Reflecting on Michelle Obama's Words to Young Women: Part 1

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This is part one of a reflection on "A Moderated Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama" from our residents, Ellen Huggins and Lauren Lewis. Check out Ellen's reflection here

After a two hour drive, we stumbled into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and were presented with press passes that read, “A Moderated Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama.”

Photography by Daniel Arthur Jacobson. 

In the weeks leading up to this event, put on by the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, I had wondered if it would be politically focused: a speech commenting on the current political climate or a speech raving about the past president. I was so excited to find out that it was neither. Instead, moderator Alecia DeCourdreax interviewed Michelle Obama about her life, her successes, and every woman’s ability to excel.

As a millennial, I’m often thrown under the umbrella that we’re “changemakers.” We change jobs often, believe in climate change, and are changing the English language more than past generations (YOLO, after all). Often when someone asks me what I want to do, my answer is something along the lines of I want to “make a difference” or “make a change.” The idea of having an impact has followed me wherever I go, but I never bring up the underlying question that chases after it: Where do I begin?

Sitting in a room with 12,000 people listening to Michelle Obama answer questions about her life, beliefs, and accomplishments, I finally knew the answer. The overwhelming sense of being lost in a sea of options washed away as her words echoed, “Get up every day, and just do it.”

I’ve thought about “doing something” a lot. Whether it was moving to a new country, applying for a job or internship, or writing a book, I’ve thought about doing it all. But those thoughts were like a never-ending pile of laundry that needed washed. Those thoughts absorbed me, and it didn’t hit me until I sat listening to her talk that I would never accomplish any of it if all I did was think. While thinking can be great for a lot of things – please don’t pick a mattress up off the side of the road without thinking about why it’s out there first – it can hold us back from doing the things we want to do. Thinking for too long allows fear to sink in, and too much fear can be the death of our dreams. But the right amount of fear can be the fire under our ass that makes us get started.

The idea is to push past the comfort into the uncomfortable, to crack the façade of security for the inherent right to use our knowledge, voice, and skills to not only get where we want to go, but where we need to.

Of all the amazing advice Michelle Obama gave, the thing that stuck with me the most was when she spoke of her time as an attorney:

“Being at the table was the start, but then I had to learn not to be afraid to disagree and share my opinion. Don’t be afraid to lose your spot at the table, because if you start agreeing just to agree, then you’re just a wasted seat for a voice that we need.”

I’ve been afraid to demand things from people because I don’t want to come across as pushy or aggressive, but as Michelle Obama said, she was persistent, loud, and pushy. And even though those words can have negative connotations, she turned them into desirable qualities. Being loud didn’t stop her from initiating change; it enabled her.

And being loud, pushy, and persistent can enable all of us too.  

Read Ellen Huggins' reflection here