Oprah and Michelle Obama Discuss Life After the White House

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Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey sat down with the former first lady at the Barclays Center during her '2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus' tour to speak about marriage, parenthood and self-love.

During the fifth stop on her Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus tour, Oprah Winfrey welcomed 15,000 guests to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where speakers such as Julianne Hough, WW CEO Mindy Grossman, author Rachel Hollis and meditation leader Jesse Israel took the stage to inspire and motivate the audience toward wellness and purpose. Audience members included Lupita Nyong’o, Hoda Kotb, Niecy Nash, Nate Berkus and more.

At the all-day event, Winfrey led guests through workbook exercises and intention-setting challenges to create goals for the coming year. She emphasized the importance of purpose and intention, drawing on her experience on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

"When you start to live your life through this lens of intention, I’m telling you it becomes filled with new and greater possibilities, but it actually takes practice," she said. "The reason we were number one for 25 years — listen to me, Hoda — is because it was an intentionally based show."

The main event was a sit-down conversation with former first lady Michelle Obama, where Winfrey and Obama discussed parenthood, marriage, self-love, aging and life outside of the White House.

Winfrey opened the conversation by asking about Obama’s best-selling book Becoming and why she thinks the memoir, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, has been so successful.

"So many people saw themselves in my story. It’s also a time for owning our stories, and I think that’s part of what resonated with people. A lot of people came up and said, ‘You were so vulnerable. Was it hard for you to tell your story, tell your truth?’ … No, that’s my story. I embrace every aspect of who I am," Obama said. "We gravitate to one another when we see the best and worst in ourselves because it makes us feel human. People connected to the humanness of the story."

Winfrey also noted that it had been a difficult week and wanted to know how Obama was sticking to her famous catchphrase "When they go low, we go high," in the lead-up to the election.

"Going low is easy, which is why people go to it. It’s easy to go low. It’s easy to lead by fear. It’s easy to be divisive. It’s easy to make people feel afraid. That’s the easy thing and it’s also the short-term thing," Obama said. "For me, what I learned from my husband, what I learned from eight years in the White House, this life, this world, our responsibility in it is so much bigger than us. When I want to go low, it’s all about my own ego. It’s not about solving anything. It’s not about fixing anything. It’s about seeking revenge on the thing that happened to you."

Whenever there was a mention of her husband or the White House, the crowd erupted into applause. Winfrey asked if the two of them were enjoying their time as empty nesters now that their daughters are both away at college.

"It is so good, y’all. No, it is really good," Obama said, to whoops and hollers in the audience. "OK, you guys get out of the gutter!"

She spoke with affection about her time in the White House but also noted that it was difficult as well. "It was the biggest privilege of my life to serve as this nation’s first lady and I will continue the work to be a person of service, to try to work to make sure my life means something to somebody else. But those eight years were hard. It’s a hard job. It takes a toll."

Obama also addressed the harder times that she and her husband faced as a couple.

"Marriage is hard and raising a family together is a hard thing; it takes a toll," she said. "But if you’re with the person, if you know why you’re with them, you understand that there is a friendship and a foundation there — that may feel like it goes away during some of those hard times, but it’s something that we always come back to. And we’re coming back to that point where we see each other again."

She also spoke about her own self-doubt, about everything from her abilities to her appearance. When Winfrey asked if she still has that doubt even after her best-selling book and position as a revered public figure, she responded with an enthusiastic yes.

"We are so ridiculous as women. We are struggling with so much. We don’t want to talk about our age and then we want to act like we should look like we did when we’re 20. When I’m sorry, men, y’all can look any kind of way and it seems to be OK," Obama said. "We have to embrace our change, and I’m lecturing to myself truthfully because I struggle with this, too. I struggle with looking at the mirror and I hate looking at myself. I hate listening my voice. I hate watching myself on tape because I’m constantly judging myself too, just like everybody else."

Many of the conversations throughout the day centered on purpose and superpowers. When Winfrey asked Obama what her superpower is, she mentioned the importance of connection and being a role model for young people.

"I hope it’s making people feel seen. I hope that that’s my superpower; I make the people that I come in contact with feel seen and heard, especially young people," Obama said. "I hope I have that power to make them feel relevant and deliver to them what I didn’t have when I was that age, this sense of importance and relevance in the world."

"Our leaders are not paving a good path for what we want our kids to be," she added. "Young people are hungry for something, and it’s time for them to step up and take the lead because we’re getting older and we need to move out of the way for them because they’re going to have answers that we never thought of."

She also spoke about the importance of empathy and understanding, especially today.

"I try very hard, even in these times, to understand what people are going through when they’re angry when they’re hateful or when they’re doing things that just don’t feel right," Obama said. "I try to stand in their shoes and say there’s got to be a context that I can understand that helps me see how you see the world so I can connect with you on some level."