8 Lessons From First Lady Michelle Obama’s Chat with Oprah

michelle and oprah
Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey speak about the state of women and girls and what’s ahead for the future.

First Lady Michelle Obama sat down for a conversation with Oprah Winfrey to discuss many issues faced by women and girls at the recent United State of Women Summit that took place in Washington DC.  There was so much to digest from their 45 minute conversation.  If you missed it or don’t have time to watch the full video, here are 8 key lessons shared by the First Lady.

1. Surround yourself with goodness

Surround yourself with people who uplift you and hold you up.  You need to find those people who love you or are waiting to love you so that they can support you.  If you surround yourself with the negative people who constantly bring you down, then you don’t allow room for the positive to enter your space. You need to make room for those who will truly love and bring out the best in you.

This speaks to so many of you. I’m sure at some point in your life you may have found yourself within a social circle of people who were either not supportive of your dreams or were negative about everything and just took away your positive energy. If you don’t remove yourself from that all it does is either hold you back or bring you down.

You are sometimes faced with the decision to cut certain people, who no longer align with your paradigm, out of your life. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, but it allows you to grow in the direction you need to.

2.  Forget About the Haters

People won’t remember what other people said about you, but they will remember what you do.” Michelle Obama

Tweet: People won't remember what other people said about you, but they will remember what you do.

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Oprah asked her about how to handle the haters and dealing with social media because there are so many people who have something to say.

She responded, “There are times I turn off the world.”  She went on to say that we need to put our phones down. We can’t read everything that is said about us all the time.  Don’t open yourself up to the negative things otherwise you’re setting yourself up.  She said that during the presidential campaign she didn’t allow all the negative things being said about her husband affect her.  She learned not to read everything because she already knew the truth about what was going on in her own home.

You should also learn to tune out all the outside things and focus on yourself and what is going on in your life.   You don’t have to be famous to have experienced the negative effects of social media. It’s happens to a lot of people. Social media also opens everyone up to the possibility of thinking that everyone else’s life is so much better than yours.  Have you ever felt like that?  I know I have.  Especially when I see some of the amazing things people I went to school with may be doing and I can feel left behind.

No matter what is being said in social media you must remember that what you do and how you respond will be your testament.

“People won’t remember what other people said about you, but they remember what you do,” she said.  It’s important to realize that those people saying negative things or ‘hating’ on you should not be your focus.  They can talk all they want, but if you prove them wrong with your actions, that’s enough to silence your worst critic.

  “The best revenge is success and good work.” – Michelle Obama

 Tweet:   Click to Tweet this quote

3. Be Authentic

 “People can smell inauthenticity, they know when you are not what you appear to be.” ~Michelle Obama

Get involved in something that is authentic to you and the core of what you believe.  She told Oprah that with every interaction she has had with people, she tries her best to be authentically herself. Also it’s necessary for her to do things that she authentically cares about because that’s when she’s really excited to be involved.   When you do something that isn’t authentic to who you are, people will see through that.  That’s why no matter what you do, you should align yourself with social and humanitarian causes that you believe in and reflect who you are as a human being.

4. Empower others through Service

When discussing having left a life in Law for Public Service, the First Lady said that being of service to others should always be something authentic and from the heart.  She spoke of wanting to wake up inspired to do something greater for someone and that there are so many opportunities to be of service to others.

“Service and giving is all about doing something greater than yourself.”  In all the interactions she has with people everyday she hopes that people don’t go back to a life of isolation and learn to stay connected with each other.  “It’s important to have people in our lives that we are connecting with on a regular basis.,” she continued.  Relationships and connections with people are so important and you often take for granted the impact you may have on someone else’s life.

Have you taken a moment to consider being of service to others?  I know many of you have such busy schedules that you think there is no way that you can commit to volunteering your service somewhere.  The good thing is, you don’t have to join an organization to feel like you’re making a difference.  It can be as simple as offering to help someone you know to do something; without looking for something in return.  Service is about helping, so you really should never be expecting something in return for what you do.  The real return is the satisfaction you get from knowing you’ve been able to help another person.

