Five Key Lessons from Barack and Hillary

by Belinda Munoz on November 2, 2009


President means chief servant. ~Mahatma Gandhi

Approximately a year ago, the United States witnessed one of the most momentous occasions in its history in decades — Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president, effectively shattering a thickly cemented racial divide and ending the unbroken streak of the traditional all-white male succession of presidents in U.S. history.  Many in the U.S. believed it wouldn’t happen in their lifetime.  Yet many more across the oceans cried tears of joy, glued to their TV sets, transfixed, celebratory, ushering in rejuvenated hope for deep, meaningful and lasting change.

The last U.S. presidential election will always be memorable to me not only because of the work I do in politics but also because I had prematurely given birth to my son around the time Obama and Clinton declared their candidacy, signaling the official beginning of the presidential election cycle.  After 8 months of pregnancy, life was suddenly at once blissful, tumultuous and doubly exciting.  Quickly, I learned that I was forever changed, that parenthood is more than a full-time job even for two parents, and that these little angels from the get-go do oh-so much more than the purported sleep-nurse-poop routine. (If you happen to be expecting for the first time while reading this, please know I don’t mean to scare you :-).)

Many of us recall how the presidential race unfolded.  Much like a good book.  A page-turner.  There was drama, there was intrigue, there was suspense and finally the payoff came on election night, and millions upon millions thought it was well worth it.  For a brief moment, not just Americans but citizens of the world were united, bound by a historic occurrence and transcendent of the superficial color of our skin.

Fast forward to today, approximately nine months since President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were inaugurated and they, once again, are public servants.  Life is, for many Americans, arguably, back to normal.  The citizens, the pundits, the activists and the politicos all continue to do what they predictably do and, once again, democracy is, arguably, at work.


Regardless of your country of citizenship, your perceptions and feelings toward Obama and Clinton, or of your (un)official party (non)affiliation or electoral (non)involvement if you are American, here are five key lessons to learn from political candidates and politicians like them that we can apply to our everyday life:

1) If you believe in yourself, just about anything is possible.
It sounds cliché but Obama taught us this lesson beautifully.  I remember meeting him for the first time in 2004 when he was running for an uncontested U.S. Senate seat in Illinois.  He sat in a small conference room and spoke so eloquently and so convincingly of what he stood for.  I recall that the word “presidential” crossed my mind for an ephemeral second, then I quickly (mistakenly!) dismissed it with my own bias that America isn’t ready for a self-described “skinny kid with a funny name”.  I’ll always be happy to be wrong about that.

Obama entered the race with the least experience in the big-leagues, the least endorsements, the least name recognition and the least clout.  However, he had a vision.  A compelling vision.  He invited everyone to share in his vision.  His momentum grew and he achieved victory with the help of every single voter who believed in him as much as he believed in himself.

2) Anything worth doing should be done with your heart. All in is best and most fulfilling.  Make it personal for a little more breadth and depth.  It simply isn’t enough to be cerebral about strategies and tactics.  We have to actually care about the people around us, the people we work with, the people we serve.

In life, we may burn a bridge or two out of necessity or as a by-product.  But when we carry out a goal, we can’t be so callous, cutthroat or ruthless that we leave a trail of carnage and damage in our path to success.  This kind of approach will leave us empty.  What’s the point of succeeding if we don’t have a friend to share our success with?

3)  Hard work still counts. You could work smart and savvy, work a four-hour day, or even a four-hour workweek as the business and motivational books teach.  But hard work isn’t about to go out of style anytime soon.  Every political candidate I’ve worked for, including Obama and Clinton, is always the hardest working person in the room.  The fund raising is daunting.  The demand on their schedule is staggering.  The sacrifices they make are painful.  The (non)partisan attacks on their character, performance and just about every little word uttered and move made are relentless.

But if we want to achieve something meaningful, if we want a game-changer, if we want a paradigm shift, if we want to make the world a tiny bit better while we’re in it, then we need to work really, really hard.  No tricks.  Just good old-fashioned timeless simple truth.

4) A thick skin will go a long way. Think rhinocerous or repellent goose feathers.  When we’re compelled to take on a big project, the naysaying will be ever-present.  It may even come from those closest to us.  Some are cautionary, others protective while others will be straightforward attacks.

