Michelle Obama’s Becoming as a forum exercise: Becoming me. Becoming more. Becoming us.

Michelle Obama writes powerfully in her autobiography, Becoming, about her own life, but her words speak directly to me:

“It’s not about being perfect,” Michelle says, “it’s not about where you get yourself in the end. At fifty-four, I am still in progress, and I hope that I always will be.”

Michelle continues, “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim.  I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach towards a continually better self.”

“The journey doesn’t end,” she goes on.  “I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children.  I became a wife, but I continue to adapt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person.  I have become by certain measures, a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insecure or unheard.”

“It’s all a process,” Michelle concludes, “steps along a path.  Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor.  Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.”

And Michelle goes further in the three major sections of the book which are called:

  • Becoming me,
  • Becoming us, and
  • Becoming more

Throughout the arc of her life story, Michelle recognizes, over and over again, that the becoming is never done.  And though she didn’t intend it this way, I read her autobiography as a lesson directed at me.

I am not finished becoming the best version of me when I connect to my wife in marriage, and I’m not done evolving my marriage and other relationships, even as I also devote myself to larger community and professional goals.

  • Becoming me is about my practices of mindfulness, gratitude and purpose, turning inward, so I can then turn outward.
  • Becoming us is about my connection with my wife, and also about all of the other relationships I want to cultivate and nurture. How can I relate authentically and humanely on a one-on-one basis, including making amends when I have wronged others?
  • And becoming more is about my communal and professional commitments. I relate this to giving back, paying it forward, leaving my small part of the world at least a little better than where I first found it.

Every day represents a new opportunity to become a better “me”, a better partner, and a better contributor to the larger world.

Reflecting on Michelle Obama’s words in forum, we might explore:

  • Michelle observes that the continual act of becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. In the coming year, what do each of us need more of, patience or rigor, or something else?
  • What does “becoming me”, “becoming us”, or “becoming more” mean for each of us?
  • How can we, in our forum, support each other in becoming more of who we want to be?

With the support of our forum, may each of us be able to say a year from now: I’m not done becoming, but I’ve made some progress.

Exploring strengths and weaknesses

The following questions can be used separately or together to frame a great conversation on how forum members see their strengths and weaknesses, and how that might affect their professional trajectories and career paths.

  • Which of your strengths might others say you overuse or rely on too much?
  • Describe how one of your strengths is also a weakness.
  • What might change in your job or business that might make your current strengths less useful?
  • What is the next professional transition you face?  If there a strength you need to give up to successfully make that transition?  What new strength do you need to develop? What weakness might emerge or become more important?
  • Describe a weakness or flaw of yours that hasn’t hurt you yet, but might in the future.

Acknowledgement: These questions are suggested by USC Professor Morgan McCall in his leadership exercise “Hedge Your Bets.”

Forum sparks: Watch a TED talk!

Watching an inspiring, provocative TED talk can be the beginning of a great forum conversation. Choose a talk in advance, watch together, and then use these prompts to start your conversation:

  • I feel…, and I’m reminded of a time when I…
  • I’m wondering if…
  • I might apply the speaker’s ideas in this way…
  • I would like to watch this talk again with… [spouse/boss/team/others] because…

Choose your own favorite talk, or consider using one of the following:

Forum exercise: Hiring in a tight labor market

If forum members are struggling to hire great new employees, consider doing this exercise at your meeting.

Opener: Start with two icebreakers as a warm-up:

  • Share a time when you/your company successfully recruited a top candidate in a tight labor market. What worked, what didn’t, how did you feel about it
  • Share a time when you/your company failed to recruit a top candidate in a tight labor market. What worked, what didn’t, how did you feel about it?

Print these articles in advance, and ask members to read them at the beginning of the meeting:

Ask members to rate their organization on each point in both articles on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1=we’re doing poorly and 5=we’re doing this very well.

Use the results of this assessment to choose selected dimensions (or others that emerge from the discussion) and do a deeper dive, inviting members to share what has/has not worked along those dimensions.

Closer: Each member to share one action item, new perspective, or question they are asking as a result of the conversation.

Follow-up at the next forum meeting: What did each member do? How did it work? How are they feeling now?

Mixing up your updates: High, Low, Medium, Rocky

Thanks to Melissa Weiksnar for sharing this idea.

Inspired by a grade school jump-rope game, “High, Low, Medium, Rocky,” try mixing up your updates with this approach:

Since we last met, what was:

  • your highest high,
  • your lowest low (could be a sadness or a profoundly deep realization)
  • a totally mundane update that nevertheless tells something about you
  • your rockiest, most turbulent issue

For each of the four categories, try to describe what it felt like to be in that state.

Melissa reports that members took up to 4 minutes each, and people really liked the way this format helped hone in on the emotions, and avoid the “travelogue.”

Needs and leads

Every member of a forum will over time have needs for a referral, introduction, expertise, new investment, or ideas on hiring, technology, or some other personal or professional issue.  At the same time, other members can often offer direct or indirect leads to help the first member.

Consider incorporating this “Needs and Leads” into your meetings on a regular or occasional basis:

  • The moderator sets up the exercise by explaining the objective and giving an example. “I’m looking for distribution channels in South America” or “touring ideas in Italy” or “a science tutor for my son.” Note that even if you can’t personally provide a direct connection, you might know of others who could help.
  • Go around the room, and each member states a need (or two) in under a minute.  If any other member thinks they can help, they raise their hand.
  • It is up to the members with “needs” to follow up with any members who provide “leads.”

“Tweeting” your update

Shakespeare opined that “brevity is the soul of wit,” and Pascal observed “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

In that spirit, try one of these three approaches to concise updates, preferable with advance notice so members have “the time to make it shorter.”

  • If your update this month was a movie title, what would it be and why?
  • Share your update as a six-word story, and then “unpack”/explain the story. For more on this rich approach, inspired by a famous challenge to Ernest Hemingway, see this website.
  • Prepare your update as a “tweet” (i.e. 140 characters, including spacing and punctuation), trying to include feelings. At the meeting, everyone will read their “tweet” (you don’t actually use Twitter!), have a thematic discussion, and go into more depth where needed.

Melissa Weiksar, who suggested the last option, reports that in her forum, everyone had a slightly different interpretation; perhaps the most interesting from someone who did his as a string of noun/verb/feeling updates. People appreciated how they had to truly distill what was most important.