Few people can understand what Meghan Markle is going through the way Michelle Obama can. Being a mother in the international spotlight isn't something many people will experience in the way that these two women will and have.
Obama and Markle are inspirations to many, but the advice Obama offered to Markle in a new interview with Good Housekeeping is something all mothers can take to heart.
"So my biggest piece of advice would be to take some time and don't be in a hurry to do anything," the former First Lady said when asked if she had any suggestions for the new Duchess (and soon to be new mom).
"Like me, Meghan probably never dreamt that she'd have a life like this, and the pressure you feel—from yourself and from others—can sometimes feel like a lot," she said.
But whether you're a mama in the White House, Kensington Palace, or just a regular home on a regular street, pressure to do well and to do more can feel overwhelming, and that internal pressure Obama talks about can be the worst.
Especially at this time of year it's okay to slow down, focus on yourself and your family. Obama explains that when she first got to the White House, she was mostly "worrying about my daughters, making sure they were off to a good start at school and making new friends before I launched into any more ambitious work. I think it's okay—it's good, even—to do that," she said.
There's a time to take on ambitious projects in life, and it's okay if this year or this month isn't your time, mama.
If you just moved into a new house, or you're having your first Christmas with your kiddo, or you're just returning to work after your maternity leave and carrying a pump with you, it is okay to just do that—get your feet under you and get used to this new season of life—if that's what you need.
Now, that's not to say there is not a time and place to get ambitious, mama. Obama has some thoughts on that, too, of course.
Speaking at Brooklyn's Barclays Center to promote her new book, Becoming, over the weekend, Obama opened up about work-life balance, as journalist Touré tweeted from the event.
The Cut reports Obama told the crowd: "That whole 'so you can have it all.' Nope, not at the same time...That's a lie. And it's not always enough to lean in, because that sh*t doesn't work all the time."
Yes, the former first lady cursed (so you can tell she's pretty passionate about this) and apologized to the crowd, telling them, "I forgot where I was for a moment.'
The concept of 'leaning in' is of course the subject of another book by a high profile woman, Sheryl Sandberg, now COO at Facebook. In her controversial 2013 bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sandberg suggested working mothers should press forward in their careers and that we should "take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around."
Although it obviously worked for Sandberg, she has said the 2013 book should not be the end of the conversation, and has expressed some concerns over the lack of progress made since its publication.
In a 2017 interview with USA Today she explained: "In terms of women in leadership roles, we are not better off. We are stuck at less than 6% of the Fortune 500 CEO jobs and their equivalent in almost every country in the world. There were 19 countries run by women when Lean In was published. Today there are 11. Congressional numbers have inched up a tiny bit. And so, overall, we are not seeing a major increase in female leadership in any industry or in any government in the world, and I think that's a shame."
It is a shame, and it's why Obama was so impassioned at the Barclays Center.
Sometimes we can't have it all. Sometimes opportunities won't work for us, because they are built for people who aren't us. And if we as a society want more women to lead, we need to give them the opportunity through things like parental leave, affordable childcare, and work cultures that truly value work-life balance.
So if you are in a season of life where you can't lean in, don't feel bad. You may need to spend this season planting the seeds for the more ambitious seasons to come.
Obama's advice to Meghan Markle is something we all need to hear: It's okay to be driven, it's okay to be ambitious, and it's okay to take your foot off the gas when you need to. Give yourself permission to slow down (even if it's just for now).
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