Episode 31: Like Rain Unto the Seeds

From the Front Row with LaTisha Cotto Episode 31_ Like Rain Unto the Seeds (3 Things I Learned from Michelle Obama's Becoming).png

Duration: 00:32:01

In today’s episode, I’m gonna share with you three of my biggest takeaways from Michelle Obama’s “Becoming.”

Honorable Mentions in Today’s Episode

Red Carpet Collective

HBIC Virtual Book Club

I’ve only been to one book club meeting in my entire life. It was held at the Barnes and Noble in The Shops at Sunset Place in Miami, Florida. There were 10 or so of us sitting in a circle of chairs. I can’t remember what book we were discussing. I only remember feeling like I couldn’t relate to what any of the women were saying. I didn’t feel a connection and so I never went back.

I know you’re thinking, “Geez, LaTisha. That’s a fantastic story. Please don’t ever share that again, okay?

Chrissy Tiegen Oscars gif

I’m going somewhere I promise.

Fun fact: I’m a nerd. I love reading. I love learning. I love nerding out.

So it’s been in my heart for awhile to start a virtual book club for the Honey Bunny Inner Circle. Just like with the podcast, I put off starting it because I didn’t know the first thing about running a virtual book club. I didn’t have the best experience to fall back on, so the idea has just been marinating in my mind for the past two years.

For me, 2019 has been a year of making ish happen. Can ya’ll believe we are already on Episode 31 of this podcast? I remember how scared I was to press Publish on the first episode and now here we are. I’m definitely not a pro, but I feel so much better than when I first started. It’ll continue to get better over time.

I also launched my online course, Reignite: Rekindling Your Best Relationships Now. I’m currently knee deep in the beta testing of my membership program (and I’ll be sharing more info with ya’ll in the coming weeks).

God has really been after me to start acting on the dreams that I’ve had in my heart for years. I’ve let fear, uncertainty and not knowing how to do something keep me from chasing my dreams. I’m over it.

It’s like that poem:

And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
— Anaïs Nin

Ya girl just been blossoming left and right.

I pray every night, “God, show me what to do next. I’m scared AND I am committed to following you.

All of this to say that last month we kicked off the HBIC Virtual Book Club. We meet online the last Saturday of every month at 1 PM CST, so please feel free to sign up.

The best books make you stop and pay attention. They also make you do some serious self-reflection and it’s a very personal experience.

What comes up for me might not come up for you. I think that’s why I’m so excited about the HBIC Virtual Book Club because I can hear how my HBs experience the material.

By Michelle Obama

Last month, we started with Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming.”

I opted for the audiobook version and I’m so glad I did. It was really powerful to hear her story from her own mouth. I laughed. I cried. I rejoiced. I got thru all 19 hours and 3 minutes of her story. Believe it or not, I didn’t want it to end.

When I got down to the last 24 minutes of the book, I started to prolong finishing the book. I wanted the moment to last forever. I plan on buying an actual book and displaying it proudly on my bookcase as a visual reminder that I, too, carry greatness within me.

Becoming gave me tremendo a-ha moments and I’m gonna share three of them with you right now:

1. Michelle Obama is a human being.

I know, I know. I’m stating the obvious. Bear with me, HB.

I think it’s really easy to place people on pedestals.

For me, it’s Barack and Michelle, Beyoncé, Oprah, Selena, the Pope. These larger than life figures that we admire, but probably don’t relate to because they’re so friggin’ amazing. We forget that they’re human beings just like us -- they deal with struggles, loss, frustration and many other things that we may never know about.

Real talk: Michelle Obama is the definition of black excellence. You know what, she’s the definition of excellence. “Periodt,” in my City Girls’ voice. “Check my resume. My record’s impeccable,” excellence like TI said.

And …

she wondered if she was enough.

That blew my mind.

From the outside looking in, I was like, “Of course, Michelle Obama is enough. Hellooooo … She’s Michelle Obama. She is intelligent, gorgeous, charismatic. No brainer.”

But I know a lot about how things feel on the inside looking out.

How even a remarkable woman like Michelle could be struggling with feeling that she’s not enough. That she has to prove herself. That she has to go further faster. It can be a vicious cycle if you don’t recognize it.

Don’t get it twisted: in a way, it seems like a good thing. The “not-enoughness,” if you will, pushes you. You get the degrees, the job, the salary, the membership to the country club, the cute kids, the doting husband. But if there’s not a solid foundation of self-love and self-worth on the inside, it has the potential to do more harm than it does good.

