For my first book review, I thought it would only be fitting that I talk about “Forever FLOTUS” Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Mrs. Obama does an incredible job with her first written piece, a memoir of her life, both before and during the White House.
I absolutely loved this book. Not just because it was written by the First Lady, but because it was so relatable. Mrs. Obama begins the memoir on Euclid Avenue, on the South Side of Chicago. She talks about witnessing the struggles that her parents faced, her father, a hard working city employee, and her mother, a stay-at-home mom, sacrificing much of their own aspirations to ensure that she and her brother Craig excelled academically. Showing sheer vulnerability, Mrs. Obama opened up about the early-on struggles in her marriage — a busy State Senator for a husband, and the difficulties in getting pregnant.
Mrs. Obama also shared her own issues after moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She reminisced on the media paying more attention to her expensive (or inexpensive) J. Crew dresses, as opposed to listening to the words that materialized from her lips, advocating for healthier foods and employment for veterans. I also thought it was telling when Mrs. Obama wrote about the hardships on living in the White House, whether it was the Secret Service disallowing Malia to meet up with friends for ice cream after school, or not being able to watch a soccer game. Mrs. Obama showed her humanity, the frustration in feeling restricted, not being able to move freely when you want, how you want or where you want, all for the privilege of being married to the leader of the free world. Like so many other realizations, Mrs. Obama became more accepting of her new world in the spotlight and decided to channel her frustration and energy towards reachable goals that she knew could be realized through the Office of the First Lady of the United States.
Michelle Obama speaking about her memoir with Sarah Jessica Parker at the Barclay’s Center Arena on December 19, 2018. Getty Images.
Becoming is a really good reminder that no one is perfect. It’s completely human and natural to struggle with finding who you are, what your passion is and what you’re actually good at. Becoming shares a lot of teachable moments on how Mrs. Obama became her best self. With it being the New Year and so many of us focusing on renewed goals, I thought I’d share some of those lessons, that I intend to make a conscientious effort to incorporate.
Mrs. Obama is both a January baby and a Capricorn. We capricorns are overachievers, do-gooders, ambitious until the very end know-it-alls. So, imagine my surprise when she revealed that when she was a little girl, she’d tell relatives, friends of her parents, or essentially any inquisitive adult, that she wanted to be a pediatrician. The adult would respond, “My, that’s impressive!” And she would feel good about her response and believed that it was the right direction and course of her life. Going to Princeton ultimately changed her trajectory and Harvard Law School became appealing to her. Becoming a lawyer was still impressive enough for the acceptance of others.
This spoke to me. When I was three years old, my father bought me a Fischer Price doctor’s kit, with a faux leather doctor’s bag, plastic stethoscope, a fake arm cast and needle. I played doctor on all of my baby doll’s and told my father that I loved my doctor’s kit so much, that I would one day be a baby doctor. He promptly corrected me and said, “No, the correct word is pediatrician.” And I told myself, until I was a junior in high school, that a pediatrician was exactly what I was going to be. I received the same acceptance from elders, “My, that’s impressive,” not realizing that I wasn’t really paying attention to my heart’s true desires. Even now, in the legal field, just as Mrs. Obama, I realize that as young persons - especially those of us who are our ancestors’ wildest dreams - we sometimes choose the impressive path to seek the approval of others.
The First Lady spends most of the book determining that she cannot base her life on the approval of others, whether it’s her career path, how she maintains her marriage or raises her daughters. Mrs. Obama does a great job articulating how she found her true calling, diverting from the impressive path, while still being of service to others.
Be of good faith.
As Mrs. Obama dealt with her struggles in redefining her career to align with her passions, she often worried about whether walking away from the impressive path was the right move for her, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Sometimes, we have to trust and believe that walking away will lead to the opening of new doors, that we never thought were possible. “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Be unafraid to fail.
No one likes to fail, but even the First Lady has fallen and picked herself back up. She suffered her first setback after graduating law school. She failed at the next predictable step in her life. She dusted her sparkly Balenciaga boots off. She tried again. She succeeded.
Be knowing of your worth.
I loved the story of how Mrs. Obama was now a mother, trying to balance her home life with getting back into working. President Obama was still a State Senator back then, spending most of his work week at the capital in Springfied, Illinois. When Mrs. Obama was ready to get back to work, she decided to take a position at the University of Chicago where she negotiated her salary and her hours, making sure that she had flexible time to tend to her daughters’ needs. Mrs. Obama was ready to walk away from the offer if the University was unwilling to meet her needs as a working mother.
Whether you’re negotiating your salary or debating the idea of ending a relationship where you’re feeling undervalued, know your worth Then, add tax.
Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Jill Biden periodically volunteered with veteran organizations and even frequently visited Walter Reed military hospital, to visit with wounded soldiers and thank them for their service. The First Lady met numerous veterans but so many of them carried the same theme: they did not want sympathy or pity. They were thankful for the opportunity to have served their country. Her stories of the soldiers serve as heartfelt lessons that whatever curve balls life throws at you, you have to keep going.
Be confident and strong.
Mrs. Obama makes it plain and clear: confidence comes from within oneself. She maintains a repeated mantra throughout her memoir — Am I good enough? Yes, I am.
The Obamas didn’t join a church in Washington, D.C., sacrificing their desire for a spiritual community to prevent unnecessary media and “bad faith” attention on the church itself and its congregation. Mrs. Obama expressed how there were many nights where she would look over towards her bed and see her husband praying with his eyes closed. Mrs. Obama used prayer to block out the noise of she and her husband’s critics, still exercising her faith in private.
Be a mentor and pay it forward.
Mrs. Obama started a leadership and mentoring program at the White House, inviting high school girls for monthly gatherings. Each girl was paired with a female mentor, who would share her personal story and resources. These girls were nominated by their school principal or guidance counselor, and the mentoring program seemed very small and under wraps to prevent a media circus. Mrs. Obama explained, “My wish for them was the same one I had for Sasha and Malia — that in learning to feel comfortable at the White House, they’d go on to feel comfortable and confident in any room, sitting at any table, raising their voices inside any group.”
Mrs. Obama’s stories of mentoring and meeting school girls in Washington, D.C. and Chicago really stressed to me that I’m not doing enough giving back to my community. I live in Baltimore, where there are so many children who need assistance with literacy. i’m hoping to get back into volunteering with my local school district and paying it forward.
During President Obama’s second term, the President and the First Family flew to South Africa, where they met Nelson Mandela. Mrs. Obama wrote about how surreal the experience was, meeting the civil rights leader. The meeting reminded the First Lady of all the struggles Mandela endured, being imprisoned for 27 years, only to finally be freed, end apartheid and become the President of South Africa. Nelson Mandela’s story taught Mrs. Obama that all of the change she and her husband to bring forth in the United States took time; that she and her husband were simply planting seeds of change with the hopes of mobilizing future leaders to continue on.
As the memoir concluded, there was one common theme that the First Lady held onto all the while becoming who she is today. She never allowed detractors to silence her voice. She recognized what it was like to feel invisible in an overcrowded public school, not getting a valuable education. She knew the history of her family’s own invisibility, being the descendant of a slave, who’s ancestors’ stories were lost in time like so many other African Americans who’s ancestral history is unavailable to us because of the slave trade. As women or minorities, Mrs. Obama emphasizes the importance of overcoming invisibility, finding ways to use our voice and be heard.
What did you think of Becoming? Leave your comments below!
You can purchase Becoming by Michelle Obama here.
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