The one thing I have learned from Barack Obama: Change the conversation

I want you to close your eyes. Inhale deep and slow. Now exhale. Do this two more times. Inhale. Exhale. Feel the weight of your stresses and bad memories. Let yourself experience the sensation of all that you carry within you. Now inhale again, and exhale very slowly. Repeat, but as you exhale, imagine those memories and all that stress sliding away. Let the ocean of change take them away on waves of hope. Feel the weight fall away, the stress dissipate. Let the dark cloud hanging over you pass. Let yourself breathe free and easy. Now, open your eyes. Feel the sun on your face and trust me when I say that today is going to be a good day. Believe in change, and let the hope fill you as you take your first steps into this new day.

Love him or hate him, Barack Obama is one of the most influential people of this new century. The 44th President of the United States and the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Obama’s rhetoric has consistently been one of change and growth. Before being elected, he taught constitutional law, was an Illinois Senator, and was an active community organiser. He came into office during the peak of the global recession, and he promised change repeatedly to secure his position at the helm of the US government. Though divisive and often obstructed by opposition within the US government, he has had a powerful and far-reaching influence on the world.

Change. This word appeared over and over in Obama’s campaign and then during his first couple years in office. We all know what change means, but why was it such a powerful word at that time, and why was it so effective? How did Obama change the US and the world outside of it?

The world is not a fundamentally different place because a president from one country promised a change. What mattered about Obama when he was rising the political ranks is that he filled us with hope. Coming off of the imperialistic tenure of George W Bush and the growing income inequality across the globe, as well as the financial crash, Obama’s words made people around the world believe that the future would be different. He made us believe that the world was open to us, that the future could be whatever we wanted it to be. He inspired us, people all over the world, to dare to dream of a world that could be better than the one we grew up with.

We identified with Barack Obama. Whether you’re white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American, people across the US felt that, finally, someone was going to respond to their concerns and interests. People across the globe, from Europe to Africa to East Asia saw a US President less caught in jingoistic notions. They saw a reasonable person leading a very powerful and volatile country, and they celebrated.

It felt and looked like change.

So why was change such an effective promise? It’s all about context here, and the global view of the US in 2008 after eight years of George W Bush, was less than favorable. Two divisive wars, growing wealth gap, failed policies–Bush was seen as a disaster. Barack Obama appeared as a man in complete contrast to George W Bush, and he marketed himself in that way. He wasn’t just another rich white American man. He was African American. He grew up poor. He came from a single parent household. He was, in all reality, a man like so many of us. He reminded us of the changing shape of civilisation, of the US. His promises for a new world came at the perfect time and we believed because he was so likeable, so earnest, so kind and enthusiastic. He was funny when he needed to be, and hard and serious when necessary.

Whether you’re a fan of his presidency or not, there’s no denying the way he’s influenced global politics and the way young people engage in the political system. He was a politician for the next wave of voters. He seemed cool, even. We wanted to be friends with him, and so we believed in him. We still do.

And it comes back to change. This is an effective strategy in transforming a conversation. Most people are dissatisfied with some aspect of their life, whether it be financially or personally or in their career. People will always have problems and they’ll always want to escape those problems. So give them something to believe in. Give them hope and change. If someone’s in a bad relationship, show them that their situation can change. They don’t need to be depressed or angry. They need to change what’s happening to them. You don’t have to suffer through your unwanted job. You can change your circumstances. It’s easy if you try.

This is what Barack Obama made us believe in, and it’s what great speakers always make you believe in. They show you the past, but they pull your eyes towards the future. It may be night now, but soon the dawn will come, and it’ll be another beautiful day. Maybe it’ll be a day like no other. Maybe it’ll be the day that changes your life.

Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.