“Failing is a crucial part of success… Your strength comes in your ability to recover.” (Obama, 2018). Michelle Obama – a strong-willed woman combining career success and a harmonic family life, while being a social advocate across the world. Approachable, and still seems flawless. A quite impressive woman. What can I still learn from Michelle Obama’s mindset, values, and career?
Analysing Michelle Obama’s career to date, the first career development theory applicable is Super’s lifespan theory. Career decision making is assumed to be a lifelong process (Eliason et al., 2014). The constellation of biological, social, economic, familial, educational, and chance factors contribute to a constant self-concept development resulting in career changes (Preston & Reno, 2013). This unfolding process leads through various stages; the career is determined by several decisions made during life-spaces such as ‘parent’, ‘worker’, or ‘student’ instead of just one (“Super’s Career Development Theory”, n.d.). Biological factors, such as origin and cultural background, influence Obama’s first career decision, sociology studies, focused on the own racial affiliation. Thus, experiences made during growth stage contribute to the subsequent exploration. A juris doctor enables Obama to work as a lawyer. The woman’s path then leads from town organization and development tasks to university administration, without a definite direction visible. Working for a food processing company, the familial condition of marriage and ensuing motherhood force Obama into part-time employment, moving through the stage of establishment. With her partner Barack’s presidency candidature, his career aspirations become more important to her than her own, so that she finally gives up her own career for supporting his, progressively immerging in the stage of maintenance.
The second theory applicable is Bandura’s social cognitive career theory, outlining the interdependence of self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, and personal goals. It is assumed that a person is likely to choose and succeed in activities at which self-efficacy beliefs and skills are strong and externally supported (“Social Cognitive Career Theory”, n.d.). Characterized by a strong will and ambitiousness (Bair, 2017), Obama shows decisional self-efficacy instead of coping efficacy (Ezefor et al., 2016). Constant commitment repeatedly leads to high performance (Conklin et al., 2013). Those achievements in turn arise Obama’s high self-efficacy beliefs, provoking her positive attitude towards expected outcomes, never losing the hope of making an impact. Obama stays optimistic to make the world a better place, defining achievements in women’s equality and fairly accessible education as her personal goals, reflecting in Obama’s career decisions and engagements.
Regarding my own career, I will apply Holland’s theory of vocational choice. Assuming that occupations result from six personality types (New Zealand Government Careers, 2017), I categorize myself under ‘conventional’. Having always been successful with numbers in educational as well as in professional context, always trying to work as efficiently as possible, being excited about organizational and planning challenges, my personality congruently fits this type. I avoid taking risks and struggle with creativity, and I fear to lose control in personal and professional contexts. My daily life is immensely structured. The choose of major is related to a student’s engagement (Ethington et al., 2012), just as a match of individual and occupation expresses itself in great performance and stress-free satisfaction (Furnham, 2001). Being highly ambitious, I aim for reaching the position of a Chief Financial Officer one day. I may confirm that my motivation and engagement is highly dependent on the subjects I take. Furthermore, I am convinced that I will only succeed and therefor be satisfied in my life, when I am able to meet my occupation’s requirements, but get the chance to unfold the full potential of my personality at the same time.
Having given up her career for her husband’s aspiration, for Michelle Obama family is undeniably a highly important value to her. Although Obama reached the position of being one of the most powerful women in the world (Bair, 2017), she always stays grounded, keen on keeping public contact. “We feel a responsibility to make [the White House] feel like the people’s house… We want the White House to be a place of education and awareness.” (Obama, 2009). Being an advocate for equality, women’s rights and accessible education, Obama seeks moral fulfilment in helping others and the society. “You too can pave the way. You too can realize your dreams. And then your job is to reach back, and to help someone just like you to do the same thing.” (Obama, 2009). Acting as a thought leader, highly valuing diversity, the woman confidently focuses on influencing people in order to raise awareness and to provoke change. Her career as juris doctor and lawyer embodies Michelle Obama’s appreciation for honesty and integrity. She is never afraid of facing challenging problems or making decisions, neither am I.
Quite the contrary, we both welcome challenges and competition. Knowledge and competence are of great importance to us, both having an endeavouring and ambitious personality. Obama put into words: “I never cut class. I loved getting A’s. I liked being smart. I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world.” (Obama, 2009). But although a great career is crucial for satisfaction in life, Michelle Obama emphasizes the importance of juggling career and motherhood and maintaining a healthy work-life-balance, speaking right from my soul. While this is one of the achievements I admire Michelle Obama for, I myself still struggle with finding the right balance and model myself on her in this point. In addition to intellectual status, I also highly value a powerful status, in general. Unlike Obama, who is constantly staying grounded, I tend to strive for an elevated hierarchical position associated with supervision. A career without opportunities for advancement would neither motivate me for high performance nor lead to my satisfaction. And opposed to Obama, wealth and gain hold a high position in my set of values. I may retrace Obama’s “Success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” (Obama, 2018), but nevertheless, this is just not completely covering my line of thought looking forward to my prospective career.
Clearly undergoing life stages, including career changes caused by diverse factors, Obama’s career is best analysed by Super’s theory. Furthermore, Bandura’s theory is well suited, since Obama’s high self-efficacy beliefs, optimism and visionary goals undeniably lead to high performance. My characteristics clearly reflect Holland’s personality type “conventional”. In addition, my conviction that a match between character and occupation will lead to satisfaction, both sides, confirms his theory’s fit to my prospective career.
“Take for granted that [you] are capable of doing whatever [you] want to, but you’ve got to be willing to work for it.” (Obama, 2018). I owe Michelle Obama my hope, optimism, and self-confidence regarding my success in career. And although I see familiar traits when analysing her personality, I still have a great potential to grow in human interaction, down-to-earth attitude, and modesty – three of Obama’s strengths.
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