Last week The White House convened the first official United State of Women Summitin D.C., where women from all over the country came together to discuss gender issues facing women today, and create strategies to address them. The summit covered the following topics: economic empowerment, health and wellness, educational opportunity, violence against women, entrepreneurship and innovation, leadership and civic engagement. President Obama, Vice President Biden, Gloria Steinem, Shonda Rhimes and Kerry Washington were among the speakers at the illustrious event, where they encouraged the audience to continue championing feminism and gender equality.
The summit concluded with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. They discussed self-esteem and how it is the foundation of professional success, and how their self-esteem was hard won. Obama defines herself by her actions, which makes it easier to block out the media and critics who draw different conclusions. Actions become accomplishments, which lead to personal and professional excellence. Here a few things we learned from the First Lady’s interview on how to achieve self-worth and professional success:
Have A Clear Sense Of Self
The first answer Mrs. Obama gave was how our first job as women is to get to know ourselves. We spend time pleasing, satisfying others and looking to the world to define who we are when we need to dedicate that time we spend pleasing others and asking others what they want us to be asking ourselves that same question she said. It is especially true for women of color she explained, who are put in limited boxes that they are expected to stay in- she warned of the danger of staying within others’ expectations, and how women miss out on who they are when they do.
“For me, I came into this with a pretty clear sense of myself; and some of that comes with age, some of that comes with experience, some of that comes from being fortunate enough to be raised by a loving mother: strong, focused, and a father who loved me dearly,” she said. “So I fortunately came into this situation with a really clear sense of who I was. So when you hear the smack talking, from outside the world, it’s easy to brush that off because I know who I am.”
Protect Your Time
Before she was first lady, Mrs. Obama was an attorney, and then the Vice President of Community Outreach at the University of Chicago Hospital. She had two small daughters, and just had her youngest daughter, Sasha, when she interviewed for the vice president position. Since the First Lady did not have babysitting at the time, she took her infant daughter to the interview with her, in what is seen as a bold move. She explained that she knew her value, and that if the hospital was interested in her for the position, she wanted them to know who she was, and bringing her infant daughter to work was part of who she was. She needed full-time compensation and flexibility, and illustrated what she needed to succeed in that position as a mother with young children. She brought those same principles to the White House. “I started to understand that if I was going to protect them [her daughters], I had to number one protect myself and protect my time,” she said. “I knew going into this role that I didn’t want to waste any time…One of the things I realized is if you do not take control over your time and your life, other people will gobble it up. If you don’t prioritize yourself, you constantly start falling lower and lower on your list. Your kids, fall lower and lower on your list.”
Self-Esteem Is Built On Accomplishment
The first lady discussed ways she handles the chaos and criticism of her position; not only does she know who she is, she likes who she is, and explained it is a journey to get there. “If you’re going out into the world as a professional and you don’t know how you are and you don’t know what you want and you don’t know how much you’re worth, then you have to be brave,” she said. “And then you have to count on the niceness and goodness of others to bestow that goodness on you when you should be working to get it on your own because you deserve it. Know your own value.” She went on to say, “In this job, people won’t remember what other people say about you, but they will remember what you do.”
The Best Revenge Is Good Work
Obama knew she wanted to make the role of First Lady her own, and actively avoided reading the memoirs of previous first ladies so she could understand the role for herself, and keep her small children (small at the beginning of their time in office) her priority.
Regardless of what Obama did or did not do, she knew she would be under a tremendous amount of scrutiny and critics would be merciless. She said that her focus would be to do something she cares about every day, something consequential and “let that speak for itself,” she said. “That would shut up the haters, because I would have a whole portfolio of stuff that defined me because it’s what I did and not what you called me. The best revenge is success, and good work.