Four Ways Michelle Teaches Us to Shine the Light We Carry

A wonderful read to encourage you on how to be who you’re meant to be

Isioma Ononye
6 min readNov 7, 2023
Image from the Author

The Light We Carry is a fantastic read filled with wisdom that gives us a closer look into Michelle’s life to learn lessons from her about living and growing into more of who we are meant to be. Lessons on how to ignite that light we each carry.

In the book, Michelle answers the questions we grapple with in life from figuring out what makes us happy to understanding how to make use of our strengths. From learning how to form valuable relationships to letting go of fears and insecurities.

Here are my top four favourite lessons from the book.

1: Find Small Things to Keep You Going During Moments of Uncertainty

During COVID-19, we experienced a major lockdown and everyone everywhere in the world faced restrictions and limitations to their movement.

The news stations discussed the necessity of staying safe and the reality of the pandemic created some anxiety and fear in all of us.

Even without a pandemic, each of us has gone through some level of uncertainty in our lives and I’m sure that in the midst of it, you questioned how to carry on.

For Michelle, she encountered some anxiety before a speech: an address online about the then-present leadership of the White House.

One of the ways she overcame those fears of uncertainty is through preparing her mindset by doing little things. Simple things that make her happy such as knitting.

She says “Anytime your circumstances start to feel all-consuming, I suggest you try going in the other direction — toward the small. Look for something that’ll help rearrange your thoughts, a pocket of contentedness where you can live for a while. And by this, I don’t mean sitting passively in front of your television or scrolling through your phone. Find something that’s active, something that asks for your mind but uses your body as well. Immerse yourself in a process. And forgive yourself for temporarily ducking out of the storm.”

Based on Michelle’s advice, we all need some outlet. When amidst uncertainty, during a storm, find something that gives you joy and also mental stimulation.

For myself, some of my favourite things include reading and having a form of exercise: that’s jogging around the park or a yoga class.

Michelle goes on to write further that “maybe you want to do big things with your life, to drive yourself forward with a bold agenda, not wasting a single second. That’s all good and you are not wrong to want to go for big things. But once in a while, you’ll want to allow yourself the pleasure of a small feat.”

Consider a small feat you can accomplish that brings you joy.

2: Own Your Differences as to What Makes You Unique

Being different doesn’t always feel like a badge of honour. Being different can feel like a scar of shame.

Michelle tells us that she used to feel insecure about her height.

Michelle writes “but still, I was tall. And tall became something to contend with. Tall stood out…I couldn’t help but hear the message that you belong on the outside. It created a small wound in me, the tiniest kernel of self-loathing that would keep me from embracing my strengths.”

But what Michelle learned to do was to change the words associated with how she viewed herself.

She writes: “I learned that I could attach better feelings to my differentness. It was helpful to do when entering a new space, a kind of psychological squaring of the shoulders. I could take a second to remind myself of what inside the walls of my own home, inside the shelter of my friendships, I already knew to be true. My validation came from the inside.”

She writes…“I’m tall and that’s a good thing.

I’m a woman and that’s a good thing.

I’m Black and that’s a good thing.

I am myself and that is a very good thing.”

What is that thing that makes you different and how can you turn it around and re-arrange your thoughts to something positive?

For myself, I used to also feel insecure about my height. Plus, I would feel that I was a nerd and my introversion was a negative thing.

But one of the ways I turned it around is by embracing all of my personality. I like that I have a love of nature and books. I like that I love to contemplate life and ask big questions about purpose and meaning. I like that I enjoy solitude because it’s a way to recharge and gain back my energy.

What makes you feel different?

How can you turn it around to something positive and unique?

3: Develop Your Kitchen Table to Remind You of Why Connection Matters

Michelle talks about having a kitchen table in her book. The kitchen table is not a table in the kitchen where you can have your meal.

Her kitchen table is symbolic of the friendships and relationships she has developed in her life.

Michelle has developed and maintained close ties with people who have played a pivotal role in her life from her days in school to her days as an attorney.

To becoming a mother and then being the First Lady. The people she’s met during these different stages have made her happy and helped provide a space for her to vent, to laugh and to get back to her centre.

Michelle reminds us through this book that no one is an island. We all need people in our lives.

“A Kitchen table in general is never stagnant. Friends will come and go, taking on more or less importance as you move through different phases of life. You may have a small group of friends or just a few one-on-one friendships. All of that is okay. What matters most is the quality of your relationships.”

Having relationships you value is important in life. It’s important in my life and I’m grateful to God to have an immediate family who make part of my kitchen table. I have friends from different stages in my life. From secondary school to university and people I’ve met upon graduating.

4: Put Your Armour Down Because Vulnerability Is Not Always a Bad Thing

Another thing Michelle teaches us in her book is about being willing to put your armour down. She lets us know that you don’t always have to be tough or get defensive but truly let people see you as you are.

“When you’re trying to stay tough and invulnerable, you may miss out on building authentic professional relationships that will help you grow, advance and use your skills. Presume the worst of the people around you and they’ll be more likely to presume the worst about you.”

In the book, Michelle narrates an experience where she was with the Queen of England. She said she had a moment of connection from their conversation and she instinctively reached out and laid a hand affectionately on the shoulder of the Queen. The Queen didn’t seem bothered and she slipped her arm around her back.

She also discusses being at the law firm and having to prove herself as a young black woman because it would set the standard for how others saw black women. She said most people at her firm were “tough as nails, pressed for time and running an emphatically tight ship at the office…there was little room for the warm and fuzzy.”

Ultimately Michelle believes we have to find a balance with how we bring our full selves into different areas of our lives.

She writes that “the bottom line is that when we spend a lot of time worrying about how we fit and whether we belong — if we must continuously contort, adjust, hide and guard ourselves at work — we risk losing opportunities to be seen as our best and truest selves, as expressive, fruitful and full of ideas.”

It’s not a bad thing to let others see you as you are and in doing so, give others the grace to be themselves too.

Final Thoughts

Michelle Obama’s “The Light We Carry,” is a fun and informative read. I took away many lessons from the stories she shared. From learning how to find ways to keep ourselves happy and relaxed to the importance of having genuine connections.

Then there’s the lesson on turning your differences into what makes you unique and the need to let your walls come down to accept others in.

This is a valuable book you would enjoy reading and appreciate the good advice given. I encourage you to read this too and find out more about this light you carry.

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Isioma Ononye

I write about self-esteem, faith, mental health, women’s issues, social media & 🎥TV + Movie Reviews. 🗞️Newsletter: https://substack.com/@isiomaononye