This isn’t to say that we should lose our sensitivities.  It just means we will get a little hurt as some arrows and daggers penetrate.  But we must not and will not let these interruptions break our spirit.  Not if the cause we serve is larger than us.

5) Your life and your work are for a larger purpose than yourself. Hillary taught us this lesson with grace.  She mentored Obama in his first year in the U.S. Senate.  They were friends.  She led the race by double digits in the beginning and repeatedly reigned over multiple debates.

But when the dynamic shifted, she didn’t hesitate to campaign for her once-nemesis because she believed in the cause that both she and Obama were fighting for.  You may or may not agree with their politics.  Or with anything I say in this post.  Regardless of that, when she campaigned for Obama as hard as she campaigned for herself, she made an enormous difference in how the election turned out.  I don’t know many people who would have done what she did in the same situation.


I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. ~Albert Schweitzer

In our non/post/ever-political everyday lives, we have to know that we’re on this planet not just for ourselves.  We spend an inordinate amount of time and effort polishing every aspect of our lives.  We doggedly pursue a vocation that makes us happy.  We check our realities against what truly is and isn’t.  We adjust the perspectives we hold dear based on realities and what we believe to be possible.  We alter our psychological and physical state through exercise of the mind and body.  And this is all great.  These are good ways to get better.

But if all the time we spend on improving ourselves is never going to benefit others, perhaps a larger cause, it would be a complete shame, wouldn’t it?


Today, Obama’s vision of hope and change traverses an arduous road.  And expectedly so.  Meaningful change, particularly in a system where so much is in disrepair, usually takes place incrementally, rarely overnight.  No doubt, it will take a lot of work, time, patience and dedication.

Having a vision is grounding, even necessary if we are to take a shot at carrying out our mission in life.  Vision is what connects the dots between the dream and the drudgery.

What is your grand vision?  What do you need to do to get closer to that vision?  Is there a baby step you can take now?  If so, will you?

A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back — but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you. ~Marian Wright Edelman

Images by Tom Gibbons and Suki Hill

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Fr. Michael November 2, 2009 at 7:48 am


The lessons you gleaned from Barack and Hillary are lessons that certainly do transcend politics. The “tough skin” lesson is one that I’m continually learning.

Also, somewhat related, is a great quote that I really like from Dr. Martin Luther King: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”

I guess this isn’t the time for me to share the lessons I’ve learned from Reagan : ) I do love that man! : )



2 Belinda Munoz November 2, 2009 at 10:11 am

Fr Michael, that’s a great quote from Dr. King, though I sense faith is something that’s all too often in short supply…

Ha! Please know that, though I may seem like an uber-democrat, I’m nowhere near as closed-minded as one might be tempted to believe about me. I’d really like to be more post-partisan than anything. Anything you have to add in your comments will always be welcome even if it’s about extolling Reagan’s merits 🙂 I believe we all have something worthwhile to add to the proverbial table regardless of the labels with which we identify.


3 Anastasiya November 2, 2009 at 9:08 am

I do not like politics and usually try to stay away from anything connected to it. Frankly speaking, I was going to skip this article in my feed reader and to go on to the next one, but then I’ve decided to give it a try.
I was not disappointed 🙂 You are right that we can ind life lessons and inspiration in everything and everybody. Politicians are one of those people who have a very complicated bouquet of traits that make them who they are. The lessons you’ve mentioned are very important. I would like to add one more:

Do not lose yourself trying to please everybody (most politicians unfortunately forget about this one. Just wanted to clarify: I am not talking about anybody in particular).


4 Belinda Munoz November 2, 2009 at 9:58 am

Anastasiya, that’s a really great addition. Too often we blend into the backdrop in the name of getting along instead of letting our individuality take root and flourish. While it is important to get along, it’s just as important to own what whe believe, where we stand and what we know to be true.


5 Patty - Why Not Start Now? November 2, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Hi Belinda – How cool are those picture of you with Barack and Hillary?! I love everything you’ve written here, and what stands out is the part about your life and work being for a larger purpose than yourself. I work with so many people who feel their work doesn’t make the kind of contribution they’re yearning for. This seems to be a human need, to move more towards collectivity, especially evident when we get past that halfway point in life. But it’s so hard for people to believe that they will be okay if they do this, especially financially. So Obama is a fantastic role model of what one can accomplish in spite of the odds. Personally, I do want my life and work to have a larger purpose and I’ve been on that road a long time. But I still do have to stay conscious of continuing to articulate and work towards my larger vision.


