The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times
by Michelle Obama

Published: 2022-11-15T00:0
Hardcover : 336 pages
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES AND USA TODAY BESTSELLER • ONE OF TIME’S 100 MUST-READ BOOKS OF 2022 • In an inspiring follow-up to her critically acclaimed, #1 bestselling memoir Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama shares practical wisdom and powerful strategies for staying hopeful and ...
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES AND USA TODAY BESTSELLER • ONE OF TIME’S 100 MUST-READ BOOKS OF 2022 • In an inspiring follow-up to her critically acclaimed, #1 bestselling memoir Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama shares practical wisdom and powerful strategies for staying hopeful and balanced in today’s highly uncertain world.

There may be no tidy solutions or pithy answers to life’s big challenges, but Michelle Obama believes that we can all locate and lean on a set of tools to help us better navigate change and remain steady within flux. In The Light We Carry, she opens a frank and honest dialogue with readers, considering the questions many of us wrestle with: How do we build enduring and honest relationships? How can we discover strength and community inside our differences? What tools do we use to address feelings of self-doubt or helplessness? What do we do when it all starts to feel like too much?

Michelle Obama offers readers a series of fresh stories and insightful reflections on change, challenge, and power, including her belief that when we light up for others, we can illuminate the richness and potential of the world around us, discovering deeper truths and new pathways for progress. Drawing from her experiences as a mother, daughter, spouse, friend, and First Lady, she shares the habits and principles she has developed to successfully adapt to change and overcome various obstacles—the earned wisdom that helps her continue to “become.” She details her most valuable practices, like “starting kind,” “going high,” and assembling a “kitchen table” of trusted friends and mentors. With trademark humor, candor, and compassion, she also explores issues connected to race, gender, and visibility, encouraging readers to work through fear, find strength in community, and live with boldness.

“When we are able to recognize our own light, we become empowered to use it,” writes Michelle Obama. A rewarding blend of powerful stories and profound advice that will ignite conversation, The Light We Carry inspires readers to examine their own lives, identify their sources of gladness, and connect meaningfully in a turbulent world.

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Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. Discussing the early months of the pandemic, a period during which many of us were nervously watching the news and reading the dire headlines, Mrs. Obama writes: “Everything felt big. Everything felt consequential. Everything was big. Everything was consequential.” In this fraught space, Mrs. Obama discovered how the simple act of knitting helped to calm her anxious mind and counter the overwhelm. “It buckled my churning brain into the back seat and allowed my hands to drive the car for a while.” She calls this “the power of small.” Have you ever experienced the “power of small” in your own life? What are some activities you do or strategies you use to keep anxiety at bay? What have you discovered about yourself when undertaking these small acts?

2. Mrs. Obama talks about hearing from young people over the years about their ambitious dreams, including a young woman who wrote her a letter stating: “I want to take over like Beyoncé, but bigger.” However, the young woman also acknowledged that sometimes her mental health gets in the way of her drive to achieve that dream and make her family and ancestors proud. “Your mind is constantly and imperfectly working the levers, trying to keep you steady. . . . It may throw up distress signals when it senses a problem— if you’re trying to move too fast or working in a way that’s unsustainable,” writes Mrs. Obama. “It’s okay to prioritize your wellness, to make a habit of rest and repair.” Have you ever found that your mental health was impacted while you were working towards a goal, even one you were passionate about achieving? How do you prioritize rest so that you can sustain your energy for working toward your goals, both big and small?

3. Mrs. Obama unravels the ways that abstract and common fears—such as embarrassment, rejection, or facing new situations—have the power to influence our choices if we don’t learn to decode them. “Jeopardy is woven into the experience of being human,” she writes. But she argues that the fears arising in response to disorder and differentness are often worth taking on in direct ways to understand and overcome them. When in your life have you encountered something new or intimidating that elicited fear? How did you work through that fear? Did you have a different perspective on the source of your fear after you faced it?

