Why you shouldn’t be afraid of vulnerability.

Vulnerability

All of us have faced disappointment at some point in our lives.

And this disappointment has arisen in multiple forms.

Some of us got picked on in the playground. Some of us didn’t get our expected grades in that exam that we worked so hard towards. And some of us got pushed away after confessing our affections for someone.

What do these accumulated experiences add up to? You know it. A series of memories that transport us back to that feeling of raw, emotional pain. We try our best to move past them. We tell ourselves that this hurt is history, until a similar situation arises, and that scar becomes an open-wound.

A lot of us are really good at guarding ourselves in scenarios that resemble a past, painful memory. We stop trying to make new friends because, what’s the point? It’s really hard to meet people that you can truly connect and click with. So-and-so probably already has a load of friends, why would they want to be friends with me. We stay in that we job that we hate because it pays pretty well and we don’t believe we’ll finding anything better. We’ve done so many applications in the past, for no, or few, interviews and very little success. We’re just not good enough, we tell ourselves. And we don’t ask out that guy/girl we like because, let’s be honest, they’re probably not going to be interested in us.

So we can go about life this way, with our armour strapped on and our shields at the ready, and we’ll probably do okay. We’ll probably be just fine.

But that’s all you’ll ever be. Just fine.

You’ll settle for just texting and calling up your old friend, Sue, from college, who never seems to genuinely care about what you have to say. You’ll resort to spending your weekends with Jenny from work, who you can never have a stimulating conversation with. But it’s fine, at least you have company.

You’ll do the safe thing. You’ll stay in that job and maintain that steady income. You’ll have stability, the thing that, as humans, we so naturally crave. For months or years of your life, you’ll spend most days feeling bored, stuck or, even, miserable. But it’s alright, that’s why we have fun on the weekends right?

You won’t get to pick, you’ll be picked by someone that was brave enough to go after what they wanted, and you’ll stay with someone that’s not right for you, because, hey, they could be worse, and it’s better than ending up alone.

It’s terrifying to put yourself in a position of vulnerability.

It can make you feel anxious, stressed and nauseous, even.

But the paradox here is that, it is only when you are no longer afraid of vulnerability, that you can make truly empowered decisions. Whilst you may be plagued with feelings of insecurity, of weakness, the move will be one of inner-strength, self-belief.

These are decisions, leaps of faith, that could result in social, career, economic and romantic disappointment, and yet you make them because you know deep down that you can’t settle with fine.

Don’t expect to lead a passionate life by constantly playing in defence, you’ll have very few victories. Lower your guard and go for it. You have to fight for what you want, which means facing short-term discomfort for the sake of long-term happiness.

You may get bruised, cut and beaten along the way but, in spite of it all, you’ll be on the cusp of a wholesome and fulfilling life.

So, that leap that you’ve been thinking of making? Make it.

Take the most integrous route for you, not the most established, and you’ll lead a life that’s truly whole-hearted.

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What does it mean to practice self-love?

Love

From the very first day that each of us came into this world, we’ve been repeatedly fed the message, through bedtime stories, books, movies, music and the wisdom of our loved ones, that love is a powerful thing.

So cliché, right? Because it’s obvious. It goes without saying. We’ve all felt the impact that love can have, the difference it can make in our lives, and we’ve seen what it’s done throughout history.

Look at the Chinese couple, Liu Guojiang and the Xu Chaoquing that chose to live in a cave because the world didn’t want them to be together. Or the Prince, Shah Jahan, that spent 22 years building one of the most stunning pieces of architecture, the Taj Mahal, in memory and out of love for his dead wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

These are beautiful stories, though have you ever contemplated why individual stories of self-love are so readily swept under the carpet? Of course, self-love in its concentrated form, narcissism, is far from a desirable quality. But what about the kind of devotion that enables someone to knuckle down in the privacy of their bedroom to push themselves through Medical school? Or the kind that fuels a girl to practice their arabesques day-after-day to give themselves the best chances of passing their ballet exams? These forms are equally as powerful and important, and yet scarcely given acknowledgement.

Investing time, energy and attention in yourself is integral if you want to make personal progress and move further in the world. It’s a way of showing the world that you value who you are and the person you’re becoming.

Unsure about what approaches you can take to take better care of your mind, body and spirit? Perhaps you can start by practising the following.

Saying no.

