Before he had considered a career in public office, Barack Obama wrote a book called Dreams from My Father. In it he addressed his confusion and pain growing up, and how he sought relief in negative ways. He wrote that he was looking for "something that could push questions about who I was out of my mind. Something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory."
This period in his life informs his outlook. "I think part of the reason that I put this in there," he says, "was because as I grew up and came to Chicago and was organizing in the far South Side of Chicago, I would meet so many young men—and I still meet so many young men—who are as talented as I am, have as much promise, have as much energy, but don't have opportunity. And find themselves going into these same ruts and find themselves internalizing the notion that they can't succeed."