In my mid-twenties, I was blessed to get my most life-altering work assignment. Hallmark created a product line that featured Dr. Maya Angelou’s unique perspective and writings. I was tapped to serve as her editor and the line’s editorial director. The work itself held many lessons, but just being around Dr. Angelou was a joy I will never forget. I partnered with her to determine which sentiments we could use and to refine the work to make the best product possible. When I started writing my book, she was still with us. Now that she’s passed, it’s bittersweet to reflect on the many times I spoke with her, broke bread with her, and learned from her. While I’m sad to know those days are behind me, I’m grateful to have experienced them.
Early in our partnership, my team and I traveled to California for a meeting with Dr. Angelou. There were several others on their way to join us. We were seated at a long rectangular table, and I was directly across from her, engaging in casual conversation. When our guests walked into the room, I stood up to welcome them and casually offered one of the gentlemen my seat. Dr. Angelou started shaking her head at me, telling me “no.” I didn’t know what was happening at first, but eventually I figured out that she was motioning for me to sit back down. When I did, she leaned in and spoke to me with words and in a tone I will never forget.
“You don’t have to give up your seat to anyone. You are just as worthy of that seat as he is, and you have every right to sit proudly in it.”
In that moment, she was my mirror. She sought to remind me of my inherent value and challenged me to claim my space as a woman—as a Black woman—in that room, in that meeting, in that experience. That stuck with me. Since then, I’ve continued to ask others to help me see beyond myself, to fortify me, and to inform me of my blind spots, so I can address them and be more of the leader I desire to be. We all need that kind of reminder. And I strive to do that for others.
Excerpt from Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, by Tara Jaye Frank, publication date May, 2015.
This post was first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.