July 2nd, 2020
“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result” ~Michelle Obama
In many ways, Becoming is more of a conversation than a memoir. Michelle Obama is engaging and down-to-earth, presenting emotional stories of her childhood, relationship with Barack, and career path. She recognizes the various, and sometimes conflicting, roles she plays, then seeks to reconcile her values with her responsibilities.
More briefly, Becoming reaffirms the importance of growth and deep personal relationships.
Obama’s career struggles are relatable (and serve as teachable moments). She challenges the notion of a perfect professional: early into her career at Sidley & Austin, she realizes that the work doesn’t make her happy. Writing in her journal (132),
…I feel very confused about where I want my life to go. What kind of person do I want to be? How do I want to contribute to the world?
While many would characterize this as a career setback, especially considering student loans incurred from law school, Obama leverages her dissatisfaction to find a career (and someone to become). She transitions to a position in the Chicago city government, where she befriends her boss, Valerie Jarrett.
Obama’s shift to city government paves the way for future development, enabling reflection on her purpose and career aspirations. What’s most striking is the importance Jarrett plays in the Obamas’ lives - she serves as a trusted advisor, mentor, and friend. After Barack Obama’s election, Jarrett even served as a trusted advisor throughout both his terms.
In my own life, Michelle Obama reminds me that deep connections - whether personal or professional - often catalyze tremendous growth. Moreover, Obama reminds us that the greatest joys in life come from people. She has a knack for meeting people and making them allies, and reminds me of the importance of building deep connections of all types.
(Also, I’m not sure what to make of the failure quote above - I think holds merit, but I’m unsure how to alleviate feelings of failure. Do you work harder? Switch directions? Accept it? I’m not sure if Obama ever resolves this tension.)