The Light We Carry Book Summary - The Light We Carry Book explained in key points
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The Light We Carry summary

Michelle Obama

Overcoming in Uncertain Times

4.3 (407 ratings)
18 mins
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    The Light We Carry
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    Don’t be afraid to let your light shine

    Inside you is a light – it’s a spark completely unique to you: your talents, your determination, your curiosity. What’s stopping you from letting that light shine out fully? Is it fear?

    We all experience fear. The world is legitimately scary: pandemics, shootings, and ecological crises are all part of our shared reality. On top of that, many media outlets seek to actively exploit your fear, with news stories designed to keep you feeling anxious and afraid. 

    How can you overcome that fear?

    Well, over the years, Michelle Obama has learned a secret about fear. In the White House, she rubbed shoulders with icons. People like Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou. People who have overcome incredible challenges and spoken up in the most courageous ways imaginable. And here’s the thing: though these people appear fearless, they’re not. They all get scared. They all get nervous.

    Your fears aren’t going away. If you want to let your light shine, you need to learn to live comfortably with them. Don’t let fear stop you. Let it guide you.

    Here’s an insight into how Obama has learned to live with fear:

    When she was four, Obama was cast in her church Christmas play. She was thrilled. There was just one problem. On the day of the dress rehearsal, there was a creepy looking animatronic turtle on the stage. It terrified her. She tearfully told her Great Aunt Robbie, who was directing the play, that she wouldn’t go onstage with the turtle. 

    Robbie told Obama the turtle wasn’t going anywhere. Obama could go onstage in her beautiful new dress and twirl for the audience. Or she could sit in the audience with her mother, and miss her big star turn. See, acting to avoid fear makes us feel safe – but there are consequences. Weighing up those consequences, Obama decided she wanted to perform more than she wanted to avoid the scary turtle. So that’s what she did.

    When fear dictates our decisions, we miss out on a lot. We choose conformity and sameness over challenges and surprises. Keep making those choices and we can grow threatened by anyone who looks or thinks differently to us. When you feel afraid, ask yourself – am I genuinely scared? Or am I just trying to avoid exploring a new possibility?

    Obama isn’t afraid of turtles anymore. But those “turtle moments” certainly haven’t gone away – in fact, sometimes they show up when she’s feeling safest and happiest. In 2006, for example. Obama had a great relationship with her husband, Barack, and two young daughters she adored. She was fulfilled in her career and loved living in Chicago. Then Barack told her he was thinking about running for president. What’s more, he’d only run if Michelle was okay with this decision – she had the final say.

    Faced with this decision, Obama’s internal monologue went into overdrive. A presidential campaign would bring with it intense scrutiny of her family, stress, and upheaval. A successful campaign would mean a move to Washington and a completely new life. Saying no to Barack’s proposition would be a relief – it would mean things would stay the same, safe and comfortable.

    In the years since 2006, Obama’s gotten better and better acquainted with that internal monologue. She calls it her fearful mind. When it starts talking, she talks back to it. When it tells her she’s not good enough, she asks it why not? When it tells her she shouldn’t tackle a problem, she asks it who else will if not me? She tries to deal consciously with her fearful mind, breaking down all its negative assumptions. 

    Back in 2006, Obama’s fearful mind was in overdrive. But then she asked herself: What am I actually afraid of here? It all came down to one word: change. She had no idea how their lives would look after this change. But then she reminded herself how many times she and Barack had tried something new – and thrived. From leaving their families, to changing careers, to becoming parents. Turning down a challenge just because it felt new and different just didn’t sit right with her. You won’t be surprised to learn that Obama said yes – Barack should run for President. Two years later, the Obamas became the first Black family to ever live in the White House.

    So, next time you hear your own fearful mind, listen to it. Listen to all the ways it encourages you to avoid change. To stay in your comfort zone. To keep your world small.

    Then ask it: Why don’t we try doing something that makes our world bigger for once?

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    What is The Light We Carry about?

    In The Light We Carry (2022), former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, tackles complex questions about community, identity, and relationships with trademark warmth and honesty. Obama believes we all carry a light inside us – in this book, she tells us how to shine that light so it illuminates the potential for hope and healing, and pathways toward a better world.

    Who should read The Light We Carry?

    • Anyone whose fear is holding them back from living authentically
    • Those who wants to trade disconnection for community and friendship
    • People who need encouragement to keep doing the work in challenging times

    About the Author

    Michelle Obama is an attorney and writer. From 2009 to 2017, she was First Lady of the United States – the first Black woman to hold this role. She has advocated for women’s rights, veterans, and children’s health. Her memoir Becoming has sold over 17 million copies worldwide.

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