Sorry, But Maya Angelou Got It Wrong
I hate to say it, but I have to. Now before you get all huffy, hear me out—and that means reading all the way to the end before you reply and tell me I’m out of my mind. First of all, let me say that in losing Maya Angelou, we have lost a brilliant mind, a gentle soul, an inspiring voice. Her words of wisdom are the stuff of enlightened genius.
One of her true gifts was using our imperfect human language to express complicated ideas almost perfectly. Here are just a few of my fa
vorites (they may be some of your favorites, too):
“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
“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.”
“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.”
If we could actually live some of these tenets, how much happier we would be!
But she didn’t get it right all the time. One of her most often quoted statements goes like this:
“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.”
Hmm. I have to admit I have a hard time getting behind that one, and I’ll tell you why. Do you remember being young and hearing people say that you shouldn’t worry about finding a career, but instead figure out what you love to do and then get people to pay you for it?
Oh. My. Gosh. I heard that, and it screwed me up. Because I wasn’t sure what I loved to do, and of the things I DID love to do…well, no one was going to pay me to do them.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we love to do many things that NO ONE will ever pay us to do. You’ll never get paid to lay out at the beach, or play with your kids, or watch reality TV with a box of Oreos balanced on your stomach. (If you HAVE figured out how to get paid for that last one, definitely reply and tell me how!)
Even when it comes to the arts and sports and hobbies, there’s a lot of competition out there. Not to say that we shouldn’t follow our dreams, but if we’re going to be realistic about it, the vast majority of people who love singing and golfing and barbequing aren’t going to build a profitable career around those activities. Some of us will have some success there, but there’s only one Cher, one Tiger, and one Guy.
Yeah, yeah…I know that you can find careers and build businesses inside ALL these activities. But stick with me for the bigger point here. Because I know too many people who are profoundly unhappy because they didn’t get someone to pay them for what they love to do, and they feel like they missed their brass ring. They’re 20 years into adulthood, they have good businesses or jobs that they really enjoy, they’re making a good living, and their personal lives are fulfilling. But they can’t shake the idea that they should passionately adore every minute of their work days. They feel unsettled about the fact that they love hiking, or animals, or oil painting, and that they can’t wait to spend time on those activities, and that surely they have screwed up big time by drawing a fantastic salary in the insurance industry when maybe they should quit and sell everything and head down to the Galapagos Islands to live and paint pictures of tortoises.
Sounds silly when it’s put like that, doesn’t it? Because modern life gives us MANY ways to fulfill our passions, explore our interests, AND make money…and all three of these activities don’t necessarily have to happen between 8am and 5pm.
So, back to Maya Angelou’s contention that we ought to pursue what we love INSTEAD of pursuing money. I admit I cheated a bit when I shared the quote, because I left out the line that comes first. The more complete idea was expressed like this:
“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.”
Depending on how YOU define “truly accomplished,” her words ring true for me, and maybe they do for you, too—especially if you’re really good at what you do and have more good days than bad. I still think it’s okay to pursue money as a goal IF that money funds your pursuit of things you love doing. Where we get in trouble is when we make money our ONLY goal. No good comes of that, and deep down we know it, and it is the stuff of which mid-life crises are made!
So, are you pursuing money at the expense of what you love? Are you pursuing only what you love without being realistic about how you can support yourself? Or have you arrived at your own personal balance? If you’ve never given it any thought, now is a great time to start.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about that important balance of our pursuits (as well as hear your favorite Maya Angelou quotes). Please leave your comment below!