November Book Club: Becoming

November Book Club Review of Becoming

Book Reviews graphicWe all know who Michelle Obama is. Former First Lady of the United States, wife, mother, healthy food and lifestyle advocate, speaker, attorney…her titles seem endless.

Yet in her autobiography Becoming, we were given a peek into the life of Michelle.

Not Mrs. Obama. Not FLOTUS. In her words and telling of her life, we get to see her as a real person who is just like you and me. Albeit with killer arms (my sister’s and my personal fitness goal is “Michelle Obama” arms).

The book is divided into three sections.

Becoming Me is about her childhood and educational years.

Michelle Robinson was born in 1964 in Chicago, Illinois. She lived on the South Side of Chicago during her youth with her parents and brother. She talks fondly of her hometown and neighborhood. They lived on Euclid Avenue in an apartment above her great-aunt; her father worked at the city water plant while her mother stayed home; she enjoyed time with her large extended family. She describes a very typical upbringing for that time.

She was a gifted student but admits that without the advocacy of others, she may not have received the same education as others. She attended good schools, including Whitney Young High School, where she befriended Santita Jackson, daughter of Reverend Jesse Jackson. She would go on to graduate from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, earning her J.D. in 1988.

Michelle Obama
©️ New York Times

Michelle acknowledges the challenges of being a Black, lower-income student in a predominantly white, upper-class environment. She used this to drive her to do better and succeed, but it was still a part of her educational life. She jokes about her shock of witnessing students drive BMWs when she did not even know an adult who owned one. She tells us about the first-year roommate whose mother tried to have her assigned to a new room after learning that Michelle was Black. There were many moments similar to this, and she recalls them with an honest perspective.

After graduation, she earned a spot at a prestigious law firm in Chicago. This is where she met her future husband, Barack Obama. And this is where she dives into the second section of the book, Becoming Us.

Did you know that the 44th President of the United States was late to his first day of mentorship?

Barack Obama was a summer associate assigned to Michelle Robinson to mentor at her law firm. At the time, she was solely focused on her career. She recalls that Barack was a confident, smart, and likable man that she enjoyed mentoring. He did not make the greatest first impression on her with his tardiness though! Their professional relationship grew into a friendship, which developed into mutual feelings and dating. 

They spent the next two years dating and living apart. She was focused on her career in Chicago while he returned to Cambridge and law school. As a military spouse who has spent many months and years in a relationship/marriage long-distance, I can appreciate the effort this took for both of them.

One of my favorite parts of this book is how she describes their “opposites attract” relationship.

the Obamas
©️ LitHub

Both were driven, young professionals. Yet he was focused on community outreach and change. Michelle was organized and following a clear career and life path. He was adventurous and laidback, focused more on community outreach and change. They complemented one another and still do, working just as husband and wife but as partners in life.

My other favorite part of her autobiography is learning that Michelle Obama hated her job.

Hate might be too strong of a word. But she talks about the prescribed path of life she was on: education, more education, a high-paying career, and climbing the corporate ladder. She was led to believe that this was the key to a happy life; many of us were. But even while making loads of money and living “the dream,” she was unhappy working the tireless hours of a marketing and intellectual property attorney. She was unfulfilled but conflicted. This was supposed to be the life, right?

I related so much to her. She was having a crisis of identity and career, learning that happiness cannot necessarily be found in wealth or career. Perhaps the path we are told to take is not right for us; maybe we are meant to be doing something different that will make us richer in health and spirit, not in monetary wealth. She has held roles in the public sector of Chicago and in non-profit organizations. She worked at the University of Chicago in student services and community outreach. She was even working at their hospital when her husband began his campaign for the presidency.

I was inspired by her career pivots and in realizing that just like me (and many others), our original imaginings of life are not set in stone.

The final section of the book is titled Becoming More, and this is the behind-the-scenes of life as the First Lady of the United States and their time in the White House.

She opens it by stating that there is no manual for how to be the FLOTUS. While this can be daunting, Michelle Obama took this role and made it her own by championing issues and campaigns she was passionate about. She is most famous for her advocacy for education, healthy eating and living for children, military families, and poverty. She and the President tried to bring more openness and diversity into the White House, hosting many events for children and local, non-political families. They strived to be professional and exemplary while also real people in the highest office of the land.

They also tried very hard to balance parenting and politics. 

The Obama family
©️ Vanity Fair

She talks about the privilege of raising children in the White House, with all the resources and benefits inherent. But she also wanted her girls, Sasha and Malia, to experience normalcy as much as possible. I love that she instructed the staff to never make the girls’ beds (such a mom thing) and that the girls had playdates and typical friendships (with extra security, of course). She recalls her efforts to sneak in unnoticed at swim meets and other events, which was pretty impossible with the Secret Service around her. I appreciated seeing the efforts made to ensure their children were raised as normal as possible.

She also gives us glimpses into the challenges of living a very public life. The media can be blistering and unforgiving. Optics are everything. The job of Commander in Chief weighs heavily on the entire family. For as effortless as she made her time look, it was refreshing to read about the challenges and struggles of being the First Family.

This is a long book at 484 pages, but it was a well-written autobiography and look at the life of an accomplished woman.

There were so many anecdotes and stories about her life that I could write a small book myself of the things I enjoyed. Instead, I will let you read Becoming and learn for yourself. We thoroughly enjoyed reading this and recommend it for all!

Come back next month – we are reading The Huntress by Kate Quinn!

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