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Way Finding with Maria West

In this episode of Way Finding, we talk with the DTC Mom herself: Maria West. A copywriter and content marketer with the versatility of a chameleon, she’s worked in in-house, agency and freelance marketing roles across numerous and vastly different industries.

OwnTrail co-founder Kt and Maria will dig into some meaningful milestones along her journey, including second-grade career predictions, juggling a newborn with a job search during a pandemic, the power and practicality of boundaries and the expansiveness of narrowing your focus.

Kt McBratney: Welcome to the second episode of Wayfinding. I am Kt McBratney, the co-founder of OwnTrail, and your friendly resident agent of chaos here on LinkedIn. And I am so so so excited to be joined today by the one and only Maria West, who is a writer, a strategist, a parent, a slinger of incredible jokes, a fan of spicy biscuits, and someone who keeps it very, very real real. And she has joined us today to share some about how she’s found her way through her career through her life, and truly align her work with what matters most to her. So we’re going to be digging into the stuff that doesn’t make it onto the resume, the things that often we feel like we can’t talk as freely about in our professional journey, right here where often so many of us come to do just that. And don’t necessarily feel like we’ve got those that freedom. And I feel like Maria is a perfect person to talk about this because she does give herself that permission to be herself, and to learn and grow in public and invite others to join her. And so with no further ado, welcome Maria.

Maria West: Hi, Kt. And hi, everybody that’s tuning in. Patience, we were — I said we were on a trail because we had some technical difficulties. So of course, we are. So happy that you invited me to talk on LinkedIn on do… I don’t even know that was the thing to be honest, like just starting to get back into LinkedIn. And so I know OwnTrail is, you know, blazing a new way on here, and so happy to be a part of that.

Kt: Well, thank you. Thank you, thank you. And because we had technical difficulties, and our broadcast was apparently deleted from the main feed, I’m going to ask our fearless social manager Liv to drop the link to this into the original broadcast, if you will. So that way, anybody who’s tuned into that will be able to find us there because we’re, we’re broadcasting two places at once somehow, but not showing up for everyone. We’re learning, again, we’re learning as we go. And this is our this is only our second episode.

Maria: We’re wayfinding the wayfinder.

Kt: That is true. And that’s that’s, I mean, that’s kind of the whole point, right is a space for us to be humans and be open about the fact that so often we are figuring it out as we go, there isn’t some grand plan that everything neatly falls in line with all of the time. And so thank you again, Maria, I love that you’re willing to take a chance on this and to roll with us as as we are learning. And okay, so we’re gonna drop a link to your trail in the comments so people can get a little and a lot more context about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going.

Kt: And…but one thing that I think stands out to me about your journey, your professional journey specifically is how you’ve worked across industries, company types, company sizes, and even topics as as a copywriter by trade. And we’re in a world where we like to put people in boxes. Marketing is a huge proponent of people fitting into categories and boxes, and not just for who we’re speaking to, or selling to, but often for the roles. And I’m wondering, with your experience and your passions, how have you pushed back on that pressure to fit yourself into just one box or a label that somebody else has made for you and navigate that tension that comes from having a lot of talents and capabilities in a world that often wants to put you into a specialist? Or a generalist only role?

Maria: Yeah, that’s a wonderful question. So I kind of didn’t know. Well actually, let me start off with a story because it’s really interesting. When I was in second grade, my teacher sent home an assignment for the parents to say, hey, what do you think your kid is going to be when they grow up and you know, people were saying professional soccer player or you know CEO of this and my parents said advertising exec and you know, that was probably very random for a second grader and they weren’t too far off because they kind of knew I was super creative, loved, you know, are good with words or like something’s gotta give there. And I was ambitious, so it was kind of like all in there. I must have sold them on a few things, you know in my negotiations as well. But so that kind of like, I didn’t really know about that growing up, but I just looking back now I’m like, Okay, I’ve always kind of been just a little bit more like different than, you know, I was high achieving in school, but I was, like creative.

Maria: So I feel like marrying those two, like, I really know what that looked like. I was like, I know, I like to write. I know, I like people. I like art. So I thought it was gonna be like an art therapist. I ended up doing Communication Studies at a liberal arts college, and, you know, was one of the top of my class, it was, kind of, still was for me. And so I knew I didn’t really like journalism. I, you know, started my first job out of college was an in-house role. And I wore all the hats doing customer service at the same time. So like, I feel like early on in your career, it’s like amazing to do those icky, yucky things that you might hate, like, talking to, like, picking up the phone, every phone call. But that taught me so many skills that would just transcend into other areas. And then once I got into that I moved to an agency setting at a content marketing and PR agency. And that experience was amazing. That’s where I just like, touched a million different industries from you know, wall and architecture design firms and all these randoms, real estate, I, I developed my strength as like, Oh, you’re like a chameleon when it comes to being able to write for these different audiences. And so I knew I didn’t fit in, like a industry box at that point, because I was able to, you know, do all the things, but I was like, I don’t have passion for any of these.

