“What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay.” I can still feel the impact of these words as I read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” for the first time in my life. It was 1993 and I was a 21 year-old wife and mother of a three year-old son, struggling to find my identity, while wrestling with the notions of who others thought I was or should be.
I felt isolated and alone. Not because there weren’t women in my life, but because I didn’t want them in my life—at least not the ones who could “see” me. I was so focused on not allowing any woman to define me based on my present condition that I forfeited relationships with the women who could speak to the real me. Then, by divine intervention, I discovered and read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and Maya Angelou became my “friend in my head,” teaching me the need for and value of having relationships with women who can speak into my life.
Although inspired by Dr. Angelou’s account of how she faced and overcame the very obstacles I encountered as a young woman, restoring my hope in what was possible for me, I never enjoyed the privilege of Dr. Angelou speaking directly into my life. However, reading her books opened my mind and heart to the need for it, paving the way for the many other women who have and continue to speak into my life today.
Finding and developing new friendships with women who can speak into our lives can be a challenge, especially as we age, but that’s only half the battle. We must then grant those women permission to speak into our lives—allowing them to see who we are and challenge us to become who we must be. While I understand those women are rare and hard to find, this doesn’t excuse us from seeking them out.
This goes beyond a mentor—those we admire and handpick because we want to do something they’ve done. Often with mentors, once they’ve helped us achieve our goals, we simply move on to the next. But relationships with those who “speak into our lives” are anything but simple. In fact, they can, and sometimes should, get messy, as those granted to speak into your life not only love and accept you for who you are, but challenge you to change because of who they see you can be.
During a recent conversation about a new book I’m reading I heard “great leaders are greatly led.” As the wife of a pastor, I recognize and accept the responsibility to lead. However, it’s not enough for me to be recognized as a leader—I want to be a great leader, and not only that, a great leader of great women. As such, I aspire to be greatly led, praying for and seeking out women that I give permission to speak into my life, in-person and beyond the pages of a book.
Today I challenge you to take inventory of the women you allow to speak into your life. According to Matthew 18:4 “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Yes, women are great leaders, but great leaders are greatly led, not just well-read. Time to be great.
Founder of A Woman’s Business and contributing writer to the Heart of a Woman weekly blog designed to inspire and challenge us to live in the fullness of our purpose, power and position as women, Angela M. Brown is a daughter, sister, wife, mother, auntie, friend, mentor, PR executive, author, commentator, motivational speaker and community leader—a woman recognized for making a difference and inspiring others to do the same. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter and discover tales of her journey on the “road less traveled” and the tools she’s gathered along the way turning obstacles into opportunities in “Resilience, Living Life By Design.”