ELLE (Canada) - - Self- Love - VANESSA CRAFT

You have to keep your­self in the race,” says for­mer U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. She’s speak­ing to the rapt, largely fe­male crowd at the Eco­nomic Club of Canada/ Plan In­ter­na­tional Ad­vanc­ing Women & Girls to Change the World event in Toronto, and she wants them to ad­vo­cate more for them­selves in the class­room and at work. “Here’s what women do many times in meet­ings,” she con­tin­ues. “There’s the meet­ing go­ing on, then there’s a sep­a­rate one go­ing on in our heads. And the meet­ing in our heads has us fil­ter­ing ‘Let me think be­fore I ask that ques­tion’ or ‘What if I’m wrong?’ or ‘Am I talk­ing too much?’ We’re all fil­ter­ing our­selves and not en­gag­ing be­cause we are hes­i­tat­ing. Men talk and talk and talk even if they don’t know the an­swers, and you’re think­ing ‘Wow, he’s re­ally mak­ing a good point.’ And usu­ally, they’re not.” [Laughs]

Jokes aside, Obama goes on to stress the im­por­tance of women not only tak­ing risks but also be­ing will­ing to fail. “Peo­ple who are suc­cess­ful didn’t get there be­cause they didn’t make mis­takes; it’s be­cause of how they re­cov­ered from those mis­takes,” she says, adding that if we don’t share the sto­ries of how we got to be who we are, no one else can learn from them—or un­der­stand that there is no one, sin­gu­lar way to suc­ceed. “The abil­ity to con­tinue to get up and not be em­bar­rassed by fail­ures but to own them and learn from them—it’s that re­silience that makes me who I am. Not the de­grees, not the schools I went to, not the ti­tles. It’s my abil­ity to bounce back again and again.”

Obama also ad­dressed the dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ence of how those clos­est to you can some­times op­pose or even de­rail your de­sire to change. She grew up on the south side of Chicago and says she knows what it’s like to nav­i­gate two worlds—those of “get­ting to school with­out get­ting your butt kicked” and “be­ing smart in school with­out putting some other kid down un­in­ten­tion­ally.” When you’re try­ing to suc­ceed, she ex­plains, there’s a whole dif­fer­ent lan­guage, at­ti­tude and be­hav­iour to adopt. But with this can come re­sis­tance from fam­ily mem­bers on your jour­ney. “You have to re­al­ize that what is be­hind all of that ‘hold­ing back’ [be­hav­iour] is fear,” she says. “I was for­tu­nate that my par­ents pushed us be­yond their fear, but there are a lot of kids who have fam­i­lies who are afraid of what that next step may mean and what it means when you push be­yond what they can of­fer you. That fear is real, and a lot of it is love—it’s just the un­known. From your com­mu­nity it can be ‘If you go off and do th­ese things, will you for­get about me? Will you come back and help? What does it mean for me?’ But you can’t make your­self small be­cause other peo­ple don’t know how to be big.”

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