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Former first lady Michelle Obama brought lessons about becoming the best version of yourself when her book tour stopped Saturday in Washington, D.C.
For about an hour and 30 minutes, Obama chatted on stage at the Capital One Arena with Valerie Jarrett, who served as a senior adviser to former President Barack Obama and is a close friend of the couple.
Before former President Obama dropped in for a quick surprise chat at the end of the event, the former first lady and Jarrett talked at length about balancing motherhood and professional success, as well as how to value self-care while serving society.
Here are four important takeaways from Michelle Obama’s tour and book.
During one of the most candid moments of the evening, Obama talked about going to marriage counseling. After struggling to conceive children, she said she found herself doing the lion’s share of the parenting as then-state senator Barack Obama commuted from their home in Chicago to Springfield, Illinois, for work.
“I was exhausted and that’s when the tension starts building up,” Obama said. “So we go to marriage counseling. And in my mind, I thought, I’m going to bring him to marriage counseling and the counselor is gonna basically tell him to get himself together because I’m like, ‘I know I’m right.’”
But that’s not what happened. Instead, she said, counseling was a personal “turning point” where she realized that she needed to change her approach to happiness.
“I was looking to my husband to make me happy,” she said. “And I realized I’m responsible for my happiness. I’m responsible for how I prioritize my life. And I can’t be mad at him because he prioritizes his life differently and better.”
In the end, she said, it was important for her daughters to grow up with a mother who valued herself. “I learned how to put my workouts in and how to get my rest, and how to ask for help,” Obama said.
Obama told a story about bringing her youngest daughter, Sasha, to a job interview with her when the youngster was just 4 months old.
“I got called in by the president of the University of Chicago Hospital who had heard about me and he wanted me to come in and consider a big job,” she said. “And I thought, well, I don’t want this job. So let me take Sasha because it was like, ‘If you want me then you’re going to see all of me.’ I walked up in there with a big stroller and secretaries were watching her and because I didn’t think I had anything to lose, I asked for everything and I was like, ‘Okay You want me? This is how much I want to make — a lot of money. OK. A lot of money. Because I’m worth it and I will have flex time.'”
To her surprise, she was offered the job, including her demands.
Obama said her working-class parents valued her opinion at an early age and gave her agency in her own home. She tells the story of her mother advocating for her to get better schooling when in elementary school she and her friends complained that they weren’t getting enough homework and learning enough in school.
“Sometimes we like to pretend that kids don’t know when they’re being shortchanged and devalued,” Obama said. “I’m here to tell you that I knew that at second grade. So as we look at school inequality and things aren’t right, kids know when they are not being valued. And it makes them feel some kind of way.”
Obama’s book tour feels like a concert held on your couch. The D.C. stop was held in a massive space but it was also so intimate that people felt like she had bared her soul.
That, it turns out, is the former first lady’s gift, one that helped her husband get elected president and led her to the East Wing of the White House, she said.
While campaigning in Iowa during her husband’s first presidential campaign, she found that stories about her life resonated with voters.
“This is sort of at the core of why I’m writing this book, because what I learned in Iowa is what I think is true, period,” she said. “It’s that what really connects us isn’t race. It isn’t party. It’s not religion. It’s the stories that we remember. It’s those conversations around the dinner table. It’s the kind of baloney sandwich you had at lunch. It’s the kind of furniture you’re used to sitting on. It’s the relationship with your grandfather. It’s values. It’s the life you’ve lived that you remember up here. It’s those memories. And if you know that’s in you and you can tap into that and share that with people, that’s what connects us.”
It’s a lesson anyone running for office might value.
Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; the moderator of Washington Week, the weekly public affairs show on PBS; and a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. She often tells stories about the intersection of race and politics as well as fatal police encounters. She is currently covering the administration of President Joe Biden and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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