January 15, 2019

"Becoming"​ by Michelle Obama: 3 Career Change Lessons from the Former First Lady's Memoir

Photo from Michelle Obama Facebook Page
By Lindsey Plewa, GCMC Associate Director

With the temperature in New York City hovering around bitterly cold in January, I love nothing more than to curl up with a good book over the weekend. Most recently, I've been reading "Becoming" by Michelle Obama, a Christmas present from my sister and brother-in-law. Besides being a fascinating read about someone I truly admire, I loved her honest account about how she dealt with the difficult task of wanting to change careers. Here are three lessons from her story that are applicable to anyone considering making a career change.

Lesson 1: Acknowledge that "something isn't quite right" feeling 

After attending Princeton, she worked as a corporate lawyer, but struggled with staying in that career for the long haul. She writes, "I didn't want people remembering me for the stacks of legal briefs I'd written or the corporate trademarks I'd helped defend. I felt certain that I had something more to offer the world. It was time to make a move." Only you know what career is right for you.  Trust your gut when it’s time to make a change.

Lesson 2: Learn from others

Unsure of what to do next, she decides to have as many conversations as she can with people all over Chicago. She writes, "Over the course of the spring and summer of 1991, I put myself in front of anyone I thought might be able to give me advice. The point was less to find a new job than to widen my understanding of what was possible and how others had gone about it." This is probably one of the most crucial pieces of job search advice: schedule conversations with as many people as you can and always approach it with the intent to learn.

Lesson 3: You never know how one connection will lead to the next

Michelle Obama schedules a meeting with Art Sussman, then legal counsel at the University of Chicago. Art then suggests she speak with Susan Sher. Susan Sher then connects her to Valerie Jarrett, then chief of staff to the mayor of Chicago. After an hour and a half conversation (originally scheduled for 20 minutes) Valerie offers her a job at city hall which she eventually accepts. She could have never predicted that meeting Art Sussman would lead her to a job offer.  However, because she took action and made that initial conversation happen, it eventually led to a job offer. Be open to meeting people. You never know who they might know.

These three lessons so clearly articulated by Michelle Obama can be a starting point for anyone thinking about making a career change. If you're looking for additional insight on how to go about scheduling those conversations, you might find my article here helpful: https://bit.ly/2Dc5DpQ

Are you reading "Becoming" too? What are some lessons you've learned? Comment below.

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