Spending An Evening with Michelle Obama

The Growth Faculty is an Australian startup passionate about delivering powerful learning opportunities for leaders and teams. They organise speaker events featuring Jim Collins, Simon Sinek, Hillary Clinton, George Clooney, Malcom Gladwell, Patrick Lencioni, John Maxwell and Liz Wiseman to name a few.

I was fortunate to be invited along for “An Evening with Michelle Obama” held on the 14 December at the Singapore EXPO. This is the first event organised by The Growth Faculty in Singapore. Michelle Obama is the former First Lady of the United States of America.

An entire carpark reserved for event VIPs

It was a rainy day, and it helps when you are presented with reserved parking closer to the venue. We all know how hard it could be to find a place to park during weekend event days.

Besides the regular items such as your event passes and a goodie bag, what was nice was the pre-event cocktail party where you get to mingle with high level business leaders across the world. People were literally flying in just for this event (and Barrack Obama’s on Monday).

Stringent security clearance

Inside the event venue, you might have mistaken this for a pre-immigration security checkpoint. It couldn’t be less true. Security was more stringent, if not equally strict when compared to the airport due to the high profile nature of this event. I was instructed to dispose my unopened bottle of mineral water.

Tonight’s turnout will include about 2000+ delegates and guests from all around the world. This was Michelle Obama’s first visit to Singapore. Though it was front rows seating, the stage was still way further up, probably for security reasons.

Michelle Obama would spent an hour engaged in a panel conversation, moderated by Corinna Lim, Executive Director AWARE.

Michelle started off opining that people still have a limited view of what success is today. There is some truth that happiness is tied to the level of financial wealth in the family or career success for example. But life is more than just that. She was a fine example of normal working class folks from normal homes who practises good values in a supportive family.

Her father, who was very creative and good in drawing, could have been an architect or artiste; but racism and testing environment during his time did not allow him to. He was physically disabled but worked for the future of his family. He didn’t live to see the “fruits of his investment” but he continued to establish the foundation of the future for Michelle and her family.

Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Michelle highlights the “Impostor Syndrome” which is prevalent in kids from the USA. Too often, friends and family have a certain level of expectation. Good grades, good job, heading on a life path which is tried and tested through times etc.

Her advice to parents — Don’t plant the seeds of doubts in your child’s mind, especially when your child is naturally confident. Children must have their voice heard at the same table that the adults are seated at. Give them space to show who they are. Praise them for being funny and interesting. Give them the attention they deserved. Make room for their personal lives. Your eldest child could be very different from your younger one, and even for parenting, what works for one may not work for the other.

Box-checkers are those who mindlessly follow the path of certainty. The majority of society does this. People who make it to Harvard rather than other universities could be there for the very reason that they are better box-checkers. Better test-takers or writers or athletes. Not necessarily better innovators or thinkers.

Box-checking is the most common and safest practice in life. For Michelle, even she was just following the only path she knew in life before she met Barrack Obama. Barrack was not a box checker. He was a community leader since young and even Michelle struggled to make out what that meant when she first knew him.

Michelle’s second advice to parents — manage your expectation for your children in today’s context and environment. You may dream big for your children to be doctors or lawyers. Kids however, have to be more flexible in their jobs today. Gone are the good old days where you stay loyal 30 years to a corporate and get settled with lifetime pension at the end of your journey. Michelle acknowledged that even her own parents come from the perspective that the purpose of jobs are to pay bills, not to fulfill your passion. She had to convince and strategically broach the topic of transiting to a career off the beaten path — she was leaving a well-paying job in law to starting good work in a Non-Government Organisation (NGO). There is indeed work and some effort to transit from box-checking to passion.

Michelle was also very thankful that she had very strong parental support. At no one point did her parents step in to refute her dreams or dim her lights. But there were always naysayers and doubters in life. Her school counsellor told her she was dreaming too big when she want to aim for Princeton — one of eight top tier universities in the Ivy League. Craig Robinson, her older brother, was in Princeton University. She thought she was smarter than him and there was no reason that the school would not accept her if she worked hard.

To clear your doubts, it is all about the practice. For example, you are able to overcome stage fright by practicing more often in front of large audiences. The key was to keep doing, and Michelle had 55 years of experience practising the opposite of what her doubters say. Don’t stop at any stage and listen to your doubters. You never know the outcome unless you give it a go.

Michelle was sharing how tough it was to raise her kids up normally as normal parents do in the White house. She was still first a Mother of two, before the First Lady. She shared some light-hearted moments of how her kids grew up in the White House. They went to school in 3 motorcars — 8 men in each cars, fully armed. If ever her daughters was invited for a playdate or sleepover at their friends’ home, it was akin to a ‘situation’ — The Secret Service would drop by to ask a few questions prior, security dogs brought in to sniff the premises for weapons and bombs, security stationed and patrolling the perimeters etc. Even her friends would wash or detail their cars before they visit her at the White House, for the very reason of not “letting the security dogs know how dirty their cars were”.

She ended off with this — there is no reason why we cannot do and create a better situation for our kids. The young people are our future, who else would nurture them if not us?

Michelle left us with her signature quote: “When They Go Low, We Go High“. It was indeed a very insightful session and an evening well-spent.


3 thoughts on “Spending An Evening with Michelle Obama

  1. Excellent review, thanks for sharing; She’s really a phenomenal lady – by far the public figure I most admire. She’s genuine, principled, whip-smart, witty, serious, yet fun. She has a way of articulating very clearly and in a way that anyone can understand. I’m quite obsessed with her.


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