I love memoirs. They challenge me to see the world from someone else’s point of view, to understand a new way of doing things or thinking.
So, when I saw a copy of Michelle Obama’s Becomingat a friends house, I decided to pick it up for the next Saturday Book Review. Politically, I am about as far from President Obama’s administration as you could be. But, a significant reason for reading a memoir like this is to see from someone else’s point of view.
Becomingis a well-written book with insight into the family life of the family of the 44th President of the United States and to much of the periphery of their leadership.
It is also the story of how an African-American from south Chicago met a Kenyan-American from Hawaii and his charm, charisma, and passion for the political process led them both to become our first black Presidential family.
Leadership Lessons Learned
Sometimes We Have to Be Comfortable in the Supporting Role
Michelle Obama had to balance the life of a Princeton and Harvard educated lawyer with a career of her own with the life of the primary household and child manager for the years that Barack was in office.
This is a key lesson that I think anyone looking to grow in life should learn: designating one parent as the at-home parent is key for most larger than life goals.
Yes, Michelle is a strong woman. Yes, she has her own career. But, no, she is not able to have an independent career and remain married to the President of the United States. This isn’t a gender thing, it’s the fact that some positions require so much energy that the entire family gets behind it, even if one member is the figurehead.
The Supporting Role Can Be More Meaningful
After Donald Trump became President, he worked to undo much of President Obama’s signature legislative legacy and executive policies. I was struck while reading Becoming that some of Michelle Obama’s silent work on the side is more likely to survive partisan pruning.
Will the White House’s Vegetable Garden remain?
Longer than the Iranian nuclear treaty.
Michelle was the First Lady of the United States and she never expressed the desire for power that Hillary Clinton was known for in Bill Clinton’s presidency. But, her quiet determination to do something for America’s children had a measurable and long-term impact in both legislative and private processes.
One of the things that attracted Michelle to Barack was the ease of movement that he had, he always portrayed a sense of confidence. Agree or disagree with him on policy, only a reactionary jerk would say that President Obama did not hold himself with presidential decorum.
If you are going to build a business, advance your career, or run for the most powerful position on the planet, you need to show the world a calm confidence in what you do.
Don’t Give Power to Naysayers
Michelle talks about the pain of being a target for conservative media; being a leader in politics today means that your opponents will throw everything at you.
But, she mentions how the goals and worldview they had going in as a couple were the same as when they left. She also talks about how Obama kept an even keel when hurtful coverage threatened to capsize her.
If you want to be in leadership, understand that naysayers will attack you, no matter what.
Read Lots of Books
One story that really stood out to me was when Michelle mentioned that Barack had to have a room where he could spread out his reading materials.
When they were first friends and she tried setting him up with friends at a happy hour, Barack was annoyed because of the chit-chat. He would rather read a book then talk about the social ladder of Chicago urbanites.
This is now my favorite thing about President Obama, and if I ever were to meet him, the first question I would ask is what is the best book he has read recently.
Understanding The Other
It was interesting to read about a politician who I mostly disagreed with from the viewpoint of his biggest fan. It was also interesting to see the comments Michelle made in the book about the other side in American politics.
If you have lived under a rock as far as social media, news, and modern politics, you might have missed the fact that America is deeply divided. As a conservative constitutionalist-libertarianish-almost-anarchist biblically-submitted white boy from a lower income family in rural Idaho, I tend to fall pretty heavily on the “other side” from the Obamas.
That’s why I love true reading.
Reading gives you a viewpoint you might never have. I am 100% certain that I will never ask the Obamas what they thought about the racism of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, even if I met them.
Why am I so confident?
Because Michelle talked about how a news media put together a timeline of racist sermons and it struck them to see from an outsiders point of view. Everybody puts up with their crazy uncle unless it’s someone else’s crazy uncle.
When I read her comments on that, I put the book down and cried. Why? Because I have felt judged because of my race and never before have I even heard someone acknowledge that my feelings are OK to have. Michelle Obama did in her acknowledgement that some of Rev. Wright’s speeches are vitriolic and racist.
valso helped me understand where I consumed news content, and probably shared, that was not political discourse but prejudiced crap.
Understanding the other requires that we listen, and books are one of the best ways to listen, and take the time to truly see where we can come together and where our disagreements can be made with politeness but firmness.
Understanding the other requires that we don’t give up our principles, but relish the discussion.
Whether you loved the Obamas and want a fun look back at their ascendency and time in office or you think almost all of Obama’s laws should be repealed, I highly recommend that you read this book, apply some of President Obama’s habits to your own public presence, and engage in the process of Becoming.