Kristy Tillman was the Design Director at Society of Grownups and a designer at IDEO in Boston before making her way up to become the Head of Communication Design at Slack, a messaging tool for teams. This is a recent position for Kristy, who is real and honest about being “in process.” Her insights on building strong and diverse teams are powerful, especially if you’re considering becoming a manager.Read More
The world of work has seen a lot of change in recent years, and it can be tough to keep up. What do these changes mean for your career and leadership? Alex Cavoulacos breaks it down and shares her career expertise in today’s episode. Named one of INC’s 15 women to watch in tech and Forbes 30 under 30, Alex is co-founder and COO of TheMuse.com, a career platform and community helping people find inspiring careers.Read More
Jaime Derringer started the blog Design Milk even though she wasn’t a designer – she was simply curating what she thought was beautiful. Today it’s one of the best-known design blogs out there dedicated to modern design, offering what’s new in art, architecture, fashion and technology, and more.Read More
Ashley C. Ford is a writer, editor, and speaker who has written and guest-edited for publications like The Guardian, ELLE, BuzzFeed, Slate, and many more. But only a few years ago, she had a very different story. After getting fired from all her part-time jobs at once and hitting rock bottom, she found the drive to move forward again after reading a self-help book...Read More
Today’s episode features a powerful interview with Jessica Bennett – a journalist who writes on gender, sexuality, and culture. She recently authored the book Feminist Fight Club, an office survival guide for a sexist workplace that’s packed with hilarity and insights on the subtle and sneaky sexism that still exists in modern workplaces today.Read More
What is creative freedom – and when do you feel it most? Shyama Golden is an artist and designer who has found a range of ways to express her artistry. As a daughter to scientist immigrants, her parents encouraged her to pursue something practical. But after ten years of taking that route, Shyama felt the time was right to let her artsy side shine.Read More
Many women come to me because their day jobs don’t feel creative or meaningful enough. They spend quite a bit of time on production, tech, management, or analytical thinking. They have a passion for art, women’s issues, wellness, travel, culture, nature, something besides the way they make money right now. Their true passions, however, feel impractical...like they could never pay rent.
If you’re in this situation, you’re really lucky. A paycheck gives you the mental security blanket to create in peace. It’s an exciting time – something I like to call “the liminal space.” The key is to resist your desire to come home after work and numb yourself.
In my experience working with hundreds of women, the kind of after-work exhaustion that leads to numbing comes from Good Girl programming: the inability to say “no,” overworking, controlling, proving, and scarcity-driven behaviors. When you spend so much time being “unchill” at work, no wonder you want to come home and splatter yourself on the couch and just “chill.” The pendulum swings in the other direction! The reason you don’t create has nothing to do with a lack of time, but your own resistance and Good Girl tendencies.
You, my dear, might be in this tender liminal space and feeling a bit stuck. You know you have to work to pay the bills, but you crave change and bravery. Something more. Some fresh air.
I want to share with you the three phases I take every client through to some degree to build creative confidence and get creating outside of their job. I’ll also share the Good Girl blocks specifically associated with each phase. This is new content I’ve never shared before. Fresh off the boat!
Phase I: Express
In the first phase, a woman must begin creating without being “precious” about her work. She must let go of the idea that she is somehow being bad by creating, that she should be spending her time doing something more practical. She must set healthy boundaries at work so she can protect her energy and rituals. She must definitely not get on Instagram and go down a comparison spiral (unless she is going to deliberately take someone else’s work as inspiration and build on it in her own way).
Good Girl Blocks
- Lack of Boundaries
- Low Energy
- Guilt of Pleasure
Phase II: Show
In this phase, a woman no longer hides behind closed doors, but begins to show her work. For some women who went to design or art school, showing your work might be associated with critiques. But we’re not in school anymore, we’re in life. You let go of the desire to be perfect and show yourself as messy and figuring it out like the rest of the world. You celebrate mistakes. You overcome your fear of judgment and whether your friends from high school will think it’s random that you’re making abstract yarn paintings. This is a wonderful phase where you learn who most resonates with your work, and who least resonates too!
