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An Interview with Andrew Shue, Actor/Entrepreneur MAG
Andrew Shue, most recognized as Billy Campbell on "Melrose Place, "founded a national community service program, Do Something, which organizes and trains young people. Most recently, he established ClubMom.com, an online resource to empower mothers.
How did you decide to start Do Something?
Michael Sanchez and I grew up in New Jersey, not far from here, playing soccer together. When I was in high school I worked to start an organization to help senior citizens, which I learned a great deal from.
After Michael and I went to Africa to teach math and play soccer, he went to law school and I ended up on "Melrose Place. " Neither of us was happy with what we were doing, and felt something was lacking. We met for breakfast one day and had the idea of getting young people to become active citizens and leaders in their communities.
We gathered a bunch of young leaders, like Wendy Kopp, who started Teach for America and Alan Kazey, who started City Year. We had a conference with young social entrepreneurs and talked about the need for an educational infrastructure - not only to teach young people to be leaders, but to make it cool and fun.
Do Something was born out of the idea that life isn't really worthwhile unless you're involved. There's do something people and there's do nothing people. We wanted to make sure young people knew the difference.
Are there stories of individual kids "doing" something that jump out?
There have been a lot of projects. One that I thought was remarkable was a kid who started a project in Newark, New Jersey. There's a real problem there with young kids stealing cars. They don't have any money, and want something exciting to do. So his idea was to take these car thieves and have them go through a program to become mechanics. They could use their fascination with cars to get a job and their GED.
Since the project was very creative, we funded him and he got money from others, too.
What are the goals of Do Something and Club Mom?
We started a movement with Do Something to build character, citizenship and confidence in young people.
With my new venture, Club Mom, we want to empower moms to feel their value and also build their collective power to make their lives better and easier. We want to bring them together as a community to share experiences and information. There are 80 million moms in the United States, 40 million stay at home with their children.
We've raised a lot of money, and learned how different it is raising money for a profit venture versus a non-profit one. But much of what we learned from Do Something has helped us build Club Mom quickly.
Teenagers too often have to deal with loss and death. You had to cope with the untimely death of your brother; how can young people deal with such tragedies?
There's nothing to do in the end but accept it and hope you have the support, really good support, of friends and family.
I think the acceptance element is very important because it's a cruel lesson. When we're young we have avery clear vision of how life is supposed to be, and it all seems very neatly packaged.
When something tragic happens, it's a rude awakening that life doesn't go exactly the way we plan. You grow up faster and realize part of life's beauty is that it isn't all planned, that there are many unknowns. Nothing's guaranteed, but you have to live. You can't just walk through life, you have to actually embrace it and go after it.
In the end you could say, "Oh, I wish nobody had to go through that kind of thing. " But at some point in their lives, people deal with tragedy. It's just a question of when.
I would say look at it as an opportunity and not a curse, and definitely utilize the foundation of friends and family.
The worst thing people can do is pretend it didn't happen; when you start suppressing feelings at an early age, it hurts you down the road. Full expression of anger and pain is very important.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I'll give you my favorite quote from my older brother, who said, "People say you should write a book before you die, but the book is already written by the people you've touched. "
What was the dumbest thing you did in high school?
The dumbest thing I ever did in high school was when a kid challenged me to a fight ... I don't know what his problem was.
He decided he didn't like the girl I was going out with and just announced we were going to have a fight after school at our lockers. The dumbest thing was that I said, "All right, I'll meet you there. " I probably should have told him, "I don't know why you want to fight, I'm not interested. If you have a problem, deal with it yourself. " But I did show up and it was just a little scuffle.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in high school that applies to our generation?
I think the key to both high school and junior high is everybody is trying to find their way, trying to stand out. It's very competitive. If young people could let go of that need ... I got too competitive. It goes back to my philosophy that you can broaden the kinds of friends you have if you don't just say, "Okay, I'm in this group and these are my friends, and I'm not talking to those people, and it's us versus them. "
But if you have different friends; maybe you are in the higher-level classes and have some friends there, and you have some friends from sports or others from a club. The more kinds of real friends - not superficial but real friendships - you can have, the better off you'll be. I was lucky, because of Student Council, my classes, sports and social life, there were different people I had friendships with.
Based on this, try to have as diverse group of friends as possible and don't get into the clique scenario.
Who do you think could be really good role models for teens, and why?
The most important role models should and could be parents and teachers. But that said, once you're a teenager you've probably gotten as much of an example from your parents as you're going to.
It's a tough question, but people who dream of something bigger and better are good role models.
Of all the people you've met, who's impressed you most?
I was on Oprah's show recently talking about the people who impacted me the most. One was a teacher and one was my soccer coach. I didn't even go into my family, who had the most influence.
I'd say my siblings, my parents, a few teachers, my peers - I have amazing friends who have led inspirational lives.
You've said that even though you were president of the student body and a sports star in high school, you still didn't have good self esteem. What helped you feel better about yourself, and how can teens learn from your experience?
We often think the exterior things - being good at sports or really smart -translate to feeling great about yourself. It's easy to say young people should believe in themselves, but the number one thing is recognizing that it's a journey, that you have to build confidence in yourself.
