“Your life isn’t yours anymore,” says Michelle Obama at the outset of Becoming, the new documentary based on her 2018 memoir of the same name. She makes the poignantly self-aware comment as she examines what her life will be like after spending the past eight years under the scrutiny that comes with life as the First Lady of the United States.
Becoming is the newest project under the Obamas’ production deal with Netflix, and it’s now available to stream. The documentary complements Obama’s memoir, inviting viewers to tag along with Obama on her book tour, but also watch as she seemingly has an aerial view of her own life.
Obama goes on to explain that she quickly learned that she had to be more reserved while Barack Obama was on the campaign trail. She stopped freestyling speeches and only spoke if she knew exactly what she was going to say, to avoid her words being misconstrued amid media attacks.
She mentions that she worked hard, throughout her life with her husband, not to get swept up into his dreams. It was important to her to still have her own identity and projects.
But that’s hard to do when you become First Lady, especially when you’re as accomplished as Mrs. O.
Obviously, she ended up sacrificing her own ambitions and surrendered to the title of First Lady for almost a decade, but she describes her current situation as her life starting to be hers again.
Obama makes it clear that she’s still figuring out what her post-White House life entails, especially now that she is also an empty nester.
She enjoys mentoring youth and generally being motivational. In the beginning of the film, she states that being from the South Side of Chicago should tell everyone as much about her as they need to know. That can be interpreted in many ways, but the gist of what she’s saying seems to be that she was built for everything she has been given in life—even the negative. She navigates the world with a positive attitude and uncanny perseverance, and even her mother, brother, husband, and daughters, who make appearances in the doc—along with a Secret Service agent who was assigned to protect her—are constantly amazed.
So it’s not just (most of) us.
While the film could make a great case for a potential Michelle candidacy for public office—which many people seem to be hoping for—it’s also a nice reminder of what good leadership looks like (and it doesn’t always have to be political).
It’s also nice to watch the most admired woman in the world get a taste of life as a civilian again. Michelle Obama is free to truly be herself, and she has a lot more to give the world than she could when she was in the White House.
Here are five lessons we learned about Michelle Obama from Becoming—and that you likely will too.
Refinement takes practice
When Michelle Obama was stumping for Hillary Clinton in 2016, she tackled bullies. She took the overused concept of being “better than that” and eloquently summed it up with, “When they go low, we go high.” It was a moment that has shaped the way a lot of people now view the world but also became another overused motivational quotable in response to a society that seems to be getting increasingly more negative.
The cynics among us probably rolled our eyes, because of course the Obamas can go high. We’ve seen them do it multiple times.
But guess what? Michelle Obama admitted that it wasn’t always easy to keep her cool in the face of racism, birtherism, extreme partisanship—and all the other obstinate behavior she and her family faced. It was hard, but she managed because she had a firm sense of who she was and felt that becoming bitter would mean that the bullies had won.
The lesson here is that having grace for people takes practice.
She genuinely loves people
Michelle Obama loves learning people’s backstories, because it gives her a good understanding of who they are. She said people focus too much on stats and not the story. In her world, the story is more about what someone’s grandfather was like, and that’s more important than how much money someone made or what school they went to.
She feels that humanity would be in a better, more tolerant space if we learned more about people’s stories and didn’t care so much about clichéd status indicators.
Don’t expect her to get into politics
One thing anyone who has studied Michelle Obama knows is that she is open to opportunities that come her way if they make sense.
She might one day wake up and decide to run for president if that’s where her priorities and interests lie, but that’s probably not going to happen any time soon.
Michelle Obama put her aspirations on pause so that she could support her husband’s presidential dreams, and she makes it clear that she doesn’t miss the White House. These days she’s focused on exploring her newfound freedom, co-running her production company, and generally pursuing life as a motivator.
The people who are suggesting Joe Biden make her his VP nominee shouldn’t get their hopes up.
She’s going to continue to use her platform for the greater good of humankind, but she needs a break from politics after eight years of being bound to the most powerful nation in the world.
You’re never too old to figure things out
Figuring things out looks a lot different when you’re Michelle Obama.
However, the concept is still the same: You should do it, whatever it is, if it makes you happy.
In Becoming, Mrs. O shared a story about how she cried for nearly 30 minutes after boarding Air Force One with her husband once they departed the White House for good. She said she cried because of the profound shift that was taking place in her life and the new possibilities that awaited her.
It was a human reaction to change.
It’s obvious that the Obamas never have to work again if they don’t want to, but one of “Shelly” O’s passions in life is to work on projects that inspire her, which means forging a new career path at age 56.
She could take over the world if she wanted
The former First Lady is an author, TV producer, entrepreneur, lawyer, mentor, and motivational speaker. She’s also really funny—funny enough to seriously consider a career in comedy if she wanted.
She also plays the piano. Her mom said she practiced so much that she had to be told to stop.
She would also obviously be a great politician.
She’s really good at applying herself to everything she does, so if she decided one day to become the leader of the free world, she’d probably nail that, too.
But civilian Michelle Obama has a lot more to give. And she knows it.