6 Belinda Munoz November 3, 2009 at 10:47 am

@Patty, you’re right in pointing out that the financial concern is a real barrier for many. I remember a story Obama tells about attending the Democratic convention not too long ago and on the same day, he makes a purchase, something small, and his credit card is denied. He was broke. Little did he know, just a few years later, he was to be the formal candidate at another Democratic convention. I think it’s tough for people to believe, or maybe they’re impatient, that they can make the contribution that they want to make through gradual steps. That they don’t need to make majorly radical changes in their lives. Although, sometimes, that just might be what’s called for.

@Tristan, nice to see you here! It’s true. A lot of the limitations we believe to exist are self-imposed. And maybe because we’re more comfortable believing that some things aren’t for us, rather than anything can be for us.

@Ben, yes, it’s great fun but also quite humbling. Yes, serving a larger purpose is very grounding — it keeps you from feeling like you’re just floating around out there on your own.

@Malo, something tells me you’re already a good leader.


7 Tristan Lee November 2, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Hey Belinda, great post here!

I can’t believe you actually met President Obama – well, at least he wasn’t that big of a deal when you did meet him, but still counts.

But it just goes to show that anybody can be anything in this world (despite funny names!). If we have a vision, chase after it and don’t let anybody put us down. You never know what impossible things will happen and come true in the future.

Thanks for reminding us of these principles here. 🙂


8 Ben Leon Guerrero November 2, 2009 at 11:10 pm

I did not know this is type of work you are doing Belinda, I mean I knew it was involved in the political field but not so directly. What a thrilling experience it must be. This is a good reminder post for anyone, lessons we can take from the country’s leaders, even if we are but humble working people and will never be President or the Secretary of the State. I for one believe that hard work still counts with every fiber of my being and I also like the one about serving a larger purpose, which is central to my people’s way of life. Thank you again for big ideas that we can apply to little every day moments.


9 Malo November 3, 2009 at 7:55 am

Great post Belinda, and nice pics!

Those five points you mentioned are characteristic of good leaders, political or not. I’ve met a few in my working experience, and I can’t help but admire and respect them. Don’t we always remember these people especially if they have mentored us in some way. I’m not anywhere close to being in the same league, bu I would wanna be. I guess that would be my grand vision.


10 Oscar - freestyle mind November 3, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Hey Belinda, I really like your writing style. I truly believe in point one. I read a book about Obama and he did a lot prior to becoming president, I also was in the US while he won the elections and I saw a lot of people going out partying in the streets. I’ve never seen anything like that here in Italy.


11 LPC November 3, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Of all those, the one I had most trouble with was developing a thick skin. Finally, in my 5th decade, it’s gotten a little better. But it isn’t easy and it’s always good to be reminded.


12 The Conscious Life November 4, 2009 at 1:36 am

The point on thick skin reminds me of a favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Follow your heart and do what is necessary to achieve the success you’ve set your mind on.

Thanks for 5 timeless lessons you’ve highlighted in your post, Belinda.


13 Michele Mas Martin January 20, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Hi Belinda… I don’t know you personally but I attended grade school with your husband and found the link to your article through his Facebook page. I have been browsing your writings here and I have to tell you that you have a most beautiful command of the English language. Your writings are thoughtful, articulate, relevant and uplifting in a real world context. At the same time, your words do not come across as pushy or trying to tell me how i should think. Aside from that, anyone who uses the word “uber” is gold in my book.
That said, it is “uber” cool that you had the opportunity to meet Obama and Clinton. I actually never voted until this election. Initially I was a die-hard Clinton supporter and was disappointed when she withdrew from the race. Shortly thereafter I saw an interview with Michelle Obama and then the Obama’s together and knew that “Team Obama” could handle the oval office.
The best way (IMO) to lead is by example. I feel that in terms of family, charity, education, and respect for your spouse and the human race in general – the Obama’s are the example to follow.

Many thanks for publishing your work for the rest of us to assimilate into our lives as appropriate and/or just to get us thinking. I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you and see Patrick again sometime in the near future.

Kind Regards,
Michele (Mas) Martin


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