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9 Life-Altering Quotes From Miles Davis & Maya Angelou That’ll Remind You To Chase Your Dreams

Finding your voice and differentiating yourself in a crowded market is one of the most powerful things you can do in business and the creator economy.

But finding your voice doesn’t happen in your mind.

It happens like this…

But first….I have a confession.

When I was younger I had a book of rhymes. But it was never my own rhymes. It was lyrics from my favorite MCs. I’d listen to Tupac, Biggie, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas.

I’d play, then pause. Skribble one or two lines. Rewind. Play. Pause. Scratch out a word. Rewrite it.

I’d do this over and over again until I memorized a full verse.

There weren’t “lyric websites” back then.

This was back in the dial-up era in Lagos, where my disc man was always running out of battery.

Years later, I’d try to write my own lyrics.

I wanted witty imagery like Raekwon. The multi-syllable rhymes like Biggie. The fast-acting alliterations like Em. The…..sometimes you just have to quit while you’re ahead.

One day in my apartment in Austin, I listened to the Iconic album by The Fugees called The Score.

Read or not…I didn’t realize my mind was about to change forever.

One of the greatest MCs said something on the track “Family Business.” I was never the same.

It was the miseducation queen, Lauryn Hill. In her laser-sharp verse between Wyclef and Praz she said: “See, poppin’ shit’s about your attitude and how you word it”

It wasn’t about the words but how the words were said.

Is it possible that how you say something is more important than what you say? What does this mean for communicating your value to the world?

The why, what, and how:

“Why” is having such a renaissance.

Why, why why…..find your why.

Thanks to that Simon Sinek guy. I’m not cynical, it’s very important to understand “your why.” It’s what gets you up. It’s the intrinsic motivation that will keep you going.

But focus too much on the “why” and you miss out on the “what and how” to build life on your own terms.

The challenge these days is – how do you differentiate yourself in a crowded market? How do you find your voice and cut through the noise to live a more meaningful life?

One of the main reasons people don’t write or share their story is because they don’t know what to say.

The reality is that you will not find your style until you do it.

It’s not about what niche, it’s how you do the niche.

You will not find your voice until you sing. You will not know what to write until you write. You will not know the right business to build until you start building.

If not about what you do. It’s about how you do it.

Your niche is your style.

And you only find your style through action.

You don’t believe me?

Let the king of cool and the queen of soulful words speak. I’ll just do the writing.

Here are 9 quotes from Miles Davis and Maya Angelou about finding your voice.

In case you’ve been under a cultural rock somewhere and don’t know who these two legends are, here’s my hand.

Grab it. I’ll show you the light.

Miles Davis was one of the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music. He changed Jazz and literally “birthed” cool, using his trumpet to emulate the sound of the human voice.

His album, Kind of Blue, is the best-selling jazz record of all time, still in print and still selling after 60 years.

How about Maya?

Maya Angelou was an American memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years.

She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. (Stop the press, I’m sweating).

Without saying much, Miles and Maya knew about being prolific and legendary.

So what do they have to say about style and finding your niche?

Here are nine.

1. “But you’ve got to have style in whatever you do — writing, music, painting, fashion, boxing, anything.” ~ Miles Davis

Everybody has a style.

You have a style at your job. You have a style of talking. You have a style of wearing your clothes. The same applies to writing, telling stories, and communicating value.

You might want to talk about career development. You might think, everyone is talking about it. “I don’t have anything to add.”

But perhaps you are also a movie lover. You start to talk about career development through the reference of the movies you love. Now, that’s style.

You can only find out by doing it.


2. “I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.” ~ Miles Davis

Certainty and comfort is a dream killer.

When I wrote my first book, Press Play, I had no full direction of what it was going to be about.

It ended up being a book about how music can radically galvanize social change and innovation. The first month of writing, I reached out to friends and people in my network to tell them about the book.

“So what’s the book about?” Some asked.

“Hmmm…it’s around music….and how people use it for themselves…..maybe even their community….to better their lives”

I stumbled through the explanation. I had no clue.