Whether that no is directed towards the thought of eating the cheesecake in the freezer that you know won’t do you any favours, or to spending time outside of work with colleagues you don’t even like, put your health and your happiness first by only saying yes to the things that you know will be good for you. Don’t let serving your immediate desires or becoming a slave to guilt, throw you into an unhealthy and miserable rut. It’s not worth it.                                                         

Accepting your flaws.

We all have those little things about ourselves, whether it’s concerning our weaknesses or appearance, that we wish we could tweak or change. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with striving to be your best self, which may involve aiming to reduce your weaknesses or enhance your appearance. I’m saying that, in the midst of striving for self-improvement, you should love who you are and where you are now. Simultaneously, appreciate yourself as you are, as well as the process of yourself moving towards the person you want to be.

Ending friendships that prevent you from growing.

Especially if you’re a loyal person, parting ways with old friends can be a hurtful prospect. You’ve invested so much time, energy, love and attention into this person, it’s hardly an appealing thought to swiftly cut your ties. In spite of the high regard it’s given, sometimes loyalty can be problematic as a trait. It can cause us to blindly cling to a deteriorating relationship that’s steadily beginning to poison us. It’ll be hard at first, but walking away from those that are stunting your growth in some way, whether that’s in the form of negativity or failing to provide the encouragement that you need in a support system, will force you to find friends that don’t.

Recognising your gifts, and using them.

Do you have a special talent that you wish you’d nurtured more? Maybe when you were younger everyone used to compliment your knack for words, your ability to draw impressive portraits or the way you could act out a movie scenario so accurately. Whatever it is, stop neglecting it. You know that, later down the line, you’ll be thinking of the progress you could’ve made and the paths you could have pursued, if you’d only just given them a little dedication.

Not deriving your self-worth from your work.

This is one that I’ve particularly struggled with from a young age. Whenever I got a 10/10 on a spelling test, or an A on a piece of coursework that I’d worked really hard on, I couldn’t help but feel myself glow a little on the inside. Continuing through the school system, and as a competitive individual, it’s hardly surprising that I came to value myself and my abilities accordingly with the grades I saw on my transcript. It’s great to aspire for top marks and performance, but don’t beat yourself on the occasions when you fall short. You are more than the force of your daily grind and productivity. Don’t forget that.

Educating yourself.

Finally, what field do you want to excel in? Journalism? Teaching? Law? Go out of your way to gain additional subject knowledge, meet people in, and participate in related activities, your field, to give yourself an edge that’ll make you stand out from other candidates. Educating yourself goes far beyond doing so in the blatant subject sense. It also means pushing yourself, training yourself, to be the best you can be, whether that’s in a physical or intellectual sense. A desire to strengthen your abilities is a loving investment, in that it will benefit your career and your health further down the line.

 

How Black Panther has changed Hollywood.

Black Panther

With an estimated three-day record-breaking gross of $192 million, smashing “Deadpool’s” 2016 box office mark of $152 million, there’s no doubt that most of us have gathered the tremendous impact that Black Panther has had on society.

Willing to investigate some of the world’s biggest moral, political and social questions that are, more often than not, abandoned on the sidelines in fast-paced action movies, the multi-million Marvel production has made quite the mark.

For the minority among you that need re-familiarising, the persistent notes that undercut the screenplay is the suggestion that “Blackness”,  “Africanness” and everything that these terms signify, are enormously undervalued attributes that have yet to reveal their full glory.

Black identity is explored, when, more often than not, it’s excluded from Hollywood productions.

The underlying message behind the films external context rings pretty clear. Wakanda, Africa is no “third-world country – textiles, shepherds, cool outfits.” Instead, it’s a country that’s built upon a base of  vibranium—the strongest metal in the world. In spite of having surpassed other continents’ technology, Wakanda’s expanse of forestry deceive outsiders. This race is not to be undermined.

A motion-picture that powerfully addressed and subverted the assumptions and stereotypes, that unfortunately still undercut our society today, was long overdue, which is probably why it’s quite unsurprising that Black Panther won ‘Top Film Award’ at the 2019 SAG Awards.

In his acceptance speech, Boseman touched upon the most glaring examples of how the production has instigated change in the industry. From the mere aesthetic level of a cast that gives representation to “young, gifted and black” individuals, Black Panther embodies a subverted reality wherein there is “a space”, “a screen” and “a stage” for this demographic to be featured on. A universe in which this demographic can be the head and not the tale, above and not below, to reiterate Boseman.

Black Panther is not the first movie to have inserted black leadership from the ground level of production.

