Becoming: A Must Read For Black History Month, Women’s History Month, & Beyond

For Christmas, my cousin gave me Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. I love Michelle Obama as much as the next person, but I’m very much a fiction person. I was excited, but honestly unsure if/when I would ever read it. Still, when it came time to fly back to Seattle, I packed Becoming in my carry on and boarded my flight, hoping to nap on my flight to Sacramento and dreading the long layover I had. When I landed in Sacramento, I had to face it. The book I was trying to read was bad. But there was Becoming, with Michelle Obama’s smiling face staring at me. I had some time to kill, and I love Michelle Obama, so I figured, hey, why not?

 

Best. Literary. Decision. Ever.

 

In my mind, Michelle Obama had always been somewhat of an enigma. She always seemed like this wildly intelligent woman who did things so effortlessly and always knew what to say and do. I was shocked to discover how relatable Michelle Obama is. And I don’t mean a laid-back, yeah-I-smoked-one-cigarette-and-now-I-think-I’m-cool relatable. I mean the stressed out, overthinking, I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on-right-now-but-gosh-darn-that’s-life-and-I’m-going-to-get-through-this-one-way-or-another relatable. She worked hard to achieve everything she did in life, and it shows. I guess because I didn’t really care too much about politics until the Obamas were leaving office (ignorance really is bliss), I kind of figured she just had it all, that it came easy to her. Becoming set me straight.

 

Michelle Obama has a big heart. She loves her family with every ounce of her being. She was nervous to leave home both for university and to move to Washington D.C. She followed her brother to college because she didn’t know what else to do. She went to law school, got a job she ended up hating, and then left it to pursue many other jobs. She didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she was determined to figure it out. She jumped from job to job, pursuing passion projects. I came into college knowing I wanted to be a creative writing major, and I’ve probably only doubted myself once, the very first time I told someone what I was majoring in and they replied, “Really? Why?” (Yes, they emphasized both words). I’m pretty confident in myself―or at least, I’ve perfected faking it until I make it. Becoming taught me that it’s okay to not be super confident sometimes. It’s okay to be an adult, a real adult, and have no idea what is going on. Probably, no one ever fully grasps what’s going on. We’re all just trying our hardest. And that matters more than anything: trying.

 

Impostor syndrome is something everyone, even Michelle Obama, suffers from. A common occurrence in Becoming is Obama finding herself in a situation that didn’t play out quite the way she thought it would. Her mind immediately jumps to that thought: Am I good enough? And everytime, she manages to convince herself, just long enough to get through it, Yes, I am. Fake it till you make it, right? In trying to convince herself that she’s good enough, that’s essentially what Obama did. She worked hard, made sure she belonged in every space she found herself in, and proved to herself that she is good enough. She didn’t take no for an answer. If a situation made her feel like she didn’t belong, she changed the system of it and created a new space, one that would accommodate her and people like her. She’s been doing this her whole life. Once, when she was in kindergarten, her entire class was brought up to the front of the class, one by one, shown the spelling of a color, and asked to read the word out loud. Obama was tripped up on the word “white,” and only two of her classmates were able to read all the colors out loud. She was frustrated. She knew that she knew all the words, and it was just the heat of the moment that got to her. The next morning, she demanded a do-over, eager to prove herself. Her determination to go above and beyond has been with her since she was a child, and the feeling only grew as she got older.

 

Still, at certain stages in her life, she still felt like an imposter. I think most of us believe by the time we’re real adults (whatever that means), we’ll stop having that insecurity. But Michelle Obama expresses this feeling well into Barack Obama’s second term, expanding it from, “Am I good enough?” to “Are we good enough?,” including her entire family. But each time, she―they―are good enough. The beautiful thing about her honesty in this, aside from her honesty, is the genuine effort she puts forward to make sure everyone she meets knows they are good enough, too. And while reading Becoming, readers are taught that we are good enough. That’s the magic of reading (and Michelle Obama) for you.

When I started reading Becoming, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I think part of me expected to only hear about her time as the First Lady, which is obviously absurd. The memoir actually consists of three sections: “Becoming Me,” “Becoming Us,” and “Becoming More.” “Becoming Me” tells her own story, of her childhood, her college years, her family, her close friends. “Becoming Us” is marked by the start of her relationship with Barack Obama and ends with Barack Obama becoming president. “Becoming More” moves through their years in the White House to the present. The way Obama writes is beautiful and personal, to the point where, when I talked about the book with my friends, I would say “Michelle” and “Barack,” as if we were lifelong friends. Michelle Obama gives such an intimate and honest look into her life―into every aspect of her life―that it really feels like you were right next to her every step of the way. It was amazing getting to see how she grew, getting to follow her exact (sometimes messy and imperfect) thought process, and being able to see how much I relate to her. If you’re looking for a book to read in celebration of Black History Month, or Women’s History Month, or just looking for a good book read, Becoming is it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel empowered, you’ll learn and grow, all with Ms. Michelle Obama. And isn’t that the dream?