A few weeks ago, someone sent me the book “What Would Michelle Do?” since they thought I might be interested in a collection of tips about life from the First Lady. I read the book, but not so it could stand on its own. Instead, I read it as I prepared to graduate from my MBA program. Michelle Obama was one of the graduation speakers this year at Virginia Tech, and I thought the book might give me a little context for her speech. So what would Michelle do?
Live your best life.
That is not a new concept by any means, but it seems to be one we need reminding of. Many people live day-to-day doing what they think they ought to do, doing what is expected of them. There can be pressure to fulfill outside expectations, and in following a predetermined path, you may suddenly find yourself wondering why you do what you do.
Michelle grew up with a family that instilled in her a belief that you have to take the opportunities that you have. If you don’t have opportunities, then make them. Her parents sacrificed to provide for her, but she held up her end of the bargain: attending Princeton and Harvard. As she said in her speech, she had a mountain of debt, so she got a job at a large law firm to start paying it down. After the personal loss of a close friend and her father, Michelle suddenly realized that in living the life she ought to, she wasn’t living hers.
I have to admit, I personally have struggled with how to manage external expectations and my own personal passion. Like many 20-somethings, I went to a good college, got a job, struggled through the worst of the recession, and put myself back through school to make myself a better leader in the workplace. I did what I was supposed to, now what?
You have to do what is best for you. It takes a lot of bravery to suddenly do that. You may find it is exactly the same path you had already been on, and then it isn’t that scary. But when “what is best” means changing everything, turning your world upside down, you have to trust that you can do it. “What is best” is not what is easiest. The best is where you have competence, strength, and passion, but still a lot to learn. Your best may mean taking a nontraditional look at careers that would allow you to thrive on this competence. You may not be a professional ballerina, but you could run a dance foundation that brings classes and scholarships to disadvantaged kids. You may not be a chef, but your love of food may make you the perfect producer at the Food Network.
During Michelle’s speech, she expressed how important it is to actively live your life. Virginia Tech is known for tragedy, but the community is active and thriving. That is the reason I chose to attend the university, and that is the impression we gave Michelle of the Hokie Nation. Active pursuit of your best life means that you will be a part of it. You will be at the heart of it, and that drive is infectious. If you want to live your best life, so will others.
Regardless of the political light that changes every message these days, think about what Michelle would do. Think of her as another person you might see on the street. Does her message of living your best life still resonate? It should. It is a message any of us can share, so I hope you pass it on.
Michelle Obama’s 2012 Commencement speech at Virginia Tech is available to view online. The book “What Would Michelle Do?: A Modern-Day Guide to Living with Substance and Style” by Allison Samuels is available for purchase online.