When I read her book ‘Secrets of an Irresistible Woman’ in 2004, I never knew, I’d one day be sitting across the room from her. But just like fate, there we were at her Oriental hotel suite over looking the Lagos marina, me with my dictaphone careful to angle my device to catch each word and she cross legged on a sofa, her lips a curved line across her face.
Michelle McKinney Hammond is a bestselling author and Emmy award winning talk show host. The author of over 30 books which include best-selling titles, ‘The Diva Principle’, ‘Sassy, Single and Satisfied’, ‘101 Ways to Get and Keep His Attention’, and ‘Secrets of an Irresistible Woman’, she has kept women real with her down to earth, smack-you-subtly in the face styled advice. Michelle’s story isn’t one of easy success, in her books and speaking engagements she has been upfront about life’s challenges, lessons but most importantly, God’s love. We sat down and chatted for over an hour on finding purpose, overcoming life’s challenges and love.
Life is a journey, some of us are fortunate to find directions, others shuttle about, hoping that gusts of wind will transport them there. No matter the mode of transportation, our individual journey’s molds us along the way, making us fit for the purpose ahead. Michelle lived a somewhat exotic upbringing having lived and schooled in the West Indies and Europe before settling into life in America.
Today, Michelle lives in Ghana – the home of her birth father. For several years Michelle lived a full and successful career as an award winning advertising executive. Tragedy struck, when she has hit by a car and suffered a devastating leg injury which led to 3 major knee operations and 18 months of rehab, which included having to re-learn to walk (it was during her period of recovery that she wrote and published her first best seller ‘What to do until Love Finds you’). Michelle also tragically lost, Scotty her boyfriend at the time. Life has brought other challenges, or as she prefers to call them, “opportunities” which she says have shaped her into the woman she is today.
She chatted openly with me about the difficulties of being different from a young age and the blessing of finding her birth father.
“I wish that more people could understand that some of us are created to be unique. We are a different type of vessel all together….I don’t have time to discuss the foibles of my life with the devil or to even listen to his conversation, when he grabs me around the ankles, I drag him across the floor because I’ve just got to keep moving”
Glory: Many people saw you as different when you were younger. What would you say to women who feel inadequate because they don’t fit into society’s mold?
Michelle: I had a hard childhood, I am not going to deny it. Moving from London to Barbados to America, I went through 3 different accents. I was always odd, I was always the different one but I think even that was preparation and I wish that more people could understand that some of us are created to be unique. We are a different type of vessel all together and if you have the right set of parents, it’s great if they can speak into your life and say ‘well you are going to be leader and not a follower’ or ‘you are special’. But if you don’t, it could be hell for you, as you try to work out within yourself, ‘who am I and why am I here and why don’t I fit in’. I think that for a long time I was in that club of ‘who am I, why am I here and why don’t I fit in’. It made me who I am and it made me a strong individual. I learnt how to stand alone and become an individual, because I was, whether I liked it or not. So I had two choices, I could either cower in it and be depressed about it or I could embrace it and celebrate it and use it for my good. It molded me into the unique person God wanted me to be in the first place. It’s kind of like a caterpillar blossoming into a butterfly, that fight that gives it the ability to fly. If it didn’t have that fight its wings would never develop and it would never fly and it would die. The choice was to fly or die for me and I chose to fly.
Glory: How did the experience of looking for and finding your birth father shape you?
Michelle: I think the most significant thing is that it showed me the power of God and His attentiveness to our desires because it wasn’t really a long journey for me. I remember simply praying as a child that I’d like to see my father one day. It wasn’t something that I consciously pursued. I had one picture of him and I thought he was so cute. And I said, one day I’d really like to know my natural father. The father, I had was wonderful. I didn’t feel fatherless but it was more out of the curiosity of who I was in my natural father that I wanted to locate him. So when my aunt traveled to Ghana and miraculously just happened upon the spot that he visited every day, I knew that was just a move of God. It was a divine appointment in my personal history because of where God knew he was taking me in the future, because if that meeting never happened, this meeting (the interview) would never happen. I would never have made it to Africa, I would still be in the west Indies or America or England or where ever, as opposed to coming to Africa. God was setting up my life long ago and it just blows my mind every time I think about it.
Glory: What was life like before your accident?
Michelle: My life was very active. I think I am still the same person. I don’t think it changed me, I think it changed the direction of my life. I was just as driven, I had a full life, I was using all my gifts, so none of that was different. What the accident did for me was make me focus on what was I supposed to be doing because I was at a transition in my life. I had left the ad agency, I was doing freelance work, but I knew there was something else I was supposed to be doing but I hadn’t gotten that far in figuring it out. It was about making life happen and paying bills and finding the next job and when I wasn’t in the position of running around and finding the next job it was like ok! What am I really supposed to be doing with my life? I’m a big proponent of sitting and being still and hearing what the next move in your life is supposed to be.
Glory: Like many of us, you’ve been through a few seasons in your life, how have you managed to keep it together through those times?
