Secretary Madeleine Albright — Optimism, the Future of the US, and 450-Pound Leg Presses (#437)

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“I’m an optimist who worries a lot.”  Secretary Madeleine Albright

Madeleine K. Albright (@madeleine) is a professor, author, diplomat, and businesswoman who served as the 64th secretary of state of the United States. In 1997, she was named the first female secretary of state and became, at that time, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the US government. From 1993 to 1997, Dr. Albright served as the US permanent representative to the United Nations and was a member of the president’s cabinet. She is a professor in the practice of diplomacy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Dr. Albright is chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and chair of Albright Capital Management, LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets.

She also chairs the National Democratic Institute, serves as the president of the Truman Scholarship Foundation, and is a member of the US Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board. In 2012, she was chosen by President Obama to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of her contributions to international peace and democracy.

Dr. Albright is a seven-time New York Times best-selling author. Her most recent book, Hell and Other Destinations, was published in April, 2020. Her other books include Madam Secretary: A Memoir, her autobiography; The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs; Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership; Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box; Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948; and Fascism: A Warning.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can also watch the interview on YouTube.

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#437: Secretary Madeleine Albright — Optimism, The Future of the US, and 450-Pound Leg Presses


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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode with another dedicated public servant? Listen to my conversation with former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in which we discuss chronic loneliness, pandemic preparation, emotion as a source of power rather than weakness, living with depression, and much more.

#417: Dr. Vivek Murthy — Former Surgeon General on Combating COVID-19, Loneliness, and More



  • Connect with Madeleine Albright:

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Note from the editor: Timestamps will be added shortly.

  • Madeleine shares her memory of living as a refugee in a Notting Hill cellar during The Blitz, and her impressions upon revisiting this sanctuary years later.
  • Madeleine recounts the strongest memories of her father, the Czech-American diplomat and political scientist Josef Korbel, and how discussing foreign policy at the dinner table shaped her early on.
  • The long journey from aspiring journalist to graduate student to getting her first real job at age 39 — and why Madeleine has always felt about 10 years behind her peers.
  • On having premature twins who required a long stay in the hospital’s incubators, and how this led to Madeleine taking Russian lessons.
  • A crash course in how Madeleine went from volunteering to helping a national security advisor find a place to live to landing her first real job at age 39 — why having a PhD and the connections she collected along the way made a difference.
  • What made Madeleine such a good fundraiser, and how did this skill create such valuable connections that would lead to later jobs?
  • When did Georgetown and teaching come into the picture for Madeleine, and how did this lead to her connection with later boss Bill Clinton?
  • On the experience of teaching being a sometimes difficult and lonely profession, and how she came to understand and respect the invisible hard work her father did as a professor when she was a child.
  • Did Madeleine plan to be teaching for the rest of her career, or was it always intended as a waypoint along the path to something else?
  • At this point in time, what were the possibilities Madeleine saw for herself in government if she was really dreaming big, and what actually happened?
  • How would Madeleine encourage someone not well-versed in politics to become more familiar with what it entails — particularly where diplomacy and foreign policy are concerned?
  • As a member of the UN Security Council and then the first female United States Secretary of State in US history, how did Madeleine navigate the protocols of often being the only woman in the room at home and abroad?
  • There’s an art to interrupting diplomatically, which is why Madeleine’s students have to speak up if they want to be heard rather than raising their hands. What does Madeleine consider to be the better ways to interrupt — whether it’s when interacting with a teacher, a fellow student, or Slobodan Milošević?
  • Madeleine elaborates on one of her more famous quotes: “I’m not a person who thinks the world would be entirely different if it was run by women. If you think that, you’ve forgotten what high school was like.”
  • How did Marie Jana Korbelová become Madeleine Albright?
  • Was Madeleine’s background as a refugee an asset or a handicap to her work as Secretary of State?
  • Why does Madeleine consider herself a “worried optimist?”
  • In her book Fascism: A Warning, Madeleine lists a number of questions that people can ask themselves in evaluating leaders or potential leaders. One is: Do they echo the attitude of Mussolini: ‘The crowd doesn’t have to know,’ all it has to do is believe and ‘submit to being shaped’? How does this fit into historical context, and what can we — as citizens — do to apply it to today’s politics?
  • At 83 years old, what exercise and self-care regimen does Madeleine use to maintain her trademark high energy?
  • What are Madeleine’s morning routines?
  • To what does Madeleine credit her unflappable grace under duress?
  • What prompted Madeleine to write her latest book, Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir, and what inspired its title?
  • Favorite writers, philosophers, or thinkers who Madeleine counts as influential.
  • How does Madeleine think about what she’d like to accomplish in her life looking forward, and what faith does she have in younger generations to carry the torch of human progress forward?
  • Madeline is known for the pins she wears. What’s she wearing today?
  • Parting thoughts.