Early in her life, she moved from job to job. She was a fry cook, a nightclub dancer, a prostitute and madam in San Diego. When Maya Angelou passed away last week, she left as a Pulitzer Prize winning author, a spiritual figure that moved nations and a friend who touched the lives of virtually anyone who listened to the power of her words.
Right after getting the news, I sat at my desk re-exploring her poetry and I realized that three authors have had the greatest influence on my life:
Maya Angelou, Buckminster Fuller and Alvin Toffler.
This morning, I share bits of their stories, a glimpse of their words and a few characteristics they have in common.
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
These words from Maya have driven my standards of work and as a human. She had a way of expressing love as the most courageous act of all.
“Everybody born comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. We come from the Creator with creativity. I think that each one of us is born with creativity.”
Buckminster Fuller felt much the same way:
“We are born geniuses and for most of us, the process of growing up can take much of that away.”
Like Maya Angelou, “Buckie” had difficult beginnings. He was thrown out of Harvard twice for being a “non-conforming misfit.” In his twenties, Fuller was dying from alcoholism. He talks of “an entity” that visited him and gave a command,
“You think the truth. You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to the Universe. Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.”
Angelou, Fuller and Toffler all had towering intellects. All had some type of spiritual awakening. From that point forward, all of them devoted their lives towards improving the lives of others.
This life of service is an opportunity. No one is required to go there. But, I have found that a life of service is intrinsic to joy.
After Fuller’s “awakening,” he invented recycling, the hydrogen fuel cell and wrote the foundation of how to protect our environment. Much of this happened over 80 years ago.
Toffler was born just six months after Maya. He married his wife Heidi while they were in school. Both of them spent several years as blue-collar workers. Like the others, there was an awakening and that practical experience, combined with his brilliance led to his work with Fortune Magazine.
But, Toffler became a towering voice with his bestseller, “Future Shock.” I was a teenager when I read it and his message changed my life. He predicted a future where the rate of change would increase so quickly that people would become overwhelmed. He envisioned a world where industries and occupations rise and fall as technological prowess rushes through our lives like a tidal wave. He cited his mentor Herbert Gerjuoy regularly,
“Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.”
Alvin Toffler presented a future that I didn’t want to avoid. In fact, he inspired me to become part of the solution. This is how our work can influence the world around us.
Buckminster Fuller inspired me to look at life as an opportunity to serve. He demonstrated that we are stewards of this world and if we are gifted, our most joyous road is in making that world a better place.
Maya Angelou taught me the value of dignity, of inspiration and above all – love.
In closing, here is my favorite passage from her beloved voice:
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. 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. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. 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.”
All the best