Your Life Awaits
She was raised around politics, but Maria says she had a different passion—journalism. After college, she carved out a successful career for herself and rose to the top at NBC News. In 1986, Maria married movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, and over the past two decades, they've raised four children together.
Maria says her life was going according to plan until her husband was elected governor of California. Almost overnight, she lost her job and became first lady. Her trademark smile never wavered, but when the cameras turned off, Maria says she felt lost.
In October 2007, Maria confessed her true feelings to thousands of women at California's annual Women's Conference. "As long as I was trying to anticipate what you wanted from me, as long as I was trying to fulfill other people's expectations, I was in a losing game, a game that I'd been playing since I was a kid," she said. "That's what I want to focus on this morning … letting go of other people's expectations of you so you can own your own life, write your own story and live your own legacy."
When Oprah heard Maria's speech for the first time, she says she recognized that her friend of 30 years went all the way there and bared her soul.
Maria says writing the words was more difficult than speaking them aloud at the conference. "Once I felt comfortable saying it out loud in my office at home, I felt comfortable saying it to 14,000 people because it was true," she says. "I think once you speak the truth—and you know it's your truth—then you don't really care how people respond."
Maria shares her feelings in her latest book, Just Who Will You Be? . This little book, which started out as a high school commencement address, asks readers to answer a big question. "I think young people when they graduate are always wondering, 'Who am I going to be? What am I going to do?'" she says. "Then all the parents came up to me and said, 'Oh, my God. I'm going through that. I feel lost. I feel in transition.'"
Eunice, Maria's mom and the person she says she admires most in the world, raised her only daughter to work hard, help others and succeed in a competitive world. "She wasn't somebody who cooked or brought me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She drove me," Maria says. "[She told my dad], 'Hit that ball at her as hard as you hit it at the boys. She needs to know what it's like. Tackle her as hard as you tackle the boys so she understands it's a man's world.'"
As a child, Maria says she'd never let her mother catch her sitting on the couch watching television. "She expected you to be out, to be working, to be doing," she says. One summer, Eunice even sent young Maria on a trip to Africa to live and work.
In addition to service, Maria says her parents also emphasized family loyalty and love…something she feels to this day. "I'm not complaining about [my] family because it is and was a blessing to me, but it was something you were a part of," she says. "To kind of become your own person was, and is continuing to be, a challenge. I see that even for my own kids, and I think every kid is entitled to be who they are."
"I grew up in a clan, a tribe. It was kind of, 'We're in this together. Don't kind of go outside the tribe. Nobody will really understand,'" she says to Oprah. "You were like a friend that I made who was also a journalist. … But I didn't tell you much."
Oprah learned more about Maria the first time she visited her home. Inside, she says she saw framed pictures of President Kennedy sitting on shelves and letters from world leaders hanging in the bathroom. "I'm going, 'Oh, my God,'" Oprah says. "It strikes awe in you a little bit."
Years later, Oprah paid her first visit to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and got a taste of the family's competitive spirit. After three games of touch football on the lawn, Oprah says she hid in a closet so she wouldn't have to play anymore. Then, later that night, she says they played charades for hours.
Not knowing any different, Maria says she thought every family discussed world politics at the dinner table and competed incessantly. "I thought that was fun, and I thought that was the way you were supposed to do," she says. "I did that with my own children."
Looking back, Maria says she had incredible experiences as a child, but she never wanted to be just one of the clan. "You can get lost in it," she says. "I thought [as] I grew up and everybody would say, 'Which one are you? Which Kennedy are you?' I was determined that I would go out and become successful on my own."
After 20 years in the news business, Maria lost her job—and her identity—when Arnold was elected governor. "They felt, I think probably rightfully so, that it was a conflict or a perception of a conflict of interest," she says. "As a journalist, you're supposed to be objective and not be married to a governor. So they asked me to leave."
All of a sudden, Maria says she became known as the first lady, the Kennedy married to the governor or, simply, Arnold's wife. "I lost myself in the process, and I realized how much I had identified myself with Maria Shriver, newswoman," she says. "When that was gone, I had to really sit back and go, 'Well, actually, who am I today?' … That sent me off on a process of really, for the first time in my whole life, looking deep within myself and asking myself, 'Who did I want to be?'"
