Title/Author: Becoming by Michelle Obama
Publisher: Crown Publishing
In a nutshell (Publisher): In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
What an insightful, inspirational, moving memoir by the first African American FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, although in the beginning, it felt like she kept the reader at a certain distance. But it did feel like she opened up a little more as the book progresses. I understand it’s not easy to write a memoir candidly when you’re still in the public eye , although Mr. Obama approached this rather differently in his ‘A Promised Land’. (More on this in a later post)
In this post, I’m going to share lessons I learned from her memoir:
~ Define yourself ~
Michelle Obama came from humble beginnings, grew up in the South Side of Chicago and lived with her family, on the second floor of her Aunt Robbie’s apartment. Even as a young girl, she strives for perfection in everything she does. In kindergarten, when she couldn’t pronounce the word ‘white’ when the teacher asked her to, she returned the next day, after perfecting her pronunciation, to ask for a do-over. Proud of her achievement and courage to advocate for herself, she headed home, with her ‘head up and one of those gold-foil stars stuck on my shirt.’ And as you can see, her determination to succeed, that fire in her, to make her mark in this world, never ceased.
In her senior year, when she decided that Princeton was going to be her top choice for school, she was told by her college counsellor who told her she wasn’t ‘Princeton material’, even though she was in the top 10 percent of her class at Whitney Young. Fuming in anger, she thought to herself, ‘I’ll show you.’ And she did. After a recommendation letter from her assistant principal, she was offered admission to Princeton.
At the White House, her idea to reprise the vegetable garden in the White House, was met with resistance initially. Determined to use her influence as First Lady to impress upon the importance of healthy living, she and Sam Kass (her personal chef) fought hard for to give the vegetable garden a facelift. They were eventually allotted a tiny plot of land, which then grew into an 1100 sq foot garden.
She believes that “If you don’t go out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.” Her determination led her to pay her high-paying job as a lawyer and to focus her energy and passion towards issues that are close to her heart – “education, teen pregnancy, black self-esteem”. This job eventually led her to her role as a vice president at the University of Chicago Hospital.
~ Love & marriage is hard work ~
Of course, this memoir wouldn’t be complete without a peek into the First Couple’s courting days. Reading about the courting days brought a smile to my face. Their first kiss was at Baskin-Robbins when Barack Obama asked her, ‘Can I kiss you?’ (there’s now a plaque of them where they had their first kiss!) And would you believe it, that on the day Mr. Obama proposed to her, they were having a big argument about marriage, Mr. Obama, adamant about it not being important, while Mrs. Obama strongly opposed it. They continued to argue back and forth, until their server came out with her dessert, hidden in it, an engagement ring. As it turned out, it had all been a ruse! Mr. Obama had planned it all along.
Being so different from each other, their marriage was a challenge. Mrs. Obama loathes politics, but not her husband. She supported his decision to run for president only because she didn’t think he’d win. Throughout their marriage, he was often away because of his job. Coming from a family that’s deeply rooted in being together, she expected her husband to be more present in their marriage. They sought counselling when things between them didn’t improve. They learned what they had to work on and worked hard to save their marriage.
~ Find your support system ~
In her memoir, Mrs. Obama wasn’t afraid to point out her struggles and challenges – such as when she gave one of her stump speeches during her husband’s campaign that was taken out of context and she was accused of not being a patriot, and when she laid her arms on the Queen which was a big no-no, and news splashed all over the world, describing her as ‘uncouth’ and ‘lacking the standard elegance of a First Lady’. It all came to her as a shock as to how her life had changed so suddenly, in that not only had she be extra careful and mindful in what she says (every single word counts!), but what she does too, to the minutest details like how she uses her hands when she speaks, how she smiles and stands, to what and who she wears.
Challenging days can make one feel very lonely at times. When Mrs. Obama had had a miscarriage, she was devastated, describing it as ‘lonely, painful, and demoralizing almost on a cellular level’, which mothers ‘mistake it to a personal failure, which is not.’ Mrs. Obama shared her experience with a couple of friends, who in turn, shared their own stories. In doing so, she found support and courage, and it took the self-blame away as miscarriage ‘was no more than a biological hiccup’. With a suggestion from a friend, she and Mr. Obama turned to IVF and in July, 1998, Malia was born. Mrs. Obama, in her life, had always kept a close knit of girlfriends, ‘a safe harbor of female wisdom.’ She never took her female friendships for granted.
She mentioned, ‘Whatever you try to do in life, there are bound to be doubters, naysayers who will shout I told you so at every little misstep or mistake. The noise doesn’t go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals.‘
~ Make lemonade ~
When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. That to me, is how Mrs. Obama lives and leads her life. Her book showed how she never gave up when faced with adversities, even in a journey she had never planned on taking. She learned how to handle haters and naysayers, to seek for support when she needed it, to use her influence to lead, teach and inspire, to create her own path and identity at the White House, her way, her terms. She wasn’t afraid to defy expectations and she did it all with class.
I enjoyed reading about her life pre-White-House and her unexpected journey as the first African American FLOTUS, but also as a person and a woman who continues to inspire and do good work. I look up to her even more after reading her book. If you haven’t read this or haven’t considered reading this, give this a gander! It’s inspiring, insightful, intimate, and moving, and written with a lot of heart. I hope she’ll write another book, this time, on her life post White House. That would be interesting too, don’t you think?
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you plan to? Please share with me your thoughts!