Book Review - The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama

Jan 21, 2023

The Light We Carry

The Light We Carry - a book review

Michelle starts this book with the story of her dad's cane, one that he used to help him around since his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The cane was a functional, protective tool which served its purpose to keep him sturdy on the ground. When its usefulness waned, overcome by the effects of the disease, it was replaced by another cane - a much more robust one. But it was just a tool, something that helped him become more efficient. Much like her dad, Michelle has built a toolbox with tools that have helped her manage when life felt out of control or to keep her upright in times of uncertaintly. In this book, she gives us a glimpse into her toolbox and in doing so, encourages us to find our own varied tools knowing that not all tools serve us in every season.

In a tripartite layout, Michelle writes deeply how to find the light and strength from within, our relationship with others and finally how to own, protect and strengthen our light especially in challenging times. She highlights overcoming impostor syndrome, the feeling of not being good enough and living with uncertaintly, something which she reckons exists even in the highest places. She empathizes with the effects the pandemic had on each of us, leaving us less connected and off balance. She acknowledges that there are no organized solutions to human's big problems but with the right tools we can find our footing even in challenging times. However, this takes time to build - no quick fixes, a stark reminder to our young generation.

Nothing can dim the light that shines from within - Maya Angelou

In part 1, the book talks about how the pandemic threw us all into a pandemonium, filled with lots of worries and having very little to control. In such times of uncertainty, she leaned on the small act knitting, one that helped put her mind at ease in order to start to think big again. She goes on to talk about her fear, mostly abstract fear (worry, fear or embarrassment or reject) of inviting disruption to her family by supporting her husband's presidency. She realized though that her real fear was starting something new, something which we've all done in various stages of our lives. By confronting her fear of newness, she went on to be in history books. However, this didn't eliminate her fears and doubts forever. Over time, she has learnt to practise past her fears and the more she practised, the better she got and so can we. She takes note of the value of being kind to oneself, saying a friendly hello to the person you see on the mirror first thing in the morning. In starting kind to yourself, you help to deliberately usher out those denigrating thoughts that fill your mind. She concludes this part with a question that some of us, especially those who find ourselves in places where we are different, ask ourselves so often. Am I seen?

If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together – African Proverb

In part 2, Michelle starts with the story of how she invited some of her closest girlfriends to Camp David during her time at the White House for a 3-day weekend retreat. She saw those moments as refreshing - a chance to forget everything else and focus on themselves first. This was her way of being deliberate on building and maintaining her friendships, her real face to face friends - not the Facebook/Instagram filtered friends. Over the years, she has built friendships which have become barnacles in her life, her social convoy, protecting her, bolstering her and giving her joy. These friendships have become what she calls her kitchen table, a place where she can share her truest feelings knowing well that she is safe and accepted. She recognizes though that finding and maintaining healthy friendships is not easy but the benefits are worth it. Research has shown that people with strong social ties are likely to live longer and with less stress. It's important therefore to continue to open up ourselves to connect with others in order to make friendships and bring them to our kitchen table.

Michelle goes on to give us a peek into her 30-year long partnership with Barrack which is enveloped by the loving assurance knowing that each partner is there to stay no matter what. She reminds us though that when we choose to make a life with another person, we will live by that choice, having to choose again and again to remain or run. A relationship is dynamic, and rarely does each partner play an equal role. Life happens in seasons, and in a strong partnership, she notes, each partner will take turns at compromises in order to let the other partner flourish in love, family or career. Any long partnership is an act of stubborn faith in each other. She concludes this part of the book introducing us to her mom, her sounding board, a caring grandma who offered devoted support to her family during their time at the White House. Her mom has offered perspective and presence, offering tenets of wisdom that have helped her while parenting her own daughters.

Your work is to discover who you are and then with all your heart give your light to the world." – Jennifer Williamson

In the last part of the book, she talks about the struggle that some of us have in bringing our differentness, our personal stories, our whole selves in the spaces we find ourselves in, whether in private or public. However, she challenges that fear acknowledging the importance of bringing out those stories and creating space for other people's stories. This way, we find our light even though it may take time. In holding our stories back, we also miss out on the opportunity to impact others. She then goes on to write that about the armour of preparedness and adaptability that has helped her keep her vulnerabilities in check and maintain her boundaries. She rounds up the book with her definition of going high, her desire to try harder and want more. To operate with integrity and respond with your heart and your head.

I resonated with this book in many ways. I loved her vulnerability, honesty and practicality in sharing her toolbox. In doing so, she hopes that we may find the light that is within us and bring ourselves fully to the world.