Michelle: I scream in private a lot (laughs)! I don’t know, I think that somewhere along the way, I made a decision that quitting is not an option. Resignation is not an option, apathy is not an option, and depression is not an option. I could be depressed if I want to be and I have certainly had many reasons why people would think I was quite justified in being depressed. But if I rule it out as an option, it forces me to keep moving. My friends would tell you that ‘the one thing they know about Michelle, is no matter what happens in her life, she is going to keep moving’. I have always said I don’t have time to discuss the foibles of my life with the devil or to even listen to his conversation, when he grabs me around the ankles, I drag him across the floor because I’ve just got to keep moving. I think that’s the only way to survive and thrive. The bottom line is that everything that comes into our life is so momentary. So if you park there, you can stay there forever.
Glory: You always said that your books are written from the perspective that striving for a perfect life does not work perfection in us. So what does?
Michelle: Perfection is a process and we won’t be perfected until we leave here. But I think it’s in embracing in the journey of becoming along the way and celebrating the unfolding. I think we can look at it as torture or privilege to constantly be evolving and transforming and growing. If I have a made up mind that I want to make God smile everyday and I want to be the best me that I can be, I make my decision early in the day that no matter what comes my way, I am going to let the best of me come out. I am going to develop another part of me into a stronger part of myself because if I do, I give strength to somebody else. Somebody is watching. I don’t even know who that person is. But somebody is looking at me and they are saying, ‘wow, if she can handle that, I can get through this’. I get the opportunity everyday to live a life that says whatever is going on, God makes me flourish in spite of it.
Michelle sees her books as one long conversation with her audience and over the years she has kept those conversations going. But unlike other relationship books, Michelle’s advice is based on biblical principles. Principles that she says she couldn’t have lived with out. In this section she tells me about being single and her year long man fast…would any woman dare to join in?
“I challenged God and said listen I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired, I’ve just really had enough. And I don’t want to get married until you can prove to me that I can be happy with just you. That’s a very dangerous prayer. But I think He took me up on the challenge.”
Glory: Your books focus predominantly on love, femininity, and womanhood, any particular reason why?
Michelle: That’s my passion. Those are the discussions that have come to me. My books are just long conversations with my audience on the continuing dialogue of the issues of their hearts. That’s what moves me to write, I don’t really write a book until I hear a conversation that kind of titillates me and makes me go…hmm! I am always seeking answers so people can live their lives. I really want people to get on with their lives. I want them to celebrate where they are, I want them to not see the obstacles as obstacles but as stepping stones, see them as opportunities to get to the next level of themselves.
Glory: You’ve spoken about the ‘wilderness’ years of your life when you hated being single, how did things change for you?.
Michelle: It’s hard to say, I think that it was so gradual that I didn’t notice when it was happening. I remember the day I challenged God and said ‘listen I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired, I’ve just really had enough. And I don’t want to get married until you can prove to me that I can be happy with just you’. That’s a very dangerous prayer. But I think He took me up on the challenge. I really don’t think that I got happy until I wrote ‘What to do until Love Finds you’. That was my book of processing for myself. But what happened after I wrote that book was first of all, it settled my issues for me and it put me on a path of purpose as opposed to just pinning for a person. And all of a sudden my life became very full and I had way less time to think about being alone and as the time and the space in my life got filled with touching other peoples lives, loving on other people, answering their questions and being distracted by their own pain from my own…one day I woke up and I said ‘wooo!! I am happy, how did this happen’? And that’s when I wrote, ‘Sassy, Single and Satisfied’. And I just laughed when we came up with the title, because I thought this is God’s big joke to me! That you can be single, sassy and satisfied and I actually am.
Glory: Was this when you went through your man fast?
Michelle: Yes! That’s when I thought forget it! I keep picking the wrong people that drive me crazy, let me just stop this madness and deal with myself. I did declare a man fast and I didn’t realize how long the man fast lasted. God actually challenged me, He said “give me a year of your life, don’t ask me about a man, don’t ask me about your husband, don’t ask me if you are getting married. Give me a year of your life, I want to show you some things”. It was such whirlwind year, everything just took off. Speaking engagements, TV stuff and I remember at the end of the year saying ‘God, I think I need another year’!
Glory: Many women feel some type of emptiness, or hunger because they are single What would you say to women who feel this way?
Michelle: There have been times that I have gotten up in the middle of the night and I have gone to the fridge because I was hungry, but I didn’t know what I wanted. So I taste one thing and that’s not it, but I eat the whole thing anyway and five tubs of tasting things later, I’m full but I still not satisfied. I think we need to be careful that we don’t fill ourselves with things that are not conducive for filling the right space in our hearts and in our spirits. Because most of the time, it’s a spiritual hunger and God is trying to draw us closer to Him, to tell us something different, to make us turn the page on something new in our lives. He creates that dis-ease so to seek, that hunger for something more. We need to stop and listen to it as opposed to just guessing what it is. It usually is not the obvious.
Words Every Woman needs to hear
Personally, I feel many relationship books tell us women what we already know but refuse to practice. That said, Michelle has made a living, giving out advice from her boudoir of relationship wisdom, I asked her to share some of her best kept secrets….
