In late-November 2017 in Toronto, several thousand young women and their allies gathered to see the woman who has inspired women and men around the world to dream the impossible. On behalf of G(irls)20, an organization that works to build leadership and networks for young women, I had the honour to spend the morning listening to Michelle Obama in a funny, candid and, of course, inspiring conversation about the mark she's leaving on this world. She was invited to Toronto by Rhiannon Traill, CEO at the Economic Club of Canada — a feminist icon to reckon with — who moderated the event and fearlessly asked tough questions.
Obama laid out seven truths for women who want to dream big, work hard, and change the communities they come from for the better. As I start 2018 with a full plate and an ambitious agenda, I'm struck by how the lessons I learned are, really, resolutions. In 2018, I'm pledging to seven New Years Resolutions (a.k.a. Michelle Obama's roadmap for living your best life.)
Don't make yourself small because others are afraid to be big
Obama didn't get to where she is today by being apologetic or quiet. There are people who will hold us back, who will expect us to apologize for daring to dream big. Sometimes it can suck us into imposter syndrome, into not going for a job or putting our hand up.
To be leaders who will affect real change, we will be so much happier and more effective when surrounded by a network of support. In 2018, I'm taking this piece of advice to heart and grounding myself in an inspiring and supportive network, so we can all create change, together.
Use social media as a platform ... not your diary
Don't type the first thought that pops into your head! Obama talked about this in jest, while throwing some shade at the new administration, but then reaffirmed just how important it is. It's difficult to straddle the line on social media between "authentic" and "oversharing." Her advice was to tweet-by-committee: run your posts by a few others before you commit to having them out there, in the universe, for eternity!
Don't forget where you came from
At G(irls)20, we strive to provide opportunities for young women, from global experiences to board placements to participating in government consultations. We help young women grow into inspiring leaders, who make the communities they come from stronger and more resilient. When starting out in law, Obama could look out the window of her office, across the river, and see her home in Chicago's south side. As we, as leaders, count our successes, we must remember that for any woman to be successful, we all must be successful. That starts with remembering where we come from and who we serve.
Spend time with your girlfriends
What does Obama do in her spare time? Hang out with her girlfriends, she says! Our girlfriends keep things light. They understand us and ground us. They are there when things get heavy and there to cheer us on when things go well.
Let's be honest: being a leader can be isolating. We're busy, we're travelling, we don't have time to go out for dinner. Obama reminded me that we need to find time. Do errands together. Work out together. Like the rest of us, Obama told us she wouldn't be successful without having her girlfriends around to veg out and be real with.
Commit to education: our greatest tool to reduce inequality
Education for women unlocks economic, political and social security for entire countries. It is the most pressing and urgent issue of our generation. This issue is not the "trend" of the decade. It's a human right we all must keep fighting for, as it intersects with the different kinds of work we do. Obama reminded us of the urgent need to keep fighting for girls education around the world. At home, this means pushing for additional educational opportunities for young women to shine. A commitment to education will guide my approach to programming at G(irls)20 in 2018.
Hold your role models to account
Obama was asked who she would most like to have dinner with, alive or dead. She told us Jesus: she'd get him in a room and ask him, tongue-in-cheek, if he's pleased with the way things are going, with regard to the ugly politics and escalating climate change we faced in 2017. I was reminded that our relationships with our role models, coaches and mentors is a two-way street. Our roads to success are paved with the mentorship of more established women. On our journey, we have a responsibility to keep each other humble and honest.
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No more worshipping heroes
Too many of us buy into the belief that we just need one hero, because we're hero worshippers, she reminded us. This final lesson resonated so strongly with who I believe I am as a leader, and with the work we do at G(irls)20 to build capacity.
She was asked the question we're all dying to know: can we expect "Michelle 2020" bumper stickers any time soon? No, she said, and her reasoning was clear. She shared what she has learned in politics in the last decade: that change doesn't come from one person. Michelle and Barack are stepping back to support a new generation of community leaders to effect change on local councils, school boards, non-profits and social movements across the country. Change happens from the bottom up.
At G(irls)20 and through my work with young leaders I have seen that so powerfully. I can't wait to dive into a new year guided by that truth.
By Bailey Greenspon
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