President Barack Obama meets Vidal Chastanet, Brandon Stanton and Nadia Lopez and is photographed for a "Humans of New York" Instagram in the Oval Office on Feb. 5, 2015.
Photo by Pete Souza/The White House/Getty

President Obama gets real with Humans of New York


President Obama opened up about the frustration and defeat he felt following his first, unsuccessful run for Congress in 1999 in a rare, personal interview with Humans of New York on Thursday.

“For me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was 40 years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working,” the president told Brandon Stanton, the man behind HONY’s lens.

“But the thing that got me through that moment,” he continued, “and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ – then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”

Stanton scored an interview with the president when the White House heard about his successful campaign to help a Brooklyn middle school raise more than $1 million to send students on tours of Harvard University. Stanton, along with the student and principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy who inspired the campaign, received an invite to meet Obama in the Oval Office.

Stanton is known for asking pointed, poignant questions that tend to reveal quite a bit about his subjects. 

“On January 19th, I met a young man on the street named Vidal, and I asked him to tell me about the person who had influenced him the most in his life. He told me about his principal, Ms. Lopez, and he explained how she had taught him that he mattered,” he wrote on the Humans of New York Facebook page about the pair who joined him in the West Wing.

Given the opportunity on Thursday, Stanton turned that same question right back around on the president:

And Obama didn’t leave it at that – he dropped some encouraging knowledge on Vidal,”… you should never be too afraid or too shy to look for people who can encourage you or mentor you,” he said, “Never think that you know everything. And always be ready to listen.”

With a visit to Harvard in his future, a college scholarship fund in his name, and a few incredible mentors on his side, perhaps Vidal from Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn will be back in the White House, for good, soon.

MSNBC Digital Documentaries, 1/29/15, 11:26 AM ET

Single Humans of New York photo raises $1M for kids

A single photo started an online fundraising campaign that has raised over $1 million for students at Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Barack Obama

President Obama gets real with Humans of New York