5 Lessons from Michelle Obama's "Becoming"

5 Lessons from Michelle Obama's "Becoming"

It would seem that the entire world read Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. You may even be one of the many (like me) who followed her tour outfits and enjoyed all the fun things, from her interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Barack Obama dropping during her stop in Washington D.C.

I read Becoming in November. I remember because I was visiting friends for a week, and I kept sneaking away to read. Her memoir achieves many of the things you’d want from the genre; it’s the right degree of revealing while being inspiring and as candid as possible. Best of all, despite not being particularly preachy, there are many lessons to be learned from Becoming.

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Here are five things I learned from reading Michelle Obama’s memoir:

It’s okay not to know what you want to do with your life

Any type A, “responsible,” people-pleasing child will relate to Michelle’s words about wanting grown-ups’ approval of her future career. Now, as an adult she says, “I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

One of the most surprising revelations for me in this memoir was discovering Michelle’s feelings about her career as a lawyer. Even after excelling at university and scoring a well-paying job, she hated being a lawyer. She felt little fulfillment and admits to having “taken the wrong road.” The former First Lady triumphs in the end though because she allows herself to try something different.

So even if you’re fresh out of school with a degree you’re not sure what do with, don’t throw your hands up just yet. Try something else, and keep trying until you find what works. After all, in the end, all you have is your story, whether or not it’s perfect to anyone else.

Being First Lady is not all fun and games

I’ve never thought of the First Family as just running around the White House having a ball, but I had no idea just how much it changes your life. Becoming was also eye-opening in that regard. From being unable to open any White House windows (security reasons) to having the Secret Service escort her kids to their friends’ birthday parties, it’s all a dramatic loss of control.

She mentions missing going to the grocery store and even just being a normal parent at a sports game with her children. Then of course there are the actual responsibilities of her role. Everything from choosing outfits for public appearances to navigating the opposition and working hard to reduce obesity in schoolchildren. While incomparable to the role of President, being First Lady (and doing it well) is more work than I ever thought.

Our suspicions were correct: Barack Obama is smooth

My favourite section of the entire book was “Becoming Us”—Michelle and Barack’s love story. Michelle falls in love pretty quickly, even though she’s supposed to be Barack’s adviser. And as we read, we all fall with her for this confident, “openly affectionate,” Black man who spends most of his money on books.

Still, Barack isn’t perfect. As she states later in the book, Michelle always wants people to see “Barack as human and not as some otherworldly savior” and even in Becoming, we do. There are many moments when he isn’t as present as he should be and when he enjoys the male luxury of choosing career over family. But in the end, we can see why she loves him, and we do too.

Michelle Obama’s mom, Marian Robinson is the real MVP

As part of my Becoming education in the Robinson and Obama families, I learned more about Michelle’s mother. Marian Robinson taught Michelle, among many things, how to read, think for herself, and be forthright. She later moved into the White House with the Obamas at her children’s prodding.

I loved many things about Ms. Robinson, but especially her declining Secret Service protection and doing her own laundry and shopping—all to maintain a sense of normalcy. I laughed out loud at Ms. Robinson telling strangers who commented that she looked like the First Lady’s mother, “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

Ultimately, our parents do so much for us, and Michelle’s mother is a shining example—willing to pack her bags and uproot her life, even at age seventy-one.

Women need female friends

For some reason, it’s taken forever for many women to realize the power of female friendships. Michelle, however, is not one of such women. In Becoming, she hails friendships between women and introduces us to as many of her friends as possible. I cannot help but agree that such friendships “are built of a thousand small kindnesses...swapped back and forth and over again.”

Women need each other. Whether it’s for a mood lift, a girls’ trip, to share miscarriage stories or introduce each other to fertility specialists as Michelle’s did. If you have girlfriends, try to stay in touch as much as you can. We all have busy lives, but these are the things that keep us going and feeling less alone in our struggles.

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There’s so much more I could share about Michelle Obama’s memoir (just ask my Kindle highlights), but I want to hear from you. What did you love about her book? What new things did you learn about her? I found her story with Queen Elizabeth to be hilarious, but I can imagine how stressful it must have been at the time. I’d love to know your favourite, and not so favourite parts.

P.S: 6 kinds of non-fiction for every reader and 10+ other female African authors to read (besides Chimamanda Adichie).

Also, The KacheeTee Circle is hosting “An Afternoon of Books, Pizza and Wine” on March 23rd in London, to discuss some of the books that have impacted us the most! See more details here and register.

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