Admitting mistakes and making changes

In our last blog we explored why New Year’s Resolutions often falter. We personally find that every year we begin January with ambitious and outlandish plans, only to find that we’re wrestling with feelings of failure if they fall through.

You may feel the same – and in fact, it’s likely that everyone does at some point or other. No matter their success or status in life, everyone goes through tough times, or feels at some point as though they are failing in their efforts.

Even Barack Obama, former president of the United States, at times found it difficult to manage the ambitious political goals he had set himself in the early years before running for president. When he was in his late 30s and early 40s he was representing the 13th district in the Illinois Senate, teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, and sowing the initial seeds for his future campaign for election to the US Senate in 2004. He also had two young children, Malia and Sasha.

Barack Michelle Obama.jpg

Barack was a committed, loving husband and father, and yet in time he couldn’t keep pace with the demands of the job and his other responsibilities.

Michelle writes about the challenges the couple faced during this period in her memoir, Becoming: “At home, our frustrations began to rear up often and intensely. Barack and I loved each other deeply, but it was as if at the center of our relationship there was suddenly a knot we couldn’t loosen. I was thirty-eight years old and had seen other marriages come undone in a way that made me feel protective of ours.”

Something was clearly wrong. Even the most successful of us struggle at times, and it’s humbling to know that Michelle felt she could share these previously-unknown details of the family’s difficulties in her memoir.

“Barack and I had been through five campaigns in eleven years already,” she writes, “and each one had forced me to fight a bit harder to hang on to my own priorities. Each one had put a little dent in my soul and also in our marriage.”

In interviews about her memoir, Michelle said she wanted to share the less glamorous details to teach young people that not everything is easy, and that the marriage between the two Obamas, which so many people aspire to as #RelationshipGoals, has not always been perfect.

Barack initially did not want to seek professional help to address the situation.

“He was accustomed to throwing his mind at complicated problems and reasoning them out on his own,” Michelle explains. “Sitting down in front of a stranger struck him as uncomfortable, if not a tad dramatic. Couldn’t he just run over to Borders and buy some relationship books? Weren’t there discussions we could have on our own? But I wanted to really talk, and to really listen, and not to do it late at night or during hours we could be together with the girls.”

However, the couple did face up to their challenges and try out couples counselling. They talked, really, talked, over the course of many sessions facilitated by a counsellor. By the end of the course of sessions, they had come up with some new strategies for dealing with the stresses of their work and the challenges of raising two young children.

New strategies included Michelle and the girls not waiting for Barack to come home before they had dinner, and Michelle making time in her day for exercise.

As she told interviewers, the experience made her and her husband realise that neither of them were perfect. She wanted to share this story with the world to emphasise the fact that imperfection is commonplace, wrestling with feelings of failure is normal, and that even the most successful of us struggle at times. We think it’s a very encouraging lesson.

Hopefully your new year’s resolutions are going swimmingly, however, maybe there’s something you’ve been wrestling with recently that you could approach differently?