Hello? | Maya Angelou

When Maya Angelou spoke at a small community center in Texas, in the 90s, I was on the front row. I don’t remember much about the venue, nor the overall event that brought me to her reading, other than I owned all of her books, I knew many of her poems almost by heart, and back then, 25 years after first reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I placed her among the top of my own personal influencers.  After the event concluded, I remember, I realized I had not paid for nor was offered the opportunity of participating in the social event, where I could have met her. I thought, “I just wanted to say hello to her.”  So, while the audience was leaving through the back doors, I just walked onto the stage and went behind the curtains, and there she stood, gathering her notes and belongings she had taken up to the podium with her. No one else was around at that moment.

Ok, so this is what I wanted, just to say hello.  I didn’t want a long conversation, nor to bother her with an introduction.  I had thought, I just wanted to say hello.

One just says ‘hello’ to a friend, a colleague, or to a random person you have no other social interaction with, like in the grocery store while standing in line.

Just saying hello is as easy as not saying anything, because no thought nor effort is put into the gesture.  When you answer the phone with a greeting, such as  Hello? or Hello! or even

HELLO! hold unspoken meanings.  So, for me to think I just wanted to say “hello” really didn’t define my thinking. And as you can guess, it didn’t define the interaction.


Have you ever come face to face, at a particular moment in time, with a grand opportunity, and you realize you just weren’t prepared for it?  It’s like walking into an elevator and realizing a potential mentor, or investor, or individual you have wanted to make contact with happened to be standing in front of you, inside the elevator, and no one else was around to interfere, but you don’t know what to say.  To an entrepreneur, this would be not having a business elevator pitch ready.  To other business professionals, this would be like not being prepared with one’s personal elevator pitch, that introduction of one’s self that has purpose and was carefully crafted.

Having nothing ready to say would be a wasted opportunity. Or a better description would be like you were standing in line at the checkout counter and you say “Hello?” just to get the person in front of you to move up.

When I realized Maya Angelou was actually right there in front of me, now only 5 or 6 feet away, and I could have had the kind of interaction one would dream of having with someone meaningful, my heart sunk.  I blew it!  I knew I’d regret this moment for the rest of my life.

I said: “Oh. Hello. Excuse. Me.” And turned around and walked off.

H E L L O ????? What was I thinking?  Actually, I wasn’t thinking, and that was the bottom line.

I can’t say for certain that I learned a deep lesson for myself that evening.  But that experience has informed my way of approaching opportunities.  BE READY!  BE PREPARED!  I knew I was going to hear Maya Angelou.  I intentionally decided I wanted to meet her by going backstage.  Why did I want to meet her?  What was I going to say, other than “Hello, excuse me?”

You can’t be prepared for all chance meetings, but you can’t afford not to be prepared either.  If I had thought through my intentions in meeting Maya Angelou after her reading, I would have told her how much her work had meant to me.  I would have walked away thinking more confidently about our interaction, sort of like a practice session for all of the chance business and professional people I would be meeting in my life.

As Maya Angelou says when asked at 72 if she considered herself wise, she answered: “I’m in route.”  Asked again 8 years later, “I’m further along, but I don’t know whether I know enough.”

I am definitely in route.

Anita Leffel, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO

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