Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We’ve all used the benefit of hindsight to impart words of wisdom to our friends, sisters – anyone who needs some reassurance that life, regardless of its obstacles, usually has a way of going in the direction it’s supposed to. And perhaps taking routes you never thought to detour down. Because we’ve all felt that gnawing insecurity as we search for our sense of place in the world; in fact, it stays with most of us from a very young age.
One woman who has been open with her own feelings of self-doubt is former First Lady Michelle Obama. Yes, imposter syndrome shows no mercy, even to one of the most beloved women in the world. Now as a part of CBS News’ Note to Self series, she has written a letter to her younger self, giving advice to the young woman heading off to college at Princeton, so unsure of the journey she was about to undertake. And it makes for powerful reading.
Related: Michelle Obama’s new memoir is a joyous, revealing book you need to read
“Dear Miche,” the letter begins. “There you are, in your jean jacket and braids, a long way from that little apartment on the South Side of Chicago. You’re at one of the finest universities in the world. You’re smiling, and you should be, you worked hard for this. But even now, after you reached your goal, you’re still not quite sure if you belong and can’t get one question out of your mind: ‘Am I good enough?’ There aren’t many kids here who look like you. Some arrived on campus in limousines. One of your classmates is a bona fide movie star, another is rumoured to be a real-life princess. Meanwhile, you got dropped off by your father in the family sedan.”
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She also gave advice to her teenage self about haters “who’ve never met you and don’t really care to.”
You’ll be attacked by people who’ve never met you and don’t really care to. They’ll try to harm you for their own gain. Don’t stoop to their level, no matter how gratifying it might feel in the moment.
Obama continues: “Years from now, you’ll learn that your parents had to take out new credit cards to pay your tuition. But Michelle, what you’ll come to realise one day is that you’re only seeing what you lack and not everything that your story has given you. You grew up surrounded by soul and jazz and a deep, anchoring love. Your parents taught you to keep your word and treat people with respect. They encouraged you to develop your own voice and use it. Those lessons are more valuable than anything material. They’ll come in handy in the future, in settings I won’t spoil for you right now.”
The former First Lady of the United States reflects on her relationship with her now-husband, Barack, as well as the births of their two children.
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“You’ll open your heart to someone whose upbringing was nothing and everything like yours, all at the same time,” she continued. “He’s driven by a hopeful set of ideals. He’s grounded and kind and absolutely brilliant. And he’s pretty good looking, too. I thought you’d appreciate that. His certainty about his path will feel like a challenge to yours. You’ll learn that even the best relationships take work but that’s okay, that’s normal and it’s what gives your partnership its strength… yet you’ll still struggle to find a balance between your family, your husband’s rising career, and your own sense of self. Be patient. You’ll get there.”
“And just when you think you’ve done it, the four of you will be shot out of a cannon into the unknown.”
She goes on to admit that her many fans will make her feel special but reminder her younger self that “there are millions of people who grew up like you did and don’t get this kind of spotlight.”
“Reflect the light back on them,” she says. “There are so many people out there like you, Miche. Black girls and minorities of all kinds, working-class kids from big cities and small towns, people who doubt themselves, who are uncertain about whether they belong but have so much to offer the world. Share your story with them, the struggles and the triumphs and everything else. Show them that there’s more beauty inside than they can see right now.”
She ends with the words that are a comfort to any woman in the world in 2018. “You’re more than enough.. You always have been and you always will be. And I can’t wait for you to see that.”
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