“I am responsible for making me happy. I am responsible for how I prioritize my life.” – Michelle Obama
The spirit of this quote has been driving my life for the past several years. I believe that I am the architect and carpenter of not just my life, but also my joy, meaning, and impact. You can only imagine how I felt when Michelle Obama affirmed that last night at the Capitol One Arena!
The crux of her message accentuated the significance of personal agency, self-advocacy, self-compassion, and empathy to our health as a society. As expected, Mrs. Obama showed up as her usual brilliant, poised, vivid self. However, it was her unflinching truth and vulnerability that stole the show and all of our hearts last night.
Thousands stood in a queue that wrapped around the corner and spanned several city blocks. The air was brisk, energy levels high and the selfies abundant. Even before our evening’s host, Valerie Jarrett, Mrs. Obama’s longtime friend and former Senior Advisor to President Obama took the stage, face beaming, the jovial mood in the arena was palpable. From the iconic pop anthems that were the soundtrack of the night to the bold signage that prompted us all to ponder “Who am I Becoming?” it was clear that Mrs. Obama’s intentions went far beyond entertainment. She intended to enlighten, inspire, challenge and delight us. She succeeded in all of these and more. I came away with a deeper belief in the universality of the human experience. For the first time ever, I heard echoes of my own thoughts, lessons, and experiences from someone who has ascended to the highest levels in the world.
My life philosophy is grounded in the idea that knowing oneself is essential to a life that is undeniably true to oneself. Mrs. Obama walked through her journey of self-discovery, starting with defining herself by what she thought others expected of her and eventually having the courage to listen to and act upon the wisdom of her inner knowing. “I was a box checker, which brought me from Princeton, to Harvard, to a firm without ever thinking about what I cared about.” So many of us find ourselves entangled in this dilemma. We collect all of the gold stars and then realize that real meaning and purpose have evaded us. This blog is a product of my own realization that the gold stars I’ve collected over the years were just that – gold stars; shiny acknowledgments of a path taken, but not symbols of personal fulfillment.
Living on your own terms can be incredibly intimidating, especially if you haven’t yet worked those terms out. The most important thing to understand is that we are all figuring it out as we go along. The only sustainable way to do this well is to take care of yourself.
“It was important for the girls to have a model of a mother who values herself, not a martyr” Mrs. Obama said as she unabashedly talked us through instances when she realized that the only way to do what’s best for her family was to prioritize her own wellbeing. This is especially critical living in a culture that rewards instant results and gratification oftentimes without adequately weighing the long-term costs. Loving yourself looks like choosing yourself.
As Mrs. Obama said later in the night, “I learned the power of controlling my story and my voice,” we all need to own our right tell the world exactly who we are and what we stand for. Your story from your mouth matters.
Thank you, Michelle Obama.
Janine Rudder is a coach and Co-Owner at Cohere LLC - https://coherecoach.com