favorite passages from becoming [michelle obama].

my first read of the year was michelle obama’s becoming, and it quickly became one of my favorite books. i felt like i could hear her reading out loud to me, and i learned so much about her life that i didn’t know. she had some great passages about family, about love, and about staying true to yourself, and i did a lot of underlining as i read.

below are the lines that stood out to me the most.

now i think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child — what do you want to be when you grow up? as if growing up is finite. as if at some point you become something and that’s the end [ix]

your story is what you have, what you will always have. it is something to own [xi]

now that i’m an adult, i realize that kids know at a very young age when they’re being devalued, when adults aren’t invested enough to help them learn [22]

time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to other people [34]

everyone seemed to fit in, except for me. i look back on the discomfort of that moment now and recognize the more universal challenge of squaring who you are with where you come from and where you want to go [41]

failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. it’s vulnerabiity that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear [43]

i had always, pretty much everywhere i’d gone, been known as craig robinson’s little sister [56]

i’ve been lucky enough now in my life to meet all sorts of extraordinary and accomplished people — world leaders, inventors, musicians, astronauts, athletes, professors, entrepreneurs, artists and writers, pioneering doctors and researchers. some [though not enough] of them are women. some [though not enough] are black or of color. some were born poor or have lived lives that to many of us would appear to have been unfairly heaped with adversity, and yet still they seem to operate as if they’ve had every advantage in the world. what i’ve learned is this: all of them have had doubters. some continue to have roaring, stadium-sized collections of critics and naysayers who will shout i told you so at every little misstep or mistake. the noise doesn’t go away, but the most successful people i know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals [66-7]

you don’t really know how attached you are until you move away, until you’ve experienced what it means to be dislodged, a cork floating on the ocean of another place [77]

he was like a wind that threatened to unsettle everything [105]

he was there to convince them that our stories connected us to one another, and through those connections, it was possible to harness discontent and convert it to something useful [116]

‘do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?’ [118]

and now in hawaii, i could see his character reflected in other small ways. his long-lasting friendships with his high school buddies showed his consistency in relationships. in his devotion to his strong-willed mother, i saw a deep respect for women and their independence. without needing to discuss it outright, i knew he could handle a partner who had her own passions and voice. these were things you couldn’t teach in a relationship, things that not even love could really build or change. in opening up his world to me, barack was showing me everything i’d ever need to know about the kind of life partner he’d be [124]

i was old enough now to realize that all the hours she gave to me and craig were hours she didn’t spend on herself [173]

my considerable blessings in life were now causing a kind of psychic whiplash. i’d been raised to be confident and see no limits, to believe i could go after and get absolutely anything i wanted. and i wanted everything. because, as suzanne would say why not? i wanted to live with the hat-tossing, independent-career-woman zest of mary tyler moore, and at the same time i gravitated toward the stabilizing, self-sacrificing, seemingly bland normalcy of being a wife and mother. i wanted to have a work life and a home life, but with some promise that one would never fully squelch the other. i hoped to be exactly like my own mother and at the same time nothing like her at all. it was an odd and confounding thing to ponder. could i have everything? would i have everything? i had no idea [173]

we live by the paradigms we know [204]

this for me felt like a true and odd measure of his fame: even white people were recognizing him now [216-7]

i’ve learned that it’s harder to hate up close [270]

i looked out the window, reminded that i was part of a humble continuum [291]

barack has often said that he aspired to climb the steps of the white house because the little rock nine had dared to climb the steps of central high school. of every continuum we belonged to, this was perhaps the most important [298]

‘on this day,’ he said, ‘we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord’ [299]

as a kid, you learn to measure long before you understand the size or value of anything. eventually, if you’re lucky, you learn that you’ve been measuring all wrong [313]

they were me, as i’d once been. and i was them, as they could be [319]

grief and resilience live together [343]

i remembered them all, every person who’d ever waved me forward, doing his or her best to inoculate me against the slights and indignities i was certain to encounter in the places i was headed — all those environments built primarily for and by people who were neither black nor female [355]

but for me, they formed a meaningful constellation. these were my boosters, my believers, my own personal gospel choir, singing, yes, kid, you got this! all the way through [356]

i knew from my own life experience that when someone shows genuine interest in your learning and development, even if only for ten minutes in a busy day, it matters. it matters especially for women, for minorities, for anyone society is quick to overlook [356]

friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses like these, swapped back and forth and over again [361]

life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime. we were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. we had to be patient [370]

my early successes in life were, i knew, a product of the consistent love and high expectations with which i was surrounded as a child, both at home and at school [383]

…kids will invest more when they feel they’re being invested in [384]

barack and i sat in the front row, surrounded by young people of all different races and backgrounds, the two of us awash in emotion as christopher jackson and lin-manuel sang the ballad ‘one last time’ as their final number. here were two artists, one black and one puerto rican, standing beneath a 115-year-old chandelier, bracketed by towering antique portraits of george and martha washington, singing about feeling ‘at home in this nation we’ve made.’ the power and truth of that moment stays with me to this day [415]

hamilton touched me because it reflected the kind of history i’d lived myself. it told a story about america that allowed the diversity in. i thought about this afterward: so many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal. we grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only one way to be american — that if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong. that is, until someone dares to start telling that story differently [415]

i grew up with a disabled dad in a too-small house with not much money in a starting-to-fail neighborhood, and i also grew up surrounded by love and music in a diverse city in a country where an education can take you far. i had nothing or i had everything. it depends on which way you want to tell it [416]

as we moved toward the end of barack’s presidency, i thought about america this same way. i loved my country for all the ways its story could be told. for almost a decade, i’d been privileged to move through it, experiencing its bracing contradictions and bitter conflicts, its pain and persistent idealism, and above all else its resilience. my view was unusual, perhaps, but i think what i experienced during those years is what many did — a sense of progress, the comfort of compassion, the joy of watching the unsung and invisible find some light. a glimmer of the world as it could be. this was our bid for permanence: a rising generation that understood what was possible — and that even more was possible for them. whatever was coming next, this was a story we could own [416]

…sameness breeds more sameness, until you make a thoughtful effort to counteract it [418]

for me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. i see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. the journey doesn’t end [419]

becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing up to be done [419]

kids wake up each day believing in the goodness of things, in the magic of what might be. they’re uncynical, believers at their core. we owe it to them to stay strong and keep working to create a more fair and humane world. for them, we need to remain both tough and hopeful, to acknowledge that there’s more growing to be done [420]

and here is what i have to say, finally: let’s invite one another in. maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. it’s not about being perfect. it’s not about where you get yourself in the end. there’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. and there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. this, for me, is how we become [421]


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