Con­ver­sa­tion with Michelle Obama

Havelock North Village Press - - News - Tony Nielsen

In a life filled with mean­ing and ac­com­plish­ment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and com­pelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of Amer­i­cathe first African-Amer­i­can to serve in that role, she helped cre­ate the most wel­com­ing and in­clu­sive White House in his­tory, while also es­tab­lish­ing her­self as a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate for women and girls in the US and around the world, dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing the ways that fam­i­lies pur­sue health­ier and more ac­tive lives, and stand­ing with her hus­band as he led Amer­ica through some of its most har­row­ing mo­ments.

Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Car­pool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daugh­ters un­der an un­for­giv­ing me­dia glare.

In her mem­oir, a work of deep re­flec­tion and mes­meris­ing sto­ry­telling, Michelle Obama in­vites read­ers into her world, chron­i­cling 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. With unerring hon­esty and lively wit, she de­scribes her tri­umphs and her dis­ap­point­ments, both pub­lic and pri­vate, telling her full story as she has lived it in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and rev­e­la­tory, Be­com­ing is the deeply per­sonal reck­on­ing of a woman of soul and sub­stance who has steadily de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions and whose story in­spires us to do the same.

We asked her some ques­tions:

What was un­ex­pected about the writ­ing process?

The process turned out to be really mean­ing­ful for me. I spent a lot of time just re­flect­ing and think­ing, which is some­thing I just didn’t have much time to do for about a decade. Once Barack be­gan his cam­paign for pres­i­dent, ev­ery day felt like a sprint. So it was nice to de­com­press a lit­tle bit and ask my­self, “How did I get here? Where did my story take a turn?” I un­cov­ered a lot of smaller mo­ments — mo­ments that folks might not know about, but that I re­alised were really foun­da­tional to the woman I be­came.

What did you hope to ac­com­plish in writ­ing your mem­oir?

My main hope was to cre­ate some­thing that could be use­ful to other peo­ple, to give them some­thing they could use in their own lives. So I fo­cused on telling my story as hon­estly as I could. I’m not set­tling scores or giv­ing a po­lit­i­cal play-by­play. I hoped to bring peo­ple in­side the ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing up a work­ing-class black girl on the South Side of Chicago who be­came First Lady of the United States. It’s all of me, all right there on those pages, which means I feel a lit­tle vul­ner­a­ble know­ing what I’m putting out there. But I hope if I can share my story, with all its ups and downs, then other peo­ple might have the courage to share theirs, too.

You write can­didly that your time as a lawyer was not a happy pe­riod in your ca­reer. What ad­vice would you give peo­ple who are un­sure about their path and who need a lit­tle help fig­ur­ing out their pas­sion?

If you’re some­one who’s lucky enough to think about ful­fil­ment in your ca­reer — and there are a lot of peo­ple out there who aren’t — I think the best thing you can do is lis­ten to your­self. I mean, really, really lis­ten. You’ve got to make sure you’re not act­ing on some­one else’s ex­pec­ta­tions. That’s where I got stuck. I spent my early adult­hood check­ing the boxes I thought so­ci­ety ex­pected of me, be­fore I re­alised that it was mak­ing me mis­er­able. I went through a lot of in­tro­spec­tion. I did some jour­nalling. And I re­alised that what I really wanted to do was help peo­ple, so I set off on a ca­reer of pub­lic ser­vice. So what I’d say is do your best to lis­ten to your­self and tune out the rest.

Dur­ing your life you have ex­pe­ri­enced highs and lows but also so many unimag­in­able cir­cum­stances. How have you adapted to the un­pre­dictabil­ity of the jour­ney that has un­folded in your life?

I learned that some­times you’ve just got to throw your hands up and let the roller coaster do its thing. There’s no guide­book for any­thing, whether you’re jug­gling two lit­tle kids, a de­mand­ing job, and a hus­band who’s got big goals — or you’re par­ent­ing two slightly older kids while fig­ur­ing out which form of ad­dress to use with the prime min­is­ter seated next to you at din­ner.

You write about your in­ner strug­gle, at times ques­tion­ing whether or not you’re good enough. Do you have any in­put on how to quell self-doubt?

I may have had some suc­cesses in my life, but I can still feel the twinge of em­bar­rass­ment from when I mis­spelled a word in front of my class when I was in kinder­garten. I still re­mem­ber the doubts I had about my­self as a work­ing-class mi­nor­ity stu­dent on an af­flu­ent, mostly white col­lege cam­pus. I think we all carry mo­ments like that — and let me tell you, they don’t dis­ap­pear when you sud­denly find your­self speak­ing to crowded are­nas and meet­ing the Queen of Eng­land.

What’s helped is get­ting older and liv­ing through some of those doubts, and re­al­is­ing they’re not the end of your life. In fact, they can be a new be­gin­ning. It doesn’t make the feel­ings any less dif­fi­cult in the mo­ment, of course, but in the end, self-doubt can ac­tu­ally be use­ful, as long as we don’t let it over­whelm the way we think about our­selves. It’s all a part of be­com­ing.

Photo / Getty Im­ages

Michael Hutchence.

Be­com­ing Michelle Obama Pen­guinRan­dom­House, $55

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