On June 14th, the first ever United State of Women Summit was held in Washington D.C., bringing women from across the country together for discussion and mutual inspiration. Innovative and opinionated women took the stage to join in celebrating the progress women have made, and to promote further change. First Lady Michelle Obama sat down with Oprah Winfrey for an inspiring, amusing and memorable conversation. Michelle was able to offer up some wisdom for us all.
Here’s what she had to say:
1. “Our first job in life as women is to get to know ourselves.”
Much of Michelle and Oprah’s conversation was based on knowing your worth and what you have to offer, two things that can be a challenge when you don’t have a good understanding of who you are. Once you have a grasp on yourself, you have an easier time pinpointing things that excite and motivate you. Once Michelle figured out who she was and what she wanted, leaving behind her job at a lawfirm for a community based position at a hospital, she was happier. She applied the same logic to the role of First Lady, refusing to read accounts of the women who came before her so she wouldn’t come into the position with anything other than her authentic self. When she did that, she was able to pick up causes she was passionate about, making it that much easier to propel change.
2. “I like me. I’ve liked me for a long time. But there was a journey to get there.”
Once you know yourself, you have to take the next step toward liking yourself. There’s no telling how long it may take you. In fact, it could very well be a continuous and never ending journey. But once you’ve started liking yourself, you’re more comfortable laying out boundaries and being assertive about your worth. When Michelle was changing jobs, she ended up negotiating her pay to make sure she was going to receive exactly what she deserved for what she knew would be good work, and she began prioritizing herself and her daughters to make sure she was satisfied. She explains that not prioritizing yourself makes it easier for other people to claim that time for themselves. When you’re making that time, also set some moments aside to acknowledge your success and be proud of yourself.
3. “Surround yourself with goodness.”
This may not be new information, but ensuring the people around you are deserving of your time and your affection, plays a role in our success. There’s power in the people we allow into our lives. They provide us with encouragement and inspiration. So it’s necessary to weed out people who become toxic and inhibit your growth. As the First Lady explains it, spending time with toxic people means less time with people who actually care about you.
4. “I’m not through.”
Michelle’s not a fan of the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because it implies “you stop becoming and just are”. As people we’re always growing, always changing and always evolving, and the same is true for what we can accomplish. Michelle changed careers and then became First Lady, and she still has no plans on calling it quits on her work. Leaving her law firm is proof enough that what you want at one point may not be the same later on. Progress doesn’t stop because you’ve “grown up”. It continues as long as we’re living and changing. It doesn’t mean that your former hopes and dreams weren’t real or that you should ignore new ideas that come to you. Accept your personal evolution and never settle because you think you’ve “grown up.”
5. Having it all is a “ridiculous aspiration.”
Michelle tells your Facebook friends to “stop lying” about having it all. Their active social lives, their exciting and successful careers, their close relationships with their family members, their regular workout regimen? They might have all of those things, but they don’t have all of them at once. Having it all is a myth. Some days they have no social life to speak of and on others they don’t get a bit of work done. No matter how much we may wish differently, something always to give. It’s totally natural, and we shouldn’t feel like failures for having to focus on one thing and ignore another for a little while. Even for a long while. Michelle explains that we go through phases in life where we’re ready to give certain things more attention, but we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves for not being able to do everything at once.
6. “The best revenge is success.”
If anyone has haters, it’s the First Lady, and she’s not worrying about hers so why should you worry about yours? When asked about dealing with detractors, Michelle explained that she allows her work to speak for her because “people won’t remember what other people say about you, they will remember what you do.” So don’t waste time listening to people who have nothing nice to say. Chances are, you won’t be able change their minds anyway, so let your actions speak for themselves. Your achievements will resonate more than what others think about you.
7. “The work always continues.”
Despite our hopes, we may never see a time in which feminism and social justice are no longer necessary. Recent events (like the backpedaling some political leaders are looking to do for women’s rights) prove that even the passage of time doesn’t mean our rights are safe. It’s an unfortunate and disheartening reality that our work may never be done. Even when it is, maybe new issues will arise that need our attention, and we’ll start up all over again. In either case, we have to keep paying attention. Michelle says that “we can’t afford to be ignorant, we can’t afford to be complacent.” We should celebrate the progress we make without forgetting about the work we still need to do.