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25 Most Inspiring Michelle Obama Quotes

If you're looking to add more inspiration, wisdom, or compassion to your life, look no further than these quotes from the former First Lady.

First Lady Michelle Obama Cheriss May/Nurphoto/Shutterstock

Advice that speaks to all of us

Michelle Obama needs no introduction…but we’ll give her a little one, anyway. As the wife of Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, she was an accomplished First Lady—and the first African American First Lady—who focused on education, poverty, and healthy living for eight years in the White House. Before that, she worked as a lawyer, a city administrator in Chicago, and a community-outreach worker. And, of course, she’s also a mom to daughters Malia and Sasha. All that means she has a lot to say—and that she says it well. Read on to soak in some of Michelle Obama’s best quotes and infuse your life with a little bit of her wit, intelligence, and grace. Then check out her amazing sense of style in this list of the most gorgeous inaugural gowns worn by First Ladies.

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On the importance of telling your story

In her 2018 memoir, Becoming, Michelle Obama tells her own story, and in doing so, encourages others to do the same, with inspiring quotes like this: “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” Her message? That each one of us is unique and that our history and experiences are things that no one can take away. We shouldn’t shy away from our stories and, instead, should embrace them—mistakes and all. Here are another 17 uplifting quotes that will stay with you.

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On why everyone needs to get involved

Before serving as a U.S. senator, Barack Obama famously worked as a community organizer with his wife by his side. In her last speech as the First Lady, at a White House event honoring the 2017 School Counselor of the Year, Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of being an involved citizen. “You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms…. You need to be preparing yourself to add your voice to our national conversation.” To demonstrate why she continues to be right, these human rights still aren’t universal, even though they should be.

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On dealing with adversity

In a speech at the City College of New York in 2016, Michelle Obama shared stories of the hardships her own family faced when her father continued to work despite suffering from multiple sclerosis, explaining that adversity can actually make you stronger. “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage,” she said. “Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” Check out these true stories of people whose brain injuries gave them new abilities.

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On overcoming hardship

It’s a tough but important fact of life: Life can be hard and, sometimes, unfair. But that doesn’t mean that it should stop you from moving forward. In fact, it should do the exact opposite. Michelle Obama offered this advice to new graduates during a commencement speech at Chicago’s King College Prep High School in 2015: “Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you. Let them make you even hungrier to succeed.” For more inspiration, check out these motivational quotes about success.

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On being a good listener

Much of Michelle Obama’s popularity lies in her empathy and her ability to understand and care about people from all backgrounds. In Becoming, she reminds us of the importance of listening to others in order to better understand where people are coming from, writing, “There’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.” If you want to work on your listening skills, brush up on these 9 things all good listeners do during daily conversations.

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On the company we keep

At a Glamour panel on the Power of an Educated Girl in 2015, she spoke about why it’s important to take great care when selecting the company we keep. “You have to fill your bucket with positive energy—and if you have people hanging around you that are bringing you down and not lifting you up, whether that’s your ‘boo’ or your best friend—you have to learn how to push these people to the side.” Here are 24 little things you can do to be a true friend.

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On fear and decision-making

Another inspiring Michelle Obama quote from Becoming deals with the right way to make a decision—and the wrong way. “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear,” she says. “Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.” The results of those decisions, depending on what they are, affect not only our individual lives but also the world at large. Check out these inspiring women who are changing the lives of people around the world.

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On rising above it all

In this age of divisive politics, it’s no wonder that this became one of Michelle Obama’s most famous quotes and a mantra for millions of people in United States. She spoke these memorable words, by the way, during her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. If you’re having one of those days in which this seems like tough advice to follow, here are some other inspiring quotes to get you through the morning.

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On lifting up others

Michelle Obama believes in paying it forward. In her hopeful view of the world, that’s how you lift up others and truly make the world a better place. In Becoming, she writes, “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” Here’s how one tiny town is embodying the spirit of that Michelle Obama quote and changing lives one house at a time.

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On fairness

In her 2013 commencement speech at Eastern Kentucky University, Michelle Obama gave the new graduates this advice on how to treat their fellow human beings: “No matter what, you give everybody a fair shake, and when somebody needs a hand, you offer yours.” If you’re looking for ways to help others, these 50 random acts of kindness don’t cost a cent.

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On the importance of educating women

On a trip to Africa in 2013, the First Lady said, “When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous.” Both she and her husband are firm believers in educating women to help bring about the change the world needs. Don’t miss these stories of pioneering women who changed the world.

