What I Learnt From Michelle Obama


When Collective Hub spent an hour with the former First Lady.

Illustration: Jen and Jennifer

This week Collective Hub’s founder and editor-in-chief, Lisa Messenger, visited the Dreamforce Conference, hosted by Salesforce, in San Francisco. In the latest of a series of articles, here’s what she learnt at the global gathering for trailblazers.

In almost five years of running Collective Hub, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, interview and listen to some of the world’s greatest thought leaders. But sitting in a room with the former First Lady Michelle Obama, listening to her live for an hour, has got to be up there with one of the best experiences I’ve had to date.

Unsurprisingly, thousands of people lined up from the early hours to hear the former First Lady take to the stage to be interviewed by Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff at the Dreamforce Conference. She had a LOT to say about workforce diversity, self development, purpose projects and the key to raising a future generation of change-makers.

Here are some of the things I took away from this incredibly strong, down to earth, world-changing woman.

Children are inspiration

At the beginning of her talk, one of the first things Michelle did was address the children sitting at the front of the stage. “I love you; you inspire me,” she said. Everything we are doing in our lives should be for our kids, Michelle believes. Whether you have kids of your own or not, focus on the needs of the next generation and how we can make their world brighter and safer.

Don’t wait for catastrophe

Speaking on the topic of climate change, Michelle says she often hears people say things like, “Oh, it’s getting a little warmer, but I like it a little warmer.” She says to Barrack, “What’s it going to take – someone to spontaneously combust on the street before global warming becomes a thing?” Don’t wait until we hit crisis point to be a change-maker.

Education is key

As the founder of Let Girls Learn, a United States government initiative to ensure adolescent girls around the world get the education they deserve, Michelle is dedicated to investing in the education of future female generations. She believes teaching establishments need to realise not everybody learns in the same way. It’s a belief we’ve always championed at Collective Hub (which is why our Graduate Certificate in Collective Entrepreneurship with Torrens University caters to all kind of thinkers).

Be an active role model

Whether she’s doing jumping jacks on the South Lawn of the White House (to break the Guinness World Record for the most people doing jumping jacks around the world during a 24-hour period) or challenging Ellen DeGeneres to do push-ups on television, her actions were all about purpose, not a publicity stunt. As the founder of Let’s Move, an initiative to raise a healthier generation of children, she wants the kids of America to see an active life is a happy life.

Give women a voice

According to Michelle, diversity is key to mindful decision making. “I don’t think that a group of men sitting around, alone at a table, are going to get much right,” she said. “I love men, they’re great, you just need a few more of us – a lot more of us.” It’s not only important to place women in positions where they can be heard, she believes, but also young girls so they can learn, early, to become comfortable using their voices. This could be as simple as starting with not “shushing” them at the dinner table.

Your feelings come first

How do you survive living in the world’s brightest spotlight? In order to get through her time as First Lady, Michelle revealed she learnt to control her own feelings, accepting that she couldn’t control the opinions of naysayers. Also, respect the lessons you can learn from critics. Michelle believes that being exposed to supporters and haters made her more patient and empathetic to a diverse range of opinions.

The world is your oyster

This was her parting message for all the children listening. You can be anything, but you have to work hard for it. My biggest takeaway from spending time in the presence of Michelle Obama is that what you see is what you get with her. Unafraid and celebratory of her roots, she seems to believe that society can lift each other higher. It was beautiful to witness and a privilege to be in the same room together.

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