Grow Your Value

Living and Working to Your Full Potential


By Mika Brzezinski

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A woman who wants to be successful must make sacrifices, but how can she determine which ones she’ll be happy with five, ten, twenty years from now?

Mika Brzezinski, Morning Joe co-host and New York Times best-selling author of Knowing Your Value, has built a career on inspiring women to assess and then obtain their true value in the workplace. In her books and in her conferences, Mika gives women the tools necessary to advocate for themselves and their financial futures. But that is only the first step; once you know your value, you need to grow it — both professionally and personally.

Drawing on deeply revealing conversations with powerful and dynamic women, input from researchers and relationship experts, and her own wealth of experience, Mika helps women pinpoint their individual definition of success. She advises her readers to define the “professional value” that encompasses their worth in the workplace, and the “inner value” made up of their core beliefs and goals.

Women can stop feeling overwhelmed, overscheduled, frantic, and forever guilty — but only if they choose their objectives confidently and unapologetically, and focus their efforts accordingly. Mika encourages women to stop seeking the unobtainable “work-life balance,” and instead pursue a life of honesty and authenticity, where career and home life combine rather than collide.




Career, Personal Life, and Growing Your Value

Iam the Queen of the Awkward Moment—and I love it. It’s a trait that I’ve developed ever since I was a young girl moderating political debates around the dinner table, with my brothers, mother, and White House statesman father. In interviews, discussions, and meetings, I’ve always found that the Awkward Moment tells me almost everything I need to know about any given topic.

When I’m in the interviewer’s seat, I’ll lead with a few softball questions and genial banter, and then I’ll throw a wrench in the works. If the others jump in right away with rapid-fire responses, either in conflict or agreement, you’re definitely in for a great discussion—but you’re not going to get to that brutally honest place where time stands still, the domain of discomfort and naked insecurity. No, the Awkward Moment is a different beast altogether. It’s that uneasy lull that follows a question that’s so controversial, so sensitive that no one dares take it on. When it surfaces, I know that I have suddenly pinpointed a hot-button issue. I’m onto something big.

The Most Awkward Moment of my career came in the summer of 2014 when I was moderating a panel for the White House Summit on Working Families. The subject was very close to my heart: the fact that women, wives, and mothers need to learn how to understand and leverage their value in the marketplace. I was sharing the stage with some of the country’s most powerful and internationally known women. Luminaries such as feminist movement leader Gloria Steinem. Political pioneers like former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Media moguls like Black Entertainment Television (BET) CEO Debra Lee. Intellectual institutional powerhouses like Judith Rodin, the former president of University of Pennsylvania and current president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

I was nervous to be up there with such incredibly accomplished women. But I was very excited to get an inside look at how they had estimated their financial value at different points in their careers—or, unless they’d been born super-women, how they’d underestimated it. I wanted them to share what had happened in their work lives, what they’d learned, and how they’d used their experiences to maximize their monetary worth in order to accomplish such extraordinary achievements.

But I also wanted to know something else.

To be honest, I wanted to come away with some tips that I could use in my own life. Obviously, the women on this panel had done it all—at least over time, right? But how had they done it? I wanted to know all the mechanisms they’d deployed on their way up. I’m no Judith Rodin or Gloria Steinem, but I do know that more than half the time, between my job, my kids, my marriage—everything—I’m flat-out exhausted. And it doesn’t feel like it’s working. The scramble to take control of the important parts of my life (never mind doing the basics, such as going to the dentist) is relentless. I’m always putting out fires. I’m always on edge. And although I wouldn’t trade my career for anything, there’s no question that it has taken its toll on my family. So I wanted to know: What kinds of tolls had their careers taken on them? And how did they solve those problems? Getting answers to these questions would be the greatest gift of all because, as far as I’m concerned, what is the meaning of what I’m doing in my professional life if my family is not thriving?

So on that blazingly hot summer day, in a football stadium–sized conference room packed to the rafters, I began by introducing the distinguished panel. Then I asked, “What do you see out there in the ranks . . . do women always know their value? Do they communicate it effectively for themselves?” I asked whether they had observed what I have: that women are often their own worst enemies in the workplace. I had seen time and again that we don’t ask for what we’re worth because we don’t know or we’re too scared to find out what our value is.

Men aren’t too scared to ask. And it’s not that men get paid more than women only because they feel that they are more entitled to a bigger salary. Instead, it seems that we women don’t claim our value because we don’t feel entitled to it. We ask for less than what we’re worth when we’re applying for or offered a job or a raise. Not only that, we often apologize for what we assume is the “inconvenience” we’re putting our higher-ups through when we do ask. Okay—now discuss, panel!