Look at Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013), Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017). Each film harnesses a flurry of black talent, both on and behind the scenes.

Nevertheless, notice how this recent movie history forms as a critique on societal oppression and therefore, quite ironically, recreates them.

In spite of making positive progress in terms of giving African-Americans bigger platforms as protagonists, their ultimate depiction of black vulnerability speaks to the fact that, as Boseman suggests,

our task historically, has not been the same because, you know,  we been relegated to playing the side-kick [the inferior], or the side-show, or back-stage, or not here altogether

Whilst jointly effective in their raw exposure of past and present wounds, of being subject to debasement,  it appears that no other film has attempted to relinquish the pain through depicting a new and empowered reality altogether.

There’s intelligence in the making of Black Panther.

It doesn’t call for a conceited form of “Black Power”, which would only serve to endorse the prospect of racial supremacy.

It calls for a new representational normality. One wherein, perhaps, the idea of going to a movie theatre and seeing an all black cast in a Hollywood production doesn’t really make you blink.

Black Panther made this new reality more accessible, more tangible, by providing a vessel in which “we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing”, in which “we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see”, as Boseman said.

A world wherein “equal, if not more talent” in BAME communities, translates to “the same opportunities […] the same doors open to you”. A world wherein the aspirations of Black people are not “outside the realm of what the world would see you doing”.

The movie has also gotten Hollywood to give greater acknowledgement to black heritage.

It’s the equivalent of somebody doing a period piece where you talk about the wardrobe in this movie.”

In spite of being known primarily as a superhero and a black movie, the shrewdly incorporated elements of black cultural heritage has been given a platform.

It plays a part in communicating the tale and brings greater significance to it’s message.

Black Panther not only subverts our perception of the black dynamic on the Hollywood screen, but, if you look a little closer, also our understanding of black history.

Why we need to stop glorifying “busy”.

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You can’t deny that when you finish a day in which you feel like you’ve made the most of every minute, you get a great sense of satisfaction.

And, why wouldn’t you?

With the amount of distractions we encounter on a day-to-day basis, to end the day in the knowledge that our focus has been sustained enough to smash our to-do list can feel like quite an accomplishment. Strong productivity will always play an integral role in helping you to take bigger strides towards your target destination.

Nevertheless, becoming too insistent in acquiring these daily “wins” can result in a loss of perspective. If you’re not careful, becoming addicted to being “busy”, so to speak, can lead you to neglecting and overlooking the most important aspects of life, like building meaningful relationships and finding ways to give back to the wider community.

It’s essential that, in order to live with integrity and be truly fulfilled, you critique the destination before you begin the journey. Is the end goal aligned with your core values? Will the journey facilitate your ideal lifestyle, or, at least, take you to a circumstance that will place you within reach of your innermost desires?

If the answer is no to all of these, then your busyness is not productivity, and your completed to-do list has done little to support you in making any real progress. Are you in a job that you feel has very little impact? That isn’t helping you to grow? This might be okay temporarily, if you recognise it as a means to an end. But if that job, say, doesn’t even pay enough to put you in an economic position that’ll serve as a launch-pad for your future endeavours, it’s probably a waste of your time.

You need to value the process as well as the end result.

Perhaps you’re investing your time in working on a business that you believe will have optimal financial prospects? While this is not a terrible idea, ask yourself: Besides monetary gain, will this project, in it’s process, help me to get what I want out of life? It sounds bleak, but with business success-rate statistics revealing that 20% of businesses fail in their first year, 30% after two, and 70% after 10, you’ve got to want to be in it for the long-haul, regardless of whether or not you end up ballin’.

To put it simply, a passion project is very rarely a mistake.

When the thing you’re investing yourself in is meaningful to you on a deeper level, the end result is of little importance, because you care greatly about what you’re doing in the present. If, as with most businesses, it’s a side-hustle in its early days, it’s a worthwhile investment of your time and energy because it could count as being a past-time. If you’re getting pleasure and fulfilment from the doing, then you’re never going to see it as a waste of time.

Rather than perceiving it as a risk, a loss of resources, you’ll simply deem it as a necessary distraction from the mundane day-to-day tasks. It’s the equivalent of, say, someone buying art materials or paying for dance classes, to bring more joy into their life.

Make it a rule for yourself to make your work a labour of love, at every possible opportunity, and you’ll have very few regrets. “Busy” will finally be serving to fulfil a greater, more meaningful, purpose to your life.  And realise deeply that, to be still, to not be preoccupied, does not necessarily equate to laziness or to being idle.