Funny enough, I and also I was doing social media marketing, email marketing, like I was doing all the different kinds of marketing as well. Still, there was like, I don’t know which one I feel the best about. And then I went in-house to financial services, was doing everything there. And really was a content manager there. So like, focused on everything words, really fell in love with just like, digital assets and website copywriting. And that’s kind of where I was like, Okay, these are my favorite types of projects that we do. But it was always, but okay, I’ll add this in, like, I was a younger female on the team who was extroverted and bubbly and approachable. That isn’t always the best thing because I’ve got, I get set up with doing, you know, planning all that stuff, or it’s like that burden. There’s like a name for it. I’ve, you know, oh, you’re like the woman on the team? Who can you with, like doing the notes and all that? Oh, I felt that burden while I was oh, like, in my career, and I like doing those things for the most part, but it was also like, okay, how can I like push back on this sometimes, and like, not be in that box of like, okay, just because the woman on the, you know, the younger woman on the team, I don’t have to be the one who’s like doing this, and this, and sometimes there’d be some, you know, advantages, like, my CEO, wanted me in the front of the company town hall to like, explain our rebrand and things like that. So I definitely, it came in handy. But I feel like those were some ways that like, there was some tension of what’s this? What does this mean for me to like, be a bubbly woman, but like, also be taken seriously.

And, you know, now, as a freelancer, I am my own person that, you know, I’m my own boss. I’m my own company, and I can present myself as silly or as strongly and seriously as I want. And that’s kind of why I love you know, like you said, I don’t I try to be on LinkedIn a little more, but I don’t take it super seriously. And that’s just kind of how I am to work with also

Kt: I love about 8000 things about what you said, also snaps to your parents for kind of like guessing out of the gate — that’s wild and amazing — where you would end up or where you are now because who knows where you will be 10 years from now. And as you’ve talked about, like finding your way through your career early on, and those experiences, especially with like your identity and your personality, it reminds me about this idea of authenticity and choice. Like, you are that extroverted, bubbly person and yet, that doesn’t mean you want to be obligated to be the corporate life of the party, taking the notes, organizing all the things and this idea that you want to have — you recognized early on, you want to have choice, over what pieces of you are expected as part of your role, and what pieces of yourself you’re choosing to bring to the party. And I’m wondering what advice you have for maybe for anybody else going through something similar? Where they feel a little bit ‘yes, that is something I’m naturally good at but that doesn’t mean you should expect me to do it’.

Maria: Ah, yes, I totally. I’m just having that be my experience, and then go into motherhood, I feel like motherhood times tenned it, like 10X-ed it. And so because I don’t have time for all that extracurricular, you know, bubbly Maria, I’m somebody’s mother. Now I need to like, I have a nap schedule, goddamnit. But, you know, I just kind of was like, I would say to somebody kind of feeling that tension is learn about boundaries, like learn, like read books about boundaries, just learn about boundaries, because that’s something that practice makes, never perfect. But you know, practicing boundaries helps so much. And you don’t have to do it in a negative way. Like, if your boss was like, hey, I need you to take notes in this meeting. Well, maybe if your boss asks you, you can do it. But like, if the guy with the socks up on the table, and you know, your co-worker who’s always not really doing anything, you can be like, Oh, it would be really nice. If you know, Zachary could take the notes this time or something. So like delegate it, like practicing delegating, practicing. Just boundaries is honestly the biggest thing.

And then just knowing, what do you want to be known for? Maybe, maybe it’s a good thing to, you know, be known that, Hey, you’re the one that people when they’re new to the company, they come to you for the tour, or like, you know, besides HR or whatever, like, are the one that helps them get a hey, here’s, here’s, like, all the, you know, we have this women’s club that you can come to or like this other thing. And, and so that’s a good thing, maybe that you want to be known for. But I think just like knowing like, what, like, I’m always a big proponent of being like, pros and cons list and like openings, like, what, what’s valuable to other people, to my company or clients? And then what spot, what do I like to do? And am I good at it, and then these three, are in a Venn diagram, then. So that’s kind of I would say

Kt: We love a good Venn diagram over here. And we’re big proponents of visualizing and, and I wish I had learned earlier in my career, um, that just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean that you should be doing it, it doesn’t mean that you should like doing it. And I think that that’s a that’s a easy, good, it feels good at first to fall into that trap. But then if that becomes the core of what you’re known for, and it’s not what you want to be known for, that’s not good. And so that’s, I love all of the practical advice that you gave there, both from pros and cons lists to this idea to setting boundaries. Hey, boundaries, we love boundaries, like I feel like there just needs to be an OwnTrail tshirt about boundaries.