“Stay true to yourself. Never allow anyone to talk you into something that doesn’t align with your spirit. Know the value of your love and never compromise.”
Glory: What do you do with yourself after another failed relationship?
Michelle: You have to stop and heal, because men are not bandages. People will say, you should go out and find somebody new, the best fix for that is just another guy. No its not! You need to stop and deal with what happened in that relationship. You need to deal with your heart condition, you need to deal with who you are and how you define yourself based on what happened before you move on to someone else. I think you need that time, you deserve that time and you should take that time for yourself. To love on you and love yourself back to wholeness, so that you are not carrying bags into the next relationship.
Glory: If you could go back and give your younger self some advice, what advice would you give?
Michelle: Stay true to yourself. Never allow anyone to talk you into something that doesn’t align with your spirit. Know the value of your love and never compromise. Never settle for less than what its worth. If you choose to love, love with open hands and that way you’ll never be sorry that you loved. Make God your greatest treasure because everything else will fail you. So don’t place divine expectations on humanity.
Glory: There’s a lot of pressure for women to be at a certain place at a certain age you know married, etc…what’s your advice to them?
Michelle: It’s a godly dream to be part of a family unit, to be a wife to be a mother. But because of where we are in the world everyone is not going to work in that space and that is just a harsh reality of the times that we live in. Does that mean something is wrong with you, no it doesn’t. It means that you are here doing the best that you can, and there is still time for it to happen, so work with an expectancy. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you and it doesn’t take away from your power to contribute something meaningful to the world. I think that it is important for us to get over ourselves, to get over our cultural, traditional types of mindsets that insist that this is what a normal life looks like. There is no such thing as a normal life anymore. The world is not conducive to having these cookie cutter molds for what life is supposed to look like. You have to make your peace with where you are on any given day. Walk in expectancy that things can change and that being a wife or a mother can be an opportunity for you but if its not, you can still have a life filled with the opportunity to have great men friends and brothers. You still have the opportunity to have a life filled with children, there are so many children that need to be mothered, that are available to be mothered. I think we need to stop insisting on where we find love and how we find love and be open to all the avenues of expressing love on any given day.
Glory: What are some of your relationship rules?
Michelle: Let the man choose you. It’s huge because I think we set ourselves up for a lot of disappointment by choosing men and then they find the one they want to run after they do that. Let yourself be chosen, know the worth of your love, don’t compromise your standards and turn into someone that you are not to get that person, because they should love you for who you are. So stay authentic to who you are, be transparent, be soft. Women are so afraid to be women these days, they’ve got this hard shell. Men are still looking for women, they really are and they are so happy when they find one. Keep that vulnerability, not loosing the little girl inside but making wise choices as women, is a wonderful blend and combination that is intriguing to any man that you meet.
Glory: How do you manage not to be a man basher with all the horrible stories we hear about men?
Michelle: Women can be traumatizing too. I guess that’s the thing because I really do feel sorry for men too, we traumatize them to a great degree. Men are so afraid of women, they understand our power better than we do. They know the power that we have over their lives and I think that they respect it more than we do to be perfectly honest. I’ve been fortunate, even though I have my own bad experiences in love and with guys. I have also had amazing friendships with men and I know their hearts and I know that they are precious, special and strong and when they are in your corner, they are in your corner. I think if we nurtured more of that, we would have much more good men walking around who would be much more responsible, in interactions with women. We also have to take responsibility of how we set ourselves up for disappointment with men. It takes two people to have a relationship and it takes two people to mess it up, it can never be one person’s fault. Whether its something you did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say. Basically if you allowed it, you are part of the equation, so you have to own your part. It kills the whole male bashing thing, because you’ve got your own part to deal with in the drama of your situation. Men only do what we allow them to. And we allow them to do a lot in the name of desperation and loneliness.
This Woman’s Work: The Inspire Series
The Inspire Series is a monthly social media series focused on the lives of women who are shaping their communities. Women and African women in particular face many peculiar struggles. Society in some way conforms us and decides who we ‘should’ be, where we are ‘supposed’ to at different stages of life. Generations after generation repeats this cycle of conformity, entrenching even deeper these tacit norms without questioning them.
Ingrained in these tightly packed societal practices are women doing extraordinary things. Like “Sheroes” these women are impacting their communities in small and big ways, without any need for accolades or recognition. The more I researched and discovered these women, the more I realised that they were like footprints. You never really hear them coming, or see them arrive, but somehow, through the work they do they live deeply etched marks for those who come after.
Intrigued, I wanted to know why these women had chosen to move from life’s well beaten track to a road less travelled. Why leave the comfortable and secure for the daunting and unknown? It is my solid hope that as I explore the lives of these women, myself and all who read will become inspired to leave behind the mundane definitions of what society dictates we should be, and become empowered to reach out and change first ourselves and our communities. Let us all leave behind a trail of foot prints for the girls, daughters, sisters, and women who come after us.
For more information on the Inspire series please contact Glory Edozien on [email protected]