Saturday night I went with my younger daughter (who’s 17) to see Michelle Obama at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Taking in an intimate conversation in a large arena is an unusual experience, but there is nothing more encouraging than listening to a woman whom so many of us would argue “has it all” be so open and honest. She is a prime example of when you share your vulnerabilities, you empower others. (She is also surprisingly off-the-cuff funny.)
A poignant example that struck a chord with me was her frank discussion about her marriage, and how, when her kids were young and Barack was on the road a lot, she struggled. She insisted they go to marriage counseling, because she thought he needed to change his ways. What surprised her was the counselor’s response. “What I learned in counseling was that I was responsible for my own happiness. And that was part of my frustration. I expected my husband now to not only just be my partner, but to fill me up in ways that were my responsibility. Counseling helped me to sort of take a step back and look at, ‘How do I take control of my own happiness within our marriage?’ And how to prioritize myself. Because that’s what we do as women. We’re so busy puttin’ everyone else before us. And then we burn out. We’re like, fourth on our list, or fifth on our list.”
Who can relate? I certainly can. I don’t need marriage counseling (I am very lucky in that regard though like Michelle, I agree “Marriage is hard. It is hard…I love my husband, and we have a great marriage…but marriage is hard work.”) But I have definitely looked to others at times for happiness and prioritized my family when I should have also put myself on that list.
The overarching theme of Michelle’s book is becoming, the idea that we are all on journey and that sharing the stories of your past are important as well as looking to the future no matter what your accomplishments. It is the idea that where you come from matters, but you should also always be moving forward. Maybe you set goals, then you reach them, what’s next? I find this so relevant to women and how we tend to lead lives that are anything but linear in their trajectory. Many of us follow different career pathways, some of us take time off to raise families, or work and raise children, or work on our relationships, but allowing ourselves to enjoy those periods in our lives and then to continue to evolve, to not second-guess the choices we make, is so critical to our well-being. We’re our own toughest critics and to what end?
Probably the biggest media coverage from the event is when Michelle dissed Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, saying “Marriage ain’t equal ya’ll. It ain’t equal. I tell women that whole ‘you can have it all’—mmm, nope, not at the same time, that’s a lie. It’s not always enough to lean in because that shit doesn’t work.” Throw down aside, she’s right. I’m so glad the conversation about being a woman today is moving away from “look how much I can do” to “my life is messy and I’m proud of it”. We need more women like Michelle, women who know how to keep it real.