wrong goal, and if outsiders are attempting to do harm to the business, we must not curl up and die, but stand up for what is right and just. Always doing the right thing is a perfect mantra by which to conduct business dealings.

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

This was definitely something Ms. Angelou proved out in her life’s works, and we would all be wise to conduct our lives, and businesses, in the same manner. It goes back to having a mission, a purpose, and moving in accordance with the moral compass inside of you. It cannot be said enough: If this behavior is worked out from entity to entity, the business world would not go wrong.

And Last, But Not Least…

20. “I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.”

How very true, to all of us! This is something that is seemingly very easy to learn, but oh, so difficult to remember. We tend to let our emotions determine our choices, but more often than not, this winds up taking us places we don’t want to go. And there is absolutely no room for emotional decisions in business…the outcome can be so painful. Perfect the art of keeping an open heart…and following it; you will discover that you make the right choice more often than not, by a long shot.

Just think: If we applied the words of wisdom spoken by Maya Angelou on a regular and practical basis to our lives, we would be able to accomplish most anything. After all, she accomplished such a wide array of things during her life, and all of them were considered things that only ‘overachievers’ could reach for. But we know for a fact that she lived through both dreams and nightmares in her life, as we all do. Maya Angelou never gave up, and she was her own biggest encourager, fan, and friend. Maybe, just maybe, that is precisely what we need to focus on being, for ourselves and for the business we give ourselves to almost every day. It would be more than surprising how successful it all could be.

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Allen Lee

Written by Allen Lee

Allen Lee is a Toronto-based freelance writer who studied business in school but has since turned to other pursuits. He spends more time than is perhaps wise with his eyes fixed on a screen either reading history books, keeping up with international news, or playing the latest releases on the Steam platform, which serve as the subject matter for much of his writing output. Currently, Lee is practicing the smidgen of Chinese that he picked up while visiting the Chinese mainland in hopes of someday being able to read certain historical texts in their original language.

Read more posts by Allen Lee

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