Amanda Gorman captured the country's inexpressible thoughts and mood by beautifully crafting inspiring words that touched the nation and viewers all over the world. Her show-stopping performance, The Hill We Climb, launched her career on the world stage during President Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony. Amanda is the sixth and youngest inaugural poet in US history to read at a presidential inauguration. In the words of Joe Frazier, "Champions are not made in the ring, they are merely recognized there."
For many, Amanda's success seemed to have come out of the blue. On closer examination, her success was not an accident. At 14, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles. Amanda became the youngest National Youth Poet Laureate at 17. She has written for the New York Times and has three books forthcoming with Penguin Random House.
Amanda's story is an inspiration to the world: regardless of your age, when you are prepared, and opportunity comes knocking, you can seize the moment and make history. Below are leadership lessons from Amanda that can help you on your leadership journey:
Discover your purpose: A striking feature about Amanda's preparation for her inaugural performance was her sense of a higher purpose. About her poem, The Hill We Climb, she told Washington Post book critic Ron Charles, "My hope is that my poem will represent a moment of unity for our country" and "with my words, I'll be able to speak to a new chapter and era for our nation." For Amanda, it wasn't about the fame. It was about adding value by being the balm the nation needed at that time. In her interview with the Vatican News, she said, "Poetry is the language of reconciliation." Amanda pursued significance, and in the process, success found her. When purpose is known and you pour your heart into it, success is inevitable. Like Amanda, are you investing your time in the things that pull on your heartstrings? Are you aligned with the bigger picture? Do not let your how take priority over your why.
When purpose is known, and you pour your heart into it, success is inevitable.
Say yes before you think you are ready: Amanda had never written a presidential inaugural poem before. She placed a bet on her talents, can-do attitude and rose to the occasion when asked to be the inaugural poet. How many times have you said no to an opportunity because you felt you were not enough, qualified, or ready? Amanda chose to see the opportunity and not rule out herself due to her age, fear, uncertainty, or discomfort. Like Amanda, place a bet on your abilities and say yes before you think you are ready.
Look for the opportunities: The most critical battle you must win is the battlefield of your mind. Amanda had vocal and speech impediments. She embraced them and focused on possibilities instead of limitations. In her own words, "I always saw it as a strength because since I was experiencing these obstacles in terms of my auditory and vocal skills, I became really good at reading and writing." Having a disability does not mean you are incapable of doing great things—your challenges can set you up for bigger opportunities. If Amanda can overcome her challenges, so can you. What stories or beliefs are holding you back from achieving your goals?
Share your gift with the world: An apple tree doesn't eat its own fruit. Similarly, your gifts are not for your consumption. Amanda Gorman became a household name because she chose to share her gifts with the world. Sharing your talents increases visibility and results in opportunities. How many Amandas are out there who have gifts, but only share them in the privacy of their bathroom, in front of the dressing mirror, or just bottle it? Gifts are like seeds; they must be planted in the right environment for them to blossom. Don’t deny the world of creative solutions only you can bring. Fight the temptation that you are not good enough or ready. Put yourself and your work out there.
Embrace constructive criticism: Constructive criticism is like prescription medicine, it might taste bitter initially, but it would make you feel better in the end. On the other hand, negative criticism can be damaging if not viewed through the proper lens. Nishan Panwar shares how to handle your naysayers, "In life, when you encounter mean and hurtful people, treat them like sandpaper. No matter how rough they may scrub you, you end up polished and smooth." You can't stop people from talking about you, but you can choose who you listen to.
Give honor to whom honor is due: To say a leader is self-made means making all the people who opened the doors of opportunity become hidden figures. In the words of John Maxwell, “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.” In her interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, Amanda said, “I am proud of us because this really takes a village.” Amanda's support system comprised her supportive family, teachers, mentors, and organizations like Urban Word, Write Girl LA, and National Youth Poet Laureate Program that equipped her with free creative writing resources to unleash her talent. Who are the people in your life that you need to acknowledge today?
Position yourself for sponsorship: It is an open secret that having a sponsor can change your career trajectory. Amanda was not known on the world stage, but her work portfolio was impressive enough to catch Oprah Winfrey’s attention. She was also invited to the Obama White House to perform for Manual Miranda, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, and others. Her biggest endorsement came when the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, convinced the inaugural committee that she was the perfect choice for the inaugural ceremony. Give your sponsors, advocates, and allies something to work with. Your portfolio is what gives your sponsors a voice to speak on your behalf.
Success is like a marathon: Success does not happen overnight. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers, suggests that it takes about 10,000 hours to gain mastery of your craft. Amanda had been putting in the time since childhood. Her hard work backstage ultimately landed her a dream opportunity on the world stage. In the words of Jimmy Johnson, “The difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary is just that little extra.” Where and how are you investing your extra hours? Amanda's remarkable achievement is a reminder that lasting success is like a marathon and not a sprint.
Amanda’s amazing success is a win for all of us. She is a reminder that success is not a function of your age, race, gender, or your challenges. You are never too young to change the world and never too old to inspire it. Like Amanda, believe and fight for your dreams. Place a bet on yourself, and do not wait for permission to share your gifts with the world. Remember, leadership is not about you. It is about making a difference in people's lives. It is never too late or too early to embark on your journey of adding value to the world. You are the leader you have been waiting for.