I was graced by the resilient, strong, and warm presence of Michelle Obama a few weekends ago. Her Becoming tour had been advertised on facebook for months, but I never thought I’d get the chance to actually go!
I got a community ticket a week prior from the APIA Scholars program as a former scholarship recipient, so I thank them and Michelle Obama from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity to hear such an inspiring story from a strong woman of color.
I can’t even begin to describe how much of her story resonated with me, which is why this post will be broken up into two parts: her journey before entering the White House, and how she is becoming herself today:
Becoming. A diverse set of speakers started the show with their own becoming story. I didn’t expect this at all and was blown away. I loved how all the speakers were locals in the Boston area, with some even from my own neighborhood. After each speaker shared their story, Michelle Obama took the stage and opened the talk with the meaning behind the title of her memoir:
She never became something. She was becoming something.
She emphasized how our journey to find our purpose in life isn’t linear nor finite, and that it shouldn’t be. People, especially at an early age, are often asked who they want to be. We’re often expected to know what to become but in reality we’re not supposed to know. In fact, we don’t simply become one thing. This is why we continue to live and to seek answers–to find our true selves and to continually learn and grow each day. There is so much comfort in hearing these words during a time where there is so much pressure to have a perfectly carved path as a soon-to-be- graduate. At the end of the day, it’s fine to not know and it’s okay to not have the answers all the time.
Living in South Side Chicago. Michelle Obama was raised in a working class household by loving, hardworking parents. I loved her perspective on her upbringing: “We either had everything or nothing–it’s how you look at it”. To me, I felt that growing up in Dorchester with friends who were also from working class, immigrant families built a sense of camaraderie. Sure, we didn’t have the luxury of attending rich private schools or had access to a “prestigious” network, but what took us far in our lives was our resilience.
She also emphasized how inspiring and hardworking her father was despite struggling with a disability. He took pride in coming to work every single day and kept his fire of resilience burning strong. This was the fire that helped Michelle Obama through her highs and lows and is the very fire that she is still kindling for so many people in this world.
The guidance counselor who tried to set the bar. Michelle Obama was a straight A-student who had her eyes on Princeton when she was applying to college but her guidance counselor thought otherwise, thinking that she wasn’t “Princeton material” despite all of her academic achievements.
What surprised me the most was hearing how much that had hurt her, and even today as someone so successful and confident in herself, how those comments still stung her. She shared how those assumptions and doubts have the power to prevent young people from achieving and striving for greater things. The bars that people place upon you can stir self-doubt in your capabilities and feed into your inner demons. Giving into the thoughts that tell you that you’re not good enough or that you don’t belong will become seemingly high barriers toward the aspirations you want to achieve.
What kept her going was her fire. Her stubbornness. Her desire to prove to the guidance counselor that she can very much attend and succeed at Princeton. More importantly, she proved to herself that she was capable and good enough. She got accepted to all of the colleges she applied to and went on to Princeton to continue her journey to become a lawyer.
Her struggle struck every single chord in me. Honestly this couldn’t have come at a better time than now in the midst of my graduate school applications (all of which have been submitted!!) and my fleeting time at Brown.
I would often let my own thoughts and ridiculous quantitative measures of “success” define my bar of intelligence and capabilities. My assumptions of not thinking that I belonged in elite spaces as a first generation college student from the working class still haunts me. Even now, I still have doubts on whether I’m good enough to succeed in graduate school, but after hearing her story, I want to prove to myself that I’m so much more capable than I think. I want to rekindle my fire and prove that my resilience will take me far in my own becoming journey.
Checking the boxes and achieving. This part particularly resonated with me mainly because of all the existential crises I’ve been dealing with lately. Michelle Obama was set on being a lawyer and sought out to do this early on. Her classmates on the other hand had pursued different paths or more roundabout ways toward a career that they wanted. For instance, she recalled a friend who wanted to be a high school coach for a sports team, to which she reacted “You’re going to use your Princeton degree to do that?” It simply didn’t make any sense to her at the time, or in other words, that unconventional paths toward success even existed or should be pursued.
I think a part of this is the grind for social and economic mobility. In my case, I feel a never-ending need to continually “succeed” to work towards a future with financial security and happiness. I feel indebted to the pain and work my family went through to give me the opportunity to shape my life into something meaningful, so naturally I wanted to use my resources to the fullest. However, being on the grind and reaching your checkpoints doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re also achieving happiness, and that’s something important to distinguish if there is a clear mismatch between the two. The end goal is also not always as well defined as you may imagine it to be, which was most definitely the case for Michelle Obama.
When she graduated from Princeton to become a lawyer, she realized that being a lawyer wasn’t what she thought it would be. She had been on the grind for so long and ended up in career that wasn’t well suited for her, and that wasn’t the end of the world. She realized this and adapted. She changed her trajectory. She wasn’t confined by the decisions she had made in the past, which again shows that having a non-linear life is perfectly normal. As someone so caught up in doing the right thing and wanting to end up in the right place, this was such a nice reminder for me to let go of these obsessive thoughts and to be more accepting of where my life wants to takes me. Life decisions are not as permanent as we perceive it to be, and it’s fine and normal to have multiple detours along your journey.
To prevent this post from becoming extremely long, I’ll end it here but thanks so much for reading and please stay tuned for part II!