When you pick up a book, a memoir, biography or autobiography written about or by a leader, a successful business person or perhaps a celebrity, what do you stand to gain?
In my opinion, you hope to learn one or two things from their experience that would lead you in a direction where you can make your life better. Perhaps you can learn a bit about their struggles and how they came out of it? Maybe you can learn about what gave them confidence? By what mantras did they live? What mistakes did they make and what did they learn from it? Or what worked for them and how can it possibly work for you? Perhaps you can be inspired to aspire for MORE!
When I picked up the book ‘BECOMING’ by former U.S First Lady, Michelle Obama, these were some of the things I hoped to gain. I wanted to know, see, learn how she journeyed into the White House and being there for eight years, how it impacted on her as a person, and what nuggets she could give to me, to be the strong black woman I aspire to be. I wanted to see and know her journey so in it I may gain the strength of my own.
I am glad that precisely what I wanted, I got. Because in ‘BECOMING’, I was not introduced to the First Lady or the Former First Lady, I was introduced to a woman, a black woman, who is very much human like me. A woman who went through life possibly the same way I did. She had family, the love of her parents, the push and support of her parents to be the best she could be, to put her in the best possible position to attain all she could.
However, not without its challenges. Michelle knew what it was like to be a minority. She knew what it was like to deal with the war within. The conflict that exists for most black people, where you feel you must defend your race. And not just your race, your gender, as a woman, whether it is in school, in the neighbourhood you grew up in, in college, at work, sometimes being the only black woman in an office and then finally, the first black First Lady of the United States of America.
There were standards she had to meet. She had to work twice as hard to justify her position or views. Her mistakes are highlighted more strongly. She has to be more meticulous about what she did, why and how she does it. Though there were times, Michelle did not always do what was considered the norm, where it was relevant she made adjustments.
In ‘BECOMING’ we get to know the Michelle Obama who experienced uncertainties about which direction she wanted to take in life; what career path did she want to take? What exactly was her passion? Does she subscribe to her husband getting involved in politics? Should he run at all? Did she even believe at first that he could do it, every step of the way?
While we see a woman with inner struggles as we all are, we also see a woman with a lot of strength. The strength to achieve your aims when you are told you weren’t good enough. A woman who supported her husband with his vision, giving him the freedom to be himself, even though she wasn’t sure and had to make sacrifices to ensure his goals were reached. We see a woman who the public may have tried to put down and bring down, but she stood tall, continuing to be true to herself, carrying out her initiatives and supporting her family the best way she knew how.
In Michelle Obama, we see a woman you and I can both relate with, because though our circumstances may differ, our struggles are not necessarily different.
I love the title of this book, ‘Becoming’, because it implies a journey that is never ending, implies hope, something to keep looking forward to as you continue to be, to become, to grow, to change, to move from one phase of life to another. The lesson of Michelle Obama as presented in this book is that of becoming, that journey into self-realization, never quite having it all mapped out but getting there one step at a time.
The title fits well with how the book is structured. It is divided into three parts. Part One, Becoming Me, where we learn about Michelle’s childhood, growing up on the Southside of Chicago, her development and growth till she went to college, receiving an Ivy league education at Princeton, Law degree at Harvard, and finally in a high-end job as a lawyer in a law firm. This part finished with us being introduced to how she met Barack, a law student who was interning for the summer, whom she would be responsible for, how their relationship developed and led to their first kiss.
The Second Part of the book is called, ‘Becoming Us’, where we are taken on the journey of how her relationship with Barack deepened. How they dated for two years long distance, their coming and living together, where Barack moved in with Michelle in an apartment above her parent’s home, Barack’s proposal though he didn’t believe in marriage. We see how they worked as a couple, the challenges they experienced including fertility issues before finally having their children. The loss of loved ones. The struggle between balancing work and raising children. The sacrifices that had to be made to support Barack’s political career.
In this part of the book, we see Barack Obama has a man of notable character. A man of passion. A man of vision. A man you could almost say was destined for the presidency because he was a man that thought outside of the box. Michelle describes him as free-spirited, and she gave him the freedom to be therefore allowing him to serve, even though it meant sharing him with the world, first as Senator and then as President of the United States of America.
Part three of the book, ‘Becoming More’ takes on the journey through life in the White House as President and First Lady. We learn about the initial adjustment that had to be made in how life now is – living with security details. A life lived in a bubble. The aim to exceed expectations as the First black President and First Lady of The United States of America. The attempts to make life as manageable for the children, so they did not live in as big a bubble as the parents.
In this part of the book, we see Michelle Obama becoming the First Lady. We see her taking up her role the best she could, working on her initiatives ‘Let’s Move’ and ‘Girls Education’. In this part of the book, we learn of the victory of catching Osama Bin Laden. We also learn about the many shootings that took place that weighed heavily in both Barack’s and Michelle’s heart and knowing that Barack would be blamed. This part of the book leads us to Obama being re-elected for a second term and finally ending with Barack’s presidency coming to an end.
The book ended with Epilogue from Michelle Obama, and I quote a portion...
I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices…’
From reading the preface of the book alone, you become glued to the book, and you are sunk in by the title as you get that feel immediately that ‘becoming’ was indeed a journey. The preface was enough to conclude the book. If the preface was all you read, you have learnt a valuable lesson. And the lesson is that, at every stage in life, you never stop becoming. If one-course end, you start another. Different stages may demand different things from us, but one thing is sure, we can adopt and adapt to whatever role we find ourselves. We never stop becoming. And we do not become alone. We learn to BE even as others are, working together, to become the best of us.
Michelle puts it this way,
‘Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fearless, to make fewer assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.
In this book, I believe anyone who reads it will find inspiration, motivation, a nugget or two to hold on to in every chapter. Learning from others stories has the potential to expands one's mind, and without a shadow of a doubt, yours will be expanded as you read because we see beyond ourselves when we share in others story.
About The Author
Abi Opall is a wife, a mother of two and a lifestyle blogger & podcaster at abiscope.com. An avid writer, book lover, and motivator, based in the U.K. She is passionate about supporting people to reach their full potential.