#MustWatch: Michelle Obama Shines in “The Light We Carry” Netflix Special with Oprah Winfrey

My Forever First Lady Michelle Obama released her latest Netflix special, “The Light We Carry,” on April 25, 2023 (in connection with her latest book of the same name and subsequent podcast with Audible).

The documentary was a collaboration with Netflix and the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions (the company behind projects like “Fatherhood,” “American Factory,” “Waffles and Mochi,” and, of course, Mrs. Obama’s 2020 special, “Becoming”).

I haven’t read “The Light We Carry” yet, but I had to watch this special. One, I mean, come on. It’s Michelle Obama. Two, I was in great need of a boost to remind myself of the light that I carry. And I definitely got that with this discussion! So I had to share some great takeaways with y’all.

This special was shot at the YouTube Theater in Inglewood, CA — on the last night of Mrs. Obama’s book tour with Oprah Winfrey. If you haven’t seen the trailer, well, here you go!

Throughout the roughly 1½-hour long discussion (edited, I’m sure), Mrs. Obama and Oprah discussed topics from the book. That included Mrs. Obama’s upbringing, her friendships, and, of course, her marriage before and after the presidency (and navigating parenthood together).

The discussion also centered around finding and using her light again in the midst of two low and unknown places: leaving the White House after 8 years and the inconsistent early days of the pandemic. In fact, that’s when “The Light We Carry” was completed. Mrs. Obama actually started shaping the book before the pandemic after connecting with other young people, but during the pandemic, she felt the need to come out of her funk and still be of service. “I needed to find my own hope,” she admitted to Oprah. “When you get to those low, emotional places, it’s hard to find your light. It’s hard to think that sharing it will even matter.” 

Oh, but it does. And I needed that reminder with this discussion. Here are some key gems:

Your light can’t be dependent on somebody else….

A major gem that Michelle Obama shared is that you have to be able to see your own light and not look for the perfect people or situations to make you feel better about yourself. She referenced her late father, Fraser Robinson III, who had multiple sclerosis, but kept moving and working to be there for his family each day. Mrs. Obama learned from him, as she told Oprah, that “it’s your job to do the work to make yourself feel good.” Excluding severe battles with mental illness, you may not have control over your circumstances, but you have control over your feelings about the circumstances.

She also referenced her marriage to President Obama as another example. With the ups and downs that come with any marriage, plus being a mom, and then the added on pressures of being the First Lady down the line, Mrs. Obama admittedly struggled to find joy and balance, especially after daughters Malia and Sasha were born. However, she realized that, not only was President Obama not responsible for her happiness, but that she was adding to her own unhappiness by holding herself to stressful (and downright impossible) standards as a woman.

Another strong piece of advice here that I took with me: “You can have it all, but not at the same time.” Sheesh.

Photo by Samson Katt on Pexels.com

Starting with what YOU can do...

During the pandemic, Mrs. Obama also found an outlet—knitting (fun fact: she even knitted a little sweater for Gayle King‘s newborn grandson!). The knitting quieted her mind in the midst of overthinking.

We all probably could use our own outlets for the times when we try to think our way out of so much going on around us. “When we’re in these times where the problems seem so big and insurmountable, we really have to focus on what we can control,” Mrs. Obama shared with the crowd. Instead of worrying so much about everything else around us and what COULD go wrong, we have to tend to the knitting in our laps… that right there is enough. You can only do what YOU can do. 

The Beauty of a “Kitchen Table” of Friends

Mrs. Obama also revealed that a huge part of her being able to share her light was her “kitchen table” of friends who give her relief. She has 12 close friends she’s kept over the years, which is downright remarkable and unprecedented, if you ask me! Even Oprah joked, “The only person I know with 12 good friends was Jesus and the disciples … and then one of them betrayed him!”

However, Mrs. Obama really does have 12 good friends –different backgrounds, ages, and personalities — her “kitchen table.” She calls them that because “the kitchen table in my home was always the place where we felt safe.” Growing up it was where she and her brother Craig were able to express themselves as kids. “You felt safe and seen. You always got rejuvenated at that table,” she added. That’s how she sees her friend group.

Friendship and connection is certainly important and wonderful. The pandemic has reminded me that, as much as I like and NEED my space, too much of it can be bad. Friends make life even better, especially during the down times. But as much as we need connection to keep us stable and grounded, not all friends make the cut over the years. And that’s okay!

That Whole “We Go High” Motto…

We know Michelle Obama now for the whole “when they go low, we go high,” saying. However, she herself noted that she doesn’t always feel like “going high.” In fact, that’s why she has her kitchen table of friends and also a trustworthy team that she can get her real feelings off her chest before expressing them unnecessarily on a public platform. For her, going high doesn’t mean you don’t feel the emotions, but it’s a long-term choice of your approach. You can feel good in the moment, but ultimately, negative words and actions can have a negative ripple effect.

All I can say is…I’m working on it. HA!

Finding your light and voice is a journey…

Be patient with yourself. “It takes a lifetime to find your voice. It is a process. It is an evolution,” Mrs. Obama expressed, revealing that she is just now truly stepping into hers. It’s important to be patient with yourself and give yourself grace to do so!

That’s important for me and my fellow millennials as well as Gen Z and all the others coming up behind us. It’s important to take the time to discover who we are and live our truths instead of trying to be what society or whoever else tells us to be. “The light we carry is in all of us. We have to learn how to build it up in ourselves first,” Mrs. Obama shared. “Then it’s our responsibility to share that light. Lead with that light because light begets light, hope begets hope.” 

When I tell you, I NEEDED to hear those words and this entire discussion. It gave me hope but also was added rejuvenation to write again, to share positive words again. To hopefully shine my light in my own way to whoever is reading or watching on social media. And I hope that all of you can watch and have your own takeaways about the light YOU carry.

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