The co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe regularly spars with politicians and heads of state on TV but admits it took decades for her to learn how to effectively ask for a raise. She shares her hard-earned wisdom on these and other topics in her new book Grow Your Value: Overcoming Roadblocks to Women’s Success. Recently, Brzezinski invited Serendipity into her beautiful Bronxville, NY, home and dished about women’s power in the workplace, getting fired from CBS and making time for dance parties at home.
Why did you choose to write your new book, Grow Your Value? I got such an incredible response from my bestselling book Knowing Your Value. Since that book came out women stop me on the street and say, “I read your book and got a raise”—this was from women negotiating a salary of over a million dollars to women just starting out in their careers. The new book is coming out in May with a national tour of multimedia women’s events called Know Your Value.
What is the difference between “professional value” and “inner value?” I think that a lot of women who make it to a certain level of success in professional careers find that they are spread so thin. As they really make it to the top and break the glass ceiling they feel like they’re three people. And those three people don’t get along very well. One of the prices of success professionally, I think, is just that. And I think we really need to talk about it. In Grow Your Value I talk to a lot of really incredible women, including Judith Rodin, the first female president of an Ivy League institution, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and Indra Nooyi, the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, about how difficult it is to be the CEO at work and at home.
Do you feel that you have had to make sacrifices in your own life for your career? Yes. I have much less of a connection to my family than I would like to have. I can’t say that everything is perfect and I have it all down and look how nice my house is. That is what everyone will tell you, and they are not telling the truth.
Why do women have trouble negotiating about money? I think part of the Know Your Value movement is teaching women to know their value and to communicate it effectively; to know what potholes are ahead as they grow their value; and to help companies keep the best women. Women do not express themselves well at work as it pertains to money. We feel tremendously uncomfortable with it.
Have you experienced tension between working and stay-at-home moms in your life? It’s funny, most of my friends in Bronxville don’t work but I have a few friends who do. We all get along really well, and I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything. Maybe it’s being at this stage in life where we’re a little older and we realize that neither choice is easy.
One of my best friends in town is a stay-at-home mom named Beth Campbell. She makes the most incredible soup, and usually while my family is eating that soup they say, “Why can’t you be more like Mrs. Campbell?” I know she and I have looked at each other and marveled at the choices we’ve made, and have yearned for the benefits of the other’s choices.
What would you teach your daughters about work, career, family and money? I would hope that they would know their value a lot sooner than I did so that they could bring the rest of it all together. I think women of our generation have been in a mad scramble to continue down the trail that women have set before us. I’m hoping that my daughters, our daughters, have more choices and have their wits about them to make them without feeling any pressure other than making the choices they want.
What was it like for you when you got fired from CBS? When I was fired I was so horrified by it and so sad. I had built this incredible situation for myself where I anchored the Sunday CBS Evening News with my kids hiding under the desk. I thought I had it all figured out and then Boom! You’re gone. It was very shocking.
I went home and tried to spin it to my daughters. I came in the door and said, “Girls, I have very good news. Mommy is leaving CBS and I am going to be home a lot more and I’ll be able to spend a lot more time with you.” Amelia, the older one, said, “Oh, no, you can’t do that. You can’t leave CBS because that’s the only reason the library lady likes me.” Carly was kind of quiet (she was only 8) and she was just listening. I said, “Nope, it’s going to be great. I’m going to be Super Mom.”
The next morning the teacher called and asked me to come to school because Carly was having a hard time. The teacher said, “Your daughter told me that you are leaving CBS.” I turn to Carly and said, “This is good news. You’re going to spend much more time with Mommy.” And Carly looked up at me and said, “Mommy, you can’t leave CBS. You love it so much. You can’t do that.”
And that was the first time I got really choked up about losing my job in an extremely real way, because I was losing a part of my identity, one that was so true to me that my kid couldn’t imagine me not doing it.
How hard was it to get back to where you are now? It took almost a year to find another job, and I was lucky to even get that. I knew I had to go back to doing what I love even if it meant starting at the bottom again. Eventually I got a part-time freelance gig at MSNBC reading cut-ins. No schedule. At the stage I was at in my career this was hard, but I took it. I met Joe Scarborough in the hall when he came up to audition for his new show. He called the president of MSNBC and said he wanted to try out with me. We auditioned together and here I am.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve interviewed? Favorite guest? The same answer for both. My dad. I could listen to my dad [foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski] talk about anything. He’s just incredible and fascinating. And I would add my mother to that list as well. She is an incredible artist and I could also talk to her about anything. The platform of Morning Joe has allowed me to talk to my parents on a completely different level as an interviewer, a journalist and a host.
Did you feel this way as a teenager about your parents? No, I felt the way my kids do about me!
How did you decide to move to Bronxville? I was working overnights at CBS, so we lived in Yonkers. And then we had kids and needed good schools.
What do you like about living here? I love the smallness of the community and the support network. The cheering squad of women in this community—it’s not the “mommy wars.” It’s a great place.
What is a typical workday for you like? I’m up before 4 a.m. every day. I travel a lot. I have a home office and I work there all day if I’m home. I run. And I try and spend some time with my family in the evening but I’m usually falling asleep.
What is your favorite thing to do in your area with your kids? I watch them run or I run myself. My daughter Carly likes to go to the deli Lange’s and to Robek’s for smoothies so that’s kind of our thing.
How do you stay in shape? I run outside every day, the minute I get home. If I don’t do it when I get home I just start getting tired and give up.
How do you keep your energy up? Running. It really does help and gives me a second wind. I have one really strong cup of coffee in the morning. I have a Vitamix and eat lots of fruit and vegetable smoothies. I used to eat too healthy! My healthy weight does not necessarily work on TV so I’m trying to push the envelope and be a little bigger. I used to be really ridiculously, grossly skinny, and it worked on TV, but I’m trying to push that back to a healthier weight. I was hungry all the time! I actually wrote a book about it [Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and My Own]. Whenever I make a mistake in life I write a book about it. I call myself out.
What about style? You’re known for wearing gorgeous, high-heeled shoes on the show. [Ad exec-turned-TV personality] Donny Deutsch buys them for me. I used to wear ridiculously high-heeled shoes before I was on Morning Joe but they were not that expensive. Donny insulted my shoes on air and I said, “You better buy me some then.” I love clothes from Milly. I also wear a lot of Magdaschoni.
Do you have time to entertain? I’ve had a couple of raucous parties with the track moms. We recently had a really fun dance party. I am a terrible, horrible cook. I burn everything and make a huge mess! -Holly Parmelee