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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You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#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:

Twitter | Facebook


  • 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. [05:29]
  • 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. [07:59]
  • 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. [11:55]
  • On having premature twins who required a long stay in the hospital’s incubators, and how this led to Madeleine taking Russian lessons. [15:28]
  • 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. [17:56]
  • What made Madeleine such a good fundraiser, and how did this skill create such valuable connections that would lead to later jobs? [21:26]
  • When did Georgetown and teaching come into the picture for Madeleine, and how did this lead to her connection with later boss Bill Clinton? [24:53]
  • On the experience of teaching as 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. [26:43]
  • 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? [29:07]
  • 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? [31:25]
  • 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? [34:20]
  • 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? [39:35]
  • 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 better ways of interrupting — whether it’s when interacting with a teacher, a fellow student, or Slobodan Miloševic? [43:41]
  • 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.” [46:21]
  • How did Marie Jana Korbelová become Madeleine Albright? [48:31]
  • Was Madeleine’s background as a refugee an asset or a handicap to her work as Secretary of State? [50:14]
  • Why does Madeleine consider herself a “worried optimist?” [52:35]
  • 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? [54:09]
  • At 83 years old, what exercise and self-care regimen does Madeleine use to maintain her trademark high energy? [58:05]
  • What are Madeleine’s morning routines? [59:57]
  • To what does Madeleine credit her unflappable grace under duress? [1:01:45]
  • What prompted Madeleine to write her latest book, Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir, and what inspired its title? [1:03:35]
  • Favorite writers, philosophers, or thinkers who Madeleine counts as influential. [1:06:34]
  • 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? [1:08:06]
  • Madeline is known for the pins she wears. What’s she wearing today? [1:11:49]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:12:28]


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

  1. In your introduction you unfortunately forgot to mention her endorsements for Herbalife. Whatever good she may do and might have done, her work for Herbalife pretty much nullifies it all.

    1. Let’s not forget this media appearance. Apparently imposing sanctions on Iraq that killed an estimated 500,000 children is a worthwhile policy decision. [Moderator: link removed.]

      1. Links tend to get removed, so leaving a few keywords is a good strategy. In this case, just search “Iraq Albright” (without any quotation marks) and you’ll find loads of info.

    2. Thanks Gerard. I wasn’t aware about this part of her story. Although, yeah as the other commenter here notes, Iraq is another major blot on her resume.

  2. Thanks for your contributions Tim.

    As a 20-year old I picked up your book browsing a public library – because you sure knew how to catch people’s attention (!) – and it led to having an unconventional but effective mindset – and to having the best experiences of my life.

    Looking back now, 10 years later, I truly have you to thank for much of what I have accomplished, because you taught principled which I have applied daily since. It gave me direction when I was most impressionable and catalyzed a positive exponential growth curve.

    I know that you have the same influence on a lot of people, and I just wanted to express gratitude for it.

    Whenever I’ve been confronted by challenges, I’ve had resilience and found that your principles have proven to be applicable. You’ve also introduced me to a world of role models which have all had a similar positive influence, whose lessons have been applicable to different aspects of life (finances, health, relationships, creative problem solving, academia and research).

    Keep innovating, and help people bring out their dormant potential through novelty, comfort challenges and lifestyle design around what makes them unique.

    (Eng as 2nd language, apologies if unclear.)

  3. thank you for yet another wonderful episode. one thing i have always been very impressive of your shows and especially shown in this particular episode that you always manage to offer the interviewee to the audience directly, ‘see what you can learn, and i’m helping you to ‘fish’ things out’, as if you could manage to detach your ego from the conversation, for a politician there ‘s not much about ideology, more about politics as science and a politician as a job. it must be very difficult to manage, and its not the same as dodging taking side.I don’t know if it’s natural or upon tough training, really really unique nowadays. plus there are so many great episodes done recently, must be mountain of works, really enjoyed them a lot when I couldn’t listen to many of other podcasts that are all full of non-experts talking about virus. and thanks as always.

  4. Hi. I am Seong from S.Korea.
    Sorry this is off the topic but I had to ask you.
    Straight to the point cuz you are busy.
    I want to start youtube channel where I talk about books and I hope my very first book is going to be ‘Tools of Titans’.
    Of course only when you give me the permission.


  5. The political class in America is like Oscar Wilde’s definition of an economist, “Someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” She’s afraid of fascism, but has no inclination to promote freedom over the growing power of America’s administrative state. In fact, she was the administrative state for a period of time. She prefers a bureaucratic totalitarianism over fascism. My shock at seeing her picture on your podcast site must evoke similar feelings to what one must have felt beholding the face of Hitler staring back at them from the cover of Time magazine in the 1930s. I don’t find sociopaths inspiring regardless of their personal accomplishments. You can do better.

    1. I only wish that Madeleine’s u tube clip where she’s feels justified killing one million Iraqi children was more famous. She’s a monster.

  6. I was about to search your email id just the way you taught it. But, then read that you don’t want to be contacted in this or that way for valid reasons. And, the last thing it would be for me to disrespect your boundaries as I really respect you all that you have done and are doing for so many. It’s not about hacking your way into this and that. But, questioning the foundations that we stand so surely on. You simply show that the foundations that were thought to be concrete are so crumbly. Thank you. Thanks to your friends who get here and show people the world of theirs and the amazing guests you have over. It’s a constant gratitude springing up for you in all.

