I have always admired Michelle Obama from a distance and watched her work with children and how she performed her duties beside her husband as First Lady of the United States. When this book was launched, it felt like I could now know Michelle Obama not just from a distance but up close. I wasn’t wrong.
The book opens up with Michelle sharing deeply about her childhood. First thing that struck me was how normal her childhood was. She had very loving parents who raised her with all the love and care in the world. She lived in a small apartment and experienced everything a child could possibly experience. She talked about her fears and how the country was (and maybe) still dipped in racism. Her father and grandfather were products of a society that were hostile to blacks and wanted their children to excel in ways that they did not. This included teaching their kids to pronounce their words fully and not shorten them. This made someone actually question Michelle’s blackness. She does not mince words in talking about racial issues and as a reader, you will find them amusing sometimes bewildering.
As a Nigerian reading this book, I still could relate to many issues in the book because it speaks deeply of human concerns especially for a woman (irrespective of nationality or race) who is still trying to navigate her way through the maze of life. There are so many life lessons that this book speaks about but I will limit myself to four.
- Lesson 1: LOVE IS WORK. YOU HAVE TO WORK TO SHOW YOU LOVE. Love does not just stop at a feeling in fact more than ever I saw Michelle’s work as driven by her love for family and herself. Yes, you have got to accept yourself and love yourself before you can do the same for others. Michelle had grown into a woman who her parents had taught to be independent and make her own decisions. She had learnt to accept who she was and what she wanted to do. It was this acceptance of herself and vision that made her leave a high paying job just so she could have closer relationships with people and help them find their own way in life. This love is seen in the way she raised her daughters, putting them first before others. Her love for her husband and his love for her made them work hard at their marriage despite the challenges they faced as Barack Obama pursued his dreams as a politician. Love takes a lot of work.
- Lesson 2: YOUR PARTNER (SPOUSE) MUST BE BENEFICIAL TO YOUR GROWTH AS YOU ARE TO HIM/HER: Michelle and Barack had a relationship where both of them enhanced each other. Barack kept pushing Michelle to do what she felt she really wanted to do despite the risks. He was her cheerleader. Though, Michelle had reservations about Barack Obama’s political ambitions, she could not ignore the feeling that she knew that Barack was made for this. She could not ignore the zeal and passion he had for his country and knew that he would not be happy until he did what he felt he had to do. She supported him and helped in all his campaigns. Partners must be strong support systems for each other. This is a basis for a strong marriage and family.
- Lesson 3: FAMILY IS EVERYTHING! Michelle came from a close knit family where families gathered together every time but it wasn’t the same for Barack who did not have the opportunity to truly know his father and his mother lived in far away Indonesia. Michelle had issues with Barck’s constant absence from home and she really wanted him close to the girls and herself. In fact, this made them seek counsel and Michelle had to insist that dinner would be by 6:30pm and it was Barack who had to learn to keep up with that and come home early. Everything was about her family. She wanted to protect the girls from the scrutiny of the public and desperately wanted them to enjoy childhood just as she did. It was difficult but she learnt overtime how to navigate these problems. Her brother Craig defended her and did all he could to protect her. Michelle’s parents sacrificed so much so that Craig and Michelle could attend Ivy League schools despite the fact her father worked at a water plant, he wanted the best for his kids. Family is important for anyone who really seeks happiness. Michelle cherished her family and it motivated a lot of her decisions even as first lady. Sasha’s diagnosis in the hospital when she was young led Michelle to begin a campaign to reduce child obesity. At the end of any career, campaign, work life, you still come back to family.
- Lesson 4: FOLLOW YOUR HEART. Michelle studied law and got into a good law firm which is where she met Barack Obama. She began to question what she was doing and realised that she wanted more. She would rather be in contact with people, helping them, than just interacting with documents which was pretty much her job. She resigned and worked in non-profits and as the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago and the Vice President for Community and External Affairs of the University of Chicago Medical Center and she made tremendous impact. Your passion charts the pathway for your personal fulfilment. Her heart led her to choose Obama, and her heart led her to champion great causes and her heart led her to being one of the most accomplished first ladies of the United States.
There are so many lessons to learn from Michelle Obama’s life that this review has not captured. Michelle’s writing is simple yet down to earth. She exposes her vulnerabilities and is not afraid to own up to her mistakes. She clears the air about issues that she felt needed to be made right just like the episode with the Queen of England, her speeches that were unfairly criticized and taken a lot out of context. But beyond all these, Michelle Obama shows us that life can be lived well in spite of challenges, obstacles and criticisms.
I would recommend this book to anyone seeking knowledge, empathy and wisdom. Well done Michelle Obama!