Hello friends. This post is a collection of quotes from the book - Becoming by Michelle Obama. Becoming is a memoir, in which Michelle Obama chronicles the experiences that have shaped her - from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.
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.
When you're First Lady, America shows itself to you in its extremes. I've been to fund-raisers in private homes that look more like art museums, houses where people own bathtubs made from gemstones. I've visited families who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and were tearful and grateful just to have a working refrigerator and stove. I've encountered people I find to be shallow and hypocritical and others - teachers and military spouses and so many more - whose spirits are so deep and strong it's astonishing. And I've met kids - lots of them, all over the world - who crack me up and fill me with hope and who blessedly manage to forget about my title once we start rooting around in the dirt of a garden.
Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It's vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.
I understand now that even a happy marriage can be a vexation, that it’s a contract best renewed and renewed again, even quietly and privately - even alone.
Running for president, I understand now, is an all-consuming, full-body effort for every person involved, and good campaigns tend to involve a stage-setting, groundwork-laying preamble, which can add whole years to the effort.
I was someone who liked things to be neat and planned in advance, and from what I could tell, there seemed to be nothing especially neat about a life in politics.
I’ve been lucky enough now in my life to meet all sorts of extraordinary and accomplished people - world leaders, inventors, musicians, astronauts, athletes, professors, entrepreneurs, artists and writers, pioneering doctors and researchers. Some (though not enough) of them are women. Some (though not enough) are black or of color. Some were born poor or have lived lives that to many of us would appear to have been unfairly heaped with adversity, and yet still they seem to operate as if they’ve had every advantage in the world. What I’ve learned is this: All of them have had doubters. Some continue to have roaring, stadium-sized collections of critics and naysayers who will shout I told you so at every little misstep or mistake. The noise doesn’t go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals.
Barack had a smile that seemed to stretch the whole width of his face. He was a deadly combination of smooth and reasonable.
Listening to Barack, I began to understand that his version of hope reached far beyond mine: It was one thing to get yourself out of a stuck place, I realized. It was another thing entirely to try and get the place itself unstuck.
Life with Barack would never be dull. I knew it even then. It would be some version of banana yellow and slightly hair-raising. It occurred to me, too, that quite possibly the man would never make any money.
It hurts to live after someone has died. It just does. It can hurt to walk down a hallway or open the fridge. It hurts to put on a pair of socks, to brush your teeth. Food tastes like nothing. Colors go flat. Music hurts, and so do memories. You look at something you’d otherwise find beautiful - a purple sky at sunset or a playground full of kids - and it only somehow deepens the loss. Grief is so lonely this way.
Life is short and not to be wasted. If I died, I didn’t want people remembering me for the stacks of legal briefs I’d written or the corporate trademarks I’d helped defend. I felt certain that I had something more to offer the world.
I had little faith in politics. Politics had traditionally been used against black folks, as a means to keep us isolated and excluded, leaving us undereducated, unemployed, and underpaid.
Inspiration on its own was shallow; you had to back it up with hard work.
Chaos agitated me, but it seemed to invigorate Barack. He was like a circus performer who liked to set plates spinning: If things got too calm, he took it as a sign that there was more to do. He was a serial over-committer, I was coming to understand, taking on new projects without much regard for limits of time and energy.
Barack, I've come to understand, is the sort of person who needs a hole, a closed-off little warren where he can read and write undisturbed. It's like a hatch that opens directly onto the spacious skies of his brain. Time spent there seems to fuel him. [...] For him, the Hole is a kind of sacred high place, where insights are birthed and clarity comes to visit.
I didn't much appreciate politicians and therefore didn't relish the idea of my husband becoming one. Most of what I knew about state politics came from what I read in the newspaper, and none of it seemed especially good or productive. [...] In general, I thought of lawmakers almost like armored tortoises, leather-skinned, slow moving, thick with self-interest. Barack was too earnest, too full of valiant plans, in my opinion, to abide by the hardscrabble, drag-it-out rancor that went on inside the domed capitol downstate in Springfield. In my heart, I just believed there were better ways for a good person to have an impact. Quite honestly, I thought he’d get eaten alive.
