Who is Michelle Obama? What’s her biggest accomplishment? How do you know her? How much do you know about her?
Most of us know her as the ex-first lady of the United States. But those who have followed her, who have heard her or read about her, who have worked with her, who have met her or have seen her, will tell you that the title of ‘First Lady’ probably speaks the least about her. I read her book ‘Becoming’ a couple of months ago when the realisation of Covid19 had just hit us. There are a lot of details about her childhood, her upbringing, her experiences, her relationships, that at first I thought, ‘can I skip this part?’
But as I picked up the pace, I realised how each sentence and the description of each moment added to the value of the book, how each of the stories helped her become what she is, and how each of those ‘truths’ inspire me and can inspire million others.
In the book, she says that at school her counselor told her to stop dreaming about Princeton College as it was way out of her league, even though she was excellent in her studies throughout. A little girl with hopes and dreams was told to let go of them, by someone whose profession was to enable and empower the very dreams.
This tells us that the world is not all fair. That prejudices and stereotypes are all pervasive and most often it’s the people closest to us, people who we admire and respect, who believe the least in us. These are the times when we owe the most to ourselves, these are the times when we need to be by our side.
There is a beautiful quote by Michelle Obama – “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”
I am an ambitious person but I wonder if I would have ever been or would ever be able to spend so many years of my life being by someone’s side and be defined by that. Michelle Obama literally re-defined ‘becoming’ an African-American, becoming a lawyer and becoming ‘the first lady’. When in one of her media encounters, she gave a fist bump to Barack Obama, it was interpreted as a terrorist fist jab. Imagine the distress of an honest person by such comments. I referred to her as honest because that’s what I draw of her and her book – honesty.
She could have chosen to back off in both the instances (including the interaction with the counsellor), but she decided otherwise. She knew it was her story and the only narrative that mattered the most was hers.
Though I know that many of us, at multiple occasions, get inspired by others’ life stories, by others’ achievements and struggles, the one person and one story we forget to refer and give due respect to is ‘our own’.
Own yourself, see yourself, respect yourself. No-one else owes it to you more than you do to yourself.