We need stillness to gain greater perspective, greater awareness about ourselves, our values, and what we want in life.

Are you guilty of placing “busy” on a pedestal, irregardless of the content of that busyness? If you are, or have been in the past, then share your experience below, and what you’re doing, or have done, to remove the habit from your life.

What does Meghan’s new patronage mean for The National Theatre?

Meghan Markle

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the term “patronage”, a royal patronage can be useful in helping to promote and strengthen the image of great causes.

Kensington suggested that the four organisations – the National Theatre, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, The Mayhew and Smart Works, which had been selected for Meghan to be a patron of, had been chosen as “causes and issues with which [Meghan] has long been associated”.

If you’re following Kensington Palace on Instagram, then it’s likely that you’ve already seen that, so far, Meghan Markle’s use of her new responsibilities are well under-way. And she’s probably having the time of her life, since the selected charities depict the Duchess’ passion for access to education, support for women, animal welfare and the arts.

Her enthusiastic embrace of her new role is hardly surprising, considering her background in the non-profit sector. Since the beginning of January, Meghan has become proactive in getting involved in community discussions, with long-term unemployed and vulnerable women, which forms an integral approach of Smart Works Charity.

And, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited for how she’s planning on using her new influence in the arts, The National Theatre (NT).

With a background in not only the arts, as an actress and blogger, but as a campaigner, prior to marrying Prince Harry in May 2018, it’s quite possible that The National Theatre may be getting a few things switched-up. Already having developed some great goals, including aiming to create a world-class theatre for everyone, and implementing a learning and participation programme that supports young people’s creativity across the UK, the NT is barking along the lines of equality and inclusiveness that Meghan so loves to see.

But you know, I think we’re going to see these goals being taken to the max, with Meghan on the scene.

By now, most people have heard the story of how, at just 11, Meghan wrote to the US first lady at the time, Hillary Clinton, to make complaints about the sexism being perpetuated in TV advertisements, and successfully got the ads’ transcript changed as a result.

Judging by her past behaviour, then, it doesn’t seem like Meghan will be tolerating any ignorance on the NT landscape.

A “strong believer in using the arts to bring people from different backgrounds and communities together”, according to Kensington Palace, it would seem that Meghan will be harnessing the NT as a tool for strengthening cultural diversity.

With the National Theatre artistic director, Rufus Norris, sharing her aspirations, Meghan’s influence in British theatre may have few limits. As a response to the announcement of Meghan’s patronage, Norris said,

‘The Duchess shares our deeply-held conviction that theatre has the power to bring people together from all communities and walks of life. I very much look forward to working closely with Her Royal Highness in the years to come’.

I think we can expect Meghan to use her increasingly influential platform to, fervently and shrewdly, advocate for inclusiveness and diversity in the arts.

Do any of you have any thoughts about what’s on Meghan’s agenda? Comment below on what changes you’re expecting/hoping Meghan to make in British Theatre!

How to stay motivated in any circumstances.

Focus

Many of you will know that your motivation levels can, if you let them, fluctuate with the changing circumstances in your life. Maybe the people you’re living with have little aspiration, you’ve had to move back home after living independently at university, and feel like you’re taking a few steps back, or your friends aren’t as supportive as you’d like them to be. It’s so easy for us to look ever closely at our own disadvantages in life, that we begin slipping into the victim mind-set.

But this only takes us on a downward spiral.

With the defeatist mind-set it cultivates, it makes us question: Why even begin if I’m already so far behind?

Hundreds of life coaches, authors and inspirational speakers will have their own tips on how to stay motivated, though, if you could narrow these down to several, here’s the pieces of advice I’m set on absorbing for 2019.

Chunking.

Divide your goal into short stretches and create in-between targets (and rewards!). Giving yourself little incentives along the journey will help you with sustaining your will-power. Possibly one of the greatest personal development coaches and motivational speakers, Tony Robbins, stated that: “A major source of stress in our lives comes from the feeling that we have an impossible number of things to do. If you take on a project and try to do the whole thing all at once, you’re going to be overwhelmed.” Why overload yourself? It’s not efficient. Tackle your mountains one mole-hill at a time.

This, yes you guessed it, is called “chunking”.

