“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.”
Michelle Obama, Becoming.
As I was preparing to embark on the few weeks left of my annual leave, I was making mental notes of the things I needed to achieve before returning back to work. After a much needed rest, top on my list was to ensure I completed the book I had started reading, start & complete reading a new book and publish a post on my blog. Or how else do I convince myself I still love to read and write.
While I had an idea of the post I wanted to write, I had not decided on the book to read. Coincidentally, the week I started my leave was the same week Michelle Obama’s autobiographical memoir, Becoming was released. Everyday as I went through my news items on Google Discover I would read a newspaper article providing insight on the book – if it wasn’t on how she and her husband conceived their kids through IVF, then it would be on how they went through marriage counselling at a point in time. The romance kept building until I got a copy of the book and began to read for myself.
Even till this moment, I am yet to fully conceive the idea for the post I had intended to write. It then became very easy to conclude on writing a post to share lessons I picked from the book.
In discussing Becoming, I would group the things I learnt under two broad headings – living and loving.
When we read biographies and autobiographies one of the things we seek to achieve is get an insight into how others lived their lives and what life lessons we can glean from them – what to emulate and pitfalls to avoid, and Becoming did a good deal of that – giving us access to the lives of America’s first African-American First Lady, and her husband, America’s first African-American President. Two life lessons I picked from the book are:
a. It’s okay to not have it all figured
Don’t start by getting me wrong on this. I am a firm believer in the saying that failing to plan is planning to fail. I sincerely do not advocate that people leave their lives to chances. However, I have also seen life rip though great plans with reckless abandon leading me to adopt the pragmatic view that leaves room for deviations and not give myself knocks for missing targets, and Becoming reinforces that. It’s why I said it’s okay to not have it “all” figured, that is, go ahead and have some figured, but don’t be too hard on yourself because there are still grey areas – blank spots that would be left un-filled. The best of us, Becoming reveals, don’t have it all figured out.
In Becoming, we come across two individuals who seem to have differing world views on how they approach the future. Michelle, who refers to herself as a detail person, the sort of person that plans for thirty (30) years in a row and ticks boxes as she achieves her goals, with one leading to the next and then another. And then there is Barack who takes on each challenge as it comes, with each challenge showing the path to follow. This is how Michelle describes Barack’s approach, “he was on some sort of quest, though he didn’t yet know where it would lead.”
Despite her knack for details, Michelle discovers after putting every thing into her dream of becoming a lawyer that the practice of law does not give her fulfilment! And Barack too, who never planned for a life in politics found himself offering to serve in the highest political office. And together, they both found themselves in the White House, without having that in their original plan.
Flexibility is key to life. In the road to fulfilment, we might make some detours, get some knocks, encounter some set backs – but none of these mean we have failed, or even that we are failing.
b. Live prepared
Does that sound contradictory to the first lesson? Even if does, good. Life is one big ball of oxymoron.
On July 27, 2004, Barack Obama, “a complete nobody” in Michelle’s own words, gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. This was the 17-minutes address that shot Obama to limelight and announced him to the world, I know so because even the media headlines in Nigeria picked it.
The aftermath of the speech left the world seeing Obama as an overnight success since he was only a state senator and just on his way to be coming a US senator, but the wife showed us in Becoming that he had spent years working and preparing for such a day as that. She wrote, “over years, I’d watched him inhale books, newspapers and ideas… He’d stowed every piece of it… He’d been working at this thing, quietly and meticulously, as long as I’d known him.” Overnight success is a myth. No one stumbles into success. It might be interesting to note that Barack wrote his first book, Dreams from my Father nine years before that speech. After the speech, people went for the book and fetched it a spot on the New York Times bestseller list.
Whatever you do, keep at it, ensuring that you’re getting better, someday it will lead the world to your doorstep.
Part of what Michelle and Barack Obama have come to represent is the possibility of a faithful and lasting marriage. They have been able to stay in the eyes of the public and stay out of sexual scandals. It would therefore be good to learn what has helped sustain their relationship, and for me I was able to pick two things about their relationship which I discuss below.
a. Marry someone you love like crazy
Yeah, not just someone you love but someone you love like crazy because some days you need the ‘crazy’ to carry on.
There are several angles to relationships, one of which is physical connection. We are physical beings and have physical qualities that we find appealing, this physical angle matters as much as the other more serious angles, for this has a way of sustaining the fire in the relationship.
I share in the belief that in matters of love we should have standards and keep to them. In telling us about what she wanted in her dream man Michelle wrote extensively, “I knew what I wanted but couldn’t find the words. I hoped that someday my feelings for a man would knock me sideways, that I’d get swept into the upending, tsunami-like rush that seemed to power all the best love stories… I wanted to believe that there was a guy who’d materialize and become everything to me, who’d be sexy and solid and whose effect would be so immediate and deep that I’d be willing to re-arrange my priorities.” And it would seem that our princess got her prince charming.
In my opinion, I believe that many of us set out with the qualities we desire in our partners but begin to drop them one by one due to certain pressures. When Michelle talks about Barack you could almost feel the tinge in her voice. Her expectations helped her identify her man when he showed up on the scene, even though he had to still measure up to the indices on other areas, because ‘crazy in love’ doesn’t put food on the table.
b. Marry not just for the present
When Michelle met Barack, she was already a junior associate with a high-end law firm while Barack just finished his first year of law school, and on top of that, as is already widely known, she was assigned to be his mentor during his summer stint with the firm. Also, she was already making money and driving a Saab while he was driving what she referred to as a thing – “a snub-nosed, banana-yellow Datsun he’d bought used on his loan-strapped student budget. When he turned the key, the engine revved and the car spasmed violently before settling into a loud, sustained juddering that shook us in our seats” and also had “a rusted-out, four-inch hole in the floor.” Added to the list, Barack smoked, an habit Michelle considers dumb. Talk about a raw diamond standing before you that may well go unrecognized, but not Michelle. She went ahead to marry Barack even though it meant that after their wedding, he moved in into her apartment.
Why? You may ask. Because she saw potential in him, something we should bother looking for in a lover and not some material assets. Let me allow Michelle describe how she saw Barack, “to me, he was sort of like a unicorn-unusual to the point of seeming almost unreal. He never talked about material things, like buying a house or a car or even new shoes.”
As we say around here, marry someone with a vision, and not the one with only a television.
Thanks Michelle for finding your voice, owning your voice and using that voice to share Becoming with us.
I am ‘Seun Alade