“It’s Not About You”: A Lesson in Selflessness from President Barack Obama

In January of 2009, I sat on the couch in the living room tuned into the inauguration of the 44th president where Barack Obama made history as the first Black president of the United States of America.

Obama made history again Tuesday, Oct. 11 on the campus of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University as the first sitting president to ever visit the university.

President Obama joined journalist Stan Verrett to talk about race, sports, and being undefeated for the ESPN special The Undefeated: A Conversation with the President-Sports, Race and Achievement.

Among the many gems that President Obama dropped throughout the Q&A, the one that resonated with me the most was a lesson in selflessness.

Terrence J, an actor and notable A&T alumnus, shared some major influences in his life, such as Oprah, Muhammad Ali, Beyoncé and other famous people. He asked President Obama who inspires him. President Obama named a few famous people, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and President Abraham Lincoln. However, he also emphasized how the people he serves motivate and inspire him.

“When you feel as if what you’re doing is not about you and your success, but delivering for people who put their hopes and faith in you, then you don’t want to disappoint,” said President Obama.

Many people struggle to answer one of life’s biggest questions: Why do we do what we do?

As millennials striving to reach career and personal goals, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of who we are, or aspire to be. We seek validation in the number of likes our pictures and posts have amassed, revel in compliments, and consistently try to prove we’ve done something worthwhile.

President Obama reminded us to draw strength from those we serve and to focus on the impact we want to make.

“A lot of times when you’re young and you’re trying to make your mark on the world, you think it’s about you. One of the benefits of defeat is to take some of the vanity out of what it is that you’re trying to achieve.’”-President Obama

After the President spoke, he shook hands with people in the audience, including me. As I reflect on my experience seeing and hearing the President speak, I know the experience was not just for me. It was for my grandmother who was one of the first Black students to integrate her high school, did not attend college and couldn’t be more proud of me; my parents, who made sacrifices to help me realize and achieve my dreams; my fellow students, who may not have gotten the chance to attend this event, but with whom I can share stories.

“When you have an attitude that this is about something bigger than me, then your individual victories or defeats become less important than the broader project.” -President Obama.

I do not take this opportunity for granted. I am grateful to have shaken hands with the President and to use that experience to influence others.

At the conclusion of the program, as people held out things they wanted the President to sign, I offered a letter of admiration and gratitude addressed to the President and First Lady. I hope the President got the chance to read it. Every now and then, we all need to be encouraged to not accept defeat.

“You see, we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” -Maya Angelou

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