Updated: Mar 8
Michelle Obama is best-known for her role as the first lady of the United States. Throughout her life, Obama faced a host of challenges and met them head-on. Let’s take a look at her passions and her approach to success.
Former US first lady Michelle Obama is widely liked around the world. Most people know her as the wife of the former president.
During her time as the first lady, she made a significant and lasting impact on social issues in the US. Though she was sometimes met with hostility, she rose above it and continued to work toward her goals.
But Obama has also achieved amazing things outside of her role as the first lady.
Since the end of her husband’s second term, she has worked relentlessly to support her causes. Her memoir, Becoming, was one of the fastest-selling nonfiction books in history.
Now, let’s look at Obama’s past and present journey. Many of her experiences may resonate with you. Reading about her may help you find the motivation you are looking for.
On the Path to Becoming
Michelle LaVaughn Obama (née Robinson) was born in Chicago in 1964. She often said that her parents’ support contributed to her success and confidence.
Young Michelle Robinson attended a high school for gifted children. She was a star student with a lot of drive and ambition.
Unfortunately, she ran into prejudice at a young age. Some of her teachers were sceptical of her ability to succeed.
But Robinson wasn’t daunted. If anything, this strengthened her determination.
Like her older brother, she attended Princeton. Robinson pursued a bachelor’s degree in sociology and graduated summa cum laude.
Then she became one of the few black women in her generation to attend Harvard Law School.
She graduated in 1988, but not before she took part in protests calling for more diversity in her program.
Robinson started her career as an associate in a big-name Chicago law firm. Her areas of expertise were property law and marketing.
This is where she met Barack Obama. In the summer of 1989, he interned at the firm and she was his advisor.
At first, she was hesitant to enter a romantic relationship with someone she worked with. But they eventually started going out and discovered they had a lot in common. The couple married in 1992.
Since a profession in law didn’t turn out as fulfilling as she had hoped for, she switched over to public service. For a while, she worked as an assistant to the Mayor of Chicago.
In 1993, Michelle Obama became the executive director for the Chicago branch of Public Allies.
This non-profit organization helps develop young people’s leadership skills with a focus on minority groups. In her memoir, Obama mentioned that this was her favourite job.
Helping children and young adults became a priority for her. She started to work with universities in Chicago to improve student services and community relations.
As Obama gained one prestigious position after another, she also became a mother. Malia Obama was born in 1998 and Sasha in 2001.
After Barack Obama came out of nowhere to win the presidency in 2008, the family moved into the White House. Michelle was full of her own plans.
One of the best-known decisions she made as first lady was growing a vegetable garden around the White House. This brought public attention to healthy food choices and childhood obesity. She covered her views on nutrition in her first book, American Grown.
Other issues of interest to Obama include education and sports in disadvantaged communities. She often spoke of the importance of community service and taking initiative.
In early 2017, the Obamas moved out of the White House. Michelle Obama continued her dedication to promoting health and equality.
She has taught many people how to change things for the better. At the moment, she is on a book tour for Belonging.
What Are the Lessons We Can Learn from Michelle Obama?
Obama’s story is an inspiration, especially to anyone who faces racism or sexism. Here are some of the things we can learn from her.
Lesson #1 – Build Your Personal Brand
When she joined her husband on the campaign trail in 2008, Obama left a great impression on the public. Her speeches are always passionate and moving, and she speaks candidly about social issues.
She is decisive, determined, and fearless in the pursuit of what matters to her. The way she presents herself to the world is part of her message. Everything from her rhetorical skills to her fashion choices serves her goals.
In other words, Obama’s personal brand reflects her philosophy.
She also makes use of her unique experiences to build her arguments. When speaking to young people, Obama is careful to bring their attention to the opportunities that lie ahead. She also speaks about the difficulties, including some of the obstacles that she ran into.
Being open about her own life isn’t new to Obama. But writing a memoir was still challenging, as it was more intimate than her public speeches.
She rose to the occasion and wrote about some sensitive personal topics. For example, she wrote about the fertility issues she had to deal with before conceiving.
One of the aims of her book was to give women a sense of hope and motivation. The memoir’s reception proved that she has achieved this already.
Lesson #2 – Speak Up About Your Needs and Follow Your Principles
As a mother of two, Obama seeks a careful work-life balance.
At one point, she even took one of her infant daughters to a job interview. In part, this was a practical solution to a problem – she couldn’t find anyone to babysit on short notice. But it was also a deliberate decision, as she wanted to make it clear that her family life was important to her.
Here is how Obama remembers this moment:
“[Sasha] was a fact of my life. Here is me, I was saying, and here also is my baby.”
This kind of integrity and sincerity followed Obama throughout her career. It helped her weather the obstacles of being under constant scrutiny as a public figure.
Lesson #3 – Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t
Near the end of her high school education, one of her teachers told her that she “wasn’t Princeton material”.
This could have been a huge blow to her confidence. But instead of taking it to heart, she decided to prove the naysayer wrong.
It wasn’t the first or last time that someone told her she couldn’t reach her goals. At times, she was also faced with open animosity and mockery.
During his first presidential election campaign, Obama’s husband was a divisive political figure. The political landscape in the US was increasingly fraught, and that meant that there was no room for error.
In spite of their perseverance, Michelle Obama was ready for the possibility that Barack would lose the election. But she wasn’t going to let that stop her own campaigning efforts.
After the victory, she became even more determined to help her family weather all the pressure they faced. Through her work as first lady, she gained admirers from across the political spectrum.
Nobody would ever underestimate her again. In fact, some expected her to run for president in 2020, though she never expressed any such wishes.
Lesson #4 – Follow Your Passion
Most of Obama’s professional life focused on the things she really cares about.
In a few different ways, she worked on making things easier for the youth. As first lady, she took every opportunity to help young adults succeed in life.
Now that she’s back in civilian life, Obama is working on furthering her vision.
Lesson #5 – Public Speaking Requires Practice and Good Advice
During her time as the first lady, Obama’s speeches were just as inspiring as her husband’s. She always had an imposing presence as a public figure. But it was far more stressful to speak when the eyes of the world were on her.
Obama handled this incredible pressure with good grace. She had a dedicated team that helped her find the best ways to cover all her talking points.
She listened to the experts who helped make her speeches perfect. But Obama also practiced the speeches extensively. Every single detail got planned out in advance, and this helped her find her confidence.
During her book tour, Obama has more leeway. The people who attend these events enjoy her spontaneity. But it’s clear that the skills she gained as first lady serve her well today.
Lesson #6 - Be Willing to Change Course
The exact course of Michelle Obama’s life was impossible to predict. There were many times when she had to stop and reconsider her goals. She forged her own path and found new opportunities.
This flexibility is a critical factor in her success.
According to Gallup’s 2018 survey, Michelle Obama is currently the most admired woman in the US. She’s no longer constantly in the public eye, but people’s respect for her keeps growing.
We’re yet to find out what the future holds for Michelle Obama. But her passion and dedication have already left a mark on the world.
At a high school commencement, this is the message she gave to the audience:
“Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you. Let them make you even hungrier to succeed.”
As an educator, this is what I believe. We can all transform our lives and achieve glorious things.
But getting started isn’t easy, and I’d love to help with that. I have lots of experience working with people from all walks of life.
If you’d like to invite me to speak at your organization, please contact me here.