(CNN) - A source close to Maria Shriver tells CNN it would be a mistake to assume that the former California first lady is a wreck in the wake of revelations of her husband's infidelity.
"It's a misperception that Maria is adrift, that she's lost trying to figure out where to go next," this source says, adding, "This is an empowered woman. Even her decision to leave (her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger) was the choice of an empowered woman who knows where she's going and what she wants in life."
The source says for the last four to five months Shriver has been meeting with potential business partners and backers strategizing the next step in her public life. According to the source, she plans to combine journalism and activism with a focus "sharp focus on empowering women." The source says Shriver has deliberately kept her plans private while she decides "how can she make the greatest impact" because "that's her process."
In the hours since news of her husband's indiscretion broke, Shriver has been cast as, at turns, her husband's victim and enabler. She has come under criticism for defending then-candidate Schwarzenegger during the 2003 recall election when 15 women came forward claiming he groped them. Shriver vouched for his character.
After the couple announced their separation earlier this month, Shriver was the subject of a flurry of stories that hinted she's emotionally unhinged. Reporters dissected a YouTube video in which a visibly emotional Shriver tells the camera, "Like a lot of you, I'm in transition," "It is so stressful to not know what you are doing next, people will ask you do you know what you're doing and you don't know what you're doing and then every idea you have - maybe I shouldn't do that."
She asks people to share the lessons they learned, adding, "It might be able to help me."
The source close to Shriver says people misunderstand Shriver's intentions in producing that video, saying, "She at her heart is a journalist and she talks about issues people aren't comfortable talking about. So she turned to her community to say, 'What did you think? I'd love to hear your feedback.'”
The source adds that as first lady, Shriver also delivered speeches that "were often raw and vulnerable and candid" as a way to open discussion with other women.
During her seven years as first lady, Shriver championed women's issues. She turned an already-existing California Women's Conference into a powerhouse news-making event that drew international celebrities, executives and activists. Through the conference she helped raise and donate $5.5 million to women's-focused charitable programs and drew national attention to previously unknown women for their work in public service. She wrote a book and reported a documentary about Alzheimer's disease, arguing it especially affects women who are disproportionately both the caregivers and the afflicted. More recently she organized a free medical clinic that treated more than 5,000 people over two days in Long Beach, California.
Because of this work as an advocate for women and families, the source argues, Shriver "shouldn't be defined entirely by this relationship" with Schwarzenegger.
The source says Shriver will eventually reveal her plans to "shine a spotlight on issues and projects that benefit women." She'll do it by drawing on her background in journalism which, the source says, "is at its core activism – designed not just to inform but inspire action." The source says that for Shriver, the key is "having conversations with people in a real, sometimes raw, authentic way."