Good Girl Blocks
- Fear of judgment
- Fear of being messy or “wrong”
- Personalizing feedback
Phase III: Exchange
After a woman has granted herself permission to create and show her work, there’s the option to go deeper. In the exchange phase, she offers her creative work to someone in exchange for some kind of value – time, money, skills, or other creative work. Many women can get stuck here – especially if they feel like trading or selling their creativity is sleazy. They fear it’s not good enough and that nobody will want it even before offering it! I think of trading as “training wheels” when women can’t leap to selling, since selling can feel too uncomfortable and the inner Good Girl hates it. But I can’t even describe the first day someone paid me for coaching. It was the first money I earned that didn’t come from some authority figure like a parent, boss or employer, but came from me giving value to someone directly. One of the most empowering days of my life. And it didn’t even matter that it was only $25.
Good Girl Blocks
- Fear of rejection
- Following the Rules
- Attachment to outcomes
- Lack of Worthiness and Value
- Scarcity Mentality
- Guilt of Money
Reply and let me know:
- What phase are you in? (Note: different creative projects may be in different phases).
- Would you be interested on going through these phases with my guidance and a supportive community?
I’m playing with the idea of designing a creative confidence training specifically for women who work full time. We would overcome the Good Girl blocks above by moving through the phases and taking action together.
Reply and let me know if this strikes a chord!
P.S. And if you have something else you want help with, let me know!
Interested in learning how to de-condition away from fear and towards bravery? According to Caroline Paul, girls are socialized to be fearful instead of brave – and it’s not doing us any favors. As one of the first women in the SF Fire Department and author of the children’s book, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, Caroline has great insights on the relationship between being adventurous and being creative.Read More
On the heroine’s journey, a lot of our speakers find that they return to the magic, playfulness, and confidence they had as little girls. Linda Liukas is a beautiful example of this cycle. A computer programmer and children’s book author, she hopes to create a more diverse and colorful perspective of technology – starting with the poetry of coding.Read More
Debbie Millman is a writer, educator, artist, brand consultant, and host of the radio show Design Matters (the world’s first podcast about design). In this episode, she shares her wisdom on dealing with criticism, what to do when you’re in an ‘inner critic storm’, and how to funnel your energy towards your one non-negotiable.Read More
After I gave a recent talk on women’s creative leadership, a woman in the audience shared that she felt no room to cry at work without being labeled as “the emotional one.” In the same vein, one of my coaching clients asked me whether she should put on her “mask” when she felt overwhelmed at work.
It saddens me that women are still asking these questions. But alas, we live and work in a culture that has a complicated relationship to feelings. Feelings, especially negative ones, have become the enemy of action and action is required to meet business goals.
In my work with women creative leaders, I’ve learned that emotional safety is especially key to a woman’s growth at work. As dangerously stereotypical as it sounds: If you want to retain creative women at your company, you must accept and even welcome the expression of feelings. For most women, feelings are a bio-socio-psychological reality and the price of compartmentalizing or suppressing them is very high.
In a larger sense, this is about being able to show up as your whole, authentic self to work. In my interview with former Design Director at IDEO Andrea Mallard on the Heroine podcast, she stressed the importance of being cared for as an entire human being:
I had this one client that wasn’t a big fan of me and there was nothing I could do to fix this...I fully expected that I would get in big trouble...I remember [Chief Creative Officer] Paul saying, ‘you are worth more to us than this client is…’ [I learned that] this is a company that cares about me as an entire human being and sees my value...that built so much trust and such a strong desire to do the best work of my life there.
As long as work cultures don’t foster emotional safety, I predict women – especially highly creative women – will be the first to go. I’m not saying your company should replace the role of therapy or coaching, but I am saying that the current emphasis is far too much on action and results, and far too little on feelings and process. You may be more productive in the short term, but you’ll lose creative talent in the long run.
What do you think?
This piece was originally featured in 99U's Magazine – Winter 2017 Issue
Grace Bonney started the blog Design*Sponge many years ago, and today it’s one of the most trusted places online to go for creative inspiration. Her journey has had several points of big changes, like when she decided to pursue her blog full-time, when she came out as gay, and when she was diagnosed with diabetes. She’s an excellent example of how we sometimes must cycle through the heroine’s journey more than once.Read More
Are you a fixer who loves taking responsibility and caring for others, but feel like you have too much on your plate? You’re not alone. Today’s episode features Tiffany Dufu, Chief Leadership Officer at Levo League and author of the new book Drop the Ball — a must-read for all of us trying to do everything ourselves and struggling to embrace imperfection.Read More
Why on Earth have I “changed” my first name? Why have I gone, after 30 years, from Maria to Majo? It started with an interview I had on the podcast with Emily LaFave Olson. She went back to her maiden name after taking her husband’s name. That felt ballsy (more like ovarian!) to me. Here’s a woman who reclaims her original family name, who makes a very large statement to the patriarchy, and who works with her husband so he doesn’t feel emasculated when she takes back her maiden name.
