Michelle's Becoming, and the price for 'success'

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

When I heard Michelle Obama was releasing a memoir, on her journey to becoming the great Madame Obama we know, it was never a question of "if" I was buying the book. It was when.

Thankfully, I got it from one of my brothers as one of my last year's birthday gifts (he's an avid Michelle fan too). I stashed it away for when I'd go on my no-laptop vacay, to soak in the awesomeness it was.

And I was not disappointed.

I was so filled reading her memoir, that till date, I have not been able to put in enough words the effect it had on me.

The intersectionality of how closely my life mirrors hers, and how I could draw lessons from her - a young black female lawyer in North America, from an average middle-income family, with eyes and mind set on achieving greatness... despite prejudicial and gender-based bars set in tow.

What struck me the most was the authenticity with which she laid out challenges she faced.  You know… those raw, vulnerable experiences that power career women like us are horrified to share?

The struggles of conceiving children as a working woman. The pain of being labelled as "manly", for exhibiting strength. The unkindness of having every single action filtered through the eye of the needle reserved for "uppity, black, women" who fail to "know their place" and "watch their tone", in their quest for progress, as their other counterparts. And the guilt in applying opportunity cost, whilst balancing out family life with work life.

(Deep Sigh)

Michelle's memoir was raw, her vulnerability refreshing.

Like a bobbing gold-fish, I kept nodding throughout while reading it, almost screeching out "Yes!" in the plane, in concordance with one shared anecdote or the other.

To be a bit of a critic though, the latter part of the memoir became almost about Barack, and less about Michelle herself. But should one be surprised?? After all... they are each other's better half, and like it or not, the trajectory of her life was determined to a large extent by her agreement to share the vision for his own life.

It was totally pleasing to see a documentary on the book being released on Netflix, particularly during these "lockdown" times.

(Anything to ease our minds of the Rona, pleasssssssse!)

To relive parts of the memoir in living colour, and be filled instantaneously both with pride and humility at what this home girl from the Southside of Chicago has accomplished. Her not just being an appendage to the once (still!) most powerful man on earth, but using her position to effect real change in America, and touch the lives of (black) women worldwide.

The one part of her documentary (as was also indicated in her Memoir) which has seemed to spark mixed emotions - both outrage and applause - is her concession that having her children was a sacrifice, which was a (sort of) set-back to her career.

I'm not sure what exactly the outrage is. Is it because we as working women never ACTUALLY speak out on these things???

Ok. Let me break it down:

Let's say Woman A and Man B are both vying for the Assistant VP position in a company, which position is sought to be filled at December 2020.

In February 2020, Woman A takes one year off for her maternity leave to focus on having her child.

Coincidentally, Man B's wife (working in a different company) also gave birth in February. However, rather than the one year Woman A had to take off, Man B took only 2 weeks’ vacation paternity leave, and was back in the office, bright and shiny for the rest of the year.

Guess who is more likely to be given that Assistant VP position by the end of 2020?? Aha... your guess is as good as mine.

Not that Woman A is not valued, or that other opportunities won't come. But the physiological, biological and physical requirements of life had required her absence from work, thereby invariably providing her male colleague an automatic advantage over her for that particular role (which he would have to be a total bunkum to mess it up).

Except she is blessed with radically forward-thinking superiors, who may assess her qualification for the role based on prior experience before the mat leave year, it would be near impossible for her to win the role.

And this is the conundrum Michelle summarily tried to encapsulate, when she stated that having kids was aconcession” which required her to “tone down” her aspirations and dreamsespecially in light of being an equal (professionally) to Barack.

Perhaps, it is the unprecedented candour of her statement, which has made it jarring, and open to negative interpretation to mean she regrets having kids. (*rolls eyes*)

If you read the whole memoir however, you will find that she struggled (and worked hard) to conceive, so that it is unthinkable that one would regret that which one has worked so hard to beget.

Rather, and I believe it is true, my interpretation of her statement is that making that concession to have kids may have affected the professional ambitions she had at the time, without removing from the fact that having kids was something she would not hesitate to do again in a heartbeat.

That you acknowledge the price paid to gain something does not mean you do not appreciate it. Rather, it just means you are genuine enough to recognize the opportunity cost for it.

There is no shame in looking back and counting the cost of a chosen course of action, while embracing the journey wholly.

This instead is the height of being true to one's self, and is a constant reminder of the nature of one's journey through life.

So for every career woman who deals with the (unnecessary) guilt of being torn between work and family commitments, Michelle's "Becoming" is a strong reminder that you are not alone. That whatever course of action you choose to take is valid. And that the only person who needs to be convinced on what should consist of opportunity cost is You.

Irrespective of whatever sacrifice you determine is required to be made at any point, rest assured you are already successful as you are, for being bold enough to weigh in your options, and take whatever steps you deem fit is required to be taken.

Well Done!



Photo-Credit: Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (for the cover of her memoir "Becoming")

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