Between writing her first book, adjusting to life outside the White House and celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary, Michelle Obama popped into Philly on Tuesday to keynote the 13th annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women. In one of her first public talks since leaving office, and before 12,000 attendees, Obama got candid about the state of the country (and its future) in an illuminating conversation with prolific screenwriter and producer Shonda Rhimes. It was like listening in on teatime between besties. The conversation was loaded with quick tips for navigating career and life, and the following ten excerpts only help us confirm what’s been said before: Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama should really really be the next president of the United States.
- Attention, politicians: Your seats belong to the people.
“There are so many new fresh ideas and perspectives that are coming along and sometimes when you’re living in the White House and serving in the House or Senate, it’s a very unique bubble of isolation. You don’t get to have the same kind of interaction, and therefore there are some parts of you that do lose touch. It’s important to make way for those new voices and ideas so that the country and the world continue to evolve. But that’s not how a lot of people practice politics. A lot of people treat those seats like they belong to them. They don’t. Those seats belong to the people. It’s important to know when it’s time to move on and find another way to have impact.”
- Overcoming Imposter Syndrome doesn’t happen over night.
“It took some time to find [my] voice. It takes time to live life and have those experiences where you fail but then succeed, where you try hard things and exercise bravery and then it works out. Or, you get a seat at the table and you realize that the people around it are no smarter with no better ideas. A lot of that just comes with life experience. That has definitely developed for me over time.”
- Children should not be shushed.
“I had parents, a mother and father, who thought what me and my brother had to say was important. They made room for our voices at a very young age […], just sitting at the dinner table and really listening to what we had to say and laughing at our jokes and allowing our opinions to come into the conversation. Not always shushing us. Even if we didn’t say things as right or respectfully maybe because we were still learning how to do that, we were never shushed or told kids are supposed to be seen, and not heard.”
- Give young girls power early.
“So early in our lives we are shushed. And not just directly shushed but sometimes in our lives we’re treated too preciously. We may have a father that loves us and treats us like a doll. They don’t treat us like real beings and equal partners. […] I was loved dearly by my father but I was never so precious that he didn’t think that I could be in there right at the table. […] When think we have to love a girl, be sure to also respect her and giver her power at a very young age.”
- If you have a seat at the table, speak up.
“Shame on us if we sit by and let an imposter talk us down. […] If we don’t speak up, our voices are never involved in the process of problem solving, and we don’t get to the right answers. […] I am constantly telling young women to speak up and talk. Don’t waste your seat at the table. If you’re scared to use your voice, then you have to get up and let someone else in there who’s going to use it.”
- Work flexibility should be the future.
“We’ve seen that people can be at the office all day and somehow get nothing done, but time in somehow means something. I found I was the most productive when I was in a flex situation when I was the vice president at University of Chicago Hospitals. I had both kids and Barack was in the Senate. I told my boss do not check for me for these needless meetings. I do not have time for that. I will be getting work done. If you are looking for me to sit down in meetings to make you feel good, I can’t do it because I am working my butt off. [Flexibility] is the only way that you’re going to ensure that you keep quality [employees]. At some point we have to create a different definition of what it means to be successful at work.”
- Dear Businesses, who’s at your decision-making table?
“Make sure the problem-solving table is diverse. There can’t be a room full of men who are going to come up with the right answers for how to create a work environment that’s hospitable to women. […] If we’re trying to get anything done and we all look around and we’re sitting around the same table and we’re all feeling really comfortable with ourselves, we should question that. Until we are ready to fight for that, which means that some people have to give up their seats to make room or be ready to have more seats, we’re going to continue to struggle.”
- Problems at home should be everyone’s first priority.
“People overlook the thing they have most power over. I know so many people who will go to a protest and do something big on an issue, but they won’t deal with the same issues in their own home. What makes us afraid to make change in our own lives and homes and families? […] You have to get up close to people, and you can’t ignore the people who are right in your home and then think you can effect bigger change.”
- Hitting the gym is just one example of much needed “me time.”
“I needed it. It made me feel better physically and emotionally. It was meditative. It was and is a place to release and solely invest in me. […] I work out because it doesn’t necessarily help Malia and Sasha or my husband, but it is all about me. And that feels good. We should find more things like that.”
- To reclaim your time, plan ahead.
“My habit is at the beginning of the year, I look at a blank calendar and then we put everything for the kids first like potlucks, sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments, and vacations. Second is me. When do I want to work out? When do I want to hang out with my girlfriends? What trips do I want to take? When can I take a long weekend? Put that on there. And then once all that’s done, everything else can come around that. It’s amazing because it forces you to say “no” because you’ve already blocked out the time.”
Bonus: Barack Obama dropped in on video to deliver a special anniversary message.
— Fabiola Cineas (@FabiolaCineas) October 3, 2017
Follow @fabiolacineas on Twitter.