Maria Shriver

Born into the Kennedy dynasty, Maria Shriver has spent her life living up to her famous family's legacy. She's the niece of President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert and Teddy Kennedy. Her parents, Eunice and Sargent Shriver, founded the Special Olympics and Peace Corps, respectively.

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."
Maria Shriver and Oprah

After Arnold's inauguration, Maria said she planned to go back to her life as a globe-trotting network journalist. "Remember her? Well, I barely could," she told the Women's Conference attendees. "I had dumped her by the wayside four years ago when Arnold became governor, and I knew I needed to go back and reclaim her."

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 Shriver

At age 52, Maria says she's finally realized she's a work in progress. "I feel that I'm in transition. I'm becoming who I want to be," she says. "By the time I had four children, I thought it would be done. … [But] the idea that I'm not done—that I still have possibilities, that I still don't know what I'm going to be when I grow up—is liberating."

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 Shriver, Maria's mother

When Maria was growing up as part of the Kennedy clan, she says she didn't feel entitled to make many of her own decisions. "You're playing a role," she says. "You're part of a bigger legacy."

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."
Maria Shriver and Oprah

When Maria was a young journalist in her 20s, she took a job at a Baltimore news station and made her first friend outside the family—Oprah!

"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."
Maria Shriver

Maria found success as a journalist. As a NBC News correspondent, she interviewed world leaders and covered important topics like welfare reform.

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."
Maria and Arnold at his inauguration

When Maria married Arnold, she says she never thought her body-building, Terminator husband would go into politics. "I was as safe as you could get. [I thought], 'No way.' It was never going to happen," she says. "Which also tells me, you so don't know anything. You so don't know anything, and you cannot plan."

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."
Maria Shriver and Oprah

In Just Who Will You Be?, Maria writes, "I was raised in a family that equated self-worth with personal achievement. … I had been taught that if you weren't doing, if you weren't serving, if you weren't accomplishing and accomplishing big, then you really weren't being. You weren't even seen."

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.
Maria Shriver talks about the pledge in her book.

To guide herself on her journey of self-rediscovery, Maria wrote a list of goals that evolved into the pledge in her book. It's an exercise she encourages everyone to do for themselves.

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.
Brigid is now following her own pledge.

Brigid, a marketing manager and mother of two from San Jose, says she was able to relate to Maria's book. "I found it extremely humbling to read a woman as accomplished as Maria Shriver could have so many of the same questions, thoughts and doubts about who she is as I do—and as I suspect that many women do," Brigid 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 is redefining her life.

As a pastor's child, Lorraine says she felt like she was expected to act a certain way. "I was a shape-shifter. Whatever you wanted me to be, that's what I'm going to be," she says. "I didn't want to embarrass my family, and I just wanted to do the best that I could in my role."

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 is redefining herself after losing her job.

Like Maria, Julee defined herself by her career. When reading a passage in Maria's book about how lost she felt after leaving NBC News, Julee says she started to cry. "I also was in corporate America for 25 years and one day got a phone call that I no longer had my job," Julee says. "The next day, instead of being Corporate Julee, I all of a sudden was Austin's mom. I didn't even have a name of my own."

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.
Susan pledges to end her grieving.

Susan says she had an aha! moment while reading Maria's book. "My daughter suffered a massive stroke, my 21-year-old daughter, four years ago. And I've been stuck since that period. Stuck in the medical maze and stuck in the aftermath of a stroke," 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 is learning to say no and mean it.

Like many women, Kimberly says she always puts herself last. Now, she's made a pledge to help put herself first again. "I pledged to say no and be okay with it because I'm so used to saying yes and stretching myself thin and being there for everybody, and I hadn't had time for myself," she says. "So I pledged to say no, and that's my final answer!"

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.
Maria Shriver and Oprah

No matter how old you are, Maria wants everyone to continue asking themselves, "Who am I going to be?" "That's what makes life exciting. That's what makes life a work in progress. That's what leads to an awakening," she says. "That's what leads to you actually showing up in your own life."

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."