Somehow I dredged up the nerve to ask, "What are you doing?"
"I've been at the office for four days, working through the night," she said, laughing. "This is my idea of a bath." That was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted three decades. Neither of us could have predicted how dramatically our lives would shift in the years between that morning at the station and the afternoon we recently spent in my Santa Barbara teahouse garden.
Maria was just 23 when she came to work at WJZ, and one of the first in her family to pursue journalism—an unconventional choice, given the Kennedy legacy. Working her way up the ranks of broadcasting, she became a reporter at CBS News in 1983 and a coanchor on CBS Morning News (at the time, I so wanted a gig like that!) in 1985. The following year, she joined NBC News as a correspondent; she would go on to contribute to Dateline, interview everyone from Fidel Castro to Ted Turner, and earn a Peabody Award for a 1998 report on welfare reform.
In 1986 she did something even more unconventional for a Kennedy than becoming a newscaster: She married a Republican movie star. Four kids (Katherine Eunice, now 18 years old; Christina Aurelia, 16; Patrick Arnold, 14; and Christopher Sargent, 10) and a couple of Terminator films later, Maria and her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, settled into family life in a Los Angeles suburb, with occasional visits to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
In August 2003 Arnold announced that he would run for governor during California's recall election. Maria was reluctant to return to politics, the landscape that had defined her childhood. But Arnold won, and in November, Maria became the First Lady of California—and found herself out of work as a journalist. The dramatic changes were not what she would have wished for herself. Yet they ultimately led to an important aha! moment, one that inspired Just Who Will You Be? , her sixth book, which was published in April.
Last October at the annual Women's Conference, an internationally attended forum she organized in Southern California, Maria summed up that moment in a riveting speech. "You can spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what other people expect from you...or you can make a decision to let that all go," she told the 14,000 women who had gathered at the Long Beach Convention Center. "For this people-pleasing, legacy-carrying, perfection-seeking good girl, that was a news bulletin."
Start reading Oprah's interview with Maria Shriver
Note: This interview appeared in the June 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.