4. “Doubt comes from within,” writes Mrs. Obama. “Your fearful mind is almost always trying to seize the steering wheel and change your course. Its whole function is to rehearse catastrophe, scare you out of opportunity, and throw rocks at your dreams.” Mrs. Obama now accepts the presence of this fearful mind, addressing its patter of negativity and self-criticism with familiarity to diminish its influence over her thoughts: “Oh, hello. It’s you again. Thanks for showing up. For making me so alert. But I see you. You’re no monster to me.” What has your fearful mind said to you? What are other names for this phenomenon? Have you found ways to counter the interior critique, calm the inner chatter? How would you address your own fearful mind?

5. As a contrast to the passing moments of fear Mrs. Obama describes experiencing in new and unfamiliar situations, she also discusses the tangible and legitimate fears that affected previous generations of her family and had limiting and detrimental impacts on their lives—like her grandfather Southside’s distrust of doctors which resulted in a late diagnosis of lung cancer, and her grandfather Dandy’s extreme anxiety about traveling outside of his own Chicago neighborhood. Both men were born in the Jim Crow South, and even after they moved north to Chicago, a racial caste system still presented real dangers for them if they stepped outside the bounds of their own communities. Do you recognize any lasting effects of fears like these in older generations in your own family? How do these fears impact your loved ones today, and has anything changed for younger generations?

6. “Gladness is nourishing. It is a gift. When someone is happy to see us, we get a little steadier on our feet. We have an easier time locking into our poise. And we carry that feeling forward.” Describe times in your life when you experienced the gift of gladness. Who has given it to you, and who have you given it to? How did it feel to share gladness and to receive it?

7. Mrs. Obama reveals the daily routine of her friend, Ron—every morning, he greets himself with a simple and affectionate greeting in the bathroom mirror: “Heeey, Buddy!” Mrs. Obama acknowledges that for a lot of people, including herself, the mirror can be a scary place, and that women especially are “consistently 3 | #THELIGHTWECARRY | MICHELLEOBAMABOOKS.COM held to higher standards when it comes to grooming and style, requiring more elaborate, more expensive, and more time-consuming preparation before feeling comfortable heading to work or even just stepping out into a new day.” The real power of starting kind, she says, comes from “redirecting any impulse to judge or self-denigrate . . . [and beginning] instead with a simple message of compassion and approval.” How can you give yourself a “deliberately kind start” in the morning like Ron does?

8. Everywhere Mrs. Obama goes, she meets people who describe the self-consciousness that comes with feeling like you don’t belong in the space you’re in. She writes: “Nearly everyone on earth experiences this sort of feeling at some point—that prickling awareness that you’re somehow not suited to your environment, that you’re being viewed as a trespasser.” Describe a time in your life when you felt this way. How did you navigate the situation?

9. Reflect on Mrs. Obama’s statement: “It’s hard to dream about what’s not visible” and how it relates to many of our most contentious debates, from the existence of systemic racism to the shadow of slavery to the reality of LGBTQ+ lives. As she notes: “We need to stay aware of whose stories are being told and whose are being erased. This is a battle over who matters, about who gets to be seen.” What is something you now know about our history that you weren’t taught about in school? Why do you think people want to cherry-pick what is taught and what is ignored, and what might they achieve by doing so?

10. Finish this sentence: “When I am seen, I feel________"

11. Mrs. Obama defines her “Kitchen Table” as “the people beyond my family who I trust, delight in, and rely on most—and for whom I would do anything.” Do you have your own “Kitchen Table”, and if so, who does it include? What do you bring out in each other?

12. Mrs. Obama is not someone who takes friendship lightly. “For me, friendships are both a commitment and a lifeline, and I hold onto them as such, tightly and deliberately.” Why is friendship so important in our lives? Describe what you consider essential attributes in a close friend.

13. “Discomfort is a teacher,” Mrs. Obama writes: “Lack of reward is a teacher. Dealing with these things gives us practice at life, helping us figure out who we are when we’re a little pushed.” When in your life has discomfort been a teacher and what did you learn?

14. Mrs. Obama speaks a lot to the importance of curiosity, both in starting friendships and in romantic relationships. With her husband Barack, she came to realize: “This guy, his curiosity, added light to my world.” Why do you think Barack’s sense of curiosity, in particular, stood out to Mrs. Obama more than other traits? Is there someone in your life whose sense of curiosity sparks you?

