Wisdom//

Michelle Obama’s New Memoir, “Becoming,” Overflows With Wisdom About Relationships, Failure, and Living With Optimism

Becoming offers lots of insight into what makes Obama thrive. Here, her best pieces of advice for you.

Jonathan Bachman / Stringer / Getty Images
Jonathan Bachman / Stringer / Getty Images

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has finally written her memoir. Becoming is poised to top best seller lists, and the memoir provides a rare window into the life, thoughts, and insights of a beloved but historically private public figure.

Here are some of the most meaningful takeaways — and best pieces of life advice — from Becoming.

Michelle Obama on childhood and family:

Fan the flame of childhood feistiness

“I think my parents appreciated my feistiness and I’m glad for it. It was a flame inside me they wanted to keep lit.”

Give family connection space to grow

“Half the time I’d pull myself up on the headrest and jut my chin forward so that my face could be next to my dad’s and we’d have the exact same view. The car provided another form of closeness for my family, a chance to talk and travel at once.”

Let children in on real discussions

“My parents talked to us [me and my brother] like we were adults. They didn’t lecture, but rather indulged every question we asked, no matter how juvenile. They never hurried a discussion for the sake of convenience… As we grew, we spoke more about drugs and sex and life choices, about race and inequality and politics.”

Michelle Obama on self worth, self knowledge, and friendships:

Know you’re not alone when you ask yourself, “Am I good enough?”

Not enough. Not enough. It was doubt about where I came from and what I’d believed about myself until now. It was like a malignant cell that threatened to divide and divide again, unless I could find some way to stop it… With each little accomplishment, with every high school screwup I managed to avoid, my doubts slowly took leave.”

Accept others’ differences

“This is what a control freak learns inside the compressed otherworld of college, maybe above all else: There are simply other ways of being.”

Fight self-doubt and fear to fight failure

“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.”

Share difficult experiences as a powerful tool for healing

“A miscarriage is lonely, painful, and demoralizing, almost on a cellular level. When you have one, you will likely mistake it for a personal failure, which it is not, or a tragedy, which regardless of how utterly devastating it feels in the moment, it also is not. What nobody tells you is that miscarriage happens all the time, to more women than you’d ever guess, given the relative silence around it. I learned this only after I mentioned that I’d miscarried to a couple friends, who responded by heaping me with love and support, and also their own miscarriage stories. It didn’t take away the pain, but in unburying their own struggles, they steadied me during mine, helping me see that what I’d been through was no more than a normal biological hiccup.”

Michelle Obama on finding purpose:

Question why you’re on the path you’ve chosen

“This may be the fundamental problem with caring a lot about what others think:  It can put you on the established path — the my-isn’t that impressive path — and keep you there for a long time. Maybe it stops you from considering a swerve, because what you risk losing in terms of other people’s high regard can feel too costly.”

Look out for signs of burnout

“If I’d stopped to think about it, I might have realized that I was burned-out by school — by the grind of lectures, papers, and exam — and probably would have benefited from doing something different.”

Do what matters to you

"I knew what mattered to me. I didn't want to be some sort of well-dressed ornament who showed up at parties and ribbon cuttings. I wanted to do things that were purposeful and lasting."

Preserve your optimism

“I continue, too, to keep myself connected to a force that’s larger and more potent than any one election, or leader, or news story — and that’s optimism. For me, this is a form of faith, an antidote to fear.”

Michelle Obama on relationships:

Make room for compromise in your relationship

“It sounds a little like a bad joke, doesn’t it? What happens when a solitude-loving individualist marries an outgoing family woman who does not love solitude one bit? The answer, I’m guessing, is probably the best and most sustaining answer to nearly every question arising inside a marriage, no matter who you are or what the issue is: you find ways to adapt. If you’re in it forever, there’s really no choice.”

Get support from your partner

“[Barack’s] was the line voice telling me to just go for it, to erase the worries and go toward whatever I thought would make me happy…. Don’t worry, Barack was saying. You can do this. We’ll figure it out.

It’s healthy to admit your vulnerability

“When it came down to it, I felt vulnerable when [Barack] was away.”


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