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After graduating, she landed a job teaching at Harvard. Fast forward a couple of years, when she met a junior senator from Illinois named Barack Obama and decided (on a whim, really) to join his team as a foreign policy fellow. A presidential campaign and election ensued. In 2008, she joined the White House as Special Assistant to the President, and eventually became the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Her most recent book, The Education of an Idealist, is a memoir chronicling her life before, during, and after her time at the White House.
This book is an interesting read for anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look at foreign policy during the Obama years. For me, it was an even more engrossing read because she is so remarkably candid about her personal life and struggles. She shares what it was like to grow up with a charismatic father who was also a serious alcoholic. She delves into her intense anxiety attacks that would go on for days (coined “lungers” by her ex-boyfriend, who saw how she struggled to breathe air into her lungs), as well as the inexplicable back pain (possibly related to her mental health) that magically disappeared her first weekend away with her now-husband, Cass Sunstein. She details what it was like to experience infertility in 2011, juggling the multiple doctor’s appointments and injections while also dealing with the outbreak of the Arab Spring.
“Unlike many others who have entered the national stage, she always seemed like a real person, not a media-trained political animal with canned responses.”
Finishing her book, I realized that perhaps what has attracted me to Samantha Power all these years is how she always seemed, well, human, while being so accomplished. Unlike many others who have entered the national stage, she always seemed like a real person, not a media-trained political animal with canned responses.
Listen to audio of the full interview above, watch the video below, or read on to hear about how Amb. Power handled some very public word vomit; reached out for support as a new mom in the White House; and of course, how she really feels about the 2020 election. She also shares how she and her husband unwind, which actress she would have play her if her life was turned into a TV show, and who she wishes had gone further in the Democratic primaries.
Ambassador Samantha Power Contains Multitudes
By Caitlin Abber
LIKE SO MANY WOMEN, AMB. POWER is a product of both her successes and her mistakes. While she has spent the majority of her career combating human rights abuses around the world, it’s hard to find a profile of her (including this one) that doesn’t mention the time she screwed up and called then-Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster” during what she thought was an off-the-record interview. Dealing with the reverberations of that incident, as well as the attention and blowback she received, has been an ongoing process. “As small as it seems now, I led the news on every continent because the campaign itself was leading the news…It was seen to be this epitome of mudslinging.” While the incident seems tame compared to some from today’s political climate, it was still a monumental lesson for Amb. Power. “It’s not a lot of fun hitting refresh…but then to be self-critical and see how it warps you and makes you a little trepidatious going forward.”
She explains that she opened up about this experience in Education of an Idealist—as well as her miscarriages and fertility treatments during the Arab Spring—because she wanted to remind other women that they are not alone, and because she herself wanted to feel less isolated and distracted. “I call my head the Bat Cave—bats like flying around and diverting or injecting doubt into what you’re trying to do.”
“She explains that she opened up about this experience in Education of an Idealist—as well as her miscarriages and fertility treatments during the Arab Spring—because she wanted to remind other women that they are not alone, and because she herself wanted to feel less isolated and distracted. ”
As we’re doing the photoshoot component of this profile, a yellow school bus arrives, and Amb. Power, wearing nothing but the sleeveless Annie dress and flip-flops, dashes out of the house to greet her daughter, Rian. Rian, who isn’t concerned about her mother’s bare arms and feet in the 10 degree New England weather, plainly asks why she is wearing a dress. It’s such a telling moment of who Amb. is as a person and how the people in her life see her. Without missing a beat, she’ll stop a glamorous photoshoot to meet her daughter at the bus, regardless of what she’s wearing. And her daughter—someone who probably knows her the best—isn’t afraid to call her on her bluff. After all, “Why are you wearing a dress, Mommy?” is just kid-speak for “who are you kidding?”
Our afternoon with Amb. Power reminded us that when we are aware of the multitudes we contain, we are able to be fully present in all areas of our lives. It’s our hope that M.M. can be there to support you with beautiful clothes that help you do just that.
Photos by Rich Gilligan, with additional photos courtesy of Samantha Power.