Right off the bat, Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin confessed what happened when she was first offered the job as head of University of Pennsylvania years before. “When I was offered the presidency of Penn, the first woman Ivy League president, I think the board believed that I would—and should—feel extremely grateful.” She laughed. “They offered me a salary, and I went home overnight and started to get really angry. I went back to the board the next day and I said, ‘Would you have offered me that if I were a man?’ And to their credit, they paused to think about it, and then within the next ten minutes they raised my salary significantly.”

If that isn’t an example of knowing your value, I don’t know what is. Rodin’s experience illustrates how critical it is for women to advocate for themselves. To know what men are getting paid for the same jobs. To know that if you’re being offered the job, your employers probably have a higher estimation of your value than you do. So you’ve got to step it up, do your homework, and explain plainly and firmly what you bring to the table. That’s the essence of knowing your professional value.

But, I said to the conference audience, it takes a while to learn how to do that. BET’s Debra Lee agreed. She marveled at how different things were now from when she was rising up in the ranks as a media executive. “I’m seeing a growing trend of young women being better prepared, and saying, ‘I’m not going accept a position, if I’m not [compensated fairly].’” She added, “When I was coming along, I didn’t have that many role models, in terms of women and business or female CEOs. I never even thought about being a CEO.” When she was first offered the position of chief operating officer (COO) at BET, she’d learned that three men at the company had already applied for it. But there had been no job posting! How in the world did these men have the wherewithal, the guts, to apply for a position that didn’t even exist?

“They just make stuff up! They oversell in every way!” Debra said.

I couldn’t resist breaking in, throwing my hands up in disgust and admiration. “It is an unbelievable talent on the part of the human male!” We all, audience included, had to laugh. Evidently just about everyone in the room had had a run-in with that “unbelievable talent on the part of the human male” at one time or another. Debra confessed that even when she had been invited to make stuff up—stuff like her salary, for example—she had so little sense of her professional value—her skills, her experience, her unique perspective, her earned wisdom and judgment—that she couldn’t even imagine what the number attached to it might even look like. When she’d been taken out for lunch and was offered the COO position and was then asked how much she wanted, Debra admitted that she was astounded. “I was like, ‘Wow—I can pick a number?’” she recalled thinking at the time, chuckling at her naïveté. “I hadn’t thought about that. So I said, ‘Well . . . I don’t know. A million dollars sounds good.’ And he looked at me. And he said, ‘Why so low?’”

On the surface of it, the panel was going great. The speakers were sharing stories of how they’d learned to measure what they were worth professionally and financially in a take-it-to-the-bank kind of way. The audience was getting a lot of information about how these pros had paved the roads to their brilliant careers. But still, women in the audience and online weren’t getting exactly what they wanted to hear. And neither was I. In the moderator’s seat I was being handed stacks of questions from these women. Perhaps not coincidentally, most of them centered on the very theme I was dying to hear these women talk about: How had they managed to do it all on their way up—and what were the consequences in their personal lives? I could feel the Awkward Moment approaching.

“So I’m getting a lot of questions,” I said nervously, flipping through the stack. “I’m going to encapsulate, because they reflect something I wanted to know too.” I hesitated, wondering how I was going to frame this discussion. But even as Queen of the Awkward Moment, asking these women about how their personal lives had collided with their careers was going to be, well, difficult. This question was so intimate that for the first time in a long time, I found myself stalling. “The women who are sending in questions are starting out or half-way there in their careers, and you all are at the top,” I stammered. “You have dynamic careers . . .” I paused—why were my palms sweating? Finally I asked, in the gentlest possible way, “Any unexpected personal strain from that?”

Silence. Replaced momentarily by forced laughter. Followed by more silence. Oh, God. I looked around at each panelist to see who was going to take this question on. Nothing. Nancy Pelosi looked as if she smelled something bad. Some audience members did too. “Well,” Debra Lee finally said, stiffly, “maybe none that I want to talk about.” And clammed up. No one else was biting. I knew it would be a touchy subject, but this was like yanking out wisdom teeth without anesthesia. It was remarkable to consider that these women had chatted about their strategies for increasing their earnings and power as if they’d been swapping vacation stories. But on the subject of how their careers’ successes had impacted their personal lives? Nada. At least there had been one response, so I had something to go on with Debra. I could pull this one out, get us out of this pit of weird discomfort. I had to. The Awkward Moment is only valuable to the extent that it’s followed by a watershed moment in which a surprising and raw truth is revealed. So I persisted.

