Find 'joy' or risk burning out, says Michelle Obama

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 12 Dec 2019

Roberts and Obama speaking at the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program with former Miss Malaysia and activist Deborah Henry earlier today. Photo: Shanjeev Reddy/The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: It takes practice to “plan joy”, but the former first lady of the United States Michelle Obama thinks that it is important to do so, to avoid burnout.

“We are taught to plan work, but we also need to plan joy. You might think you should not feel joy when other people are suffering, but you need to find joy or else risk burning out, ” she said to participants of the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific programme on Thursday (Dec 12).

“Think about what you are going to do this week that is going to make you selfishly smile. It’s different for everybody - for me it’s having children around.

“At the White House, I would tell them to ‘bring me some kids, because these adults, they don’t bring me joy!’, ” she said to the audience, who burst into laughter.

Obama was speaking alongside US actress Julia Roberts and former Miss Malaysia and activist Deborah Henry to the 200 young leaders, who were selected from across Asia Pacific for a one-year leadership programme under the Obama Foundation.

The panel was part of the five-day leadership development conference, which will see other prominent speakers including Barack Obama and Dr Maya Soetero-Ng, the former US president's Indonesian-American half-sister and a consultant for the foundation.

Obama also shared with the audience that she used to suffer from imposter syndrome.

“I’m 55 now and I’m still waiting to be as bad as people told me I’d be. I was told I didn’t belong in Princeton (University) and Harvard Law School, and told that it’s too much for me.

“But I went there and found that they’re not any smarter than me. They were just told that they belong, ” she said.

She encouraged the participants to use their position of power to support others as well.

“That’s why we support mentoring so much, because you are the answer in somebody’s lives today, you’re the army we’re sending to put some positive out there.

“It’s your turn to be a mentor and it’s an awesome responsibility to have, ” she said.

Obama and Roberts also shared their experience in Vietnam over the past week, where they visited a high school in a rural area to encourage girls to stay the course of school.

They were accompanied by Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of former US president George W. Bush.

“This trip has been life-altering for me, and showed me that this plight to educate girls is not a sad, tragic thing, but an incredible opportunity, ” said Roberts.

“We were so deeply moved in Vietnam hearing their stories. I was in selfish tears as this smiling woman told what she has gone through and accomplished.”

Roberts added that she spends every Tuesday playing mahjong with her girl friends.

“We laugh, talk about our kids, and it’s a group therapy. It’s about communicating, supporting, and being there for each other, ” she added.

Obama together with actress Lana Condor, GOA executive director Tiffany Drake, and Dr Soetero-Ng later met with 12 young leaders who work on girls’ education and empowerment, including Malaysian representative SPOT Community Program founder Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri.

Earlier in the week, prominent speakers including Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown, Mongolian MP and geologist Dr Oyun Saanjasuren, AirAsia co-founder Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, and Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh shared their views on opportunities in Asia Pacific and ethical entrepreneurship.

Barack will be speaking with Dr Soetero-Ng at the plenary on Friday (Dec 13), which will be live-streamed on the Obama Foundation website.

The Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific is a one-year leadership development programme for emerging leaders from across the region, and will include plenary sessions, skill-building workshops, leadership development training and networking opportunities.

The Star’s R.AGE deputy executive editor Ian Yee is one of the 14 Malaysian representatives, which also includes True Complexion founder Rozella Mahjhrin, Biji-Biji Initiative Group CEO Rashvin Pal Singh, Raintree Development co-founder and CEO Zoe Ngi, and dto founder Tee Ee Lynn.

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Michelle Obama , Obama Foundation , R.AGE


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