Brooke-Shields-HEADSHOT-high-resBrooke Shields has performed a lifelong juggling act. The Jersey native, who turns 50 this month, landed her first modeling gig at just 1 year old. By her 14th birthday, she was an international movie star, posing for the cover of “Vogue” and raising eyebrows with a scandalous Calvin Klein ad campaign.

In the decades that followed, Shields continued to collect titles: TV sitcom star, Broadway actress, author, wife and mother. Today, the icon is an outspoken champion of women’s empowerment, joining MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski in Philadelphia last month for the “Know Your Value” tour, where Shields spoke about keeping the plates of work, motherhood and personal health spinning.

“People always say, ‘How do you do it? How do you balance?’” Shields says. “I really don’t ever feel like it’s balanced. If I leave for one hour, they think, ‘You’re never home!’ When I’m trying to do a job at the same time, my head is partially with my children, and I feel very fragmented.”

The mother of two spoke about the pressure she feels to take on numerous responsibilities and the self-doubt that blooms when she can’t actually do it all.

“My kids are always saying, ‘Why can’t you be a cool mom?’ or ‘None of the other moms do that,’ or ‘You’re too strict,’ or whatever, and the more negativity you allow into that opinion of you, the more you start to convince yourself,” she says. “And you think, ‘I’m not good enough. I really should go to every possible game, and bake cookies, and run a company.’”

Shields says she combats the negativity in a simple way: by focusing on the good.

Brooke with husband Chris Henchy and daughters Rowan and Grier

Brooke with husband Chris Henchy and daughters Rowan and Grier

“I’m constantly juggling the very many facets of my life and career,” she says. “I’m always expecting more from myself, because I feel we’re all capable of doing and being more than we ever imagined. When I start to doubt myself, I focus on the positive aspects I have in my life and how I’ve kept them alive.”

It also helps, Shields says, to be surrounded by a community of women. She’s a big believer in the philosophy that “it takes a village.”

“We’re so used to thinking, ‘I have to do it all on my own,’ and therefore I’m failing if I’m not, or I’m somehow ‘less than’ if I’m not,” she says. “We’ve lost the ability to empower one another, lean on each other and ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak – it means you’re smart, you’re learning from the best. You allow yourself ways to be healthier by helping others as well as yourself.”

The concept of “learning from the best” is at the heart of Brzezinski’s “Know Your Value” tour, an extension of her “New York Times” best-seller “Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth.” Brzezinski, accompanied by a lineup of celebrities and public figures, including her “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough, led panels and workshops designed to point out the biggest professional pitfalls women encounter.

“I wrote the book because I thought women might relate, but I did not at all expect the response I got,” Brzezinski says. “People still come up to me, even three years later, and say, ‘I read your book, and I got a raise.’ Not only is this message not dying, the conversation is constantly becoming richer and more vibrant, so I thought I needed to do something because people were still talking about it.”

As Brzezinski began planning the tour, she was told Shields was interested in participating.

“Growing up in Englewood, she was the Taylor Swift of my generation,” Brzezinski gushes. “I mean, ‘Blue Lagoon!’ So when I heard she was interested, I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ I’m still so star-struck. But at the same time it’s impossible to be nervous around her, because she’s so nice and so genuine. What’s really special about her is her openness – the women we’re bringing onstage during the tour are really successful, but they haven’t put up fences. They’re still sharing, and that happened very naturally with Brooke in Philadelphia when she said that in order to put the brakes on, she had to hit rock bottom.”

The period Shields was referencing came after the birth of her first child in 2003, when she began exhibiting symptoms of acute postpartum depression.

“I’d always been afraid to take a break,” Shields says. “The sad thing was that for me to stop and take care of myself, I had to go so dark and so down, and be biochemically off-balance and unhealthy. That was such a wake-up call.

I thought, ‘Now that’s not fair.’ That’s not fair to my family, that’s not fair to myself, and there’s no balance in that.”

Shields wrote about her experience in “Down Came the Rain,” a 2005 memoir that details her downward spiral into depression, as well as her triumph over the debilitating condition.

