In Search of Better Stories

I’ve read biographies of such giants as U.S. Grant, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon. But now it’s on to even higher peaks: Michelle Obama.

Wait, what?

Well, why not? She’s an interesting person with a fantastic story. Admittedly, it was on my wife’s book list and not mine, but in a moment of vulnerable curiosity I latched on to it for a quick perusal but then couldn’t put it down.

  • Michelle hates politics – Politics was her husband’s dream, not hers. She didn’t want Barack in state politics, or federal politics, or the presidency. She resisted each step of her husband’s rise to power. She wanted stability and predictability. She wasn’t interested in public scrutiny. She wanted a husband and father who would be present and available for her and the kids. Public life ruined her dreams of what happiness looked like. However, once She agreed to Barack’s goals and dreams,  She threw all of her support, energy, and talent into helping her husband succeed. She seems to harbour no resentment for choosing to follow Barack’s path, to the demise of her own. However, no one in the world was happier than Michele when Barack finished his 2nd term as president!
  • Michelle saw the importance of mentoring. At key moments in her own improbable rise out of poverty, Michelle could look back and see that there was always someone taking her under their wing, looking out for her, opening doors for her. Mentoring girls became a major project for her during her time in the White House. That and gardening.
  • Am I good enough? — This is the question she asks over and over in the book. Because of her gender, skin colour, and background of poverty, it was culturally a forgone conclusion that she would never be good enough to amount to much of anything. She resisted this stereotype of failure and worked hard to overcome it. She became successful in high school, which opened up doors for her to attend an Ivy league school. She threw herself into college academics. Her efforts paid off when she became a successful lawyer at a high-end law firm back in Chicago. Sadly what motivated her success was not a passion for the law or the positive embrace of a challenge; instead, it was the constant worry that she might not measure up. That she might not be good enough. Michelle had to learn what we all must learn, that a life worth based on performance and the opinions of others is no life at all. Eventually, Michelle was able to shed the damming “worth based on performance” chain around her neck and just accept herself for who she is. — A worthy goal for all of us.
  • Michelle and Barack seem to have a good marriage. But they’ve had to work on it. Barack grew up with an absent father and mother. So it was natural for him to think that long stretches away from his own family wouldn’t be a problem. It was. Michelle grew up in a tight-knit family where everyone was always home for supper. Michelle is a highly organized, neat freak. Barack can’t see the sense in making a bed and thinks clothes are perfectly fine crumpled on the floor. Barack is more easygoing, more prone to “wing” things. Conversely, Michele needs concrete plans and is much less spur-of-the-moment. They care deeply for each other and their marriage. They’ve worked on their difference and were not ashamed to go to marriage counselling for help with their issues. 
  • Michelle is not a fan of the whole public image thing. While in the White House, it was necessary for Michelle to have a full-time hairdresser, makeup person and wardrobe specialist. Because any flaws in her external persona would be exploited by the opposition. A bad hair day could potentially cost her husband the presidency! Who wants that kind of pressure? Not Michelle. She points out the wrongness of this hyper-focus on image but it’s hard to offer solutions to rectify it.
  • Lots of cool stories — Michelle is a great storyteller. From her perspective, we learn such things as when she and one of her kids tried unsuccessfully to sneak out of the White House. The time when she and Barack laughed their heads off about their oldest daughters first date. With a full attachment of secret service operatives trailing them and monitoring their every move, they knew there would be no funny business. The time she was able to finagle her way into going on a shopping trip to Target like an average human.
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