I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing: Book Review by the Financial Engineer

Book Summary:

In this powerful autobiography, Maya Angelou takes us on a journey through her early years, marked by trauma, racism, and sexual assault. Despite the hardships, Angelou’s resilience shines through, as she finds solace in literature and discovers her voice, eventually blossoming into a woman who values her independence and intellect. The book serves as a testament to the power of resilience and the human spirit’s ability to rise above adversity.

Discussions Summary:

Our recent discussion on Maya Angelou’s seminal work led to a rich and diverse conversation. Here are the detailed insights:

Maya Angelou’s Life and Work:

We delved deep into Angelou’s life, discussing her traumatic childhood experiences that led to muteness and her eventual love for literature. This sparked a conversation on the themes of prejudice, overcoming challenges, and breaking barriers, much like Angelou did in her lifetime.

Personal Anecdotes and Breaking Societal Norms:

Members shared personal stories of breaking societal norms, drawing parallels with Angelou’s journey of self-discovery and defiance against societal expectations. Stories ranged from challenging generational mindsets to pursuing unconventional career paths.


Prejudice and Speaking out :

The discussion extended to the broader societal issues of prejudice, particularly focusing on skin color and the caste system, and how these factors influence common mentality and personal interactions.

Resilience and Dignity:

We defined and explored these two powerful themes present in Angelou’s work. Resilience was seen as the ability to recover and grow from adversity, while dignity involved maintaining self-respect and moral integrity, even in challenging situations.

Integrity and Vision:

The conversation highlighted the importance of maintaining integrity through consistent commitments and having a clear vision, akin to Angelou’s clear narrative voice in her autobiography.

Cultural Perspectives:

We discussed various cultural perspectives, including British colonialism and personal experiences of living and studying in different countries, and how these experiences shape one’s worldview, much like how Angelou’s experiences shaped her writings.

Highlights from personal Experiences:

Challenging Expectations:

  • Our courageous team member “persistence” and “vision” helped her overcome barriers and achieve her goals. She faced questions and prejudice but gained confidence over time, challenging the expectations of the society for women.
  • Similarly, in India and Africa there is a stigma attached to “skin colour”, particularly in rural areas. The caste system also perpetuates discrimination based on skin colour.

We agreed that Colourism is driven by the beauty industry, creating an inferiority complex among different races. It’s important to have a plan and remain consistent while rejecting societal expectations

Similarly when another member echoed the message when she chose to explore the world instead of getting married. Breaking away from generational mindsets can be challenging but necessary for personal growth.

  • On those notes Participants in the conversation discussed the desire for happiness and personal fulfilment, by aligning with the true-self once discovered. Another participant discusses how they followed societal expectations but eventually found the courage to pursue their own path, including going back to school and changing careers.
  • Another story was shared on of breaking societal norms by completing engineering school and joining the circus for 2 years, which ultimately led them back to engineering. The group then reflected on how these unique experiences affected their relationships with their parents. Ultimately, parents’ expectations often come from a place of love and wanting what’s best for their children.

On Doubts and Fears:

The conversation then shifts to discussing doubts and fears that can hold people back from pursuing their goals or speaking out about certain topics, using examples from corporate politics as an illustration. The participants acknowledge the importance of social connections and community in achieving longevity and overall well-being.

We discussed the concept of self-doubt and social acceptance within communities. It highlights that acting outside of societal norms can result in being shunned or seen as an outsider. However, finding a community where one is accepted and appreciated can provide strength and encouragement. The variation across populations, such as ADHD and dyslexia, is also mentioned, with successful entrepreneurs often having these traits. Thinking differently and acting differently can make an outcast in one society, which jeopardize the innate survival mechanism.

The importance of both pushing boundaries for success and maintaining a cohesive society is emphasized. We distinguished between different types of communities like:

Love Network”: Family

Support Network”: True Friends

Career Network”: Corporate and teams

Professional Networks”: Network that will enable us to grow and unlock our pathways.

The Challenge:

The struggle between fitting in within a corporate environment while remaining aligned with personal values was discussed. Taking a stand for what one believes in is seen as crucial for personal growth and integrity but may come with challenges and stress.

Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from adversity with strength and positivity, using experiences as opportunities for growth. Dignity refers to inherent value that warrants respect from others based on self-respect and moral integrity.

The conversation focuses on defining and understanding integrity and dignity.

Integrity is described as consistency in commitments, promises, words, deliverables, identity, image, and relationships.

Dignity involves carrying oneself with grace even in challenging situations and treating others with consideration and esteem. The importance of being true to oneself is emphasized, using personal anecdotes to illustrate the concept.

The cultural relativity of dignity was also discussed, highlighting how different cultures perceive certain professions differently. We agreed that having clarity of vision and articulation skills are essential for aligning with one’s true self.

Challenging situations are seen as opportunities to test resilience and build it over time through bouncing back from setbacks.

One Idea to Take Away:

Angelou’s life story, combined with the discovered personal experiences we learned the power of resilience and the ability to rise above adversity. We stand to carve out our own path, armed with dignity and integrity.

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