#bookclub: Becoming by Michelle Obama
Thank you Victoria for writing this article!
I have been following Emilie, Carmel and the Vestpod events for a few weeks now, and I admire the way in which these women understand money in a way that I don’t. As I told my fellow book clubbers on the night, my main method of financial management is 1) ignore the outgoings and 2) hope for the best. And contactless definitely doesn’t count.
But becoming a business owner in the last 12 months has made me realise that this might not be the best approach. So when I spotted the Vestpod book club on Eventbrite, I leapt at the opportunity. I was pleased to be able to meet financially versed and balance-sheet-savvy women who (hopefully) could teach me something.
I purchased my (very modestly priced) £5 ticket. No turning back now.
Each morning, I walk to work serenaded by Michelle Obama’s dulcet tones. When I realise that Michelle is one of the most organised people on the planet, I start to feel anxious that I’m two chapters out. I panic. Hurry up, Michelle! I speed up her voice on Audible until she sounds like an extra-terrestrial. It’s the only way I’ll be able to consume all her words in time, I convince myself.
Arriving at the book club, I meet a friendly Carmel and I’m escorted to a calm lounge. The alien is still speaking to me in one ear. I peek at my phone: still four hours of the book left! I give up and hope not to be found out. I am a fraud at my very first book club meeting.
I receive a warm welcome from Emilie and a fellow newbie. The next to arrive announces boldly, “I haven’t read the book, but I thought I would come anyway!” I let out a sigh of relief. I like her style. Newbies, fellow book-non-finishers and prosecco. This is my kind of book club.
Emilie asks for someone to take notes and we all avoid eye contact. Before I know it, my hand has crept up above my head. “I’ll take notes,” I exclaim. Where did that come from? Emilie thanks me and asks whether I could post them on her blog. “Absolutely,” I say. I will keep it strictly about the discussion, I think to myself. No one will ever know I didn’t finish the book.
Once we have all arrived, Carmel kicks off the discussion with a question, and we’re off.
We talk first about choice. Did Michelle have a choice as to whether to become First Lady? She discusses how, when questioned on whether he would run for president, Barack would say it was a “family decision” - putting the onus on Michelle. We debate the fairness of this move. The pressure this puts on her family would be enormous, we agree. She would have to yank her young girls out of school in Chicago and parade them round on a glamourless tour of the country. And of course with great power, comes great responsibility, as Spider Man’s uncle once said. “She did it for the bigger purpose,” someone points out. She sacrificed the quiet life she wanted with her family in the belief that Barack would be good for the country and its people.
We discuss Michelle agonising over whether to hire a private chef. She’s worried what the public and her family will think of her. But she has no time to grocery-shop and cook, and her children’s diets are suffering. Someone in the group says proudly that she has a cleaner and it’s worth every penny to get an extra hour’s sleep each day. We all wholeheartedly agree. You can’t do everything, and something has to give.
We discuss Michelle’s honesty about going through marriage counselling. I mention, feeling slightly guilty for even thinking it, that I think it was brave of her. You can imagine the headlines: “Obama marriage on brink of collapse”. The tabloids love to sensationalise these things. I’m asked if I think of everything in terms of media headlines. I am in PR. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be any good at managing people’s reputations. I deflect to our resident author: Do you dissect and analyse every book you read, I ask? She confirms that she gives a similar level of professional analysis without always meaning to. “I don’t think Michelle even wrote this book. Not even the first draft. It’s too measured and polished”. Emilie disagrees, as a newly published author (You’re Not Broke, You’re Just Pre-rich available for pre-order on Amazon). She’s confident she wrote it. We debate the authenticity of Michelle’s story. Yes, she would have editors, PR people, lawyers and reputation experts reading it over and it was a fairly rose-tinted view of her life. But maybe that is her life now. She is very composed and will have been through years of media training. So this could be who she is.
Do we ever talk about former First Ladies? Is Michelle one of the first people to give a voice to the woman (or future man!) in this position? We discuss and compare other women who are thrust into the spotlight: Eleanor Roosevelt, Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Melania Trump, Hilary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. It certainly isn’t easy being so high-profile.
In Michelle’s interview on ‘Windy City LIVE’, she said that all of a sudden, she realised, “Guys—this is a big deal”. I like her, I like her book. I’ll even finish it, but I don’t believe for one second she didn’t know this would be a big deal. The $65 million advance she received could have given her a clue.
We discuss our main takeaways from the book: the race issues she had to contend with, her wish never to go into politics or become well-known, how different her kids’ upbringing will be to her own, and how relatable she is. We feel her main messages were never to lose sight of how far you’ve come; to always take a situation, whatever that may be, and use it to your advantage; that even for a methodical and successful person, life is a mess. And when in doubt, hire a private chef.
Overall, we loved it. It was a warm and compelling story and we would highly recommend it. Now, I must get to the end…
Thank you for having us at your book club Emilie and Carmel. Looking forward to the next one.
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