You know it’s going to be epic when it’s a conversation when Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey get together. The Talk Queen and the First Lady of the United States discussed some of the gravest issues women face in today’s world in a girly chat that was equal parts inspiring and relatable, at the United States of Women Summit in Washington DC on Tuesday.
Here are some takeaways from that interaction and how we can all rock life, the Michelle Obama way!
1) Value yourself
Aren’t we all trying hard to become the ‘perfect something’? All those goals have only resulted in self-doubt, haven’t they? How do you deal with pressure of living up to other people’s expectations? Here’s how Michelle Obama did it.
When Oprah brought up the issue of self worth, by saying “The root of every dysfunction is a lacking of self-worth or self-value,” the first lady said, “Our first job in life as women is to get to know yourselves. What we do instead is that we spend most of our time listening to what others think we are. It becomes even more important for women of colour, because we are put in a limited box.” The solution, she said, is to spend time in realising who we are as individuals.
“I hadn’t in my wildest dreams imagined that I would become the First Lady. Realising who you are helps you deal with the onslaught. I came with a clear vision of who I was, and hence when I heard smack-talking it was easy to brush it off,” she said.
2) Take control of your time and life
How much in control of your life are you? Are the checklists and to-do lists getting the better of you? Here’s why you should stop, as well as stop others from taking control of your life and time. Says Michelle, “I didn’t read any First Lady books because I wanted to discover who I wanted to be. My daughters were little when we moved into The White House, and I had to make sure they felt at home, loved and cared for amidst all this craziness. To protect them, I had to protect myself. If you do not take control over your time and life, other people will gobble up everything I prepped myself for this long before I became First Lady.”
3) Don’t compromise your needs, you are all you’ve got
Fight for what you want and deserve. Believe in yourself and your work. Recalling her early days of being a mom, Michelle said, “I worked for the University of Chicago Hospitals, as Executive Director of Community Relations and External Affairs. I took my daughter along to a job interview and got the job because I didn’t compromise. I had previously tried part-time jobs but found that you also get paid part-time. I knew what my time and energy was worth. I knew if I took up a job I wanted full pay and flexibility. I knew I could deliver and didn’t want to undersell myself. I was not going to be taken advantage of. I knew my value. Love yourself, but you got to work to get to that place.”
4) Ignore the haters
No matter what you do, there is always going to be someone who will tell you cannot. Instead of letting the nay-sayers bog you down, this is what Michelle Obama thinks you should do: “Everyone has their own journey. How you deal with your first adversities are very important. The first time people called you names and the first time you were bullied. Surround yourself with goodness and get the haters out of your life. There’s somebody out there who is there to love you, find them, make space for them.”
While it is important to steer clear from all the negativity it is also equally important to maintain your calm. “People won’t remember what other people say about you but they will remember how you reacted. I wanted to prove my haters wrong. I just woke up everyday and worked hard to do something consequential. Success and revenge are the best answers,” Michelle said.
5) Be passionate
No matter what you do, stop, take a moment and ask yourself one question: do you like what you love? Here’s what Michelle did:
“When you are in a public office, you are interacting with the world. People can smell if you are inauthentic. I wanted people to know Michelle. To be authentic I had to do things I genuinely care about. I get energy from people. Barack and I are energised by the people we meet, the ones who move us.”
So, have you found out what you love, yet?
6) Open new doors – for yourself and others
You discover so much about yourself when you do new things. But you discover more when you are facilitating it for others. Talking of her experience as First Lady, Michelle said, “We opened new doors for people who would never know they could not come to White House. I wanted them to be able to walk up to the the First Lady and say, ‘Hey Michelle.’ That’s the least we could do as President and First Lady. I wanted to feel the satisfaction of giving. The satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing in changing someone’s life is something else. You get so much from giving.”
7) Enjoy the moments that take your breath away
We are so caught up in our busy lives that we fail to stop and appreciate the things that happen around us everyday. The life you are leading may be someone else’s dream. Cherish those little moments.
“In my time as the First Lady, there were definitely moments that blew me away and made me feel proud of myself. When Stevie Wonder and Prince performed in the East Room at the White house, watching my mother and daughters talk to the Pope, dining with the Queen of England, these were moments when I could not stop gushing,” said Michelle, to Oprah in what was an adorable, very girly moment. When asked about her husband, whose ‘swag’ has clearly earned fans all over the world, Michelle said,
“Watching my husband walk off Marine 1 to the Oval Office makes me proud. He’s swagalicious.”
8) Want to tell a man something? Be straightforward
There are a zillion things we want men to know but shrug them off thinking they would never understand. But that’s clearly not the way to go forward. Michelle was not one to mince her words.
“Dear men, be better at everything, be better fathers, love your daughters. I have never experienced abuse and it’s sad to say I am a rare case. Be engaged, going to work and coming home doesn’t make you a man. Do the dishes, babysit the kids, be involved. Be a better employer and do everything in your capacity to help,” she said, amidst claps and cheers from the gathering.
9) Nobody can have it all
There has been a lot of hue and cry around this one issue. What does Michelle think?
“It’s a ridiculous expectation. Forget women, no one gets everything. Wasn’t that the first thing we all learnt as kids? You can have it all but you can’t get it all at the same time. I made compromises but i gained something out of each one. If I had to get involved in my kids’ life, I had to give up on something,” she said. Clearly, life is all about the choices we make, so it is important we are smart in making the right ones.
10) Don’t ever be complacent
However successful you are, there is always room for improvement. Perfection is only a myth and when the First Lady of The United States of America says it, you know it’s the truth.
“The work is never done. You think there are no problems and that everything is done but that is never the case. The work continues. We have all seen how quickly things can be taken away from you if you don’t keep at it. Always think about what you are going to do next and how you can do better. Growing never stops,” she said.
11) Put your legs up and relax
While you are chasing those steep targets, rushing to get to some place on time, and struggling to be on top, don’t forget to give yourself that much-needed break. Here’s what Michelle plans to do after she goes off duty:
“Fame can be confining. You start missing out the little things. I want to open my front door without discussing it with anyone and walk down the street. I want to sit in a yard which is not a national park. I want to go to Target.. It’s the small things, the ones we all take for granted. Oprah, let’s go shopping,” she said excitedly.
The star-studded summit included Vice President Joe Biden, feminist Gloria Steinem, actress-comedian Amy Poehler and tennis legend Billie Jean King. However, Michelle Obama’s chat with Oprah was the most anticipated, as it was possibly her last public appearance as First Lady. And she didn’t disappoint. Eight successful years in the White House and a life spent inspiring others to be their best selves, Michelle Obama has clearly led by example.