Maria Shriver On Being Afraid & Demanding What You Want

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maria-shriverPhoto: Courtesy of Maria Shriver.
Maybe at first it didn't seem like we had a ton in common with Maria Shriver. She's an award-winning news anchor. She's a former first lady. She's a Kennedy. Only a handful of people can holler back with a "ditto." But, when we spoke with Shriver last week, the common ground became apparent pretty quickly.

Ultimately, we found immediate connection around universal ideas like getting fired, facing our bosses, and getting advice from our moms. Sure, Shriver may be a world-recognized figure, but when we dug into these topics, we found really solid advice that hit home. Oh, and we also began to really understand why she cares so damn much — both about empowering women and giving back.

Having recently released her new documentary, Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrin Gilbert, Shriver is at it once again. And, in this case, she's looking to give a face to the 42 million women who live below the poverty line. The idea for the documentary — which Shriver is the executive producer for — was inspired by her work with her organization WEConnect, and meeting ladies who just weren't being accounted for.

"A lot of the people I was seeing were not being reflected in the larger national conversation about women. It was always about women who can have it all and want it all. The fact that women were doing it all and barely hanging on wasn’t being reflected," she told us. "I wanted to focus on those women who were too busy to be a part of that national conversation." The namesake example in Shriver's story is Katrina Gilbert, a 30-year-old, Chattanooga mother of three, divorcee, and full-time worker making less than $10 an hour.

In our sit-down with Shriver, we dove into these ideas, and also got a chance to rethink how we — no matter which side of the poverty line we fall on — overcome, and not just accept, our own personal struggles. (Warning: Shriver's rules might scare you a bit, but it turns out, that might be a good thing.)

Watch Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrin Gilbert for free on HBO for a limited time.
maria-2Photo: Courtesy of Maria Shriver.
Looking back on the story you tell in Paycheck to Paycheck, what are some real, actionable takeaways that all women can take away from her story?
"I think the most important thing women can do is stay in school before they have children. Complete their degree, invest in education, invest in financial literacy. You get to figure out how to make that [family] picture happen, but it can’t happen if you don’t know how to be a provider, if you don’t know how to be a fully complete person. I think that you have to look at it as: If you don’t pursue your education, if you don’t educate yourself to get a job that pays you well, you’re not going to be able to afford to have children. It’s that simple."

How do you go about giving this advice? Do you think it's a bit of tough love?
"It’s not tough love; it’s investing in your own education, investing in financial literacy, investing in your own happiness. Investing in you is a smart thing. It’s really about how you can be the best you can be means you need to know about money, you need to be educated, you need to know about time management."

Something that's not really addressed in the story but also affects so many women is that fact that they may not be making equal amounts as men who do the same job as them. Do you think that comes into play here?
"That’s discussed in the [Shriver] Report itself. It’s an ongoing issue. It’s real. It exists even more for women of color and women on the poverty line. [It's about] being smart. Be informed. Be smart about what other people are getting paid, and then speak for your own."

We love your own story about how you once demanded equal pay as your co-anchor, Forrest Sawyer. Not everyone may be quite as bold. What's the key to demanding or negotiating what you deserve?
"I think fear is a big inhibitor of that. There are a lot of things I, myself, have been afraid of. People accept things — whether it’s in work or relationships or anything — because you’re afraid if you say something, you’ll get fired, you won’t get [what you want]. I understand that’s a concern for people, particularly for women on the brink. I would say, go to the community, people who are in the same situation as you. Power is in numbers. I understand it’s scary, but there are a lot of organizations out there that can help you, that will support you, that will be a community for you. If you suspect that you’re not getting paid fairly, look it up, find people who can embolden you and work with you, and take a deep breath."

When, if ever, have you accepted a "no?" Or have been too scared to ask?
"I think I’ve been scared a lot of times in my life. People often go, 'You’re not scared of anything.' That’s not true. I was really scared when I went in and asked for equal pay at my anchor job because I wanted to be an anchor. What if they call my bluff? What’s going to happen to me? Anytime you make a move, or do something you haven’t done before, it’s scary. When I became first lady, I was scared. When I started doing the Shriver Report, I was scared. But, I think at a certain point, you’re also like, 'This has happened. Bring it on.' I also know that I’ve survived being fired. You have to deal with what happens, and keep pushing through."

Your daughter Katherine once told us that you are one of her greatest role models. Why do you think that is, and what do you think is the most poignant piece of advice you've given her?
"I try to say to all of my kids that they are loved unconditionally, no matter what. I think the greatest thing that any human being can do is to love. When you love big or love out, you’re going to get hurt. The challenge in life is just to continue to try."

What's the greatest piece of advice that you yourself have received lately?
"My friend Roberta says that courage is not being scared. Courage is being scared and going forward anyway. I used to think courage was skiing down a hill. I think the idea that courage is pushing through your fear and doing it anyway. It’s okay to be afraid; you just have to remember to go through it."

Watch Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrin Gilbert for free on HBO for a limited time.