When there’s a baby in the house, time stretches and contracts, abiding by none of the regular rules. A single day can feel endless, and then suddenly six months have blown right past.
This I know for sure about my husband: You don’t dangle an opportunity in front of him, something that could give him a wider field of impact, and expect him just to walk away. Because he doesn’t. He won’t.
Barack was a black man in America, after all. I didn’t really think he could win.
All of us - Barack and I as well as the campaign team - understood long before his announcement that regardless of his political gifts a black man named Barack Hussein Obama would always be a long shot.
I believed in my husband and what he could do. I knew how much he read and how deeply he thought about things. [...] he was exactly the kind of smart, decent president I would choose for this country, even if selfishly I’d have rather kept him closer to home all these years.
The more popular you became, the more haters you acquired. It seemed almost like an unwritten rule, especially in politics, where adversaries put money into opposition research - hiring investigators to crawl through every piece of a candidate’s background, looking for anything resembling dirt.
There is no handbook for incoming First Ladies of the United States. It’s not technically a job, nor is it an official government title. It comes with no salary and no spelled-out set of obligations. It’s a strange kind of sidecar to the presidency, a seat that by the time I came to it had already been occupied by more than forty-three different women, each of whom had done it in her own way.
I was humbled and excited to be First Lady, but not for one second did I think I’d be sliding into some glamorous, easy role. Nobody who has the words "first" and "black" attached to them ever would. I stood at the foot of the mountain, knowing I’d need to climb my way into favor.
There’s an age-old maxim in the black community: You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as far. As the first African American family in the White House, we were being viewed as representatives of our race. Any error or lapse in judgment, we knew, would be magnified, read as something more than what it was.
People ask what it’s like to live in the White House. I sometimes say that it’s a bit like what I imagine living in a fancy hotel might be like, only the fancy hotel has no other guests in it - just you and your family.
The White House, one learns, operates with the express purpose of optimizing the well-being, efficiency, and overall power of one person - and that’s the president.
I love talking to my husband across a small table in a low-lit room. I always have, and I expect I always will. Barack is a good listener, patient and thoughtful. I love how he tips his head back when he laughs. I love the lightness in his eyes, the kindness at his core. Having a drink and an unrushed meal together has always been our pathway back to the start, to that first hot summer when everything between us carried an electric charge.
Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses [...], swapped back and forth and over again.
Life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. Not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime. We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.
A First Lady’s power is a curious thing - as soft and undefined as the role itself. And yet I was learning to harness it. I had no executive authority. I didn’t command troops or engage in formal diplomacy. Tradition called for me to provide a kind of gentle light, flattering the president with my devotion, flattering the nation primarily by not challenging it. I was beginning to see, though, that wielded carefully the light was more powerful than that. I had influence in the form of being something of a curiosity - a black First Lady, a professional woman, a mother of young kids. People seemed to want to dial into my clothes, my shoes, and my hairstyles, but they also had to see me in the context of where I was and why. I was learning how to connect my message to my image, and in this way I could direct the American gaze.
America is not a simple place. Its contradictions set me spinning. I’d found myself at Democratic fund-raisers held in vast Manhattan penthouses, sipping wine with wealthy women who would claim to be passionate about education and children’s issues and then lean in conspiratorially to tell me that their Wall Street husbands would never vote for anyone who even thought about raising their taxes.
A transition is exactly that - a passage to something new. A hand goes on a Bible; an oath gets repeated. One president’s furniture gets carried out while another’s comes in. Closets are emptied and refilled. Just like that, there are new heads on new pillows - new temperaments, new dreams. And when your term is up, when you leave the White House on that very last day, you’re left in many ways to find yourself all over again.
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. It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.