15. How has a spouse, significant other, friend, or loved one added light to your world? Have your thoughts on what a fulfilling and supportive relationship looks like changed over time and with experience?

16. “It helps if you enter into a committed relationship prepared to work,” writes Mrs. Obama, “ready to be humbled, and willing to accept and even enjoy living in that in-between space, bouncing between the poles of beautiful and horrible, sometimes in the span of a single conversation, sometimes over the course of years.” What are some compromises you and your significant other have had to make? How do you deal with the natural ebb and flow that takes place over the course of long-term relationships, whether romantic or platonic?

17. Okay, where do you stand on the Great Toilet Paper Dispute of 1960? Are you an over-the-roll toilet paper family, like the Obamas, or under-the-roll, like the Robinsons were during Mrs. Obama’s childhood? Defend your position. Have you ever had to compromise this position for the sake of your marriage or your relationship with a housemate?

18. Mrs. Obama got her mother’s permission to share some of her pearls of parental wisdom: Teach your kids to wake themselves up; Good parents are always working to put themselves out of business; Parent the child you’ve got. . . . Which of her maxims resonated with you most and why?

19. Mrs. Obama got her mother’s permission to share some of her pearls of parental wisdom: Teach your kids to wake themselves up; Good parents are always working to put themselves out of business; Parent the child you’ve got. . . . Which of her maxims resonated with you most and why?

20. On parenting, Mrs. Obama says that she and her brother, Craig, were encouraged to speak their minds at the dinner table, allowed to horse around on the couch, and expected to make their own beds in the morning. Many of these basic expectations were a complete contrast to how Mrs. Obama’s own mother, Marian, was raised. What were the rules in your house growing up? Do you have a different perspective on any of those rules now than you did as a child? If you’re a parent, what are your basic rules around the house and how did you come by those rules?

21.One night when Mrs. Obama’s daughters were young, Barack was traveling, and she was sagging on her feet after a long day, she was pushed to the limits of her patience and told Malia and Sasha that she quit her job as their mother: “You seem to think you don’t need a mother . . . I am handing you your own little lives and you can manage them yourselves. I don’t care.” What did this incident reveal to Mrs. Obama about how she might apply her mother’s advice to “parent the child you’ve got”? If you grew up with siblings, did your parents tailor their approach to your personalities and needs? Do you adapt your interactions with the children in your life to suit their individual temperaments?

22. Mrs. Obama writes a lot about the idea of home, which means different things to different people. For some, home is a specific person, a warm hug, or a place to put your feet up. For others, home is fraught, a painful place or time to which you never want to return. “And that is okay. There’s power in knowing where you don’t want to go. And then there’s also power in discovering where you want to head next. How do we build places where gladness lives—for ourselves and for others, and most especially for children—and to which we will always want to return?” Describe your idea of home.

23. Sometimes the very things that we try to hide from others, or that we imagine to be vulnerabilities or weaknesses, can actually be powerful points of connection and motivating factors that drive us to overcome. “When someone chooses to lift the curtain on a perceived imperfection in her story, on a circumstance or condition that traditionally might be considered to be a weakness, what she’s often actually revealing is the source code for her steadiness and strength.” Think about anything you may have instinctively withheld about yourself with certain people or in certain situations in your life, or still do choose to withhold. How might you reframe these things as part of the source code of your strength?

24. “The strength of one resolute soul can become the strength of many.” Discuss this idea. What does it mean for you? Have you witnessed the power of such “resolute souls” in your life, in your community, in history?

25. When Mrs. Obama discusses our differences, she talks about the importance of stepping forward rather than back, saying more rather than less. Has there been a time in your life when you felt like the “other,” that you had something difficult to share about yourself but felt lifted and unburdened by stepping forward and sharing it?

26. Mrs. Obama also acknowledges that “the work of visibility is difficult, and it’s distributed unevenly. There’s nothing fair about it, in fact. I happen to be well-acquainted with the burdens of representation and the double standards for excellence that steepen the hills so many of us are trying to climb.” Think about a time when you stepped forward when you could have stepped back. How did it make you feel? How might you continue to step forward, whether to advocate for yourself or in support of others who face greater burdens in doing so, within your own community, school, or workplace?

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