Michelle Obama Urges ”Kindness and Patience“
BMD&M receives insight at INBOUND2017 from former First Lady
Former First Lady Michelle Obama delivered inspiration, affirmation and warnings of the dangers of social media on today’s young people at INBOUND2017, the conference hosted at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center by inbound marketing platform, Hubspot.
From our seats in the way, way, back, BMD&M could still hear Obama’s message loud and clear the morning of September 27, 2017, as she was interviewed by author Roxane Gay, who opened the 9am keynote by quipping, “only two people could get me up this early — you or Beyonce.”
Peppered with heartfelt wit and hard-earned perspective, the ensuing conversation spanned the benefits of failure, the importance of hard work, and the key to finding serenity in the face of misogynist media coverage, last-minute slumber parties, and teenage children.
Not playing the Trump card
Though several of Gay’s questions could have led into a commentary from Obama on the current administration, she refused to rise to the bait, instead imploring the audience to avoid the impulse to undermine. “We want the current administration to be successful,” she pointed out, adding, “part of our legacy is leading with grace and being humble and diplomatic.” Interestingly, the media has alighted on the one uncharacteristically political remark within her notably diplomatic responses.
Substance, instead of slogans
Obama described her tenure at the White House as “like being shot out off a cannon while drinking from a fire hydrant, with a blindfold and a spotlight on you; it’s nuts.” The upshot of the ordeal was a deeper understanding of her own potential. “I learned … I can really do anything,” she revealed.
Obama credited her decades of success and failure before entering the White House with her ability to make “substantive” changes in the conversation around nutrition, education, military families and other issues while serving in a traditionally nebulous and undefined position. “I didn’t want to be a first lady of slogans and platitudes,” she said. “I hope I brought a bit of vision and strategy.”
“I had lived life,” before even entering the White House, she explained. “Life teaches you grace.” Life’s greatest teacher is failure. “Don’t be afraid of failure,” she advised the audience. “Don’t be afraid of obstacles; that’s what makes you stronger.”
These shoes were made for working
Comparing the criticism she and her husband faced during his administration to the constant social scrutiny thrust upon a generation of children growing up with social media, Obama bemoaned that many young people lack the self assurance necessary to withstand public rebuke. “Part of the age of social media puts young people in the face of this criticism before they’re ready,” she pointed out. “That’s a sad part of my culture right now but it’s real.”
How can young people mitigate the potential psychological damage? “When you’re young … take a moment to know yourself,” she advised. “It seems so cliche, [but] don’t let other people define you.” She delivered an example from her own experience to drive the point home.
Frustrated by media coverage that inevitably focused on the successful attorney’s appearance, she implored the same strategy she had relied upon throughout her career: ignore the talk and get back to business. “Do the work—that’s generally my response. Let me do the work.”
“All the conversation was about my shoes or what broach I had on,”she recalled of early media coverage of her role. Meanwhile, “my husband wore the same blue suit for eight years and nobody commented.” But her determination to achieve her program’s goals changed the conversation. Once her successes mounted, the focus shifted. “As the years went on, the part about what I was wearing came further on in the article.”
Her now young-adult daughters still have to deal with a well-meaning public that often feels entitled to interactions on-demand with unaccompanied minors. Her best advice to parents on teaching kids how find poise in difficult situations instead of succumbing to anger involves practicing what you preach. “Model it,” she asserted. “That’s one thing that guides my grace, thinking about my children and other children who are watching.”
Obama noted that learning this lesson “takes practice, it takes some mistakes.” By failing, we learn that while “the immediate anger feels good in the moment, it never feels good in the long term.” By experiencing that lack of control, and the regret that comes after, we can find our own way to the fact that “it’s always better to deal with people with kindness.”
“We all need to be a little empathetic to one another in this world,” Obama asserted to great applause. “We all need to exercise a little kindness and patience.”
Even after growing up in the spotlight, Obama recalled that her daughters were sad to leave the then familiar rhythms and community of their childhood home. Reminiscing on her last night at the White House, Obama revealed that her daughters, despite her protestations, held a slumber party on the last night before they had to move out for the incoming first family. She remembers tearful goodbyes among the pajama-clad guests before “pushing them out the back door,” hurriedly reminding the girls, “‘The Trumps are coming!’” and wishing them luck navigating their way out through the extensive security detail.
All the ladies in the house
“Let me talk to the women,” Obama implored, leaning forward and breaking her narrative cadence. As a woman-owned business, BMD&M paid particular attention. “We have been socialized to sort of sit there and be quiet,” she noted of women in the workplace. “Before we speak up,” she continued, we tell ourselves “it has to be perfect.” Obama added a caveat to her missive: “this is not just true for women but it is often true for women.” How to break the pattern? “I would urge us to tap into that question, why wouldn’t I stand up for myself?” Whatever your obstacles, she insisted, “in the end, it’s about loving yourself.”