You need to make relationships to help you. It's hard for a teenager to say, "I believe in myself, I don't need anyone telling me anything. " It comes down to choices about the relationships you have with your parents and siblings.
The teacher I talked about on Oprah woke me up to the idea of thinking about who I was inside, that I should be thinking about whether I'm a good person, not whether I'm a good soccer player. To get that kind of feedback is very important. The most important thing kids can do is find people they trust and believe are good to emulate.
I was lucky to have somebody tell me. That goes a long way to feeling like a good person. Building a foundation of good relationships will make you feel good.
A lot of kids think winning is the most important thing. But, aside from this thrill, what are the most valuable lessons you can learn from sports?
Well, winning is everything - just kidding.
A good balance of winning and losing is important. If you just win all the time, you won't get anything out of it; having some tough losses can be really important.
I think it's similar to dealing with tragedy, but on a totally different level. When you have a tough loss, go through it and agonize. I had one loss that I still want to change, but at the same time I realize it is an important part of who I am.
When I was a sophomore in high school, the whole team dreamed about winning the state championship ... my brother had won it when he was the captain. There I was, I came off the bench to tie the game with 24 seconds left against our arch rival in the semi-finals. Carney and John Harts (who later played for the national team) were playing.
I was sure I'd make a penalty kick to win the game and the next day the newspaper would say, "Shue beats Carney. " But I missed the penalty kick, and we lost the game.
It was the most awful moment, it was one of those unbelievable moments when you don't get it the way you wanted.
You have to learn to accept it. It was a great lesson. Winning isn't everything, but playing and competing and striving and going through things can be a lot of fun and really important. As long as you're doing it in a way that's healthy, sports can be an incredible opportunity.
Do you have a favorite TV show?
I don't watch a lot of TV. In the last few years, though, I've watched "The Lion King" about 4, 500 times, and a lot of Barney tapes with my kids. Other than that, I watch the news.
I watch sports with my oldest son, we watch a lot of "Games of the Weeks. "
I did watch "Melrose Place" when it was on, I watched it just like a soccer player watches game tapes to see mistakes.
Do you have a favorite music group?
Backstreet Boys, *NSync ... no, I'm joking. I'm a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, they're my two favorites. I just saw Bruce in New Orleans.
You spent a year teaching math in Zimbabwe. What made a lasting impression on you?
It would be hard to pinpoint, but the most profound moment was when I walked into my first class. Thirty students were looking at me; the principal walked in and said, "This is your math teacher, Mr. Shue. "
Everybody stood up and they all had these big smiles on their faces. They stood at attention and started clapping.
I'd never been a teacher before, and here I was starting my first day with these eager students. There was a shortage of teachers, and they had been without a math teacher for six months. They were so excited to learn math.
Does your time in Africa influence how you live today, or any choices you've made?
Actually, the biggest lesson from Africa was that life's joys come mostly from relationships and friendships, not from material things. I saw time and again how much fun Africans had with their families and friends and on the sports fields;they laughed all the time.
They had nothing materially; they wore the same clothes every day and many lived in houses as small as this room. They ate the same thing every day, meal and beef, that was it.
It's been quite a battle for my wife to get me to buy clothes, I just wear the same ones all the time, I don't care. It's been a great lesson for me that I hope to pass on to my kids.
What was the best part about being on "Melrose Place, " aside from the money and celebrity status?
Well, the money was good while it lasted. The best part was clearly that it changed my view of what's possible, as far as thinking how you can have an impact on a national level.
When I started thinking about Do Something, it was not just, "Okay, go impact a town;" you start to think bigger when you see how quickly a TV show can catch on in a whole country. That confidence, and thinking big, opened a lot of doors.
Now I can pretty much call anyone, whether at the White House, in a company or in the media.
I have access, because of the silliness of the entertainment world and how people react to it. It gave me an enormous opportunity to do anything I really want to.
Is there any chance you'd run for public office?
People ask me that a lot. It's not in my plans now, but one never knows ... if I want to continue to build the kind of effort we have with Do Something, being in a public office would help. I wouldn't rule it out, but it's not something I feel determined to do.
Do you think you'll go back to acting?
I'm sure I will; I'm just kind of taking a break now and enjoying the freedom of making my own choices. When you're on a television show for six years they run your schedule.
I can imagine there will be projects I'll want to do, but I would want go back on my own terms, creating work I'm passionate about, possibly producing myself, putting it together in an entrepreneurial way that would give me freedom.
As a teen, what is the benefit of doing volunteer work?
How did it benefit you?
I hear a lot of people talk about community service;it's really about what you do, who you do it with and how you reflect upon that.
I like the idea of a project versus doing community service for a given number of hours. If it's a project, especially an idea young people come up with themselves - developed their Business Plan and results - that makes it a valuable education.
Community service has taught me all kinds of skills and increased my confidence. You go out there and think on your feet, work with others and create something from nothing. That's what life's all about.
What's the best way to get apathetic teens involved? There seem to be a lot who just don't care.
It all comes down to people and leadership, the right teacher picking the right students who then can reach other students who typically wouldn't get involved.
If you can get a teen leader in each sector of a student population, you can pull people in. Everybody wants to get involved, but most are too afraid. When they see a person they think is cool leading it, they're first to join.