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Words of wisdom: 6 things we learnt from Michelle Obama

INSPIRING: Michelle Obama (left) in conversation with writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the Royal Festival Hall in London

MICHELLE OBAMA is an inspiration to many of us. An accomplished career woman, compassionate figure, mother and wife - Obama does it all with style and grace and a dash of frankness that makes you feel as though you can talk to her about just about anything.

Well, that’s how I felt, as I sat in awe in London’s Southbank Centre watching the Harvard grad and the formidable Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in conversation, as they discussed life, love, black womanhood and more.

Speaking to a sold-out auditorium of 2,700, which included 300 school students, the former first lady didn’t hold back as she turned the page on every aspect of her life, addressing her humble beginnings on the southside of Chicago to sitting at some of the most powerful tables in the world.

Below, we’ve listed some of the poignant quotes from our evening with Michelle Obama, which reiterated just why she is black excellence personified:

On her upbringing: “I was fortunate enough to live in a house where we didn’t have much by the way of resources. My father was a working class, blue collar guy and my parents didn't get to go to college. But that didn't mean they were not highly intelligent and that's often the mistake that we make - that working class folk are not highly gifted when a lot of times your situation in life is limited by circumstances you find yourself in.

“We were expected to be excellent and it wasn't just my mother and father - we grew up with a very big extended family and we lived within a five block radius. Each of the children lived with an elder of some sort. We grew up with a great aunt who was a strict taskmaster, a piano teacher, and that was the sound of striving that I describe [in Becoming]. I always wanted to keep up with others.

On her mother’s philosophy to parenting: “My mother always said ‘I’m raising adults, i’m not raising babies’. So her philosophy was that we could understand a lot if she took the time to explain. So there was never ‘speak when only spoken to’ - she encouraged us to let our voices be heard.

One of these things my parents believed was that my voice was relevant and my opinions were meaningful and my anger and frustration was real and that's something that's important for parents from any socio-economic background to recognise. My parents saw this flame in me that challenged my aunt Robbie and speak up for myself and instead of doing what we often do to girls who are feisty - which is try and put that flame out and douse it because we’re worried about them not being ladylike or being bossy - they found a way to keep that flame lit because they knew I would need it later on.

On her father’s death: “While his death was sudden, it was always lurking for us because he was the kind of man who wouldn’t get help and was proud and he didn't believe in doctors, and he didn't believe in self pity. So I had to watch him get increasingly worse, and I had to learn in myself that I can't get my father to do what I think he should do, he has to make those decisions on his own.

“I write about the pain of losing him as its an emptiness that I still haven't gotten over because I think about all he has missed, all that he gave us and all that he wasn’t able to see. He didn't see me walk down the aisle, he didn’t see any of his grandchildren and for him to be as kind, and as strong and as decent, there’s a sense of injustice that goes with losing someone like that for his life to be cut off.”

On her career path and life before the White House: “I’ve learnt to grasp the art of reinvention. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer because I didn't really know what I wanted to do after college so I applied to law school, went to Harvard, thought ‘well that should be good’ and turns out I hated law.

“But after that I worked in the city, I was an assistant to the mayor, I ran non-profit organisations - I done so many things and that’s long before I even showed up at the White House. So it’s interesting to me, when people ask me ‘how did you know how to be the first lady?’ as if all my history just disappeared because sometimes that’s what happens when you become the spouse of - you lose yourself in the title of spouse. You have to remind people, I went to Princeton, I’ve done so many things which is why in the book the last third is really the White House years because that’s just a bit of what defines me as a person.

On relationships: “A true partnership requires two whole people. So first of all you have to choose well. You have to choose somebody who is fully formed because love does not form somebody that’s not what love does. Love doesn’t fix brokenness in that way, so you have to choose someone whose already pretty well formed.”

On what’s next after the book tour: “I’m really excited to hear what people are getting from the book. Because I’ve been spending weeks talking about the book - enough of me talking. The next phase, I want to sit down and hear, particularly from young people, what is resonating and I think i’ll learn something more about the next phase based on what’s resonating. I will continue to work on girls' education for the rest of my life and Barack and I are working on his presidential library and we want that to be a base for leadership development to train the next ‘Michelle and Barack Obama’.

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