In her new book “What Would Michelle Do?” Allison Samuels explores the character traits that have helped Michelle Obama on her journey from Ivy League grad to first lady. Samuels talked with The Root DC about how reality TV played a part in her writing the book, why it’s important to remember the endgame in one’s journey to success, and why every woman — no matter how successful she is — needs friends.
What made you decide to write a book that puts special emphasis on Michelle Obama’s inner character as a whole?
I work with a lot of little girls and they have so many different role models that are not the best role models. And I started just saying “Well, what would Michelle do?” and they would just sit down and stop arguing and fighting.
And so I just thought about it [and said] “Okay, this is the perfect thing — I just need to find a way to put together explaining how Michelle Obama got to the point where she is today, the steps she took, how she kept herself together, what she did to attract what she wanted, and just do it in a way that people would be interested in. Particularly young women, so they’d have some type of guide.
One topic in Michelle’s life is the fact that she took a step back from her day job and life and chose to concentrate on supporting her husband. How do you think a black woman can toe that line between speaking her mind and not being controversial, which is something that the first lady has to deal with on a regular basis?
That is the part that I love about her, that she had sort of that savvy and also sort of a confidence in herself that her ego was not so crazy that she wasn’t able to step back and say “I’m looking at the end game. I’m looking at what’s going to be best for me and my family, and I know he’s always had in some way this dream to do this, so how can I help him?”
And then, I’m sure when it’s time for her to do something and support her he’ll do the same. I think it’s all about that compromise and understanding that sometimes you DO have to step back and let the other person shine, and then the time will come when that person has to step back and let you shine.
What do you think is her biggest asset as far as her husband getting reelected?
She’s more positive than he is, obviously, and also there’s something so warm and sincere about her. And where you see him as the president involved in politics and the hard-core stuff, you look at her and you really see that heart, and you realize that . . . has to be a part of him.Whereas he is a little bit more stoic and not as open as she is.
What was your favorite chapter to write about, and why?
I think the “What About Your Friends” chapter was a fun chapter to write, because, again, dealing with young girls and watching them feel like other girls are their enemy, I just felt like I needed to deal with that in some way, and Michelle is such a perfect example of someone who has had girlfriends from her high school days that are still around. She puts a lot of emphasis on her friends and makes it very clear that this is not a competition.
How do you personally try to tap into your inner Michelle?
Really, with the self-confidence. I look at her and I think she’s beautiful, but I do know particularly growing up and I’m sure that when she was growing up, her beauty is not the beauty that has been put forth as the ideal of beauty, but yet she still has this amazing glow in her confidence.
She always walked with her head up, shoulders straight, and I’m like, that’s what we need. That’s what you have to have as a woman, is just to feel good about yourself no matter what else is being said or what else you see. And sometimes it’s very hard, no matter how old you get. I think when I look at Michelle Obama, she just always gives the impression that she feels like “I am good enough!”
But she’s not cocky about it.
But she’s not cocky about it — but it’s very clear that she will stand her ground, and that she feels good about herself. I always look at her and feel like this is not a woman who is second-guessing anything — about how she looks or what she does. Even if she missteps — she keeps it moving. That’s what I try to channel — “What would Michelle do? She would keep it moving if she made a mistake.” She’d own up to it, but it wouldn’t get her down. I’m not sure that I’ve mastered it yet but that is what I’m trying to do.
What do you want readers to grasp most?
Remember the endgame — that you may have a variety of things that you may not want to do to get to that ultimate goal, but that it is worth it and that you are able to learn to compromise and understand what life is really about in terms of give and take.
Michelle attracted a man who had everything she wanted because she had it. She had the degrees, she had the background, she had the education — so she could attract someone who had this equal type of education and background and had the same sort of ambitions and ideas. I think that’s something that we as women — particularly young women — forget.
What do you have to offer? If you don’t have anything to offer, then guess what? You’re not going to attract anybody who has anything to offer, or anyone who’s going to help you move to that next step. Being able to understand that you have to go out and do the work to attract those things that come to you, whether it be a mate, a great job, a great career — whatever it is, you have to prepare and be ready for it.
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