Michelle Obama has a number of accomplishments to her name.
Known as “the Closer” on the campaign trail for her ability to get undecided voters to sign pledge cards (thus closing the deal), she is also the only first lady in U.S. history to hold two Ivy League degrees.
In 2010, she garnered bipartisan support to pass the School Lunch Program, which provides free or lost-cost meals to more than 21 million low-income children (and requires districts to serve more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy items).
That same year, she also launched Let’s Move!, a program whose ambitious and much-needed goal is to end the childhood obesity epidemic in a single generation. The program coordinates everything from getting 2,400 chefs and 4,000 schools to work together so staff can learn how to make healthier meals, to getting the largest food manufacturers in the country to pledge to cut 1.5 trillion calories from their food within five years.
In Barack Obama’s words: “You know, we all knew she was brilliant and cute and strong and a great mom, but I think the way in which she blended purpose and policy with fun so that she was able to reach beyond Washington … was masterful.”
But before she was a masterful leader, mentor, and role model to young people, she was a young person herself. And when asked what her best advice to her younger self was, it had nothing to do with ambition, or success, or money. Instead, it was simple:
“Stop being so afraid.”
That’s right–if Michelle Obama could have told herself anything when she was young, it would have been to stop being so freakin’ scared.
“That’s really what strikes me when I look back–the sheer amount of time I spent tangled up in fears and doubts that were entirely of my own creation,” the former first lady said in an interview with People.
Talk about relatable.
I don’t know a single truly ambitious person who isn’t absolutely fantastic at tripping themselves up on their own self-made fears and doubts. Maybe you’re scared to start a blog because you’re afraid no one will read it. Maybe you’re scared to ask out the cute girl from your General Assembly class. Maybe you’re scared to take a risk on a project at work because if it tanks, everyone will know.
The fact is, a lot of times we can’t control whether we’re scared about something. Fear is a limbic response in the body. The object, then, isn’t to squash the fear or not feel it–it’s to feel it, do the damn thing anyway, and then give yourself credit.
This is the missing piece in most conversations about how to overcome your fears. Say you’re taking care of a little girl at the playground, and she’s scared of going on the monkey bars. With your encouragement, she faces her fear and does it. She makes it three bars before falling on her face. What do you do when she gets up and runs toward you?
You give her a hug.
Why? Because it’s not important that she didn’t make it to the end–what’s important is that she got up there and tried.
“Understand that no one–especially folks who are truly successful–simply coasts from achievement to achievement,” says Michelle Obama. “The most accomplished people in the world fail and fail big. That’s how they learn so much and grow so quickly and become so interesting and wise.”
For some people, shooting a Facebook Live video for their business page is a normal part of their day. For others, it’s a huge risk. They’re scared of being seen, scared of saying the wrong thing, scared that they won’t get it perfect.
Stop being so afraid!
Just do it. And then take care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big way of taking care of yourself, either. You can spend an hour reading a trashy magazine or playing a video game; you can treat yourself to Thai takeout and watch your favorite show; you can listen to your favorite podcast and do that adult coloring book you got for Christmas last year.
It doesn’t matter what it is; what matters is that you give yourself positive reinforcement for doing something that made you feel kind of queasy.
The more you do this, the more you’ll be willing to take risks and do even bigger things you’re afraid of. Why? Because you’ll finally know that you have your own back. The hard truth is that most of the time, it isn’t our audience’s or our parents’ or our spouse’s or our friends’ or our roommates’ reaction we’re truly afraid of–it’s our own inner critic’s.
In Michelle Obama’s words, “[L]et yourself really fail once in a while–not some tiny little mistakes here and there, but big, glaring, confidence-shaking, dark-night-of-the-soul-inducing failures.”
Then take really good care of yourself.
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Originally published on Inc.com.