6 Things I Learned From An Evening With Michelle Obama

Photo by Mark Allan/Southbank Centre
Michelle Obama discusses her memoir BECOMING with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in an exclusive UK event in Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall in collaboration with Penguin Live on Mon. 3 Dec. 2018.
I've never felt an atmosphere quite like it. The buzz of almost 3,000 people vibrated throughout the building in anticipation of what was about to happen. Overwhelmed with a sudden wave of optimism which I can only liken to the vibe of the 2008 presidential election, and a little giddy at the gravity of it all, I settled into my seat. Michelle Obama, our Michelle Obama, was about to come out and talk.
Obama was hosted by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, celebrated Nigerian author and one of the few public speakers I've listened to who can provoke Beyoncé levels of screams and applause simply by setting foot on stage. Two intelligent, inspirational and unapologetically vocal black women joined in conversation was always going to feel incredibly special. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot to take away from the wisdom that was exchanged on stage.
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The reason we were all gathered in Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall on a bitterly cold Monday night was, of course, the recent release of Becoming, Michelle Obama's memoir. Anyone who's already read it will know that it's earnest, funny and revealing with a surprising level of honesty considering how contained her life had to be for those eight years in the White House. She invites us to know more about her relationship with Barack (yes, they had marriage counselling and she thinks it's wild that people aren't more honest about that), about having a miscarriage (Malia and Sasha were conceived via IVF) and what her modest, happy childhood was really like. But here, speaking to an audience of eager admirers, it was time for Obama to spill a little bit more.
We learned that she spends most of her time telling herself not to fall over in public for fear of becoming a meme. She told a story about the actual Queen of England telling her that protocol is a load of rubbish and threw welcome shade at the blatant co-opters of black women's words. Lols aside though, a few important things came from the mouth of someone I consider to be an eternal matriarch for women across the world, which really resonated with me. From parenting to navigating today's world as a young black woman, these are some of the most important things I learned.

On being allowed to find your voice at a young age

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One of the things that my parents believed was that my voice was relevant and my opinions were meaningful and my anger and frustration was real. And that’s something that parents from any socioeconomic background realise. That was the gift she gave me.

Michelle Obama

On love, and what it takes for a real relationship to work

A true partnership requires two whole people. So, first of all, you have to choose well. You have to choose somebody who’s fully formed because love doesn’t form somebody – that’s not what love does.

Michelle Obama

On success, fear and rising beyond the expectations of others

What I try to convey in some of the transitions I make is, overcoming fear or even learning to live with the fear is one of the keys to success, because fear in transition is something that happens all the time.

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama's advice for young black women today

You have to start by trying to get those demons out of your head. The question that I sometimes continue to ask myself is 'Am I good enough?' That haunts us because the message that is set from the time that we’re little is, maybe you’re not. That’s the first dragon that you have to slay.

Michelle Obama

On proving your worth among those who don't want you to succeed

There’s still a lot of brokenness at the hands of people in power who are making us feel like we don’t belong. They haven’t fixed it yet, because they need our voices at the table to make that happen. So, you have to prepare yourself in your mind, in your heart, and you have to have an education because when you have those arrows thrown at you, what you’ve got to fall back on is your preparedness – your ability to deliver.

Michelle Obama

On progress, hope and changing the world

Change is not a straight line. If you look over the history of America, the Voting Rights Act is not as old as I am – we are still overcoming. We're putting down markers and we make progress. Going backward doesn't mean the progress wasn't real, it just means that it's hard.

Michelle Obama
An Evening with Michelle Obama is a collaboration between Southbank Centre and Penguin Live, and a UK exclusive.
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