“Debra, you talked about your life changing and you not even imagining being CEO. So how did you know what that would feel like personally?” I asked. “Do you feel like you have to ‘edit’ around the people around you? Do you feel like you can be who you are at work, at home?” Again, nothing. The panelists shifted in their chairs—some blankly gazed out at the crowd, some smiled politely at me. But they simply would not talk.

This was fast becoming not just an Awkward Moment, but an aggravating one too. I’ll admit it: I was annoyed. I couldn’t believe these smart, gritty professional women would share with complete candor about the discriminatory struggles they’d had in their careers but remain lips-sewn on how their work lives had affected their marriages, partnerships, friendships, family, and children. These were real and important experiences for all working women, mothers, and wives to learn and share about, but the women who were supposed to be role models were refusing to go there. I grew even more insistent. “I mean, these are questions, I think, that we should put on the table—should we not?” I asked. “Or are we all going to say, ‘It’s so easy. We’re awesome. All of our relationships are perfect. And you can do it too!’”

And . . . silence. Not the kind of silence that people are compelled to fill with embarrassed coughing or throat-clearing. A complete sound blackout. Crickets chirping. After what seemed like a purgatorial eternity, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi jumped in and changed the subject entirely. I shifted gears, and the show went on.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened.

If their work and personal lives were beautifully intertwined, they would have happily shared it. Instead, they’d been mute. The takeaway for me was that successful women evidently felt too insecure and vulnerable to talk about how work had influenced their relationships and their sense of worth in their whole lives. In the end they were not prepared to go on the record about it.

But in this book we do. Dr. Judith Rodin and Senator Claire McCaskill will talk about how a burgeoning career can cause stress in relationships and even harm marriages—their marriages. You’ll hear from PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who says she “leaves her crown at the door” every day. How tossing out her CEO persona at the threshold and playing the role of an acquiescent wife and mother is how her marriage has survived the intense demands of her career. Wow. Their honesty gave me the guts to say that I am struggling too.


What is success, really? Is it making a lot of money? Being at the top of your field? Fulfilled in your career? What are we chasing? And what about your personal life—doesn’t “success” have a role there too? What are the deeper undertones in the meaning of “value”? We should certainly calculate our profits in terms of work experience, expertise, and money. But what about outside the workplace? What’s the calculus for that? And how does our inner sense of purpose compare, qualitatively, to the value in our careers? Are they oceans apart or next-door neighbors? Can they complement each other? Or at least coexist without our having a nervous break-down or massive identity crisis?

These questions—and so many successful women’s reluctance to go near them—haunt, baffle, and, often, just plain elude me. I’ve speculated that one of the reasons these women skate over their personal lives or simply refuse to talk about them altogether is because women are still unrepresented at the highest levels of power: corporate, political, academic, scientific, and more.

For example, less than 5 percent of the top companies have women as CEOs. Slightly more than 10 percent of the 1,645 “Forbes’ World’s Billionaires of 2014” are women. As of this writing, there are only fourteen incumbent female heads of state. Perhaps their lips are sealed about their wrenching inner conflicts because no established woman would ever want to say anything to discourage younger women from aiming higher than the glass ceiling. One of the most powerful CEOs in the world told me that men are always bringing their wives to family retreats, yet women managers never bring their husbands. Never. Think about that. What is that telling your boss? What are we hiding? Why do we feel that we have to keep our personal lives and professional lives separate, even when we’re invited to merge them for a day or two? Is it because we, as women, don’t want to be seen as “wives” in a workplace setting? Are we worried that the presence of our husbands would somehow compromise our authority in the eyes of our colleagues?

We know that many Millennial women are burning out before they turn thirty. So the question must be asked: If the life of a highly successful, working woman is so complicated, why would anyone want it—much less to be a full-stop, executive, all-consuming “success”? And yet is it right for women who have been handsomely rewarded for their relentless work ethic to claim that there haven’t been profound personal consequences in other areas of their lives? As I blurted out at the White House panel, “Are we all going to say, ‘It’s so easy! We’re awesome! All of our relationships are perfect! And you can do it, too!’”? Come on, now. If that were true, there would be many more of us making it to the top.

I think we all know firsthand—or, if you’re young, you’ve at least suspected—that such toss-offs are flat-out frauds. In my life, the reality on the ground is that it has never, ever been easy. It has not always been awesome. And my relationships—perfect? Where do I even start?