Without a job to report to every day, Maria was forced to slow down and re-evaluate her life. She says the frenetic pace she'd kept up her entire life was exhausting her and those around her.
Looking back, she says being let go from NBC News was a blessing in disguise. "Had I stayed at NBC and kept going in that kind of manic behavior that I had, I never would have stopped," she says. "I never would have been free."
As a Democratic first lady in a Republican administration, Maria says she felt lost and confused. "I was like, 'Where am I? What movie am I in? Do I wear pearls? Do I go to the Republican events? Do I go to the Democratic events? They probably don't want me anymore. Where do I go? What do I do?'"
During this time in her life, Maria says she allowed herself to cry. "I never cried before. I was very tough," she says. "My mother is extremely tough, and that's who I was."
Slowly, Maria started expressing her emotions and allowed herself to be vulnerable. "Once I started taking that [armor] off, wow. I found a whole new me in there."
Life's ups and downs have taught her a different lesson. "I've discovered that actually being seen for who you are, not for what you do, is probably the greatest gift anybody can give you," she says.
These revelations have changed the way Maria parents her children and interacts with her aging parents. "I have learned now to dial it back, to try to work to just be with my children, to actually look at who they are individually," she says. "I have found a new gentleness and kindness in myself, for myself and for others."
When Eunice was hospitalized after suffering several strokes, Maria says she came to a profound realization. Instead of battling the hospital administration, she says she realized the best thing she could do for her mother was mother her. "I now hug my mother all the time," she says. "I tell her that I love her."
Maria says her mother and father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, may be in their late 80s, but they're still fighting.
Read Maria's pledge.
One of Maria's pledges is to stop using the word "just" to describe herself. "I won't say I'm just a mother, I'm just a student, I'm just an assistant, I'm just an ordinary person," Maria says.
This is a pledge Oprah agrees with. "I stop women when they say that to me," she says. "I say, 'Stop saying that.'"
Maria's toughest pledge was to give 10 minutes of silence and stillness to herself every day. "I think women often think [taking] any time for yourself, whether it's going to visit a friend—whether it's going off by yourself—that that's selfish. And I didn't grow up with a big example of that, and so it was really hard for me," Maria says.
From her toughest pledge, Maria says she's learned an important lesson. "The greatest gift I can give my children is for them to see me living my life," she says.
Now, Brigid is following her own pledge. "It's still a work in progress, but for me one of the most important things is doing what I want to do. Not just what everybody else wants me to do," she says. "I've been true to myself, and that's really the foundation for me."
"I think to know what you want to do, you need to be still," Maria says. "You need to be quiet because otherwise you can't hear yourself talk to yourself."
Lorraine says her people-pleasing tendencies carried over into her marriage. "I became what my husband wanted me to be. I was the mom for my kids. I went to work. Brought some money in the house," she says.
Lorraine says she has found a new sense of independence. "I'm 35 years old now, and I put my life on the back burner so that my husband could go to school, get his degree, get a good job. But now it's my turn, and I'm ready."
Julee says she was drifting. "I felt so lost. I felt like my self-worth had taken such a hit," she says. "I've been struggling with that for years, and your book brought it all together for me."
Now, Julee has established her own pledge. "I was so stuck in fear, and your book just has made me move on, get unstuck," she says.
In her book, Maria says that tough experiences can often give you an opportunity to mature. After reading that passage, Susan says she decided it's time to let herself move on. "I pledged to end my grieving over what I lost and to celebrate what I do have," she says. "[My daughter's illness] is something I can't change, so I'm going to celebrate myself and my daughter's life."
"All of us will go through a time when we feel stuck, when we're afraid, when we feel lost. And I think that so many of us often feel like, 'Am I the only person that feels like this?'" Maria says. "The most important thing [to remember] is that we're not alone."
Kimberly has already started saying no to her son and is now applying her pledge to work. "I just say no and I'm fine with it," she says.
Although her book will teach many women many lessons, Maria wants to thank Oprah for teaching her a very important lesson. "After a family member [of mine] died, you called me up afterward and said, 'I love you,'" Maria says. "And I try to say that to people who I actually do love and who I feel have nurtured me. Mothered me. And helped me in my life because you never know when that person's going to be gone."
"You have mothered me, you have nurtured me, you have taken care of me, you have been this for me for 30 years. I love you and thank you."