Michelle Obama was greeted to a standing ovation by a sold out crowd November 20, 2017, when she made her first appearance in Toronto since leaving the White House. She was a featured speaker at an event organized by the Economic Club of Canada. I was honoured to have received an invitation to join the Girls Inc. of Halton at their table for this exciting opportunity to hear Obama speak to young women of the future.
The best way to leverage power is through young people.
The crowd erupted in loud cheers and applause when the former First Lady, shared with attendees the question she often hears since leaving the White House. “Michelle, I want you to run for president.” A sentiment many people share, especially when they see what’s happening in that office today. Mrs. Obama set the record straight saying she has no intention on running for office, but is committed to doing what she can to help inspire and guide young women to be the future leaders they were meant to me. She spoke from the heart saying, “Not to be embarrassed by your failures, but to own them and learn from them and it’s that resilience that I think makes me who I am. It’s not the degrees, it’s not the schools I went to, it’s not the titles. It’s my ability to bounce back again and again,” she said, “….I can’t be me if I’m not proud of my story.”
Often times we face great obstacles in our goals and dreams. Sometimes it’s our own friends, family and members of our community that hold us back. She spoke candidly about her own personal experiences growing up in the south side of Chicago. Learning how to navigate in a community where she was balancing wanting to succeed, while trying to fulfill the expectations of her community. She shared what it was like growing up in a world where people sometimes asked her, “Why are you talking like a white girl?” When asked how she handled that, she said she had to learn how to speak in a way so she didn’t get her “butt kicked.” This is all part of learning how to navigate through life and knowing how to handle yourself in various situations.
All too often we allow what people say to us to hold us back. It can sometimes invoke fear on us. She told the crowd that she realized when it comes to some of the things people say to you, it actually says little about you and more about the person saying it to you. Young people have to realize that the ‘holding back’ you experience from others is actually fear. It’s the other people’s fears of what your success may mean. At the same time it’s important to understand that other’s fears are often coming from a place of love and the fear of the unknown. Try to approach others in a way that shows you do understand, but you can’t allow it to hold you back either. She said that young people need to learn how to push beyond their fears in order to reach the heights they were meant to.
I think that mantra of pushing beyond your fears applies to everyone. It’s not too late if you’re already an adult navigating the world. Our lives are always changing and sometimes we don’t pursue or haven’t realized our destiny until later in life. Much of what Obama said applies to everyone in the game of life.
“You can’t make yourself small because other people don’t know how to be big. ”
– Michelle Obama
One of the things she said that stood out to me was in regards to the value of men in the women’s empowerment movement. Obama addressed the fact that without the support of men, who are already in the positions of power and control, making the changes will continue to be a challenge.
This is quite true because we live in a world where men are usually in positions of power. Even when women may be more suited for a position, they are often passed over for a man. If men can stand up and embrace women, even acknowlege their value, perhaps the change will move ahead much quicker than it has.
Michelle and Barack both subscribe to the belief that change happens from the bottom up, not the top down. She said our world is too obsessed with focusing on one person to be a saviour, a hero. The reality is one person can’t make the change in society. It’s done as a collective whole. The reason she chooses to focus on the next generation is because the best way to leverage power is through young people. They are the future change makers.
“There’s nothing more important to young leaders as heaving a great education and health,” she said when discussing the importance of balance and mental health. “Feeling good, powerful and eating right gives you confidence.” she continued. She went on to say that we’re in a state when people are afraid to identify with mental health issues. We need to get to a place where support and resources are provided so that we can change the conversation and find a way to lift the veil and the stigma on mental health issues.
Of course this event was directed at young people and wouldn’t be complete without the discussion about social media and how we can use technology for good. When asked what was her advice regarding the use of social media she had a lot to say. She talked about the value of making sure you filter out what you’re communicating before you press ‘send’. “We use social media by committee,” referring to the process she and Barack use when utilizing social media. The process includes writing a draft, editing, thinking about it, re-editing and doing a final draft before you send the information out there. She said to remember that not everything needs to be exposed to the light of day and to make a conscious decision with thought before sharing information.
It was an amazing luncheon that had many points of conversation. Not only did Obama bring up issues that are critical to preparing our young people for the future, but also are important for those in power to understand and help support the next generation.
When you get into a position where you can help someone who needs it, do it. In order for us to embrace what’s ahead, we need to recognize where we came from and how we can help those we left behind. “I can see the place that brought me here, but I can’t leave it there,” she said of her humble upbringing in Chicago. “I can’t just sit there in the office and not go back to help. There’s power in giving back to the communities you come from.”