The Economic Empowerment Series
What Maya Angelou Taught Us About Economics
Never before in our country has economic empowerment in minority communities been more vital.
But in order to be empowered financially, it is important that we develop a well-thought-out approach to economic freedom. It will not happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and understanding.
So, in what direction can we look in order to gain the wisdom necessary to achieve our economic goals?
We can look to the past and follow the words and actions of a few of the greatest minority advocates that our world has ever seen, beginning with poet and civil rights advocate Maya Angelou, who shared three distinct lessons about economics, lessons that she learned from her mother and grandmother.
As a young girl, Maya Angelou watched her grandmother operate the only black-owned store in town. She said the experience showed her that:
“If you really wanted to, you could have what you wanted. But if you could be wise and prudent, you would have more of it later on.”
Maya Angelou seemed to referencing the idea of deferred gratification, which signals the ability to put off instant enjoyment in order to have sustained enjoyment in the future. Though we only have one life to live, it is important to always think of future generations, specifically our future family.
In a 2013 interview with the Harvard Business Review, Maya Angelou is asked about the greatest lesson taught to her by her mother.
She mentions courage.
“I would say she encouraged me to develop courage. And she taught me by being courageous herself. And after years of leaving her and, I think, becoming courageous, I realized that one isn’t born with courage. One develops it. One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
Ms. Angelou goes on to illuminate a point which, from an economic perspective, is simple yet brilliant.
“And you develop it [courage] by doing small, courageous things. In the same way that one wouldn’t set out to pick up a 100-pound bag of rice. If that was one’s aim, the person would be advised to pick up a 5-pound bag, and then a 10-pound, and then a 20-pound, and so forth, until one builds up enough muscle to actually pick up 100 pounds. And that’s the same way with courage.”
Often times, we are fixated on the large end goals associated with the American dream. Not only does it take courage to begin, and courage to endure, it also takes courage to work in a quiet secret place to build up the habits and financial assets to achieve these goals.
In addition to being close to her mother, Maya Angelou also learned a number of lessons from her grandmother:
“It’s wise to be fair. It’s unwise to be a cheat. And both of them were really fair. And, of course, by teaching that, they also taught me, or I learned from them, not to lie. And that doesn’t mean tell the truth and tell everything you know. You’re never supposed to do that. But just make sure that what you do say is the truth.”
Reading between the lines, Ms. Angelou is saying make sure what you say to yourself is the truth! Many times, we make financial proclamations to ourselves, without the courage or prudence to follow through. We declare what we want, but if we don’t build towards those goals in the correct order, if we don’t manage our money and our expectations during our journey, we will struggle to meet those goals.
In other words, we’re not being truthful with ourselves!