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.” >

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