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Braving the Singaporean rain, a crowd of 3,500 gathered in anticipation to listen to Michelle Obama, former US first lady, live last December 14, 2019 at the Singapore Expo. Organised by the Growth Faculty, the talk was called “An Evening With Michelle Obama” and it was mediated by the charismatic Corinna Lim, Executive Director of AWARE, one of Singapore’s top gender equality advocacy groups. 

Everyone knows who Michelle Obama is. She was the First Lady of the United States for eight years, from 2009 to 2017, confidently owning her space on the world stage beside—and yet also independent from—her equally famous husband. 

During her term as first lady, she launched Let’s Move!, a national campaign to raise a healthier generation of kids, Reach Higher, an initiative to inspire young people to go to college, and Let Girls Learn, a global initiative that champions education for young girls. 

She’s graced covers of countless magazines and wowed the world with her personal style, charmed audiences on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden, and delighted in an episode of Ellen, where she went on a CVS pharmacy run with the popular daytime host.

In her bestselling book Becoming, she is candid and forthcoming, revealing a mixture of grace and grit. 

So it’s easy to think you know who she is. I thought I did.

I knew she was nothing short of amazing, but watching her live I realised that she was not only brilliant, she was also really down-to-earth.  

Michelle was here to talk about her life experiences, her family, and her book. For a little over an hour, she enthralled the audience and fielded questions from Corinna with calmness and composure. No doubt everyone learned something new that day. For me, there were three key takeaways.      

Lesson One: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

One of the things she talked about that immediately struck a chord with me was the issue of the imposter syndrome. Michelle said that she’d held various portfolios all her life, but as a woman of colour from a non-privileged background, she often faced situations where she felt out of place, because all her life she’d been told she didn’t belong. 

Had she let it get to her, she would not be the Michelle Obama we know today. Instead, she asserted her position at the usually all-male, all-white tables because she deserved to be there. She pointed out, however, that it didn’t happen overnight. It came after years of pushing herself to go to places where she was told she didn’t belong.

It resonated with me because I, too, have fumbled at interviews, failed to create a good impression, and given up on opportunities simply because I thought or was made to feel that I wasn’t good enough. Maybe the next time that happens, I can do what Michelle did and stand my ground.

Lesson Two: Share your story 

Michelle also talked about the importance of sharing her process of becoming who she is today. She said sharing your story is important because it not only helps you, but maybe someone else who’s going through the same things you are, too. 

As a person of influence she felt a responsibility to share her struggles through her book and her talks. As a woman and as a mother, she mentioned that having a miscarriage wouldn’t have been as traumatic had a lot more women shared their experiences about it.

A lot of us don’t see the point in sharing our stories because we don’t think they’re worth telling or it will benefit anyone. Michelle reminds us that there’s power in sharing our stories of vulnerability, and that no story is too small, especially for us women whose stories are often hidden or written from someone else’s perspective.

Lesson Three: “It’s always better to go high when they go low because it’s a better place to be.”

It wouldn’t do to not bring up Michelle’s oft-quoted mantra, “When they go low, we go high.” When Corinna asked Michelle to elaborate on it, she said she chose the higher moral ground simply because it was a better place to be. 

Knowing that it helped her overcome all the pettiness that was thrown at her during the presidential campaign and her time as first lady was reassuring. It proved that assessing one’s situation, seeking to remain positive, and staying on the right path can do wonders. Of course, Michelle had the support of Barack Obama, her family, and team but it’s definitely a nice thought to consider when dealing with adversity. 

At the end of the night, I think what was most satisfying about the experience was that I got to hear a female icon speaking from her own experiences about her struggles with her identity, career, family, and her process of becoming. And she does it out of a need to share her own story. It was inspiring to be in the presence of a woman who not only knew who she was but also where she wanted to be.

Nikita is from Darjeeling. She enjoys good gin and well-written fiction. In the process of figuring out her life, she has dabbled with academia, development and is now in corporate as a content writer.

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