Am I Good Enough? Yes I Am.
I have never been a huge fan of biographies. Having read a few in the past featuring “big names” like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs; they are good books on interesting people but I always seemed to walk away with the same inclination. That these people were special. That from a young age the idea that they would go on to do awe-inspiring things was just a given; either because of their intellect, circumstance, or the fact that they were just somehow different than everybody else.
Reading their stories the main takeaways I always got was more on the de-mystification of their rise to power; rather than being able to understand them as people. Purposefully or not these books always seemed to elevate their subjects beyond the mortal realm, situating them among a pantheon of technology-gods.
That was not the inclination I got when I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Her book reads differently. Beyond the obvious fact that she is not in the tech-industry, in her book she comes off as more personable and relatable. The apparent purpose of the book not being to praise her laurels – of which she has many – but rather to offer her perspective on what it was like to be the first African-American First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS), the events that led up to that, as well as the aftermath since she’s left the White House.
It may seem childish to say; but when you think about famous and successful people, you never really give much weight to the problems they face. You often come off with this impression that they have no problems and that they are just successful by default. Of course at an intellectual level I know that these people must have encountered challenges along the way. But it always seemed more like minor inconveniences rather than major roadblocks. These problems never really had the potential to fully stall the subject of the biography; rather it was just another thing that they had to do.
In her book, Obama goes into vivid detail on all of the challenges she’s faced. From growing up in the south side of Chicago, to going to an Ivy League school, to working up the corporate ladder as a lawyer. And doing all of this while being both Black and female in a world dominated by old White men. As a result of this, one one of the main through lines in Obama’s book was her constant grappling with the concept of being good enough. Whether it was attending high school, being one of the few Black women at Princeton, or balancing the responsibilities of being both FLOTUS and a mother; Obama kept facing the same question, “Am I good enough?”
The inspiration from reading Obama’s book doesn’t come from the fact that she’s overcome these obstacles. But it’s the vulnerability of sharing the fact that these were not easy obstacles to overcome. She needed help overcoming them. It is a direct antithesis to the concept that we have to always be “OK all the time”. It is alright to not be OK. It is alright to need help. By taking the help and support of those around us, we can be stronger. So when faced with these challenges, and faced with this question of “Am I good enough?” It is because of a combination of friends, family, and hard work, that the answer can be “Yes I am."
Obama’s journey through public life has not been easy. As she writes in her book it was rife with challenges and obstacles. Some that simply come with being married to the “Commander and Chief”, and others that are unique to her experience as being the first Black FLOTUS. And that is one thing that I appreciate about how Obama chose to depict her time in the White House. In her book she writes with a level of vulnerability and openness that you don’t often see. Acknowledging that sometimes things got to her. She is not infallible. She made mistakes. But that despite those mistakes she still picked herself back up and committed to doing better.
In some ways, I see a lot of myself in Michelle Obama. There are definitely a lot of things that are different about us – I for one, will never know the pleasure of being married to Barack Obama – but I feel like we have more similarities than differences. Which I think is the main ethos of her story. While she has had a unique life, she still went through multiple experiences that everyone goes through. She tells a story that asserts that there is more that unites us than that which divides. While her experience is different, deep down, she is no different than anyone else.
After reading Obama’s book, I then took the plunge and listened to her podcast that she released on Spotify. In it she covers similar ground to which she described in her book, but she does so with the benefit of various guests. Her husband, girlfriends, mentors/mentees, brother, and mother, all make appearances to add an extra bit of color and perspective.
In both her book and podcast there are moments of vulnerability, of pain. Obama concedes that she is not perfect. She has suffered and felt anguish. She faltered. And she writes and talks about it. She sends the signal that it is ok to have problems. It is ok to have moments of weakness, but they do not define us. It is how we overcome and get back up that defines us. It is how we persist despite our weaknesses that define us.
Funny story, the entire reason I read this book was because I saw an interview between her husband, Barack Obama, and Stephen Colbert. I found it funny when Obama commented that because publishers were bundling his new book with his wife’s it had become impossible for his new book to ever outsell hers. I got a nice chuckle out of that and decided to buy her book. That was ultimately a good decision.