Michelle Obama’s advice to college freshmen: ‘fake some confidence’


One of former First Lady (aka Forever Our First Lady) Michelle Obama’s initiatives is Reach Higher, that promotes education past high school, especially in lower-economic communities. At her Beat the Odds Summit, Michelle gave out some advice for first-time away, college-bound students. When I saw the headline, I thought it was going to be some one-off “hang in there, baby” type slogan. What was I thinking? This is Michelle Obama we’re talking about. She gave good, solid and detailed advice, some of it even those of us well-past our college years could stand to hear again.

On feeling out of your depth: No matter how much you may front [or fake it], there’s a part of you that’s wondering whether this was a mistake and whether I belong … because those were the messages I had going on in my head, and they still come up through life. It’s like, Am I really good enough? Because those demons are deep in us. And because we live in a country that sometimes wants you to feel that way. They want you to feel like you don’t belong. Walk on those campuses and fake some confidence, because you’re going to be faking it for a while. We’re all faking it. It’s going to be okay as long as you don’t quit.

On maintaining good mental health: In order to have good mental health, it’s not just counseling. It’s trying to live a balanced life. Whether you’re getting exercise really does matter. [Ask yourself] am I walking enough? Am I moving around? Am I just sitting in my room in the dark and I’m not getting outside and breathing in fresh air?

On looking after yourself: Recognize your own panic points and when and how to get the support that you need on campus. Nobody’s going to come and say, ‘Ooh girl, you look stressed! You need to see somebody.’

On the temptations of college life getting in the way: Think of the dangerous cocktail of what college provides: young people on their own for the first time, feeling stress, being able to eat what they want, stay up as late as they want. And smoking and drinking. Everyone’s getting there thinking, ‘I’m free! I’m going to do it all!’ That’s a combustible combination. You need to be thinking, ‘Am I partying a little too hard? Am I staying up too late?’

On sticking it out: You can’t make that conclusion about your experience in the first semester. You’ve got to give it some time. You’ve got to give yourself patience.

On managing financial aid: it’s not used to help everybody. And it’s not used to pay for a stereo system and those bad shoes and those nice nails. In college you are broke. You don’t have extra money. It might feel like extra money, but it’s not. Because if you spend it on something other than your books or your tuition or your food and you run out, it’s not going to be like, ‘Oh, here’s a little bit more!’ You are done. Your loan is gone.

[From People]

Michelle goes into much more detail about financial aid. Since this initiative is focused on underrepresented and lower-income communities, she cautions about using the financial aid to help folks at home who are maybe ill or struggling to keep the lights on. The pull to help will be there but as she stated above, once the money is gone, it’s gone; tuition goes unpaid and you still have to pay it back. Of course, she also talks about eating properly and how the Freshman 15 diet of carbs and beer is probably why students are feeling so sluggish but 1) it’s MObama so of course she’d mention that and 2) carbs and beer is the best part of your first semester away.

All of this is really solid advice. I like the part about faking it the best because it applies most to my life right now. We just moved to a new city and my friends are just beyond a regular hanging-out distance. So we are all starting from scratch – the kids in new schools and my husband and I in new social groups. I really think faking it is my best option, pretending like I’m a fascinating person that people want to talk to at parties. Maybe when folks ask how I’m so good at parties, I’ll tell them ‘my friend Michelle Obama gave me some tips.’ I mean, if I’m going to fake it, why not fake it big, right?




Photo credit: WENN Photos

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12 Responses to “Michelle Obama’s advice to college freshmen: ‘fake some confidence’”

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  1. duchess of hazard says:

    Yeah, confidence is a soft skill that is never taught to the working class people, but over here in Britain, the middle and ruling classes have confidence in spades.

    As in, they know that they’ll never get told no, and if they do, they just go bobbing on, with the confidence of getting another shot. If an unqualified white man can run (and get) to be POTUS and Prime Minister, you can well and good give it the old college try and get into that school/job of your dreams. You just need confidence, which is something you do have to acquire, so yeah, fake it till you make it.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Agreed. I think Michelle Obama had a lot of really good things to say, that I wish someone had said to me that first year in college.

  2. Sportlady20 says:

    Congratulations on your new move, it’s scary but adventure always is. If it wasn’t a little terrifying it wouldn’t be an adventure.

