Mika Brzezinski urges readers go for 'All things at Once"™
After having two daughters, now 11 and 13, and while working as a correspondent for CBS, Mika Brzezinski decided to interview her mother for a segment to honor Mother's Day on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.
During her interview with her mother, the wife of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser for Pres. Jimmy Carter, Brzezinki, co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, learned a lesson that has guided her as she navigates her journey in life as wife, mother and broadcast journalist.
Sculptor Emilie Benes Brzezinski had put her own career on hold while her husband's career took center stage in the Brzezinski household. Mika Brzezinski asked her mother if she saw herself first as "a mother, wife or an artist?"
"That is impossible to answer because I am all those things at once," her mother replied.
The response taught Brzezinski that "we can't really have it all right away. Not in full measure. That takes time. Pacing. Determination. Strategy." She learned that it's all right to carry all these different pictures in our minds as we move on in the world, but it's also right and good and necessary to step back every once in a while and bring just one of those pictures into focus."
Her mother taught her that people can be all things at once, but "we must also accept that we can't do everything all at once. It's about mapping out, navigating and constantly renegotiating your career, marriage and family plans. All equally important -- and all, ultimately, at once."
The philosophy she learned from her mother is chronicled in Brzezinski's memoir, All Things at Once.
Last Friday at Borders of Fairfield, Brzezinski was accompanied by her younger daughter Carlie and her personal assistant Sarah Tracy, a 2009 Fairfield University graduate who is handling much of the journalist's book tour duties and other administrative work for the TV personality. Brzezinski, who co-hosts Morning Joe with former congressman Joe Scarborough and a host of political commentators, came to Fairfield, in addition to hosting a book-signing, to offer some insight into her life as a TV journalist, wife and mother. She is married to ABC TV correspondent Jim Hoffer.
An admiring audience, equally balanced with men and women, waited an hour for Brzezkinski, who gave cell phone updates as her driver maneuvered Friday night along Interstate 95. She apologized profusely noting she is "never late," and, reflecting the rapport she has with her co-host Scarborough, she used her cell phone to take a photo of her audience, which she sent to him to prove he was wrong in predicting the audience would not wait for her.
Wait they did, and their compliments during the question-and-answer session demonstrated their admiration for her as a TV journalist and for the political morning show, broadcast from 6 to 9.
While many women who had come of age in the '70s and '80s were instilled with the notion they could "achieve anything they set out to accomplish," could identify with her message and memoir, Brzezinski's ideas could apply to both genders. In her career she has experienced the highs and the lows and at one point after she had been out of work for more than a year, decided to accept a job well below her qualifications at MSNBC just to be employed again in broadcast journalism. The job was reading "cut-ins," which were promos for upcoming shows on the network.
"It was a real step-back job that, 15 years ago, I would have laughed at," she said.
The decision turned out to be a good one, for it got Scarborough's attention. He was set to audition for a morning show to replace Don Imus following a debacle involving Imus' insensitive remarks about the Rutgers Women's Basketball team. Scarborough wanted Brzezinski to join him in the audition as his co-host. MSNBC liked what they saw and the show went on the air in 2007. Today the pair also co-host the syndicated radio program, The Joe Scarborough Show, following the TV broadcast.
Brzezinski cited the roller-coaster model of her own career to advise people in her audience who may be out of work. She said in today's economy, they couldn't expect to return to the positions they may have had or for there to be open job opportunities because one does not know, as in her own case, where they may lead.
"It's a reset," she said, describing the current status of the unemployed looking for work. She described the experience of losing her job as "cleansing and liberating in ways you never knew."
She stressed the importance of All Things at Once by noting that being a wife and mother bring texture to her career as a broadcast journalist. "It's all inter-related."
She couldn't envision having her career without the opportunity to share it with her husband and children. She disagrees with young women saying they will put marriage and having children on hold until they establish their careers. Married at 26 and pregnant at 28, Brzezinski advises women to see themselves with all dimensions and to seize the opportunities as they present themselves, especially when it comes to men. It's not easy to find a good man, she said, so when one comes along, don't ignore him for the sake of a career.
Also, with children, she said, the chances of having healthy children are greater when the mother is young and also the energy is at a higher level. However, the journalist did admit in her book that she is not cut out for homemaking -- cooking and cleaning -- and would rather leave those duties to others. She also acknowledged that there are many times she has not been available for those important milestones in her children's lives, such as their birthdays or graduation because of career conflicts.
She wrote, "Your job can be a big part of who you are, but it shouldn't be the whole package. Your family and relationships should be central, but they needn't be front-and-center at all times. I am the first to admit that I didn't get that. I get it now." In her book, she cited both Sarah Palin and Michele Obama as two examples of women who demonstrate the importance of all three components of motherhood, marriage and career in their lives.
Brzezinski said broadcast journalism is where people "chew you up and spit you out." While it is "grueling," it is also an "amazing platform."
In her book, she drew on the lessons of her career and family life to offer practical advice. She urged women:
Don't let your job become like a bad boyfriend. "A bad boyfriend job is one you give yourself over to completely, even when there's nothing left to give. Someone you make dinner for when you're not hungry. Someone you make yourself available for, but from whom you ask for no commitment in return. It takes a while, but before long you realize he's just keeping you around until something better comes along. ... A bad boyfriend job does not respect you."
Be willing to take a step backward. "Pace yourself. Go your own way. Narrow your focus. Breathe. It's what 20 years of running and gunning and accomplishing has taught me. It's not about slowing down, but strategizing for the long haul. Pull back when your gut said you should. Now that all these choices have unfolded for us, it's important for women to accept and expect them and sort through what needs to be accomplished when."
If you want marriage and children, don't wait. "I always wanted to have my children while I was young, and get my career going alongside my children so we could experience everything together. And I just don't understand why women wait until they're 30 or 35 to even consider getting pregnant. Real fulfillment comes from taking on challenges and embracing it, not putting it off ... marriage, career, children. Career, marriage children. However you bundle it, make it all happen. If that's what you want, then go ahead and reach for it."
While Brzezinski signed books, her assistant noted to a reporter that she became the journalist's full-time assistant after she had completed an internship during her senior year at Fairfield University. She handles a range of responsibilities including her Web site, media interviews and Morning show details.
"I love it. I feel lucky," Tracy said.
Nine-year-old Nick Frech accompanied his father Jon to the talk and told Brzezinski, while getting his book signed, that he loved her show. A fourth grader at Mill Hill Elementary School, Nick watches the show because a lot of people think he's a politician.
Jon Frech said the strength of the show lies in the character of the people on the show. "They are not mean or cruel." He praised their honest and forthright approach to presenting the issues.
"I learn so much from your show," Joan Huff, a first grade teacher at Mill Hill, told Brzezinki when she got her book signed.
Diane Becker of Westport said that Brzezinski seems to be following in her father's footsteps. "He's an incredible man with clarity of spirit," she said. Becker praised the show for its "superb guests who come on to discuss the issues." She found Brzezinski "open and honest. Isn't that refreshing?"
Ron Pavluvcik of Shelton is a big fan of the show. He watches it" religiously." "I'm a politics junkie," he said.
Brzezinski is no stranger to TV viewers. She began her journalism career in 1991 as a general assignment reporter at WTIC-TV in Hartford and a year later joined WSFB and soon became the weekday morning anchor.