What does it take to get to the top -- without losing your center? Our “Making It Work” series profiles successful, dynamic women who are standouts in their fields, peeling back the "hows" of their work and their life, taking away lessons we can all apply to our own.
Reese Witherspoon attended a young women's conference at her teenaged-daughter's school in Los Angeles, Calif. last month and was in good company: she brought along her own mother, her good friend Mindy Kaling and joined notable women like Maria Shriver and Lisa Leslie for a day of events and discussions.
Witherspoon said of her 14-year-old daughter Ava, “I don't need to teach her much. She has a lot of self-confidence. I came from a very long line of very strong, hard-working women. So I think she gets a lot of inspiration from her grandmothers on both sides.”
But Witherspoon's children must certainly garner a healthy dose of inspiration from their own mother, too. Witherspoon won an Academy Award for her performance as June Carter (another fierce woman) in 2005's "Walk The Line" and currently has four films in post-production, including the smash bestsellers "Gone Girl" and "Wild." Witherspoon has two children with actor Ryan Phillippe and a toddler with new husband and agent Jim Toth. She might have won Hollywood's heart in "Legally Blonde," but she has since proven herself as an extremely talented actor, singer and producer.
The Huffington Post spoke with Witherspoon, 37, about accomplishing everything you want, taking on the challenging role of Cheryl Strayed in "Wild" and what the most important thing women can do in 2014 is.
How do you define success and do you consider yourself successful by that measure?
I think more and more for me, it’s about finding balance between work and family and finding time for myself. I think it’s sort of 30/30/30 -- or trying to be at least. Right now it’s sort of like 50/20/5 [laughs]. I think it takes time. You just learn, as you get older, to carve out time for yourself and still accomplish everything that you want. And I’m still in the process of having huge goals and things that I want to accomplish. But I’m trying to do those things while still maintaining a little balance.
And also, I would guess, show your children by example that you can still do all those things and have balance.
Yeah, I think they get that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Or have been given recently?
I just finished a movie called “Wild.”
I just finished the book! I loved it so much.
Witherspoon on set via Instagram: "Um... Do I have something on my face? #WILD"
Cheryl Strayed is such an inspiring person. I’m so glad you liked it. It was hard. It was a hard movie, but I felt so inspired by her book. I feel like as a human being she just has so much perspective, with a lack of judgment. She has just literally been through everything you can possibly imagine. She’s not only survived, but thrived. And she’s managed to reach out and help people. I find people like that really inspiring. So much of what she says I find inspiring. She has a quote that I’m going to butcher: the thing about ascending is that you have to keep going. The thing about going beyond, is you have to go. You have to keep rising.
So whatever you’ve accomplished in your life, you have to keep going. You have to get up the next day. It doesn’t matter if you win the Oscar, or an Emmy. You’re Mindy Kaling and you get your show on the air, and now, oh crap, you have to write the show. You can have the greatest ratings ever, but the next day you have to do it again. Or do the next television show or do the next movie. And I want to make that movie even better than the last movie that I did. It’s about always challenging yourself and creating new goals for yourself.
Witherspoon giving Jennifer Lawrence some attention via Instagram: "Loving #theseptemberissue #perfectdayinparadise"
Since we’re at a young women’s conference, what is an issue that you think women should focus on in 2014?
Oh my god, there are so many. One in particular that’s important to me is electing more women to official government positions. I feel that we are grossly underrepresented. Really support a lot of female political candidates. And I think there are some great organizations that are doing that. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and the whole Off the Sidelines campaign for young women to get them inspired to join in -- because there’s a sensibility that women don’t volunteer themselves. They want to be asked. And it’s hard to put yourself out there. We are all afraid of being marked as that girl who’s “really ambitious” -- as if that’s a bad thing!
As if men would ever be called that.
For men, that’s considered leadership quality. But it’s not when a woman speaks her mind or is ambitious. Sheryl Sandberg’s book says you shouldn’t call little girls bossy. I was so bossy. But I love that Sheryl says you should say she has "leadership qualities." So it’s sort of about re-writing the script. Changing people’s perspectives about what women are capable of, and also seeing what we’ve already accomplished.
What’s one thing you desperately wish you could tell your high school self?
That everything is going to be okay. I think I had a lot of self-doubt and worry. But it's actually going to turn out really great. No one said it's going to be easy or fair. But if you work really hard, you can accomplish a lot.
Witherspoon's very first Vogue shoot, 1991.
I feel proud to be a woman because _________.
Because we are capable of anything. And we do it all. We do it all so well. I don’t know any weak women. I honestly don’t. People say to me, “why don’t you play weak characters?” And I say, "I don’t know any weak women!" Sometimes I read them in scripts and I think, "this isn’t representative of any woman I’ve ever met in my entire life." Sometimes you see a girl in a script and you don’t even know what she does for a living. Or what her parents do. Or if she has siblings. You have no information and that’s categorized as a female lead in a film? I find it appalling. It’s head-scratching for me. I have no intention of putting that out in the world. It’s not reality.
Witherspoon via Instagram: "@mindykaling Thank you for rockin' the world with your comedy and inspiring so many young women today!"