BECOMING, by Michelle Obama – The REVIEW

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In the last pages of the book, Michelle thanks dozens of people for helping her with this book (with checking dates, with editing, with putting together stories and memories). So, OK, this is maybe not all her doing, BUT – I intend to say it loud, having read some very cynical Italian reviews – this book is indeed worth reading.

Michelle is without any doubt a role model of our times, she accepted the role of First Lady and she did the best she could with it. She took it seriously, as everything in her life. What I liked about BECOMING is that she shared her private life writing a beautiful, authentic, raw biography that shows it all: not only the best sides, but the challenges, the struggles, the rough times she went through as we all do in our lives, in a turbulence of emotions and opportunities.

It’s a book for young people facing the hard time of growing up, but it’s also a book for parents. It’s a book for young couples and for minorities. It’s a book for everyone.

I like the way she talks about her parents, about all the love she received, that made her the strong woman she is today. They made her feel that her voice was heard, and mattered, since very young age. She always knew that she had to be at her best, that it was not enough to be good, that she needed to slip out of her comfort zone and be better. How many times I discussed this with Micio…we both always ‘survived’ at school, without making many efforts, and when we met, in our 20s, we were not aware of our potential, we didn’t know that every decision we’d made really would have built who we were going to become. Michelle insists on the fact that every step you make brings you to the road you are destined to take. Everything is preparing you for the moments ahead, and all moments are defining us, constantly. Ok, she and her husband represent the American dream, but I wholeheartedly believe that, even if we have the right to be somehow cynical about her message, it is not constructive, not helpful at all to be cynical for the new generations. This is why I embrace her message, as a woman, and as a parent, as someone who is convinced that everything we do, and feel, and give has to be framed in a bigger picture.

When I was young, I was not conscious of the importance of my present, and it was certainly not a question of age. I still remember vividly the ambition I felt in some of my friends speeches at University, young students coming from little towns, or from far away, who left their families coming to study in Milan, because they knew that they had outstanding grades, and that they deserved the best that their families could afford. I looked at them as aliens, ‘too serious for me‘, while I was living through University without any real engagement, without knowing the value of it. I definitely took for granted the opportunity to study, to get a degree. It was not an investment, it was just the normal way of spending time at my age. When I was 18, I – never – questioned my choices, I would have never thought of going abroad and maybe try to get into one of the best Universities in the world. Why this? Because I was not actively making a choice, I never had to fight for anything. At school, if I did not study enough, I had medium grades, but when I devoted some more time and focused a little more I was excellent. Where was the challenge? I never felt challenged. That’s why I never felt any true passion in what I was doing.

Michelle’s childhood can resonate with a lot of people, and not only with the afroamerican community. It resonates with me for sure: she never once heard her dad complaining (and he struggled with his disability for decades), he never missed a day of work ‘in 26 years‘, her parents never took a real vacation, and they sacrificed everything for her and her brother. Sounds familiar? Sure, to me it does. If my mum taught me the true meaning of generosity and devotion, my dad is a magical mix of compassion, commitment and integrity.

My grandma used to tell me and my brother that we not only needed to behave and to be smart, but we needed to be conscious of our intelligence and make the most of it, we needed to be proud of our roots, of our parents. I never completely understood what she meant until when I bumped into this book and I read it in Michelle’s words.

I’m sure her life – before being First lady – can resonate with my generation. But what did people like Me, or Micio, or other friends of mine missed? Why we did not nurture any real ambition until when we were 25 or even later?

During his political career – says Michelle – Barack always talked about the concept of the world as it is and the world as it should be. Too often we accept the distance between these two ideas and sometimes we settle for the world as it is even when it does not reflect our values nor aspirations. As young people, as young adults, we don’t hear enough that with our choices we are writing the next chapters of history, we all contribute to the history of our family, of our circle of friends, of our community, of our city, of our Nation. Together, we should grow our ambition. These choices are such a high responsibility, they shape us in what we will become. Our children today have an outstanding number of possibilities, but what we should really teach them is to live a life of purpose, is to use their talents, their passions, their own confidence for something bigger. I don’t know how, but we should find the way to make them work hard, we should make sure that they want to receive the best education they can think of, and not because it’s normal to keep studying.

This book is the proof that if you put together a team of professionals of writing, marketing and communication you can create a magical piece of work. But this is not the point, what we need to remember is that we all need positive messages like this, in a time when it is so hard to find a mentor, a role model, a politician that is worth listening to. This book really seems genuinely written. Michelle insists on how failure is a personal feeling before being a fact,  and faith and optimism are in every chapter, as antidotes for fear and vulnerability. We are setting the table for our kids, we should do this with less cynicism, less frustration, and more hope. YES, WE CAN.

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