This conversation planted a seed in my mind. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tricky relationship with my own first name “Maria José.” When I was two, we immigrated to Canada and kids made fun of my name – especially the José part because it was a boy’s name. Kids would taunt me by saying things like, "No way, José." As an immigrant trying to fit into a predominantly white English culture, I decided to cut out the José and make everybody else’s life simple – so there I was, just “Maria.” And how many immigrants or children of immigrants do you know who do this? So many beautiful names become essentially “colonized,” ripped from their mother language to make everybody else’s life easier.
At home, my parents called me by my full Argentinean name, either “Maria José” (especially when I was in trouble) or the nickname “Majo” (which is Ma from Maria, combined with Jo from José, pronounced Ma-ho), or the nickname’s diminutive “Majito.” And at home is where I felt I most belonged and could be myself. In other words, my closest family calls me Majo.
In studying the heroine’s journey, I’ve learned that whether you’re a woman, minority, or someone who doesn’t fit into the dominant paradigm or system, you have to give a part of yourself up. There’s a part of yourself you learn to suppress, repress, erase, or obliterate so that you can assimilate and get by – so that you can avoid standing out. For some of us it’s in a big way, and for some of us it’s more subtle and sneaky, like our names.
As a creative woman, maybe you too have learned to suppress your very creativity, femininity, desires, feelings, shadow, magic, or overall witchiness because mainstream society can’t handle it and because women have been hunted for it in the past. The fear is real and deep: “If I’m weird, I might be killed.”
So, the truth is I haven’t changed my name, but have reclaimed myself. And in the process, I’ve learned a lot. First, it was hard for me to let myself be messy and transitional. I experimented with both “Maria José” and “Majo” and after some time, realized that “Majo” felt better and easier in this phase of my life as it would still allow me to have representation from the feminine (Ma) and masculine (Jo) sides of myself while still leading with the feminine.
And in researching the meanings for “Majo,” I was astounded: playful predecessor to the Flamenco dancer, “witch” in Japanese (swear on the Goddess), and the title given to empress-nuns in 12th Century Tibetan Buddhism.
It was clear to me that though this is my birth name, it was also given to me now by Spirit and my ancestors as I continue to enter into more power, confidence, and wisdom.
But still, the process of going from Maria to Majo is inconvenient (think about everywhere I’m plastered online) to seemingly burdensome to other people. After all, this was changing my first name and “personal brand” – the phase has felt awkward at first for some clients, friends, and family members who have always known me as Maria. Additionally, the "j" in Majo can be confusing to many English-speakers coming across it for the first time in written form, as the Spanish "j" is pronounced as an "h" in English.
But what I’ve also learned is this: If people truly love you, they want you to change. If people want you to fit an idea they have of you, they want you to stay the same. People gravitate towards comfort, and change is uncomfortable and sometimes confusing. In a recent interview with Grace Bonney from Design Sponge (coming out in a few weeks), she shared the importance of letting yourself evolve, even under the public eye. Let your brand, let your vision, let everything that you are change and grow and evolve. Your true supporters will respect and understand that. They’ll embrace and even celebrate it.
There’s so much we “default into” in this lifetime – choices we don’t make that are authentic to our true selves, but decisions and situations we literally default into. What would it mean to question these defaults and find a way to more greatly align with our higher purpose? It’s scary and seldom done. It's a privilege, but also an inevitable outgrowth of being intentionally on the path to evolve, and definitely a part of the heroine's journey.
It’s a special, historical, and polarizing time. Women everywhere are reclaiming their maiden names and words like feminism, nasty, and pussy. Immigrants are honoring, even protecting their mother tongues, cultures, and original names. It’s an important time for us to align into greater authenticity and purpose, take a stand against hegemonic forces that impose assimilation instead of celebrating differences and diversity.