You’re on a hamster wheel of achievement, but you’re not really going anywhere.

  • I’m so grateful that she talked about that:

  • the feelings of not being enough

  • the reality of being one of the few people of color in your academic and work experiences

  • the not having it figured out so she went straight to law school because it seemed like it was the next logical step

  • the walking away from a high paying job as a lawyer

  • the never ending attempts at balancing career and motherhood

  • the wanting to support your husband all while having zero interest in politics and all that living in the spotlight brings

  • the transition from top executive to First Lady of the United States of America (an unpaid and highly scrutinized position)

  • the constant criticism and nastiness splashed all over the media.

I don’t think I’d be strong enough to do what she did AND do it with as much grace as she did. I’m not that graceful, ya’ll. I will work on my temper for the rest of my life. I’ve gotten so much better, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t have my moments where I’m like, “Huh, WTF you say to me?” You can’t do that in the spotlight, especially if you want to remain sane.

I saw myself in her story.

Sure, I didn’t grow up on Euclid Avenue in the Southside of Chicago, but I could relate to her. She sat with her parents and her brother for dinner every night. For me, it was me, my mom and my grandparents. Every night. For dinner.

When she talked about how easy it was for kids in the Southside of Chicago to slip through the cracks, I felt that in a real way because I saw it happen in my own neighborhood, at the schools I went to. I could have easily been one of those kids, had it not been for Mama Terry, my grandparents and the many amazing teachers that saw my potential throughout my life and spoke greatness into me (Shout out to Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Washington, may she rest in peace. I am forever grateful for you two).

When she said, “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others,” I found myself saying “YASSS Michelle. Say that,” snapping my fingers while preparing dinner.

When she said that there was magic in the learning, I felt that, too. Education leveled the playing field for me. Gave me an opportunity to get out of Waco and head to college in Atlanta on a full ride. Showed me there was an even bigger world out there than what I experienced growing up. Made me dream bigger.

Oh, and the way she described her family. I felt like they were my family.

When she talked about going over to her grandpa Southside’s house for barbecues and jazz music, it reminded me of how packed my grandparents’ house would be during the holidays when my extended family would visit.

The adults would play dominoes and the kids would run around the house (prompting my Grandma to scream her head off about getting Suzie. Tremendo tangent alert: my cousins and I were so bad that my grandma got one of my grandpa’s belt and nicknamed it Suzie. Everything was, “You better cut that out or I’m gonna get Suzie on you.”

My cousin, Mikey, can do an amazing impression of her if you ask him to. We’d laugh and that’d make her even madder. Then she’d unleash the fury of Suzie on us.

It’s funny because, if you ask her now, she’ll tell you that we all made it up.)

Prince side eye

When she talked about going over to Southside’s house and playing records, it reminded me of how my Grandpa (who has been legally blind since the 70s) would always ask me to peruse his record collection for him to find just the right tunes for that moment. My grandpa is very particular about what he wants to hear when he wants to hear it.

I loved taking the record out of its sleeve, carefully placing it on the record player and gently setting the needle on the record. To this day, I love that crispy pop you hear as a song begins.

My grandpa was also pretty innovative with how he got his music. We had the Music Choice option that comes with cable and at the time it was this little box he had hooked up to the speakers. I’d always put it on his favorite channels and when he wasn’t listening I’d promptly place it on the tropical station and dance my face off all alone in my grandparent’s bedroom.

When she talked about being on the campaign trail and realizing that she had a lot in common with the folks in Iowa than she originally thought, I felt that. We sometimes mistakenly think that we could never relate to people who look different or live different than us and it’s not true.

But if we stay in that story we go through our entire lives missing out. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on the beauty in others just because they’re packaged differently than I am. It’s there and we can totally find it if we’ll only just be on the lookout for it.

2. We all need friends.

When she talked about the loss of her college friend, Suzanne, I bawled my eyes out. It made me think of my own beautiful friends (who are sprinkled all over the continental US) and the thought of never being able to talk to them again, laugh with them and see them made me lose it. (Plus, I cry easily, so it doesn’t take much to set me off.)

When she said, “I regretted not coming earlier,” to visit Suzanne in the hospital, I thought about all the times that a friend has popped into my mind and I said, “Oh, I’ll hit her up later,” and later never came. I gotta do better at that.