10 months later, I published my first book and it was the number #1 new release in creativity and ethnomusicology.

A lot of times you don’t know what it is until it is.

Get started.

3. “If you understood everything I say, you’d be me!” ~ Miles Davis

“So you’re a writer now?” “I thought you were into music?” “Aren’t you an engineer?” “Where did the music thing come from?” “What was the point of the whole Stanford thing then?”

These are real questions I’ve been asked.

I’ve heard it all. People trying to understand what I do. It has been a personal struggle. When your life is not linear. When you don’t fit into a neat box. People start with their projections.

It’s really not about you, it’s about them.

They can’t explain it, so it challenges their intelligence.

When they can explain who you are, they sound smart. They’ve put you in their “strategic framework.” Everything is in order in the world.

Don’t fret. You’re finding yourself.

Because if they understood everything about you, they would be you.

Do you.

Get started.

4. “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” ~ Miles Davis

This is one of my favorite quotes from the legend.

There are actually no mistakes. No one can predict the future (and if you know someone that can, please let me know, I have some stocks I’d like to pick).

Anyways, a mistake is only possible if you could observe your life in an alternate universe and test the outcomes of taking two different decisions. In that situation, you’d be able to realize whether one choice is better than the other.

But as far as I know, no one can observe an alternate reality (again, if you know someone, let me know).

Mistakes are just illusions based on linear past predictions.

When you’re finding your voice, just go.

And if you feel you made a mistake, take the feedback and make sure you don’t “make the mistake” again.

Still trying to figure it out in your head, No. Get cracking.

5. “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” ~ Miles Davis

I heard this quote recently on a podcast called “How I write” by David Perell.

He and his guest, Steph Smith, talked about how they’d advise writers to stay consistent. The reality is that it takes a while to find your style.

And this style keeps evolving.

There’s evidence that shows that a lot of writers, entrepreneurs, scientists have a lot of “failed experiments” before they got to what they became known for.

Perhaps we are in too much of a hurry. Social media has poured jet fuel on comparison and impatience.

Your style is not going to grow overnight. You have to play for a while to find it. Start playing.

6. “Nothing will work unless you do.” ~ Maya Angelou

Say less, Maya.

7. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” ~ Maya Angelou

Let curiosity be your guide.

Most people are stuck because they’ve been trained in the rigid education-industrial complex. A lot of us are still traumatized, thinking that we can only put our hands up when we have answers.

It’s the pedagogy of the oppressed.

Your curiosity was suppressed, so you can effectively build widgets for the factory. But most of us don’t work in the factory anymore. A lot of us are knowledge-workers. And your biggest value is being able to ask the right question.

So next time, sing just because you have a song. Create just because you have something to be expressed.

Not because you have an answer. Follow your curiosity. Go!

8. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou

A lot of people go to their graves without sharing their life experience.

Don’t be that person.

Share it with friends and family. If you feel like, share it with the world. Or just share it in your dairy like Emily Dickinson.

Whatever you do, bring it out of you. It’s a form of therapy.

Heal yourself through expression. Your story is worthy. Venture out.

9. “Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” ~ Maya Angelou

A lot of people struggle with finding “their thing”

Most think they’d solve it in their minds. Their minds become fertile grounds for continuous rumination. What starts as a garden of ideas soon turns into a muddy battlefield of exploding conflicts.

The best gift you can give yourself is action.

Just do it.

When you follow your interest, you give yourself a chance to start. When you start, you give yourself the chance to continue. When you continue, you start getting feedback. When you get feedback, you can improve.

When you get better, you get happy – people notice.

Get so good at owning and wielding your style that they can’t ignore you.

Get started.

Final Drip

Style is something that you cultivate over time. It’s not given, it is cultivated.

There’s no magic pill here. The only way you can find your style is to start.

Continue until your style becomes your niche.

Yours truly, Nifemi

Who is Nifemi?

Hey I’m Nifemi of NapoRepublic

I help busy people fit in a creative practice to bring to bring order to their reality and help them live a more meaningful life through writing and reflection.

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