DREAM BELIEVER with Maya Watson
From single TEEN MUM to one of OPRAH’S RIGHT-HAND WOMEN, this Midwestern girl has PROVEN that HARD WORK and smarts really do GO FAR.
From teen pregnancy and single parenthood to a shaky career trajectory that culminated in an Emmy win, Maya Watson, vice president of marketing and social media for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), has learnt the hard way that self-belief really can take you places.
It started when Maya was a young girl – her parents decided to forfeit the great American dream and move from their house in the suburbs. Instead of being upset, Maya was impressed by her parents’ gumption and the honest conversations they had as a family.
“[The] six of us had to move out of our nice four-bedroom house in the suburbs and into a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment,” says Maya, who grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “They told us, ‘The next few Christmases, birthdays, they’re not going to be as nice as they were, but we’re investing in our future.’”
More than 20 years later, Maya is still inspired by her parents’ candour and believes being honest and transparent is crucial in her role at OWN. And while Maya says she’s not an entrepreneur, she does describe herself as entrepreneurial. “I work within an organisation, but I see things differently. Anything can be done if you’re honest and transparent with your team, your family, or whoever you need to rally behind you.”
Maya’s post high-school life got off to a bumpy start; her rebellious streak saw her move across the country from the Midwest to study public relations and marketing at the University of Miami.
“I wanted to be as far away [from home] as possible. It was a big cultural shock. I had a great time, but I definitely lost myself, my direction and my intention,” explains Maya of her life in Miami’s infamous South Beach. “I partied and wasn’t going to school. I ended up in a relationship, I was 18, and I became pregnant. The day I found out, I was hysterical. I thought, ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’” Maya flew home to her family that day, and they rallied around her. “It was that reminder of when we were all living in that tiny apartment. We had each other’s back.”
She returned to college when she was seven months pregnant; her daughter Michelle was born in 2005. “It changed everything,” says Maya. “Once I got out of that toxic environment [in Florida], I remembered what I’m here to do. I’m not here to be a f**k up, I’m here to actually get sh*t done. [Michelle] was the catalyst for getting my a*se in gear. The first time we made eye contact, it was like, ‘I get it. This is so much bigger than me.’”
When Michelle was just two weeks old, Maya returned to her studies at a nearby university, going home to breastfeed between classes. During that time, she landed an internship at ESPN and started cold-calling Harpo Studios in Chicago, Illinois – the home of Oprah.
“I remember my dad saying, ‘You need to work for Oprah if you want to work in entertainment,’” says Maya. “This was before social media, so I just started calling. I was calling and not getting any replies, so I decided to drive to Chicago and turn up unannounced.” >