Michelle Obama’s Becoming is personal, interesting, fascinating, and real. Even though I didn’t listen to the audiobook, narrated by Michelle herself, I felt like she was letting me and only me into her life. Welcoming me as a friend. Sharing lessons with me that I will value for the rest of my life.
It was jarring, really, to realize that millions of other people probably feel the same way. Such is Michelle Obama’s incredible warmth and influence.
Even though I’ve never met her in person, I hope I get to one day. For now I’ll treasure the 5 lessons she taught me in the pages of Becoming.
1. It’s Okay To Be Different Than Your Partner
This is where you’re probably going—well yeah, of course. But let me tell you something: reading about Michelle Obama’s love of cleanliness and order butting up against Barack’s love of chaos felt like reading about my husband and me.
He doesn’t necesarily love chaos, but I absolutely love for the house to be clean. As in, I wipe down the tops of our cabinets and wash our shower curtain liner with bleach every single week. If a drawer starts to look remotely crumby, it gets a deep clean. My brain feels clean and organized when my living space is.
My husband’s brain feels just fine with a little bit of mess and dirt.
And that’s okay. Now that we have a toddler, my standard of order has lowered (like Michelle’s did during her kids’ toddler years), which is probably a good thing. My partner and I are figuring out how to ask for help from each other. How to split housework in an efficient way. How to split toddler-related duties fairly.
We’ll probably keep working at this balance until the end of our days. And so will Barack and Michelle and every other family on earth because that’s how life works.Five lessons I learned from reading Michelle Obama's book #Becoming. #amreading Click To Tweet
2. It’s Okay to Advocate For Yourself
I loved reading about Michelle’s climb through the Ivy League world, loved watching her land a job at the Sidley & Austin law firm, where she earned enough money for luxuries she hadn’t enjoyed as a kid but felt…unsatisfied.
I loved even more reading about how she worked to find a more fulfilling job, and when she found one with the nonprofit, then-startup Public Allies, she negotiated a salary that worked for her. “I couldn’t be shy or embarrassed about my needs,” she says in Becoming. “I still had roughly $600 of student debt to pay off each month on top of my regular expenses, and I was married to a man with his own load of law school loans to cover” (177).
Recently I started getting serious about freelance writing, and because of Michelle Obama I have either negotiated a pay rate that works for me or turned down job offers that didn’t pay what my work is worth.
A lifelong avoider of conflict, I’m now learning how to advocate for myself (and for my son—which is incredibly important as he inches toward his school years).
3. It’s Okay to Leave Patriarchy In The Dust
I should already know this one. I’m a feminist. But coming from a faith community that really clings to its patriarchy, I’ve read or skimmed way too many religious marriage books where the moral of the story is that the wife needs to just let her husband be and understand that he doesn’t do laundry/play with the kids/change diapers/be home in time for dinner/etc etc because he’s “wired differently”.
And here we have Michelle Obama, who stops asking her girls to wait up for Dad to get home and instead tells Dad he needs to get home at a certain time if he wants to see his kids: “It went back to my wishes for [my girls] to grow up strong and centered and also unaccommodating to any form of old-school patriarchy,” Michelle writes.
She drives the point in deep: “I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us” (207).
This, this, this.
4. Friendships Between Women Are Everything
Michelle Obama has an amazing group of woman friends that she intentionally invests in and makes time for. Before reading the book, I had the notion that a spouse should be enough of a friend for anyone, and at first I felt guilty that that isn’t true for me. While I love spending time with my husband, I 100% need my woman friend time.
In college, I laughed the most when I spent time with my woman friends. There’s a picture of me on a boat going from Denmark to Norway that I just love. I’m nineteen, and my friend and I have been goofing off like a pair of ten-year-old girls on the top deck of the ship. I’m laughing so hard I can’t stand up straight.
Now that I’m a mother, I cling to my friendships with other mothers. I feel eternally lucky to have found such a warm, funny, open, honest group of mamas where I live in Alaska. Yet I still cherish my non-mama friends, like the one who took that picture of me, and my younger sister, and my former students.
Like Michelle Obama, I wish these beautiful friendships on every single woman in the world.
5. Mentorship Is Crucial
When I was in high school, several women in my community banded together and created a mentor program. Each woman took on about two or three high school girls, and she’d spend time, effort, and money making sure that girl-almost-woman felt loved and supported throughout the school year.
Even though my mom was a rock for me in high school, having an extra, trusted woman mentor made me feel extra-loved, extra-listened-to, extra-cared-for. I’ll always value each of the women who mentored me.
So it delighted me to read about Michelle Obama’s mentorship program in the White House, where she and other powerful women “spent hours talking with [younger women] in a big circle, munching popcorn and trading our thoughts about college applications, body image, and boys. No topic was off-limits” (357).
This is what every teenage girl needs. It’s the beginning of those priceless woman friendships that carry us through our highest and lowest times, without judgment and with support and understanding.
I checked Becoming out from the library, but I’m going to buy myself a copy for my birthday because books are friends and this book is a friend I need on my shelf.