“Do not be afraid to fail because that often times is the thing that keeps us as women and girls back,” Obama said
On Not Being Afraid to Fail
“Do not be afraid to fail because that often times is the thing that keeps us as women and girls back,” Obama said during a Skype discussion with young female students to mark 2016’s International Day of the Girl. “Because we think we have to be right. We think we have to be perfect. We think that we can’t stumble. And the only way you succeed in life, the only way you learn, is by failing. It’s not the failure; it’s what you do after you fail.”
On Embracing New Experiences
During a 2019 chat with Meghan Markle for British Vogue, Obama was asked about the advice she gives her daughters, Malia Obama, 22, and Sasha Obama, 19. The former first lady told the Duchess of Sussex she hopes they “don’t just check the boxes you think you’re supposed to check” and that “they’ll keep trying on new experiences until they find what feels right”—even if that evolves.
“Becoming who we are is an ongoing process, and thank God–because where’s the fun in waking up one day and deciding there’s nowhere left to go?” she added. “That’s something I wish I’d recognized a little earlier. As a younger woman, I spent too much time worrying that I wasn’t achieving enough, or I was straying too far from what I thought was the prescribed path. What I hope my daughters will realize a little earlier is that there is no prescribed path, that it’s OK to swerve, and that the confidence they need to recognize that will come with time.”
On Finding Your Passion
In a 2018 panel with Penguins Books U.K., Obama talked about how young people are taught to figure out what they want to be when they grow up and the title associated with that, whether it’s a lawyer, teacher or researcher. They then “do the work to get those titles” and have jobs and careers.
“What I learned was none of that has to do necessarily with who I am,” she noted, “not what I want to be.”
Instead, Obama encouraged young people to ask themselves questions, including what do they care about, how do they want to invest their time, what brings them joy and what makes them sad?
“We don’t teach that in school,” she continued, “but I learned to try and find that for me and turn that passion into my career.”
Obama said her life then “started opening up” in ways she’d never predicted. “Because I started asking myself that one simple question: Not what did I want to be, but who did I want to be?” she added. “And how did I want to show up in the world? And if you all can get the jump start on starting to ask yourself that question as you, you know, go after your careers. If you’re starting to think, what kind of work will bring you joy? Because if you find that, you’re going to do well at it and everything else will fall into place. And it did for me.”
On Working Hard for Your Dreams
“Barack [Obama] and I were raised with so many of the same values: like, you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond; that you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them and even if you don’t agree with them,” the mother of two said at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. “And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values and to pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children—and all children in this nation—to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them.”
In her book Becoming, Obama wrote about a call-and-response she’d learned in her high school days. “Confidence, I’d learned then, sometimes needs to be called from within,” she stated. “I’ve repeated the same words to myself many times now, through many climbs: ‘Am I good enough? Yes I am.'”
On Rising Above Negativity
“When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level,” Obama said during her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “No, our motto is when they go low, we go high.”
While giving her 2015 Tuskegee University commencement address, Obama said, “I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values—and follow my own moral compass—then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”
On Using Your Voice
“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice,” Obama wrote at the end of Becoming. “And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”
On Staying True to Yourself
“One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals,” Obama said during a 2008 interview with Marie Claire. “And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.”
On Driving Change
“You may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once,” Obama said during her 2011 keynote address at the Young African Women Leaders Forum. “But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”