Chip away at your project in a series of achievable steps. Have you ever wondered why ticking boxes on our to-do list bring us so much joy? Well, Neuroscience explains that each little victory triggers the reward centre in the brain, flooding it with the feel-good chemical, dopamine. Unsurprisingly, this makes us more inclined to repeatedly focus our attention on set activities. Try this technique perhaps, when working on a passion project, or organising your folders.

Get clear on why you want to reach this goal.

With so many distractions, much busyness and plenty of noise, it can be incredibly difficult to stay focused on a goal. Think about what meaning achieving a certain goal will bring into your life. Will sticking at your passion project enable you to eventually work solely in a sector that you love? Will doing those 100 press-ups every night, no more, no less, help you reach your end goal of feeling healthy and happy? If you have a deeper reason for pursuing a goal, it’s more likely you’ll persevere in seeing it through – even when your motivation levels begin to flag.

Visualization.

See it, smell it, feel it. Some of the greatest athletes and most successful business people swear by this technique. If you can imagine the process, complete with all of it’s nitty-gritty details, the more likely it’ll be that you take the challenges in your stride. The screwed-up concentration face you’ll adopt as you knuckle down to complete a record several job applications in one sitting; the way your breathing will sound as you conquer that hill near your house, or the sensation of sweat dripping from your face as you cross the finish line. If you can envision yourself going through a trial – avoiding the knocks and blows – you’re more likely to make it a reality.

So, dreamers, keep dreaming.

Have a plan, but be open to adaptation.

So what if your strategy doesn’t seem to be working straight away? Maybe there’s a few little tweaks you can make on it to make it more efficient, more effective. If you can sense that your plan isn’t working out quite the way you hoped it would, don’t throw in the towel. It’s all about trial and error. As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.

Take a look at the grand scheme of things.

Why should you keep doing what you’re doing? Let’s take a moment to absorb the words of the renowned Jew, Mr Rabbi Hillel: “If not you, then who? If not now, when?” You’ll find it tougher to slacken up the treadmill, when you recognise that you’ll only have to put in more work further down the line, if you want to be effective, that is.

Figure out how you’re going to cope with flagging motivation.

Accept it. At some point down the line you’re going to get fed-up, tired or plain bored of pursuing that goal of yours. You’ll need to get your spirits lifted somehow. One way you can do this is by thinking of all those that have had to endure so much more than you to reach their target. Take the suffragettes, the people in Auschwitz, or African-Americans before the banning of slavery. God forbid, you ever go through suffering as profound. Nevertheless, it might be worth glancing back as these experiences to put your journey into perspective. Step away from self-pity. Realising that your struggles are not as bad as you may think, will help you keep moving forward with an extra spring in your step.

Don’t be afraid of seeking support.

It’s a powerful thing, announcing your plans to the world. It’s the reason why people get married in the public-eye. The inherent value that resides in sharing your plan, resides in the fact that openly expressing your intentions can help you to stay accountable to the goal you set for yourself. Though make sure you’re ultra-picky about who you share this with. You’ll need a crowd that you know will cheer you on when your voice begins to waver, not drag you down.

Keep reminding yourself of all the reasons for carrying on.

Steve Jobs, the American business magnate and interviewer, encapsulates this excellently. On one occasion he expressed to an interviewer: “I think most people that are able to make a sustained contribution over time — rather than just a peak — are very internally driven. You have to be. Because, in the ebb and tide of people’s opinions and of fads, there are going to be times when you are criticised, and criticism’s very difficult. And so when you’re criticised, you learn to pull back a little and listen to your own drummer. And to some extent, that isolates you from the praise, if you eventually get it, too. The praise becomes a little less important to you and the criticism becomes a little less important to you, in the same measure. And you become more internally driven.”

Anyone disagree with these as being top tips? What are your top tricks for staying motivated? Feel free to comment below!

Becoming by Michelle Obama

 

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When I read Becoming by Michelle Obama, I felt as though I was reading my own words, or maybe, talking to a best friend. There’s so many moments in her recollections that strike a nerve. So many comments that aptly tap into the way I, and, I’m sure, many others among you, view the world. Perhaps one of my favourite recurring themes throughout the book, is her continual desire to grow herself, to push her limits, to keep getting better.

Self-Growth

Making revelations about her self-growth mind-set from her youth to date, in ‘Becoming Me’, Michelle poignantly questions her own past perceptions that she would, quite finitely, become a lawyer after her Ivy League education.

As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you becoming something and then that’s the end.”