“There is nothing that makes me feel better than knowing that I helped to change somebody’s life,” she said, “If you’re doing  that every single day the haters the doubters, none of that matters because you are getting so much from the work that you do.”

Oprah responded to her with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that she said she applied to her own career and life. King said, “Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”  There is so much truth in that statement, especially today because so many people equate greatness with fame when that is not true.

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5. Never Stop Growing

We have so many phases in life and  Michelle Obama believes we should always be growing.  She told Oprah, “I used to hate the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up, because it assumes that at some point you stop becoming and you just ‘are something’ and that would be  a sad thing to think that…’this is it’.”  Obama made an important point because we are always evolving at different stages in our lives. Even when you reach a point that might seem like it’s the pinnacle of your life, there is always room for something more.  When thinking about what a great opportunity and experience it has been to be the First Lady and even the big deal of living in the White House, she recognized that it’s not the end, “This is still just a portion of a bigger journey  that I have yet to know the outcome.”

It’s important to remember that no matter where you are in life, there is always more to come.

6. You Can Have it All, Just not All at The Same Time

Is balance a false notion that is pushed on women? We’ve all read those articles about women finding balance with career, family and personal life. We are expected to balance yet we rarely hear men talking about work/life balance. Obama expressed  how she grew irritated with the notion that you can have it all. She spoke about it being a ridiculous aspiration because no one gets everything.  Not all at once.  You don’t always get your way and you don’t always get what you want all the time she told Oprah.

“You can have it all but it’s hard to have it all the time.  At any given time ‘something’s got to give’. – Michelle Obama


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She explained that there are things we sacrifice or postpone at different points in our life.  If you compromise through one phase of your journey it doesn’t mean that you’re giving it all up.  A compromise doesn’t mean that you have to leave your dreams behind. There may be another phase where you will have more than you wanted.  Don’t think you’re failing because you’re not having it all.  Thw reality is, life is hard.  It’s important to take care of yourself at any given time so that you’re not burnt out and so you don’t become so frustrated that you throw in the towel.

In the end it’s important to remember that you can have it all, but not always at the same time. It comes and goes in phases.

Image: InStyle Magazine

7. Don’t Be Complacent

Oprah asked her, “What is the one thing you want us to leave here with?”

She responded, “The work always continues. We’re never done. We can never be complacent and think that we’ve arrived as women.”  Many young women are not feeling the same pain that their predecessors felt fighting for women’s rights.  The new generation of young women have reaped the benefits of voting and other laws put in place for equality. Even though it can appear that the fight is over, it’s not.  Women of today and the future still feel the pain and the fight is still going strong. Despite advancements and legal protections, women in many countries are still faced with huge differences in treatment and access to the same rights as men.

“We can’t be complacent because we have seen how quickly things can be taken away if we don’t know our history and don’t continue working on the things that need to be done,” she said, “I hope that people leave here inspired.”  She wanted everyone to remember that you should ask yourself what exactly you are going to do, going forward to get things done.  It’s your action that will make a difference.

8. Be Better

A bonus piece of advice for men, but can actually be applied by anyone, came towards the end of their conversation when Oprah asked if she had any words of advice for men.

Simply put, she responded with, “Be better.”

“Be better at everything, be better fathers, be good fathers who love your daughters and are providing a solid example of what it means to be a good man in the world showing them what it feels like to be loved.” She said it was the greatest love that the men in her life gave her.

“Men can be better husbands.  Be a part of your family’s life, be engaged and don’t think going to work and coming home is the only part of being a good man,” she continued.  Many men forget that they play a key role in the lives of women.  The empowerment of our gender doesn’t just happen because we stand up for our rights, but also because of the support from men and those who also stand alongside women in vocalizing the changes that need to happen.

See below if you want to watch the full video for yourself.


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