Confessions of a Powerhouse: Maya K. Francis

As part of the Twenties Unscripted “Foundations of a Powerhouse” Women’s History Month series, I’ll also be running the “Confessions of a Powerhouse” series with more detailed features. The first feature is my blog fairy godmother (because she is not fond of the term “mentor”) Maya Francis. Maya and I started chatting on Twitter a few months ago until I decided to make it official…and shoot her an email. Since then, I have bounced ideas off of her about everything from the trajectory of Twenties Unscripted to getting over men. Maya is wise and straightforward. If you’re looking to be coddled, she is not your girl. But, if you want someone to give you the truth in a direct yet digestible way, well, then, Meet Maya.

Maya Francis
Maya Francis

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
At 30 years old (sheesh!) I am just as inquisitive now as I was when I was a kid. I’m a person who asks a lot of questions to try to make sense of things. I like to making order of things, which is probably how I fell into communications and writing – that’s all you do as a writer; try to make sense of the world. I am a woman who has learned to make peace with her contradictions and to thrive in spite (or maybe because) of them. I was born and bred in Philadelphia. I’m an Aquarius, I love good food, clothes, and long walks to the bank…

Oh, and a footnote: I work as a social media engagement and insights supervisor. I always talk about my job last because it’s a dangerous thing to lead with what you do instead of who who you are. Trust me.

You balance a job as a communications strategist with work as a freelancer. What is your key to finding balance in your life?
I’m not so sure that it’s balanced, so much as juggled. I have always had varied interests and I never allow my day job to lessen the room I have for other aspects of my life that are important to me, whether that’s pursuing other professional interests, or making time for the people I love. When I worked in New York, I had a boss who told me, “You know, working here, you won’t have time to see your friends or family. You’ll miss things and cancel on people.” We’re raised to pride ourselves on being workhorses to the point of absurdity, I think. There’s nothing cool about not being able to see your family. I’ve got a real gripe with “busy” culture. We’re confusing “busy” with “dedication” or “competence.” I don’t want to be busy. I want to be efficient. I want to produce dope shit efficiently and well. I think she thought she was mentoring me and putting me on game. But remember thinking, “What kind of craziness is that?” Here was a woman had all the indicators of being a ‘successful’ career-woman (her shoe game was elite!) but when she in the office late at night, it was very clear to me how incredibly empty it all was. Her work–managing the careers of other people–was all she had. Success, recognition…all of it was a veneer. I felt sorry for her.

So when I interview for communications jobs, I’m transparent with prospective employers about the the fact that I’m a writer, too. I ask open and direct questions about work-life balance. This allows me to communicate who I am as an employee so that they are able to fairly manage expectations on their end. When I was first starting out in my career I never said anything in the office about the writing I’d do off the clock (and sometimes on the clock, admittedly). And when my colleagues found out (because people always find out the things you’re hiding) I learned that having this other professional life can cause in-office resentments and even conflicts with peers and upper-management alike. Once, I was even asked to choose between the two. That won’t happen. I love brand work. And I’m never going to not be a writer. So I make folks aware up front about what my priorities are so they can make informed choices about whether or not I’m a good fit for them–and more importantly, I can find out information about whether or not their organization is a good fit for me.

As far as getting it done, I’m a person who has to write things down. If I don’t write something down it doesn’t exist to me. It’s a good way to keep myself accountable. To do lists, again, are about making order of things. I like structure. Probably the latent effects of a Catholic school education.

You’ve written for some amazing publications including xoJane, Clutch Magazine and Very Smart Brothas. What are 3-5 pieces of your writing that you’re most proud of?
Gosh, this is a hard question. I really liked the piece I did for xoJane about Black Twitter, mostly because I think that there’s such a fascination with how Black people live. I think that piece was my way of saying, “Black people love, live and laugh just like everybody else. Hush up about it.” The series of pieces I wrote about Travyon Martin are also ones I’m really proud of as well. There are probably others, too. It can be hard to remember things I’ve written. A lot of times, after it leaves my desk, I let myself become a little detached from my work. It helps from getting too defensive when I get criticism or feedback. Writing is a fleeting exercise at times.

As a writer for VSB, how do you approach the space as one of the few women writers for the site?
I try to make it clear that if I’m speaking about issues that affect women I am not here to speak for all women. I have a perspective and there are other women who may share in that perspective, but I ain’t speaking for everybody. I speak tell my own story as honestly as I can, and hope somebody can relate or connect.

What advice would you offer up-and-coming writers?
Sometimes it’s best to keep your blinders on. Don’t worry about what the person in the next lane is doing. Find your stride, set your pace, and when you look up, you might realize you’re farther along that you knew. Read. Allow yourself to become inspired by other folks’ creativity. Challenge your worldview. Find some writer friends and talk shit. You need allies in the war.

What has been the toughest thing for you to learn throughout the course of your career?
Consistency. I will hit a stride and let myself get lazy or comfortable. Other times, I’m just burnt out. Still learning how to sustain momentum without short circuiting.

One thing I love about you on Twitter is how you still manage to be witty and biting, but without ever crossing the line or seeming disrespectful. What’s your personal approach to social media?
Ha, thanks! I’ve always been the type to say what’s on my mind (for better or for worse, timing be damned.) I am just myself on social media. I don’t talk overtly about sex if I can help it, ’cause that’s just not who I am as a person. I guess that’s my strictest self-imposed rule, which is kind of interesting now that I think about it. In general, am pretty transparent about things, but at the same time try to be aware that there are people who know me in real life, so I don’t put out anything I wouldn’t be comfortable with folks knowing about me. I also cuss, ’cause I’m an adult.

I love to jokingly call you my blog fairy godmother, but you really are a mentor to me from afar. Who are some of your mentors? How do you suggest up-and-coming writers go about establishing organic mentor/mentee relationships?
Argh, I don’t want to mention folks by name ’cause I know I’ll forget someone. Let me see… Annette John-Hall, former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist is a mentor. Kenrya Rankin Naasel and Parlour Magazine’s Hillary Crosley have been a mentors for me in the consulting game. Demetria Lucas put me on when I first started. Mandy Stadtmiller at xoJane holds me down. Danyel Smith, who is the first writer I ever really locked in on, has been awesome to me. I’m very grateful for every one of these ladies. I also have dope peers who keep me sharp (and competitive.)

What are you currently reading?
“This Is How You Lose Her” was the last thing I’ve read. I’m (finally) getting to Helena Andrews’ “Bitch is the New Black.” I like memoirs. I like learning how other people have attacked this “life” thing.

What are you currently writing?
Piecing together this book of mine, which is easily the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Also trying writing a business plan for a venture I’m starting.

What’s next for you?
Lots of plans. My plans got plans. Plans for a podcast. Plans for the book. Plans for this new business venture. But hopefully, a little time to sleep, too.

Maya is a writer and communications strategist whose work has been featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Magazine. She has also written for Clutch Magazine, xoJane, Esquire, Ebony, The Root and more. Follow her on Twitter at @MF_Greatest and check out her writing damn near everywhere…but also on her blog Margins for Errors.

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