  3. Brooke says:

    I love that advice! That’s actually how I get through a lot of things. I am naturally more shy and reserved. I have a job though where I have to speak with people all day. I have to give a lot of speeches and presentations and I am always amazed by the amount of people that tell me that I seem so confident. The truth is I’m faking that confidence a solid 90% of the time. I will never let anyone know that though.

    The best piece of advice I got was from one of my professors who basically said no one knows you are scared, nervous or unqualified until you let them. Most people are so caught up in their own insecurities that they either don’t notice your own or don’t care. So when I walk into a room, I hold my head up high, I make eye contact with people and hold it all together even though I want to go hide. That confidence will eventually come. Some days you just have to fake it though!

    • Annabel says:

      As a fellow introvert whose job also involves giving presentations, I cosign this comment 100%. My whole job/life strategy is basically “dress sharply, fake confidence, pretend to be unflappable, and over-prepare for everything.”

  4. tempest prognosticator says:

    God, I love her. All of this advice is spot on.
    Fake it til you make it.

    • Esmom says:

      I love her, too, and I loved reading this. I feel like I figured this out a few years into my career, when I was promoted to a job that was bigger than most people with my experience would typically get in my industry (by a boss who was also young for his title). I realized that pretty much everyone was making it up as they went along.

      It’s true of many things — work, parenting, social situations — and I wish I’d had a better grip on that in college. Although I do remember forcing myself to reach out and meet people, which did feel fake and uncomfortable. Luckily I met some good friends that I didn’t have to fake it with, lol.

  5. Iknow says:

    The faking it advice is the most sound one I’ve heard. It transcends all age groups. I could’ve used this advice when I entered the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom. After graduating college, I was married and had two kids 3 years later. I went into the worked part-time then started a wonderful job, with incredible opportunities to move up. I was a disaster. I was surrounded by really intelligent, Ivy-league women who I felt were smarter, quicker, and much better suited for the job. In meetings, I wouldn’t speak up, even though I had ideas. It was a job that had a lot of face time with managing partners and at every step, I felt intimidated – as if they would see that I was a fraud. If only I could’ve faked it. I’ve built up a lot of confidence over the years through experience, but how much better my experience would’ve been if someone had said simply, just fake that mess.

  6. Nancypants says:

    Ohhhh! I love this!
    I’ve been telling my youngest the same things for months now.
    She is starting college in a few weeks and she’s about to poop herself.

    I also tell her to put on her bitch face when the train , (“Not now, not ever assh*le.”) but that’s another topic. 😉

    My mom gave me some of the best advice right before I left for boot camp and college: “If you are a woman working in a man’s world, you’ll have to work twice as hard to get half the credit and never let them see you cry.”

    I love Michelle. We could be mom friends and have lunch and tea and I’d like to see her house.

  7. Harryg says:

    Sometimes it seems it’s a bit fuzzy what people think “confidence” is, tough.
    I don’t think we should try to fake confidence. I think we should be allowed to feel insecure and be “students” and slowly gain that confidence. I feel over-confident and arrogant people should be questioned more, and while I think it’s important to learn to not be shy and speak out, we should not be forced to “act a leader” or something before we are ready.
    It should be okay to say “I don’t know, but let me find out.” Some people need more time to process things, but it seems the world thinks highly of “fast thinkers.”
    Of course you can be “a slow burner” and still very confident – it’s just that it’s always people with strong loud opinions who get the headlines.

  8. Patty says:

    Agreed @Harryg. I love Michelle but people need to be careful when faking it because some people never actual develop real confidence and try to fake it alll of time and then develop imposter syndrome. Personally, I can usually tell when someone is trying to fake confidence because it comes off as posturing.

    Maybe people need to be okay with recognzing that there are going to be times in their life when they are not the most confident and you know what, that’s okay. Yeah, you can fake it for a while but it’s also important to find some things that help you develop true confidence and more importantly self-assurance. Go out experience the world, try new things, stretch yourself, join a club or group that can help with public speaking – or help prepare for job and school interviews, put yourself in uncomfortable situtations and then build your confidence. Who wants to go through life faking something?

    • jennifer says:

      Yea, I agree, I love Michelle but I think telling people to fake it is bad advice. It does come off as fake. We build confidence by recognizing our weaknesses and strengths and working on them.

      And do you really want your surgeon to be faking it??