Some are destined to greatness while others are simply destined to support them on the journey. So it has been with Michelle Robinson Obama. Growing up in a tight-knit community of simple working class families from south Chicago helped nurture and guide her and her beloved brother, Craig, to find success. Their family lived on the upper floor of her Great Aunts house. By doing so, her parents could save for their children’s education. Craig attended a neighborhood catholic high school and eventually played basketball for Princeton on his way to earning an MBA degree.
How different her upbringing had been to that of her husbands, but yet their paths intersected at a crucial time in both their careers. In her new book, Becoming, she talks about all the early influences that left impressions on her young mind. It wasn’t until she had time to reflect on her “before” that she saw the bigger picture where destiny came a knocking many times. Her father was a city worker, who also had MS and yet never missed a day of work. Her mom was a “stay-at-home mom” who had taught Michelle to read by age 3, then returned to work when Michelle was in high school. Michelle had been selected to attend Chicago’s high performing magnet school, which required long daily bus rides across town. It was well into her successful career before she truly felt good enough. She’d held herself up to invisible standards and always with doubts. She was never late, she always passed the tests, and she always had another checked off box in her never ending list of accomplishments.
As Michelle matured into what made her tick, she discovered efficiency of doing her job wasn’t enough. She was good at it and handsomely paid in her high-profile law firm position. She started watching how other successful women handled their upward success in other fields. Then came Barack. After many months of being recruited by various Chicago law firms, including the one in which Michelle was working and tasked with some mentoring duties, Barack chose one more in step with his own ideals of public service. But a friendship was developing. Michelle had no time for a relationship. She was on a fast track to “become” what she hadn’t yet figured out. The more time she spent around Barack, the more she was able to observe about his character; the ease in which he moved both physically and socially intrigued her. He was confident without being put-offish. And he was cute, well-educated and living in Chicago.
In the next dozen years, both their careers went into overdrive. Michelle was doing work that gave her fulfillment. It was during these years that a strong base of supporters were being groomed, unknowingly, to be a catalyst of what was ahead. Between them, the right mix of people were integrated into their lives to propel the vision being laid out, as if destiny was orchestrating the entire string of events.
Michelle also realized her dream to become a mother after her and Barack found success with help from IVF pregnancy specialists. The job of juggling career and motherhood, even with watching her mentors navigate these waters, was still a challenge. Even though she cut back to half time work, the demands of her many obligations was not working. And, Barack had begun his involvement with politics, which took him away from home often to the Illinois State capital, along with his other obligations, like his law firm job and his university teaching classes. Life was speeding up. Michelle did not like politics, but it was becoming quite apparent that her husband did and was attracting national attention. Michelle’s mother became a willing helper with the girls on many occasions.
Becoming is a jewel of a read. Michelle has always had “the right stuff” and destiny was upon her. It wasn’t until Michelle was fully invested in her husband’s political run for President that she finally understood how she’d gotten there. She was the perfect vision of a smart and gracious partner and she finally knew she was good enough. Even though her own career had to be put on hold, she was more worried about the effects on her two daughters, who seemed to take everything in stride. As we know, it worked out in the best possible way. New opportunities to do the best work possible with heart and soul….this is what becoming more is. And she’s doing it her way with a renewed sense of purpose.
I can’t wait to see the next chapters. Becoming a beacon, to women young and old, has given her the platform to continuing to make a difference of becoming more.