My daughters have grown up often feeling annoyed because I am not like my friend Beth. Beth is an awesome stay-at-home mother of twin girls in my town. She was always able to have Halloween parties and show up at all school events. As our daughters got older and all became runners on the high school track team, Beth was the leader of the “parent pack.” I never knew where to go during cross-country meets. No worries: Beth had mapped it out. All I had to do was follow Beth and her camera (yes, she took all the pictures at every school event). My older daughter, Emilie, once asked me, “Why can’t you be like her?”

It’s true: I’ve missed school plays, birthday parties, sporting events, back-to-school nights—you name it. You can’t be in two places at once, so you have to do the math. I often made decisions with the big picture in mind. It has paid off in terms of my career, but not without many moments when my heart hurt. There have been genuine consequences, some so distressing that I don’t want to go any further because it would compromise my family’s privacy. Suffice it to say, it has been crushing on more than a handful of occasions.

As for my husband, I suspect that he is fed up with the demands of my career. It used to be funny when friends and colleagues would laughingly call Jim, whose last name is Hoffer, “Mr. Brzezinski.” It isn’t funny anymore. Jim would tell you that he spends too many nights eating dinner alone while I am still in Manhattan at some gala or work-related event, surrounded by a gaggle of strangers whom I will never see again. I regret every second I am away from my family at night, but I feel I am required to be at these functions. At first, going to such glam affairs was exciting, I guess, but after a while it all blurs. I feel awful about missing family time, and I often overcompensate when I’m home by lavishing too much attention on my family, buying them things, or trying to stuff ten conversations into one.

But at the same time, if you want to be at the top of your game, long hours are nonnegotiable. Just ask Indra Nooyi, who worked eighteen-hour days when her children were small. Being successful isn’t just a question of doing a killer job during business hours. You’d better be out there networking on behalf of your organization—and yourself. You’d better be mentally, physically, and sartorially “on” for professional events. You’d better be ready to travel—maybe a lot. And for some reason, we feel like we have to fill the same amount of space at home. Later you’ll hear from my friend Senator Claire McCaskill about how she would finish a case as a prosecutor—putting away a man for life—and then rush home to frantically make dinner from scratch. Talk about an exhausting double life.

I’m not saying that women whose partners’ jobs regularly involve travel don’t feel the unnatural silence that settles on their homes, don’t feel abandoned at times because it feels as if their husbands prioritize work over family. But when it’s a woman walking in those career shoes—a wife, a mother—the fallout is far, far different, and the fallout begins with how you feel about yourself.

For one thing, as a society, we’re still not used to successful working women—not by a long shot. There have been many changes, for sure, and one of the most interesting to me is that the number of powerhouse women in finance with stay-at-home spouses has climbed nearly tenfold since 1980. The Mrs. Executive Homemakers, Wives-in-Chief, and all those Mrs. Robinsons—women who historically hosted fancy networking dinners and organized the executive male golf outings, all to support their Wall Street husbands’ careers—might be fading from view. But still, there’s no question that in our culture, we’re more comfortable with the idea of men making the lion’s share of household income.

According to our exclusive MSNBC Working Women Study Poll conducted for this book, male breadwinners are more likely to have always held this traditional role in the relationship. To be specific, eight in ten (84 percent) male breadwinners have always been the primary earner, compared with just six in ten (58 percent) female breadwinners. And I still detect a whiff of suspicion, even of disapproval, toward working women, specifically mothers. Although I am capable of feeling guilty and paranoid where my working-mom status is concerned, according to statistics, I’m decidedly not. Americans are still remarkably entrenched in Eisenhower-era thinking when it comes to their attitudes toward working mothers.

More than 70 percent of mothers in the United States work outside the home. Yet according to a 2013 Pew study, only 16 percent of American adults say that the best growing environment for a young child is to have a mother who works full-time. Forty-two percent believe that it’s best for mothers only to work part-time. And fully one-third of Americans declare that mothers should not work outside the home at all if they want what’s best for their children.

So we’re not imagining it when we’re in the presence of those who seem judgmental about our work and family lives, who seem to believe that we should insist, misty-eyed, that if we could, we’d quit our jobs to be stay-at-home moms. And indeed, studies have shown that a majority of American working mothers are on record as saying that they would drop out of the workplace to stay at home with the kids if they could afford to do so. But is it possible that this is merely a failure to communicate?

Because that same 2013 Pew study found that women’s feelings about working outside the home have changed markedly in recent years. Among mothers with children under age eighteen, the percentage saying they would prefer to work full-time has increased from 20 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2012. Moreover, according to our MSNBC poll, breadwinner moms are more likely than female breadwinners without children to say they enjoy making most of the family money (41 percent moms, versus 32 percent non-moms).

