I feel so very fortunate that I had the opportunity to see Michelle Obama speak when she was in Austin. I look to MO as a strong, female, self-possessed role model that I aspire to. To me she transcends politics – even if you disagree with her – you still respect her. In today’s world I think it’s commendable to witness her work and how we’ve watched her come to own the powerhouse that she is – and all while under a crushing public spotlight. I’m a BIG fan and was really looking forward to gleaning some of her wisdom. In addition to expanding upon stories in the book, I want to share some of the top takeaways that really touched me – sound bites that I know will stick with me and change me.
Michelle Obama Talk Takeaways
At the very beginning she shared about how her career transitioned to public service. It made me think about LEGACY. Why else are we here? It’s not for career success, social status, social media influence, etc. It’s about creating positive impact in our communities. I thought deeply about myself and what legacy am I leaving? It lit a fire in me to do more for others – to be here for others. I’m beginning to integrate how I can best be of service to others in my work. IT’S ALL THE SAME THING.
She spoke about how a rich home life trumps money (pun intended) and having things. In a day where we are all obsessed with income and status – we need to realize that it is a zero sum game. What matters is creating a rich life with those that you love – invest time and energy into your relationships, create a home with lots of love and beauty (if that’s meaningful to you), care for yourself and your interests, create routines and rituals for yourself and your loved ones. She shared about a story of learning to play piano on an old piano – with broken keys – and realizing at a recital that there is such a thing as a perfect piano. It’s a metaphor for how so many children are in disadvantaged positions, and don’t realize it. And how can they compete with kids who are born with every opportunity? This is clearly a driver for her work and a very real issue so many are facing. No answers here but really important to consider your level of privilege and if you have a lot to give some away to those who don’t have enough.
She shared about her mother’s parenting style and that her mom always said ‘I’m not raising kids, I’m raising adults’. Mrs. Robinson extended minimal praise because she didn’t want her to kids to be motivated by praise, but by work ethic. And lastly, she didn’t dictate rules to them, instead asking them to decide for themselves, ie ‘what time do you think you should be home?’. So very profound and wise advice.
Another of her anecdotes was how she set a boundary around dinner when her daughters were young. Women are prone to accommodating others’ schedules (I am guilty of this) — being ‘flexible’, waiting around for another, etc. In her example she talked about how Barack Obama would say he was thirty minutes away when in reality he had hours before he would be home (like so many of us – living in ir-reality about how long things actually take) and MO and their daughters would be sitting around waiting for him to come home for dinner. Michelle Obama questioned what this was modeling for their daughters – setting the expectation that they are always waiting around on a man. So she set a boundary – a set dinner time and bed time – and if he could be there then great. The idea being that there was a set boundary for her girls to expect and follow through, and people generally try to respect and make it work when you set an expectation for yourself and others. This is something that will stay with me.
Piggybacking on that, she talked about how many strong women are forged by the men in their lives, in addition to the women. She spoke of the importance of men adoring, cherishing, and respecting their daughters (and wives, and mothers). Because that is what young women come to expect as mature into adulthood. As someone who grew up without their father and didn’t feel cherished by the men in my childhood, I was exclaiming ‘YES YES YES’ on the inside. I’ve spent my 20’s (and still in my 30’s) reclaiming my self-worth because of the lost experience of healthy male relationships — of feeling loved and of modeling how I should expect to be treated. (I was lucky to have a very strong grandmother who taught me to take no shit, but it’s taken time to learn what I could’ve learned as a child).
Towards the end she tried to impart wisdom for these deeply partisan, trying times we are in. Her first takeaway was that people are hard to hate up close (which echoes Brené Brown’s writing in Braving the Wilderness – side note: oh I wish Brené Brown had interviewed Michelle Obama in Austin). Also that we should not ‘other’ others — she said we are all Americans and I think beyond that, we are all beings. People hurt others because of their hurt — it’s so important to bring context to difficult situations. And she told us to remain active in our communities and not to get discouraged by the current climate (everything passes).
Michelle Obama is deeply inspiring, obviously, and I left questioning how can I create change within my community. It’s easy to feel like there’s no point without a large platform — it seems like you can’t make a big enough difference, or maybe any difference at all. But it’s important to remember that true change begins with oneself and spirals outwards. The important piece is to utilize whatever power and influence you have, even amongst family/friends, for the greater good. How can you do that? Well for me it looks like speaking hard truths in conversation with others. For instance, I’m thinking back to a conversation I had just after the election. It felt important for me to advocate for why we vote. It’s not just for our self interest, we are voting for people less privileged than ourselves – those who don’t have a voice, are marginalized, disempowered, etc. And those who are coming up behind us. That can be a difficult conversation – and in the moment it felt like I was challenging my friend. But it is so important to speak your truth – and those that truly care about you will respect you for it and continue to love you. I also endeavor to do nice things for others whenever I can — no act of kindness is too small. My question is always ‘why not?’. If it costs me little or nothing then why wouldn’t I connect a stranger with a housing set up I know about? Or hold the door? Or connect two friends who can help each other out? And I hope to foster change within my business as well this year – hiring women, giving opportunities to others coming up behind me (that I looked for desperately when I was starting out), and working on accessibility — understanding that while my offerings aren’t accessible to everyone, I can be creative and find ways to create pockets of accessibility.
A few more ideas:
I know this a tough one. We’re all busy. And I felt paralyzed for awhile about what organization would be the most impactful for me to work with. Then I stopped analyzing, put it out there that I wanted to create impact on a one-to-one basis, and the perfect organization found me. I’ve recently begun volunteering through Seedling and I find their work very important. I have a personal connection in that I had an absent parent in my childhood (not through imprisonment) and knew it would be meaningful for me to provide support to a child experiencing the trauma of an absent parent. 10/10 would recommend.
This one can also be tough for some of us. Just remember that the amount doesn’t matter – the gesture and meaning of your contribution does. Some of my favorite organizations that I’ve donated to (through my business and personally) are:
Penland School of Craft – scholarship fund
Spirit Rock – scholarship fund
It’s the most important thing we can do – be true to ourselves. If you’re doing that work then I guarantee you are impacting those around you. And if you aren’t taking care of yourself, make sure to put some effort into that, and then look outwards.