During her tenure as the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama found herself in a work-life tug of war. She discussed trying to strike a work-life balance in her best-selling memoir Becoming. “I tell women, that whole ‘you can have it all’ — nope, not at the same time; that’s a lie,” she said during a pit-stop in Boston on her Becoming book tour. So when seated with the latest guest on her self-titled podcast, former President Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, the former co-workers discussed their own work-life struggles.
Obama explained that she admired how Jarrett carried herself at work without hiding the fact that she’s a mother and how active she is in her daughter Laura’s life.
“If Laura called, everything stopped. And I would be sitting in meetings with you, and you’d be, hammering down some intense thing, and uh Kathy would beep you in [like], ‘It’s Laura on the line.’ And wouldn’t matter what you were saying, you would swivel around in your chair, just to slightly turn away, and you’d say, ‘Hi baby, how are you?’ And you wouldn’t rush her… you would answer her little five year old questions. And then you would say, Mommy will be home, then you’d turn back around without skippin’ a beat and be right back in it, and I thought, baller! Baller.”
Obama added that watching Jarrett and the other mothers rushing out of the office to attend Halloween parties and school plays made her feel like her life had a greater meaning. Jarrett chimed in and added that it’s important for women to use their voice to fight for the life they want for themselves. “We have to find the courage to be willing to say, this is what I need. And in so doing, we empower ourselves, and then you need to make sure that you’re working for people, who allow you to be who you are,” she said. Jarrett even had to let go of a former assistant who forgot the number one rule in Jarrett’s book: Laura comes first.
Elsewhere in the conversation, Obama and Jarrett discuss how adopting the wrong mentality about mentorship and instant gratification can be damaging to young people. According to Obama, it’s doing the “grunt-work” or “thankless work” that proves to be the most beneficial in the long-run. It’s the people who do the not-so-glamorous work and put their effort and energy into doing it well that Obama has picked to join her current team.
But the people who are with me now, and who now have responsibilities over my schedule, or they’ve helped run a big book tour, or they are running, our higher ground productions and working with Netflix, almost all those people started out, doing some grunt work. [laughs] And, you watch, how young people do the work that they don’t want to do. The thankless work. That’s not so fun, and to do it well, those are the people that I look to and go, huh. That person’s ready to be pushed. That person wants to do more, I’m I’m ready to invest in them.
Later in the podcast, Laura calls her mother, who pauses her chat with Obama to take the call. “I have to still be true to it,” Jarett quipped, before diving back into her convo with Obama.
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