Shout out all my friends. I love ya’ll. I’m gonna do better about checking on you.

Throughout the book, Michelle emphasizes the importance of friendship -- whether it was her childhood friends, college friends, her mom friends in Chicago or her tribe that helped her keep her sanity during her 8 years in the White House.

She wrote, “Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses... swapped back and forth and over again.

I tell you those small kindnesses have saved me over and over again throughout my life. You see, I’m an only child so my friendships mean the world to me.

  • I remember when my high school boyfriend broke my heart and TA came over to my house to sit with me on my grandparents’ porch swing. We just sat there in silence as I bawled.

  • Or how my comadre, Angela, organized my gender reveal and her and TA did my baby shower and Lyric’s first birthday. I’m not a crafty person and they really stepped in and helped me out.

  • Or how my friend, Julie, loaned me $700 when my world came tumbling down.

  • Or how Jane helped me get through all of my Finance and Accounting courses at Rice.

  • Or how Becky helped me find my dog baby, Presley, after a tough heartbreak.

  • Or how Princess constantly encouraged me via text message, especially during the first year of motherhood when I was sleep deprived and suffering postpartum blues.

So when Michelle was reflecting on her friendships, it made me appreciate my own.

If I didn’t name you here, it’s not because I don’t love your or you don’t matter. It’s because this episode would literally be 48 hours long if I started naming everybody. God has blessed me with some amazing friends.

Every year my friend, Bevin, and I talk about taking a women’s weekend (like Michelle did for her tribe at Camp David). I wanna say it was back in 2008 that we went to New Orleans and we haven’t done anything since. Goes to show you how fast time goes. We gotta make that happen, Bev.

So, yeah, right now, call up your friend. Send her a text. Meet for drinks. Don’t wait for later because it may not come.

Your friendships are not frivolous little afterthoughts, Honey Bunny.

They are part of your solid foundation of self-love and self-worth. It’s like that quote, “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the lyrics.

3. Open the door. Leave it open. Show others the way and help them through.

One thing that Becoming really impressed upon my heart was that of giving back and helping others make it.

  • When Michelle was at Sidley and Austin, she did a lot with recruiting and wanted to make sure that lawyers of color were not overlooked.

  • During her time as executive director for the University of Chicago Hospitals, she helped to create programming that served underprivileged people who regularly sought medical treatment at emergency rooms because they didn’t have insurance or access to primary care doctors.

  • During her time at the White House, she mentored female staffers and students so that they could see firsthand all of the possibilities available to them.

  • She talked extensively about the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, a girls’ only, inner city comprehensive in the UK. In 2009, she visited the school where she shared the following words:

I want you to know that we have very much in common. For nothing in my life’s path would have predicted that I would be standing here as the First Lady of the United States of America. There was nothing in my story that would land me here. I wasn’t raised with wealth or resources of any social standing to speak of… If you want to know the reason why I’m standing here, it’s because of education. I never cut class. Sorry, I don’t know if anybody here is cutting class. I never did. I loved getting As. I liked being smart. I loved being on time. I loved getting my work done. I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world.
— Michelle Obama

This visit inspired her to set her focus on education initiatives during her time as FLOTUS.

Sure, you could argue that she has a bigger platform than most of us, so she should give back. She should mentor. She should open doors for others.

But I think what I took away from Becoming is the sense that I, too, can make a difference right where I am with the platform I have and the resources available to me. I don’t need to be Michelle, Beyoncé or Oprah or Malala. I can be LaTisha Cotto and reach people and love them and speak life into them and encourage them. Doesn’t matter if I’m a Life Coach or a Senior Financial Analyst or a stay at home mom or a doctor.

Everyone everywhere can open a door of encouragement, of perspective, of possibility, of kindness and it absolutely does matter.

Real talk: you will never truly know how many people you have inspired just by being you. You may not realize it, but you are planting seeds that become trees that you’ll never sit under.

I know it gets discouraging and you want to give up, but don’t do it, HB. Your story isn’t over and it’s gonna inspire people just like Michelle Obama’s story inspired me.

Leaving a legacy of love is the greatest thing you can do. Love inspires more love, possibility, hope, a collective healing. The love we give in this world will outlive us and it will echo through eternity.

Now it’s your turn. Comment below and let me know what tremendo a-ha moments Becoming gave you. I can’t wait to hear from you.

I’m cheering for you. Like I can read your thoughts right now.