But also like having this self-awareness that I think a lot of people only expect or encourage in people more senior in their career. And something that I love about witnessing your journey —and even the pieces of it before I knew you looking back at where you were — is you seem to have always had an idea like this strong sense of awareness. And knowing that that is very different than self-centeredness, right. You are a very giving person if anybody is is graced with you in their life. They know that you’re a very giving person who also has boundaries and that comes with having awareness, and you can take a lot of actions.

And from that awareness, I want to jump back to something earlier in your career, if you don’t mind, that you and I have in common. I don’t know if you know this. We’ve never talked about this, so let’s just do it live on the internet. We both experienced unexpected layoffs around the same time that we were starting families in different ways. For me — and my trail is also available if you want to see where this falls in my, in my trajectory — I was unexpectedly laid off at a startup that I was doing very, very well at three weeks after I had a miscarriage. Completely unrelated events didn’t make for the best month. And even though at the time, I knew it wasn’t performance based, the company was changing. It still stung. But it turned out that that negative at the time was one of the best turned out to be the one of the biggest forks in the road for me

Maria: Hold on, you’re freezing a little bit. Back up a couple words.

Kt: Thank you. Thank you. It turned out though, that that negative, right? It stung, it sucked at the time, I didn’t plan on job searching. Even though I knew it wasn’t about me, it actually was a catalyst for a huge positive career change where I made the conscious decision to only work at companies that were very aligned with my personal values. You yourself have experienced a layoff and have made beautiful delicious lemonade out of those lemons. And I’m wondering if at the time it did feel negative and turned out to be a positive and if you can talk us through what that experience was like.

Maria: Yeah, so um, so I was, in 2020 I came back from maternity leave with my first son. He was born December 2019, when on maternity leave came back, he was in daycare for a month — pandemic. So we had him home for weeks, which was a nightmare in and of itself. While we were, my husband were both trying to work full-time, and I had a baby on me constantly. And so yeah, in then I got laid off and honestly, I hated that job. Like, within the last few situations where I wanted to leave towards the end of my pregnancy. And I’m sorry if you were at that company, and you’re watching this, but I was ready to leave role and that job, but you know…I had a feeling in my stomach about going back to work. I knew it wasn’t good for me and my husband did too, and he’s like you know what just and he was so supportive. He’s like just go back for as long as you can handle and you know, look for another job. And I looked for jobs over maternity leave and everything. So anyway, I got laid off, I was navigating unemployment and all that crap and the job search like everyone else and their uncle that year, but I mean, because I got to spend that year with my baby at home.

Towards the end of the year was when I had basically my first freelance and and it was Amanda Goetz with House of Wise. And she was like, this thing and we met over Twitter. And, you know, I helped to, to see that’s kind of that was my first taste of like, the direct-to-consumer or DTC world, and how that ecommerce sitch was, you know, how that worked. And I just felt so into it. So I’m like, Oh my gosh. Okay, I love that this is like, racks to consumers. Like we’re talking right to your closet, you know, or like, right to your bed wall. And we’re not going through 100 like in an organization of stuffy, old white guys. So it was kind of like, Whoa, this is really refreshing. I can like super use my creative brain in this environment. And obviously, and so we totally hit it off. I’ve been with them, with her, up until my maternity leave. And so with my second kid that I just had — and I have an eight-week-old right now — and so yeah, so that kind of was my first intro into freelancing and B2C world. I’ve had other freelance freelance clients that were in renting space, and that was kind of when I was like, like, hey, I’m passionate about — actually no, let me take a step back.

So the parenting stuff didn’t clicked with me until I started a newsletter. And I was so funny because I was just like, I don’t want, just because I had a kid doesn’t like, make me be I’ll, like, be a mom thought leader or whatever. But I was like, you know, I’m really fed up with the mommy content online. This is why you know, TikTok’s growing, reels are starting, everything’s copying the same exact video and just lip-syncing and whatever. And, you know, whatever, do you — but I was just kind of like, the bar is so freakin’ low. And I wanted to comment on it. And so I started Mommy’s Disrupting newsletter, which I renamed The Cluster Feed because I was like, you know, I don’t have energy to just critique everything. Now. I’m like, just going to comment on the overall parenthood digit- digital experience. So you can go sign up for my Substack if you want, but-

Kt: We do not believe in shameless self-promoting, there is no shame in women promoting our business here.

Maria: Yes. So that is more like just whatever the heck topic I wanted to talk about. But I don’t even remember what the question was. I’m just totally rambling. But, um, yeah, so that was where I was like, Okay, I’m, I’m actually passionate about the parenthood stuff even though I didn’t want to go that route. And so I’m like, okay, I can marry parenthood with demand in the market. I mean, I was getting a ton of leads from these parents and companies and these parenting brands and kids brands. So I’m like, Okay, there’s demand in the market. There’s — I am passionate about it. And I’m good at it. There you go. There’s your Venn diagram, and I said, we’re going down this road, and we’re gonna commit to it. And so, that was kind of when I like niched down and rebranded my freelance business to be DTC Mom. So kind of how mine went from all these a million different hats and industries to like, you know, I like doing copywriting. I don’t, I’m not gonna do all these other things I’m known for doing like, I’m just going to focus here, and I’m just going to focus here. And…DTC mom was born.

