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Michelle Obama, post-White House: What she might do as a former first lady

Michelle Obama has made an indelible mark on the nation as well as the role of first lady, but after eight years of hard work at the White House, we wouldn’t blame her if she took a little time off to relax.

And as the countdown clock ticks toward the Obamas' eventual departure from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the question of what the first lady will do in the future has sparked the imaginations of many.

Without being “held hostage” to a White House schedule, Northwestern University associate professor Peter Slevin said Michelle Obama will certainly have fewer obligations.

"She won't be under the microscope in a way that she has been in the last 10 years; that’s bound to be big relief for her," he said.

Obama has made no secret of her feelings about leaving life in the White House behind. In a recent interview with Vogue, the first lady admitted that “it’s time.”

"I think our democracy has it exactly right: two terms, eight years. It's enough," she told Vogue’s Jonathan Van Meter. “Because it’s important to have one foot in reality when you have access to this kind of power. The nature of living in the White House is isolating."

Slevin, who authored the biography "Michelle Obama: A Life," believes Obama is looking forward to returning to "some degree of normality."

"She’s really looking forward to getting out of the White House bubble," he said.

But with more freedom comes more choice. While we may not know exactly what Michelle Obama has in the works (heck, she might not even know yet), the first lady has offered some clues in recent months.

A memoir

While the possibilities before Obama may seem
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

While the possibilities before Obama may seem endless, there is at least one path the first lady is likely to choose: a memoir.

Every first lady since Betty Ford has published a memoir post-White House, and there's little doubt Obama will keep with that tradition.

"She'll do an autobiography for sure because she wants to get her side out," said Rider University professor Myra Gutin, who has written two books on first ladies.

Even eight years later, the American public still doesn't know as much about Obama as they want to, said Veronica Chambers, author of "The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own."

"The memoir is not to be discounted because her story is extraordinary," Chambers said. "I think that book would be exciting and important."

Obama Foundation and presidential center

The first lady is also likely to
Photo Credit: Getty Images Entertainment / Paul Morigi

The first lady is also likely to continue to work on the Obama Foundation as well as the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.

"She already is taking an active role in planning," Slevin said.

Whether her continued work will be in the form of fundraising, or more hands-on decision-making such as museum layout or exhibit content, is yet to be seen, but Gutin agrees the first lady will be "an active participant," especially since she will have museum space to tell her story as well.

Obama’s role in politics

When it comes to politics, however, Obama
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

When it comes to politics, however, Obama has made it clear she has no interest in continuing down that path -- despite the hopes of some Democrats.

"#Michelle2020 is the best hashtag of my year, but I honestly don't think she wants that job or is interested in it," Chambers said.

In fact, the first lady has said she has no intention of becoming madam president.

"I will not run for president," she said at South by Southwest on March 16, 2016. "No, nope, not going to do it."

"I think one of the things that's clear about her and President Obama is that she excites people," Chambers said. The first lady's ability to remain grounded in her own opinions and beliefs while achieving such success is infectious, Chambers said, adding that the first lady offers a sense of optimism to her supporters that "hard work will get you to good places."

This, coupled with her skills as a powerful orator -- garnering her the nickname "the closer" on Hillary Clinton's campaign trail -- may have added fuel to the speculative fire, but Gutin said it's not enough to "signal any movement on her part that she would be interested in holding any office." Particularly since she has expressed a desire to return to life as a private citizen on multiple occasions.

Let Girls Learn

During the United State of Women summit
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jeff J Mitchell

During the United State of Women summit dinner in June 2016, Obama offered a small window into what she might like to pursue after she leaves the White House.

While announcing $20 million in additional funding for her Let Girls Learn initiative, Obama said she was "just getting started" in her work on helping girls around the world get into classrooms, Politico reported.

"I am so excited to continue working on this issue not just for the next seven months as first lady, but for the rest of my life," Obama said.

Obama is likely to follow a model put forth by former first lady Laura Bush and her continued advocacy work with girls and women in Afghanistan, Gutin said. "And I think Obama will follow that model with Let Girls Learn," she added. "There's precedent."

Let’s Move!

Obama's commitment to combating childhood obesity through
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joe Raedle

Obama's commitment to combating childhood obesity through her Let's Move initiative could also easily translate into post-White House work.

"I can see her maybe continuing both of those (Let Girls Learn and Let's Move)," Gutin said.

But don't expect to see the first lady in a role like chief executive officer, said Chambers.

"I think it's just getting started. I think she'll be there as much as people need her to be," Chambers added. "I don't really see her in a foundation job per se."

Role in social issues

With the constraints of the White House
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joe Raedle

With the constraints of the White House behind her, Obama also will have the ability to speak more freely on social issues. But would she use her platform as a former first lady to become more active in this way?

"It's kind of hard to get a fix on it," said Gutin. "If she wants to, she could ... I'm not sure how much of a presence she wants to have in the public life" post-White House.

At the very least, Obama is likely to continue to focus on individual mentoring, Slevin said. Early on in her time at the White House, Obama started a mentoring program that pairs disadvantaged teens in Washington, D.C., with powerful women in the president's administration.

"She still meets with them once a month," Slevin said.

Obama lifestyle brand

Whether she's dancing with Ellen DeGeneres or
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Chris Kleponis

Whether she's dancing with Ellen DeGeneres or singing with James Corden, there's no doubt that Obama has transcended the traditional role of first ladies in pop culture. Couple that with her fashion prowess and you have the makings of a lifestyle brand.

But don't expect to see a dress with a Michelle Obama label on it at Macy's in the near future -- or possibly ever.

"Oh I doubt it very much," Gutin said. "She's very up-to-date and cares very much about clothes, but I don't see that happening anytime soon."

"I think she loves fashion; she wears it well. I don't think she wants to work in fashion," said Chambers. "[But] there could be a role where she's a steward for fashion in terms of opening access and getting young designers."

And although the likelihood of Obama moving to Hollywood to pursue an acting career is incredibly low, Chambers said she would love to see the first lady work in this capacity in some way.

Though Chambers admitted it's more of a personal hope for Obama than a realistic career choice, she pointed out that the first time "Hamilton" was introduced was at the White House Poetry Jam.

"I think Broadway," perhaps on a producing side where she can create more opportunities for young creatives looking for their big break, Chambers added.

The world is her oyster

If one thing is abundantly clear, the first
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

If one thing is abundantly clear, the first lady is poised to begin a new and exciting chapter in her life -- and it's one that will give her more control over what is written on the page.

"She's at the point where she can do just about anything," said Gutin, though if she had to guess, it would most likely be more in the nonprofit line.

"That's where I can see her going if she desires to," she added.

"It is anyone's guess, because she could do anything," Chambers said. "I can only imagine that she's going to enjoy the step back as much as they enjoyed the step forward into the White House."

"Michelle is a very strategic person," Slevin said.

Obama will likely take some time to figure out her post-White House roll, Slevin added, and find ways that she can be most effective.


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