illustrated portrait of African American first lady Michelle Obama


by Michelle Obama

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

All this inborn confidence was admirable, of course, but honestly, try living with it. For me, coexisting with Barack’s strong sense of purpose—sleeping in the same bed with it, sitting at the breakfast table with it—was something to which I had to adjust, not because he flaunted it, exactly, but because it was so alive. In the presence of his certainty, his notion that he could make some sort of difference in the world, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit lost by comparison. His sense of purpose seemed like an unwitting challenge to my own.

In her memoir, Becoming, Michelle Obama reveals intimate details of what it is like to live in the White House—and be married to the President of the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Michelle met Barack when she mentored him at her job as an attorney at Sidley & Austin. She is career-driven, ambitious, and passionate about serving others, and she strives throughout her marriage with Barack to maintain her own identity despite his fame. 

For me, marriage was more like a full-on merger, a reconfiguring of two lives into one, with the well-being of a family taking precedence over any one agenda or goal. 

Though she believes that it is healthy for spouses in a marriage to have their own interests and goals, Michelle writes that “the pursuit of one person’s dreams should [never] come at the expense of the couple.” Her reluctance to sacrifice her ambitions for Barack’s led to some conflict in their marriage, as their crowded schedules frequently clashed, but they worked through these conflicts through couples therapy and their dedication to each other.

When it came to the home-for-dinner dilemma, I installed new boundaries, ones that worked better for me and the girls. We made our schedule and stuck to it. . . . It went back to my wishes for them to grow up strong and centered and also unaccommodating to any form of old-school patriarchy: I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us. 

After the birth of Barack and Michelle’s daughters, Michelle expanded her stance on marriage to apply to their relationship with their children as well. In order to provide consistency for Malia and Sasha, Michelle established a concrete schedule that did not depend on Barack’s ever-shifting political agenda. In the long run, this helped her married life: the schedule allowed her to regain “calmness and strength” in the political chaos. 

If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others. 

Throughout her life, and especially in the limelight of the White House, Michelle has faced criticism of everything from her race to her independence. Throughout her memoir, she emphasizes the necessity of forming one’s own identity, pursuing one’s ambitions, and choosing not to dwell on criticism: Michelle herself tries to “laugh this stuff off.”

We all play a role in this democracy. We need to remember the power of every vote. 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. 

During the 2016 election, Michelle supported Hillary Clinton in her campaign, hoping to help her win the presidency—and prevent Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump, from taking office. Trump ultimately won the election, and Michelle was disheartened. She retains...

(This entire section contains 834 words.)

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optimism despite the fact that Trump wishes to undo much of what Michelle and Barack achieved in the White House, believing that one person will not be able to reverse their progress. 

For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.

“Becoming,” according to Michelle Obama, is what individuals and countries should strive for, especially through developing greater acceptance of other people, opinions, and ideas. In supporting others and being willing to hear them out, as Michelle has sought to do throughout her life, a country can progress and become a better version of itself.