“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.”
~ Maya Angelou
These words speak to me about purpose in living and also about how the author intended to accomplish it. In her celebrated life, as an author, civil rights activist, and poet from 1928 to 2014, Maya Angelou was a pioneer among African-American women and an inspiration to the world.
Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, Angelou suffered tragedy and personal trauma in her childhood. For five years, she refused to speak. She endured these things in addition to the racial prejudice and hatred that was common for those who shared her heritage. In this context, let us together, consider carefully the words of this revered woman.
Angelou speaks about her life purpose as ‘mission’. For many, this word conjures up religious overtones – which could have been her intention. She was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was assassinated on Angelou’s birthday – a day she refused to celebrate for the next thirty years. Within this context, the rest of that statement has more meaning.
Survival was not her purpose or mission, but rather to thrive! To live her life well – with vigor. When you consider her many accomplishments, it is easy to picture an energized woman, who, packed every bit of living, into her days, as she could. As I think about Angelou and her attitude about living, her life exemplifies, I can’t help but think of the number of times I have responded, “I’m surviving” when asked how I was doing. “I’m surviving?” Why not… “I’m thriving, thank you!” Don’t I want to thrive?
I often joke to friends and family about my never-ending quest for life’s ‘easy button’! How many television commercials have we watched that featured the easy button prominently? Too many. I know I have a fairly healthy work ethic, but the other part of thriving, is enthusiasm. Am I working hard out of duty, or because I’m driven? Am I embracing the living with all of my strength, or am I enduring it? Tough questions. Important questions.
Maya Angelou goes on to describe ‘how’ she intended to live her mission. She uses the phrase “with some passion”, bringing to mind barely controlled emotion and intense enthusiasm. For her, there was no easy button! Life is not about avoiding great effort; it involves attacking one’s challenges head on, with all the energy one can muster.
Next, she included the words “some compassion”. Maya Angelou knew pain and hardship in her own life, and she recognized and sympathized with the misfortunes and suffering of others. I know of people who refuse to watch the News on television or read about it because “It’s all bad news, I don’t want to be depressed!” Point taken – bad news sells newspapers and television commercials, but often it is upsetting. Sometimes, I think, this is a good thing. Seeing the suffering of others unfold on the other side of the world, or in our own city, can move us to sympathy and then, action.
Angelou also speaks of living her life with “some humor” and “some style”. I often think about the expression “laughter is the best medicine”. I’ve known this to be true in my life when a good, hearty laugh has raised my spirits and made me actually feel better – physically. Therefore, deliberately adding humour to your living is a great thing. We all possess a ‘style’ in our daily living. Do we conduct ourselves, in a deliberate way, with dignity and respect – both for ourselves and for others? Does our ‘style’ draw others to us? Wouldn’t we be able to accomplish so much more good in this world if we lived our lives with humour and style?
Introspection is a good thing. Asking oneself the tough questions and demanding nothing but totally honest answers, is a must. At some point, however, we need to take the lessons we learn from others and get on with living – with great style and vigour!