“I felt a responsibility to my daughter,” she says. “I wanted her to know later in life about the potential of this problem and to know that I love her. I also felt a responsibility to myself, because by writing it, I wasn’t allowed to suppress it or pretend it didn’t happen. Finally, I hoped to shed light on a very real and common affliction, to encourage people not to be alone and to seek help.”

Brzezinski wants to spread the message that well-known women like herself and Shields aren’t immune to the difficulties women face. She says talking about the issues honestly is the best way to start a conversation about solutions.

“I had to hit rock bottom, get fired and make all the mistakes all over again in order to look at myself and go, ‘Hey, what is my problem? I’m really good, and I’m sitting here begging for crumbs,’” Brzezinski says. “I’m educated and from the most amazing family. I am extremely blessed and lucky and supported, and I couldn’t do it. And I’m telling you that, and now here’s Brooke Shields saying she couldn’t do it. I think that’s powerful, to help women understand the accessibility of this message. That’s how we help the women in this country who don’t have the blessings I’ve had and make sure we can all do it. The issues are universal. We can be part of each other’s solution.”

Mika Brzezinski's “Know Your Value” tour heads to Washington, D.C.

Mika Brzezinski’s “Know Your Value” tour heads to Washington, D.C.

While the “Know Your Value” tour and its preceding book examine women’s habits at work, Brzezinski’s next book, “Growing Your Value,” due out May 12, will examine the costs of “having it all,” and how women and their families can be affected by professional success.

“‘Growing Your Value’ came to me last spring when I was at the White House Summit on Working Families,” Brzezinski says. “I was with this amazing panel of women, and I was trying to think of a better way to ask the balance question, because everyone’s answer is always, ‘Oh, it’s really hard, but we made it work,’ and that’s bullshit. So instead I said, ‘Have you ever experienced challenges or trouble at home because of your success?’ and the whole room went silent. I thought, ‘No, wow, I have to write this.’ Success has a price. We talk about ‘having it all,’ but what does that cost?”

Brzezinski’s biggest piece of advice for young women who dread trying to prioritize both a family and a career is to level with their potential partner.

“Just be really honest, and most importantly, confident,” she says. “So when you’re dating a guy you say, ‘I totally want to get married and have babies, but I also totally want a career. So that means I’m not going to have the cleanest house, and I’m probably going to be a little cray-cray, but I feel good about it.’ ”
Shields says she struggled with her own identity, and she still finds herself changing aspects of her personality to fit various situations. She recalls running to her mother in tears during one teenage identity crisis.

“I had this real fear that I was a jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” Shields remembers. “I didn’t fit in because I went to regular high school, but then I was presenting at the Academy Awards, and then the next day I was meeting the president, and I was a cheerleader, and I just thought, ‘I don’t know who I really am.’ My mom said to me, ‘Why do you have to choose?’ And that was great advice.

“I put on these different hats, but I’m still the same person. When I’m picking my kids up from school there’s a way I carry myself that’s different; it’s more humble and relaxed. When I’m meeting with the CEOs of companies I’m working with, I can’t be that person. I need to be another version of myself. But that’s OK, and I feel like you should acknowledge the versatility you’re capable of and celebrate your capacity to be other people.”

Shields and Brzezinski each have two daughters, and both believe that focusing on their own careers and well-being makes them better mothers and people.

“What’s starting to happen is the better I take care of myself – and that could mean just getting dinner with a girlfriend and having a glass of wine – I’m more effective as a friend, more effective as a parent and more effective at my job, because I have the clarity to know that no matter what, I’m going to be there for myself,” Shields says.

Brzezinski’s older daughter Emilie, 19, joined her onstage in Philadelphia, and Brzezinski says sharing that experience has changed their relationship.

“I think it was the first day of her life that she was actually, genuinely proud of her mom,” Brzezinski says. “I think she’s lived with what it’s like to have a hard-charging, working mom. She’s had to live with sharing me, and it hasn’t always been easy on the family. I think a lot of times it’s been, ‘Why can’t I just have my mom?’ But I connected with her on that day more than I have since she was a very little girl, and it was one of the more powerful feelings I’ve had. I’ve had to take it on the chin a lot as a mom, but my mother always told me to have a goal and then conquer it. It’s important that my daughters see that happen.”

May 2015
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