Kt: DTC mom was born. Which we dropped the link to the to The Cluster Feed, which I subscribe to. And I have since I think issue 2, so I personally can vouch for it. And what I, what’s really powerful, what you just said is you have all of these tasks, this very, very big toolbox of skills, right? Working across industries, lots of different capabilities within marketing and content, and social and events, all of the things.

I think there’s a fear that people have that when you eliminate some of the things you’re doing, you’re eliminating possibilities. And I think that you’re a great example of when you’re refining your focus, you’re not saying no to possibilities, you’re just opening up new ones. Whereas, you know, four years ago in your career, you might not have predicted this would be who and what you are today as a professional. But it doesn’t matter what you predicted. What matters is, this is where your path led you and what you chose. And it sounds like the opportunities are kind of are actually bigger and more in line with what you wanted than if you were trying to do all the things.

Maria: Oh, say that last sentence again, you froze?

Kt: Yes. Gotta love technology. I said that, but you kind of refining your focus, you’ve actually called in more opportunities to expand and more opportunities that are aligned with what you want, versus what happens when you try to do all of the things or try to see what all of the things have to offer. And I’m wondering how you’re feeling that is now that like, what’s coming in and what you’re like what you’re choosing to do, is it, is it more in line, like, are you choosing from things that you love and less from things that you have to make work?

Maria: Yeah, so I’m literally just ramping back up. Like I, I decided to niche down like at the of my pregnancy and went, like, like, got all these leads from it. And then I went on maternity leave and I was like, sorry, touch base with you in late April. So here we are, you know, I’m still following up with some of the leads and like setting up some calls and things like that, but, but it’s there like it’s working for me and I feel like Like, and I’m actually getting the book Company of One right now. Which is good even for people inside a company. It’s basically like making your, your own value like as one. And one thing that really stood out to me in that was like your personality as like, a whole, you know, entrepreneur is like, that’s huge, like people want to a view a lot of times and like I feel that way about myself because there’s a million copywriters out there. But like, I feel like my expertise and that chameleon energy, though, you know, if I’m writing about about this diaper bag product page, for some reason, somehow all my experience writing about you know, I don’t know copyright law, like, I don’t know, it just all helps, it just all is that boost, like giving me more vocabulary, give me me more ways to think outside the box. I feel like it’s just been kind of fun to see these leads come in. And I’m like, I’m excited to work with you too! Oh, my God, I’m excited to work with you. Where I used to be like, Oh, I’m gonna tell them no, I’m saying no to this one. And oh, yeah. Oh, like, you know, every lead, I’m like, Okay, I’m, I’m doing something right. We’re off because this is work I want to do. So that’s Yeah,

Kt: So I love that. And that’s so in line, like everything that we we really care about it OwnTrail. And Rebekah, my co-founder, and I and our whole team, we talk a lot about, you know, if we all want to live a fulfilling life, we have to think about how we spend a third of our time, which is that our work, and if, how, if we’re working, if we’re making our life work for our career, instead of making decisions that align our career with our life and the life we want, we can’t — it’s going to be a lot harder, right?

Because you’re you’re only able to control that 1/3 of your life that you’re not working or sleeping. And often there are some easy or, or meaningful actions, they’re not always easy that you can do so that you’re having that excitement in your work. And you’re like, Yes, this is, this is why I’m here, this is true to me. And I’m in control of it instead of having to fit into the boxes that I don’t want to fit into. And you can save the pieces of you that you want to say for yourself or your friends or your family. But you’re the one in control of that. And that’s really the world that we’re aiming for and working hard to build and why we’re so excited to be chatting with you, you have proof that it can happen, it does happen and that there are so many paths, there are so many paths. And yours is just one example of all the different kinds of successes. So thank you for sharing that with us today. Thank you for taking time out of your parental leave or like shout out to every working parent and every person who has just given birth who gives. And yeah, let’s keep the conversation going.

Definitely subscribe to Maria’s newsletter, it’s a great read every time it pops into your inbox and connect with her OwnTrail and check out her trail and feel free to conect with her there or on LinkedIn, but I have a feeling we’re both more on OwnTrail

Maria: Yes, you can hit me up on OwnTrail for sure. Hit me up over there.

Kt: Thank you so much Maria. We can’t wait to see what you do on Twitter, and LinkedIn. All the places. Awesome. Thanks again.

Maria: All right, thanks, Kt. See you guys.