My reading of the statistics convinces me that because many mothers have to work—and a growing number actively want to work—we have to openly address these hard questions about the enemies to working women’s success. Women want to succeed at work, and most must work, yet we’re getting the message that our career aspirations are not acceptable, that we’re actively damaging our children, our families. That’s an extremely worrisome message.

And really, who can’t help internalizing it? If we even begin to start trying to live an integrated life, one in which we feel at peace with our professional and inner values, we can’t help but feel shame and guilt. We have to talk about the fact that our sense of worth in the workplace is often worlds apart from what we mean to our families and close friends. We have to discuss how to grow our value in all areas of our lives so we can truly claim to be—and actually be—successful.

The problem is that no one is talking about those issues. Yet.


Before we get into the business of women, value, and the price of success, I’d like to pause briefly to reflect on how far women have come in terms of education and career parity in a relatively short period of time. Obviously we all know that women are catching up with men in the workplace—at mach five. But it makes sense to start the discussion of growing our value with how the United States came to recognize that women had any value outside the home to begin with. Because let’s face it: women’s growing labor parity with men—and all of the economic, sociological, and other forecasts say that young women coming up through the ranks now will supersede their male counterparts—is profoundly changing our social history.

So let’s just take a minute and really think about this. Only about fifty years ago, in 1960, if you used the phrase “female breadwinner,” people wouldn’t have had the slightest idea of what you were talking about (or they might have suspected that you were an anarchist). Back then only 11 percent of mothers were the primary family earners. And probably most of this 11 percent were those social taboos—single mothers. But by the 1970s, thanks in large part to women flooding into colleges and the Women’s Movement, females entered the labor force in droves. In the 1980s, because of ever-increasing women’s education—not to mention the spiking divorce rates, which left nearly half of America’s children being raised by single mothers—women flooded the workplace in far greater numbers than the decade before. (Anyone who remembers Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith can easily visualize that piece of women’s history—Reeboks, power suits, and all.)

To wrap your mind around the leap we’re talking about, consider for a moment the following US Census data. From 1940 to 1969 the number of female managers at work went up from 11 to 16 percent. Fine: that was then. But from 1970 to 1989 the percentage of female managers skyrocketed from 17 percent to nearly 40. And from then on, women’s steady climb up has been nothing short of staggering (although, as mentioned, there are still comparatively few women at the helm of the state or big business).

Let’s do a snapshot of the state of educational status between the sexes. In 1991, after fifty years of profound inequity, parity between young women and men in their twenties who had earned a college degree (or more) converged at about 23 percent. Less than twenty years later, young women outpaced their male counterparts in higher education, representing about 37 percent to guys’ 27. And this trend is projected to soar.


  • Endorsements:

    Praise for Grow Your Value:
    “An inspiring evaluation of the potentatial women have to create fully productive lives at work and at home.” – Kirkus Reviews

    Praise for Obsessed:
    "The writing is vivid and raw... Get the conversation going Obsessed does. And for that reason alone, it is an incredibly brave and important piece of writing." – Fortune

    Praise for Knowing Your Value:
    "A rallying cry for women to get the money they deserve." –

    Praise for All Things At Once:
    “A refreshingly pragmatic approach for the professional woman: don't wait to have children and don't let your job treat you like a bad boyfriend.” – Publisher's Weekly

    “Filled with as much self-deprecating candor as self-congratulatory bromides, Brzezinski and coauthor Paisner nonetheless offer a realistically detailed portrait of the pitfalls to be avoided on one's professional and personal paths to success.” – Booklist

    “Penetratingly honest... a straight-from-the-shoulder everywoman story, told with heart and verve. I loved it.” – Lesley Stahl, 60 Minutes and CBS News correspondent

On Sale
May 12, 2015
Page Count
304 pages
Hachette Books

Mika Brzezinski

About the Author

MIKA BRZEZINSKI is a co-host of Morning Joe; an MSNBC anchor; author of the New York Times bestsellers All Things at Once, Know Your Value, and Obsessed; andfounder of the women’s empowerment community, “Know Your Value.” She also servedas a visiting fellow at the Harvard Institute ofPolitics. She is the mother of two daughters. Formerly a press secretary on Capitol Hill, a stay-at-home parent, and a real estate agent, GINNY BRZEZINSKI is currently a contributor to the Know Your Value website. She is married to Mika’s brother Ian, with whom she has a son and a daughter.

Learn more about this author