It’s common knowledge that Michelle had practised as a lawyer in her early adult life. Only that now she has disclosed her true perceptions towards the esteemed profession. Her determination to move forward in the world, to be held, socially, in high regard, maintained her loyalty to a career that she was beginning to resent for it’s indirect approach to instigating mass change.

This, most certainly, comes as a breath of fresh air, to individuals tired of hearing idealisations of institutional, by-the-book success.

Her message rings clear. The established path, the traditional routes to success, will not necessarily lead to personal fulfilment. An important reminder for us all.
Of course, leaving behind her piled desk at the law firm, Michelle went on to pursue a career in community work and politics.

It’s helped me, and it should help you, take away the sense that, whilst a certain path might appear attractively clear-cut, there’s no guarantee that it will lead you to the ideal destination. Life, so to speak, is a journey wherein, sometimes, you have to venture down a path just to know that it’s the wrong way.

Friendships and early influences

I found myself inwardly smiling at the description of Michelle’s friendships and early influences, in particularly, her best friend in College, Suzanne. A track runner and avid dance class attendee, Suzanne, according to Michelle, was the kind of girl that based the majority of her decisions on how fun they were likely to be, and swiftly changed direction when they “messed with her joy“. This is something that I have tended, and still tend to do.

Barack’s apparent contradictory nature, “serious without being self-serious” and “breezy in his manner but powerful in his mind“, brought to mind certain fond friends of mine that have this lethal trait combination. A laid-back manner and steely focus. Demonstrative of her genuine character, is Michelle’s exposure of her cravings for authenticity in her friendships. It’s a terrible feeling, suspecting that someone in your inner circle is only there to gain something, rather than out of genuine affection for you.

Michelle touches on this issue of fake friends that were beginning to plague her life as first lady. Down-to-earth, “thirsty” is the word she and Barack uses to describe the people blatantly attempting to claw their way into her inner circle as an effort to boost their own status.

Growing real friendships, it would seem, and by Michelle’s standards, resides in identifying those that truly care about you and holding them close.

Barack

1michelle

In ‘Becoming Us’, the picture Michelle paints of Barack unearths the deep-seated respect underpinning their relationship. Barack is illustrated as having always been aspirational, envisioning the world as what it could become, what it should be. One story she reminisces of Barack near-preaching to a group of elderly women, raising spirits and instilling hope, in the basement of a church is intimate and heart-warming. A recollection that disintegrates the stereo-typically distant, impersonal image of a politician on a far off platform, to an accessible, close-to-home, community spirit.

A man that never aspired to fame, or to fortune, but, rather, just wanted to make a difference. Sounds almost like a fantasy, right?

Depth of character and honesty, qualities that Michelle admires in Barack, are juxtaposed with the shallow qualities that some of her friends looked for in a partner. Assets like financial prospects and looks being placed higher on the scale than intangible wholesomeness.

Money never drove us, yet look where we are, Michelle seems to be whispering.

Education

Before reading her biography, I never really knew too much about the education initiatives Michelle introduced whilst in the White house. I was surprised to learn that Arts & Culture is something that she wanted to give more ground in education.
In the UK at least, for as long as I can remember, creative subjects including music, art, dance and drama have always been overshadowed by the academic subjects.

Of course, the incredible value of academia cannot be denied. The intellectual skills that academia cultivates will always be essential for the functioning of society. Nevertheless, it’s an unhealthy approach to place it entirely in the spotlight and leave the arts to cower in the shadows. The cultural enrichment that the arts has to offer should not be overlooked.

Remarking on how she’d been raised on Jazz, piano recitals, Operatta Workshops and museum trips, she expresses the importance of arts and culture in developing children:

it’s not a luxury but a necessity to their overall educational experience.

I relished the sight of high schoolers mingling with contemporary artists like John Legend, Justin Timberlake, and Alison Krauss as well as legends like Smokey Robinson and Patti LaBelle.

Honesty

Finally, other than Michelle’s perpetual praise of optimism, ambition and growth throughout the entirety of this book, what really hooked me from the very first page was Michelle’s commitment to honesty and integrity. How can anyone not admire someone with an innate purpose of telling “the truth“, using their voice to “lift up the voiceless” when they can and not disappear “on people in need“?

For a long time, I’m sure, these closing words in her story will resonate with me,

There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

They’ve given me a sense of empowerment. To be unafraid in taking ownership of even the grittier, imperfect fragments of my life. Indeed, every life can be used to inspire and raise up others.