  7. Hi Tim. Can you please clarify on thinking about a negative outcome for positive production. I’ve come across content teaching about visualizing a future you want for yourself and it will manifest. I really don’t know now.

  8. Tim..I really liked that Eden Phillpotts quote in todays 5-Bullet Friday, but if you check his wiki page you may find that he was not one of the great role models of his day.

  9. Tim,

    Between your interviews and books, you have so much great and actionable content that it can sometimes be hard to keep up.

    Following all of the advice from you and your excellent guests is seemingly impossible. So I’m wondering if you have method you use to implement the advice you get and give, in a realistic manner?

    Is there advice you choose to ignore, and how do you decide what to ignore?

  10. This is to do with your Phillpotts quote via my email subscription. I followed the link you supplied to find out more about this writer from Wikipedia and something disturbing came up so I thought you should be made aware
    Allegedly he abused his daughter.
    Check it out for yourself via your link
    Ursula Traynor

  11. Hi Tim, I’ve been meaning to reach out for years; today is the day.

    I heard the Madeleine Albright interview – it brought so much back to me. Her father and my grandfather worked together in the Czech Foreign Ministry – she and my dad escaped Czechoslovakia the same year. I finally met her last fall and connected our family histories. Such an awesome woman.

    Like you, I’m passionate about living a great life, learning, exploring, asking the hard questions, integrating diverse disciplines, mental and physical challenge, spiritual exploration, full expression. I’ve spent my career working to align our economy and society with the goal of intergenerational well-being – working at the intersection of resilience, leadership, change and sustainability.

    My current work at Stanford draws on military strategy, the neuroscience of flow, psychology and ecology to derive core orientations that give rise to resilience.

    Would love to explore ideas with you!


    1. Hi Julia, your comment moved me to suggest that you consider whether or not you’re in the thrall of something, and if you can step back and decide whether or not you want to be in that thrall. It also moved to me to suggest that intergenerational well-being has some elements in its foundation that you might want to consider: Learning from observation (kind of the inverse of leadership), humility (because without it, elders lose respect), and the kind of authority and respect that comes from experience and knowledge rather than fear and power. Individualist values (you could also look up egoism) may be the connector between intergenerational well-being and resilience that you’ve been trying to put your finger on.

  12. Tim check out DNA preservation! If immortality is ever invented, you will need to stay immortal at the youngest possible age. You wouldn’t want to stay 70 for eternity! Save your DNA.

  13. Hey Tim,
    I didnt know how to reach you (you told me not to reply to 5bulletfriday),so im commenting here.

    Will it be possible for you to make the tools of titans podcast available on google podcast?

  14. sorry can’t work out how to send messages without social media. But I wanted you to see this [Moderator: link removed to “Tim Minchin WAAPA Speech” on YouTube.] also would make a great guest

  15. Sorry, Tim, you lost me here and scared me too when I saw this picture, this woman is a hack, pure and simple, I wouldn’t trust her to tell me what time of day it is

    please stop with this one, would have to open your site and see Hillary’s mug staring back at me!

  16. Hi Tim, I read your book (The 4 hour body) and since that I’m really interested in slow-carb diet. There are so many examples of people which lost many kg thanks to that diet, but little scientific articles (and non about Your specific diet with all habits and routines You have mentioned in the book). Nowadays, there are some many different diets and everyone is relaying on photos “before and after”, like it was enough to decide whether the diet is healthy for someone’s organism. I’m curious about everything you wrote in the book and I’m even more curious about how it biologically and chemically acts on human body. That’s why I want to ask or maybe suggest further studies about Your diet. It would be greatly appreciated by me and many young dietetic students, who are thirst for knowledge. I wish there was more scientific articles than pseudo dietetics all over internet. I think You have great possibilities to start and make someone start such studies.

    Anyway, thank You for sharing Your experience.

  17. Today in your five bullet Friday email you wrote: What I’m reading —
    “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” from the Paris Review, Issue 91, it’s not an easy read…. The subject matter can be hard, and on top of that, you’ll need to get through language…

    I am curious to know if you have tried to get through Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon and your thoughts on it? I have made it through a fraction of that voluminous book – its tough but beautiful – like poetry.

    Thank you for all you do – I have been moved by many of your podcasts like the latest one with Ed Norton and your suicide podcast as well.

  18. Comment not about the Albright podcast (which is great) but of gratitude for the 5 Bullet Friday emails. Subscribed to them earlier this year and I look forward to them every week. The James Baldwin quote this week was particularly perfect. Thanks so much for the thought and energy that goes into 5 Bullet Fridays (and all your work). Peace!

  19. I love this interview in so many ways. I live now in Prague where Mrs Albright was born.

    Something interesting I was thinking about was the power of the nature over nurture and the other way around. Her father was a diplomat, and she was exposed to this environment as an early child.

    What would have happened if her father was a carpenter?

    Would she still choose a similar path or would she had persuaded something else?
    Also, how the women were perceived back in the days.

  20. I have bilateral quad tendon ruptures. Who are the top practitioners that have advanced methods of treatment for rehab and recovery?

  21. Loved this episode! She’s inspiring and funny and honest.

    This show just keeps getting better, it’s been interesting and enlightening to follow your own journey also. I especially love the episodes featuring female guests, I’ve gone back and listened to them all.

    Thank you for your great work and for your contribution to the world!