So, sisters, to conclude: I have transitioned now from Maria to Majo, so please call me Majo. Don’t worry, Maria is still in there! She’s been integrated with José now.
This explanation has been long overdue and thank you for taking the time to read. But this little change is an example of something greater, a greater pattern about becoming more of who we are.
Do not be afraid to change, even after you’ve invested so much in one direction or way of being. You can still change if it feels authentic. Take what has always been yours. Reclaim it. Share it proudly. And don’t worry about naysayers, energy-vampires, haters, backlash, and other people’s discomfort – that’s all part of the process. Your lovers and friends will stand by you.
Photo by Jaclyn Le
How are you doing this February? What’s coming up for you? It can be a tricky time of year after the sparkle of the New Year has passed and we get back into the daily grind. We may feel overwhelmed, lost, and floating in uncertainty about our path. I’m here to let you know that’s completely normal. The election has forced us to wake up and step into more authenticity.
And given everything that’s happening politically and nationally, it’s imperative that we safeguard our energy and attention. It’s easy for the media to ruffle our feathers, and so we need to be mindful of what we consume and how it affects our system. Please consume with care; and consume with wisdom. Take care of your mental wellbeing and do not think of yourself as selfish for it. In order for us to do our deepest work and serve in the best way possible, we must focus on what matters most and not all the noise that surrounds us.
Here are some inspiring resources and opportunities for you to explore.
I cried in this episode. Alana Nichols brings the meaning of heroine to a whole new level. She basically flipped her own mentality after being paralyzed from the waist down in a snowboarding accident. And now she’s a world-renowned athlete. But what really brought it home for me is the choice we have everyday: to see what we have instead of what we don’t have. If you’re looking to feel inspired, moved, to have your heart touched in a deep way, please listen to this woman’s story. In a recent email, she wrote to me, "It was a true privilege to chat with you and I so appreciate your emotional investment in my story. I sincerely hope that this podcast will help and encourage women regardless of their hurdles."
The premise of this book is hilarious: “Quit bein’ a girl!” and I couldn’t agree more as some of us still can’t call ourselves “women” and are stuck in an infantilized perception of ourselves. It’s time to unlearn some of the ways we've been socialized. It’s a tough love book that will comb through all the mistakes in how we act, speak, dress, and play the game in our professional lives. Her coaching tips are very practical and I may make this required reading for my private clients!
Sorry to get nerdy on ya, but I can’t help it. Are you thinking of becoming an entrepreneur? Conducted among 2,600 entrepreneurs based in 18 countries, the study led by Scorpio Partnership reveals the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs under 35, "The Millennipreneurs." And it turns out female Millenial entrepreneurs are on the rise and planning for world domination.
If you’re creative, check out this opportunity to get paid for a year and work on your side project. Adobe is not paying me to include this in my personal newsletter (though they are sponsoring the podcast), but I really wanted to let you know in case this residency resonates and you have the chance to get more eyes on your creative work. Now, don't let your inner critic get in the way. Even if you think you'll be rejected, apply if you're interested.
In the sunless wooden room at noon
the mother had a talk with her daughter.
The rudeness could not go on, the meanness
to her little brother, the selfishness.
The eight-year-old sat on the bed
in the corner of the room, her irises distilled as
the last drops of something, her firm
face melting, reddening,
silver flashes in her eyes like distant
bodies of water glimpsed through woods.
She took it and took it and broke, crying out
I hate being a person! diving
into the mother
a deep pond—and she cannot swim,
the child cannot swim.
~ Sharon Olds
Also, I have created an entire poetry section of my poems online. I believe poetry is the language of the soul and therefore deserves its own place in the world and certainly on my website.
P.S. In case you haven’t noticed, I am no longer going by Maria or Maria José, but by Majo (pronounced Ma-ho). I will explain why I have done this after 30 years in a later post.
This interview had our host in tears. In today’s episode, Majo speaks with Paralympic Gold Medalist Alana Nichols. Playing sports was like a safe haven for Alana, whose family life wasn’t always ideal. But at 17, she broke her back in a snowboarding accident that left her unable to walk again. As a lifelong athlete, this was devastating.Read More
The young woman spends three days against a Western slope.
At dawn, she dances in the four directions and
Extends the corn husk in her hands.
When the moisture is gone and the sun peaks,
She’s under the dirt.
Look down, in the Earth’s skin, she is sinking below.