Photographed by Daniel Arthur Jacobson

Photographed by Daniel Arthur Jacobson

By Lamya Cruz, 

When Michelle Obama speaks, you listen. She gives it to you straight no chaser. And her strong encouraging spirit cannot go unnoticed. And let’s face it, it would be hard to walk out of a stadium of 12,000 people without feeling an ounce of inspiration and empowerment from the former First Lady herself. It felt as if she was speaking to just me at times, as I am sure it probably did for so many other men and women that night. And as a gift from me to you, I am going to share 13 Things I learned from Michelle Obama, because these gems of insight are just way too good not to.


1. It Takes A Village

The former first lady touched upon the support she had from her family and community growing up. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighborhood mothers were a positive influence on her and many other children in the community. Her own mother [a homemaker]  was also a major support system for her and other kids. Overtime it helped sustain her and has gotten Mrs. Obama to where she is today.


2. Push Through Your Doubts

Even Michelle Obama had doubts, as hard as that is to believe. As a kid she didn’t think she was good enough. “Kids who grow up [that are minorities] are wondering why are people afraid? And naturally have questions about their own ability.” She overcame this by growing up, she said. “You practice by pushing through it. Ignoring it. And achieving the expectations put on you. Get up every day and just do it. There is no magic to just doing and pushing… preserving… you learn that you are smart and often times smarter than some of the people doing what you do.”  


3. Just A ‘Regular Shmegular Girl’ Trying to Make A Difference For Others

She was once that kid wondering what it was like inside the White House, so she wanted to open it up for the kids who didn’t think they would ever have the opportunity to experience the White House themselves. She and husband, former President Barack Obama set up mentor programs for kids to spend time at the White House and experience it first-hand and all it had to offer, which may have included hanging out with world renowned performers. She wanted them to feel, “a part of it.”    


4. Being A Fashion Icon

She never set out to make a “fashion statement”. Instead she wanted to be “cute and comfortable.” “And you’re only as comfortable with people as yourself.” Dressing well and appropriate for the activity was important—practical things. “Fashion has to work for you… You should do what works for you and what makes you feel comfortable.” She wants to focus more on connecting with others than her ensemble. And when people say she is a fashion icon she just simply says, “Okay.”


5. A People Person

Public life for Michelle Obama, "wasn’t that easy.” She also states that, “In the end you really have to like people because these are people jobs. You have to feel comfortable in your skin with people.” It was easy for her to be First Lady because every day she was with people. That gave her purpose and energy. She was authentic to herself.


6. Know Who You Are

Which brings me to my next lesson--be who you are and know who you are. “The me you see on stage is the same me you see backstage or at home.” She is consistently herself and she’s okay with who she is and it makes her public life a whole lot easier.


7. Find What Fits and Go To School!  

Mrs. Obama stated that public service is,” hard.” And once again stresses the importance of connecting. “You have to be a people person and you have to have knowledge—that’s important. It’s not an easy life and before you jump you have to know the sacrifice… We need diversity and strong female voices, and there needs to be other people in the room and not a one sided thing with just men. Start getting ready and understand how it works and please go to school. So many different roles people can play… Internships… Volunteering. Try on some different shoes and see where you're most comfortable in.”   


8. A Seat At the Table

She was, as she says, “loud and persistent.” And being a woman and a black woman at that she knew she could bring a different perspective and opinion. She also joined a recruitment team to see how they selected people, and as you would assume the circle was kind of small. “Being at the table was a start, but I had to add that value and not be worried about speaking out and saying my opinion… It takes courage and also maybe you might get kicked off the table, but speak up and have confidence and see that your experience has value… We have to be vocal, take risks and speak up.”


9. She Doesn’t Have All The Answers Sway But She Wants to Help Find The Solutions  

She believes that there should be opportunities and resources for those that cannot just do it for themselves and she would rather spend the time working on those solutions for people or kids that are not being invested in. She doesn’t know the answer but she wants to help find the solution.


10. The Importance of Mental Health

 “Sadly, we live in a society where mental health is stigmatized. It is important to know that people are not broken but to be okay about getting help and not feeling a since of stigma from it. Mental health should be given the same respect and care as any other health issue.”


11. Women Empowered Economically

“…the internal work we have to do as women, to think about ourselves first instead of last, especially when it comes to asking for equal pay... We have to have some kind of conversation among ourselves so that we can be honest and break those traumas and fears. We have to tap into that place and figure out what’s going on and be brave and fight for this stuff. Are we comfortable and afraid to lose ground? Or do we want the changes within those leadership positions?”


12. Make Sure You Are An Asset

Michelle Obama talked about carving out a role for herself as a “new kind of first lady”, and becoming an asset during the campaign and in the white house. “The more that people saw me being an asset, the more I could figure out how to use that to make changes, resources and gain support. Advocating and adding value, and being clear on boundaries and creating those within which you want to work.”  


13. Have Some Decency, Please  

“People are just trying to get by and they want a fair shake. If we just believe in the decency and act on it—that’s powerful.”  


Visit the Women's Fund to find out more ways to make a difference and support both women and girls in the Indiana community!