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On motherhood

As most mothers will agree, being a parent is the most important job of all, no matter what other amazing things you do in your life. That’s why this quintessential Michelle Obama quote, said the 2012 Democratic National Convention, is so relatable to so many: “My most important title is mom-in-chief. My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.” Here are another 16 quotes about motherhood will make you want to call your mom.

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On the history of the country

In another Michelle Obama quote from the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the First Lady notes just how far our nation has come in its short history. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.” Here are more facts about the White House you might have missed in history class.

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On continuing to grow

This Michelle Obama quote from Becoming reminds us that we still have a lot of living left to do, no matter how old we are. We should always be curious, always interested in learning more, and never stop trying to expand our minds and better ourselves. The full quote reads: “Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” For more on growth, Obama’s latest book, The Light We Carry explores how she grew throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

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On defining oneself

In Becoming, she also says, “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.” This is another instance where she explains how important it is to own who we are, speak for ourselves, and shape our own destinies.

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On diversity

In an apparent response to remarks made by President Trump about a group of minority Democratic congresswomen in 2019, Michelle Obama tweeted this: “What truly makes our country great is its diversity. I’ve seen that beauty in so many ways over the years. Whether we are born here or seek refuge here, there’s a place for us all. We must remember it’s not my America or your America. It’s our America.” Check out these 14 timeless Abraham Lincoln quotes that are truly modern rules to live by.

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On mental health

In a 2015 speech for Change Direction, a campaign working to remove the stigma surrounding mental-health issues, Michelle Obama emphasized the fact that mental-health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. She said, “It’s time to tell everyone who’s dealing with a mental-health issue that they’re not alone, and that getting support and treatment isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of strength.”

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On failure

Here’s another fabulous quote from Becoming: “Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.” That’s why it’s so important to push through self-doubt in order to pursue your dreams and, ultimately, achieve them. Here are some tips for bouncing back from failure.

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On what it means to be a strong man

In New Hampshire in 2016, Michelle Obama gave a speech to support Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. While doing so, she addressed the vitriol being slung Clinton’s way on the campaign trail, saying that this was “not politics as usual.” She then added, “Strong men, men who are truly role models, don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.” Here are 44 facts you never knew about America’s First Ladies.

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On female friendship

In Becoming, Michelle Obama writes, “Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses… swapped back and forth and over again.” These heartwarming stories of true friendship will remind you that she is right.

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On grief

Grief may be a part of life, but it’s never easy to deal with. That struggle is something that the former First Lady addresses in Becoming, saying that it’s OK to speak openly about loss. After all, it changes everything. She writes, “It hurts to live after someone has died. It just does. It can hurt to walk down a hallway or open the fridge. It hurts to put on a pair of socks, to brush your teeth. Food tastes like nothing. Colors go flat. Music hurts, and so do memories. You look at something you’d otherwise find beautiful—a purple sky at sunset or a playground full of kids—and it only somehow deepens the loss. Grief is so lonely this way.” Here’s how to support someone who’s lost a loved one.

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On sexual harassment

In Becoming, Michelle Obama makes it clear just how pervasive sexual harassment is and how it detrimentally affects women. She explains, “Women endure entire lifetimes of these indignities—in the form of catcalls, groping, assault, oppression. These things injure us. They sap our strength. Some of the cuts are so small they’re barely visible. Others are huge and gaping, leaving scars that never heal. Either way, they accumulate. We carry them everywhere, to and from school and work, at home while raising our children, at our places of worship, anytime we try to advance.”

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On having it all

During the Brooklyn stop of her book tour in 2018, Michelle Obama gave the quote to end all quotes—and made women everywhere breathe a sigh of relief. She said, “That whole ‘so you can have it all.’ Nope, not at the same time. That’s a lie. And it’s not always enough to lean in, because that sh*t doesn’t work all the time.”

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On creating your own success

During a 2012 commencement speech for Oregon State University, Michelle Obama discussed the careers that she and her brother chose after quitting their corporate jobs, which made them happy but led to huge pay cuts that made their mother “cringe.” But, she explained, it was the right thing. Why? “We realized that being successful isn’t about being impressive—it’s about being inspired. And that’s what it means to be your true self. It means looking inside yourself and being honest about what you truly enjoy doing. Because, graduates, I can promise you that you will never be happy plodding through someone else’s idea of success. Success is only meaningful—and enjoyable—if it feels like your own.” To give yourself a head start, read these things wildly successful people do every day.

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On being good enough

“Am I good enough? Yes, I am.” In Becoming, Michelle Obama asked and answered this simple question, and millions of readers realized these words also are true for them.

Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest. She's a travel expert who takes an average of 30 to 40 trips a year and covers vacation destinations, luggage, road trips, air travel and hotels.