Becoming - Meaningful Moments from Michelle Obama's Memoir
Today I finished listening to the memoir 'Becoming', by Michelle Obama, self-narrated (perfectly narrated by Michelle, I'd like to add). It was truly a pleasure to hear Michelle tell her story in her own words.
'Becoming' shares intimate moments of Michelle's life: her upbringing, what life was like prior to & during Obama's presidency, her meaningful relationships in her life- family, friends, and mentors, her career experiences, her struggles, her blessings, and the unique stories of people she engaged with as first lady- from veterans, to the queen, to students affected by all kinds of events.
Why is it called 'Becoming'?
Because something that we all (hopefully) have in common, is that we are always in the stage of learning, growing, and changing. We never reach a destination- whether that's an age, a goal, a stage in our relationships, or a level of knowledge, in which we reside stagnantly.
We are constantly in a stage of discovery & development, adapting to change and challenge in our lives while learning as we go- 'Becoming'.
There were a couple of quotes from 'Becoming' that illustrate what this means quite soundly:
"Now 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."
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end. I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children. I became a wife, but I continue to adapt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person. I have become, by certain measures, a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insecure or unheard.”
The entire book was lovely, and the stories that I took the most from were about her close friend, Suzanne- a young woman that Michelle met in college.
Even as a young adult, Michelle's approach to life had already become one of rigorous organisation and clearly defined goals upheld by carefully considered structure and routine. It could be argued that this sort of diligence contributed to Michelle being able to achieve at the level that she did from a young age, leading her to Princeton University in the first place.
But it was there she met Suzanne, whose presence completely wreaked havoc on all of those ideals that Michelle held.
Unlike Michelle, Suzanne was led by her passion, living in the today & now, deciding her next step by what would be the most fun, and quickly changing direction if things weren't exciting anymore.
Initially, Michelle judged Suzanne for this. How could someone have such a zig-zag approach to life?
Suzanne's focus was on optimising for fun over the practical, going with the flow instead of aspiring to the organised, long-term goal focussed approach to life that Michelle swore by.
Instead, Suzanne lived her life with a sense of ease and lightheartedness, transferring out of her course when she stopped enjoying it, turning down an MBA offer from an Ivy leave (opting for a state school instead because it was easier), and ditching her job to go on an adventure around the world with her mum.
Suzanne would ask for Michelle's advice, which as predicted was often opposing Suzanne's point of view, but do whatever she fancied anyway.
When Suzanne arrived home from her months of travel with her mum, she devastatingly fell ill with cancer.
Suzanne passed away at the far too young age of just 26 years old.
It was then that Michelle came to a realisation- that maybe there is more than one way to live well, and that perhaps it was she who had something to learn from Suzanne:
"I regretted not coming earlier. I regretted the many times, over the course of our seesawing friendship, that I’d insisted she was making a wrong move, when possibly she’d been doing it right. I was suddenly glad for all the times she’d ignored my advice. I was glad that she hadn’t over-worked herself to get some fancy business school degree. That she’d gone off for a lost weekend with a semi-famous pop star, just for fun. I was happy that she’d made it to the Taj Mahal to watch the sunrise with her mom. Suzanne had lived in ways that I had not."
Michelle's lessons from Suzanne served in her own exploration of meaning in her life, in which throughout her work in community and her work as first lady, Michelle found herself constantly in the effort of working towards change... all the while living in a place tied with outdated structures and systems that desperately needed change, but persisted to be difficult and slow to actually get moving.
Throughout the book, Michelle tells stories that illustrate this- from Barack receiving death threats exceptionally early in his political career, to Michelle's upbringing in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in Chicago, the country's public health crisis, and the shared experiences of school kids who would stay inside when the weather was nice- because when the sun was out, gangs became more active, leaving the streets a threatening place to be seen.
Michelle retold a few experiences during her time in the Whitehouse, where bureaucratic institutionalised decision making tendered change to be sluggish. But though it can be slow, especially when concerning large-scale change, it is important. Despite the challenges, change is worth pursuing.
The attitude one needs when working towards change, despite the challenges we face and the patience that it demands, was encompassed beautifully by Michelle:
“It was possible, I knew, to live on two planes at once—to have one’s feet planted in reality but pointed in the direction of progress.”