Editor’s note: I suggested to Maysa that she sit for an interview for this blog. She is a remarkable person, as you will soon see.
Whether you know her as a friend, as an employer, or as a client for her exceptional consulting services, you will reap the rewards.
Dan: You have three sons, a daughter, and three college degrees. That speaks to me of a great deal of enthusiasm. Tell me about how this came to you.
Maysa: I’ve always been an upbeat person, enthusiasm and motivation have always been elements of my personality. People used to call me a Pollyanna type because I was always optimistic, and being a problem solver I thought that I would always be able to solve whatever complex problems came before me, so I was enthusiastic. I enjoyed solving problems.
As for having four children and three degrees a lot of it was personal desire to strive for something. I have always wanted to have a big family. People have often asked me how I deal with it. For me, that’s all that I know. Having four children is just part of what I do. It is part of who I am. It doesn’t feel like a giant hurdle. I’m very family centric.
The degrees came out of a desire to excel personally. These degrees also came out of a stubbornness. People told me I couldn’t do it. They wanted me to go to a technical school. I went to graduate school after my first marriage fell apart. Working two jobs, going to graduate school, and taking care of four kids was difficult, but I did it out of a need, and also because of this stubbornness I have already mentioned.
I also used to be a marathon runner. I got injured after an 18 mile run. People said I wouldn’t ever be able to run a marathon. That just made me dig in my heels more and say no, I’m going to do it, and I did it a dozen times.
In terms of enthusiasm, I was always able to find something beautiful to inspire me. Enthusiasm is one of my strengths, and when I over use it can be interpreted as being opinionated. That is the weakness associated with it. I enjoy healthy debate and I like to invite people to compare their point of view with mine as we search for the best interpretation or outcome to plot a path forward.
Dan: What are your areas of study for your college degrees?
Maysa: I have a BA in economics and a BS in computer science, and a MS in software engineering.
Dan: Sometimes technical concentrations like that narrow a person’s perspective. People get stuck in their own groove, and they can’t see the context around them. I have noticed the opposite about you. You are very considerate of other disciplines and points of view. How do you manage that? Is it something you work at?
Maysa: I think it’s a natural inquisitiveness in a variety of areas. I’m interested in learning about things beyond the scope of my formal education. I seek out those new ideas and experiences as a way of challenging myself. I also seek out people who have skills, knowledge, or intellectual reach that I lack. For example, so you are a mechanical engineer. I want to learn how things work in your domain. It’s beyond the realm of software engineering but it’s interesting, and I can use my own background as a kind of loose framework for understanding other domains of knowledge.
Dan: Let’s switch gears to something more personal. I know that you had an encounter with breast cancer and surgery, and all of the follow-up treatments. Can you say something about your experience from the aspect of how you found the courage in yourself to deal with something that severe, and which dragged out for so long?
Maysa: When I was first diagnosed it was a shock. I was in disbelief. You think to yourself that you somehow always knew something was not right, but you are kind of numb. I think your body and your mind numb you. So I put my head down and asked what do I have to do. Because my ex is from the medical world I knew the questions to ask and who to ask.
The shocker really happens afterward when you wake up after the surgery. You see the extent of the surgery, then you realize that just cutting it out doesn’t mean that it’s over. You get mammograms, and everything looks clear, but you have to take medicine that makes you forgetful, and fatigued, and breathless. You get night sweats, and you are irritable, and you learn that you have to take this medicine for the next five years. You are ‘on call’. It’s always a little thing that you carry with you.
It does help you to have empathy for other people going through similar situations, and it doesn’t even have to be cancer. I find that I can see the frailty of others more clearly, and I try to honor that.
Dan: That leads me to our next topic. You launched a project called Everyday Heroes in which you interview people who have taken on difficult and challenging tasks that might or might not be related to a health problem. It could be any major kind of life challenge. What drew you to start this project?
Maysa: I read some of the work of Joseph Campbell about the hero’s journey and I could see it being reflected in my own life in the challenges that I faced. I could see the pattern, and I could see the pattern in others. I felt that there are many celebrities out there who have their own challenges and issues, and these people are publicized, and paid, and I think their burdens are reduced because they can pull in a lot of support from their fan base or their network.
But, there are a lot of heroes out their who are just Joe on the street, and I want to hear and honor Joe’s story. Joe is important too. Everyone can learn from Joe, or Sally. You might even know that person, or say, hey, I didn’t know that about Sally. It brings people together, and it honors and celebrates the courage of others, and their resiliency.
Dan: I would like to say on a personal note that it is very easy to be your friend because you are courteous, consistent, thoughtful and very sensitive to what is going on in the lives of other people around you. Did you get this from your parents?
Maysa: First of all, thank you. I think it was the way I was raised. I’m the oldest of five children. My mom is a Brazilian-American, and she arrived as a foreigner in this country. At first she felt like she was a guest, and she wanted to raise her children to be respectful of connections and relationships.
These values are instilled in me and all my siblings. I’m very close to my mother. I talk to her every day. I’m close to my sisters and my brothers. I look to try to find that piece of the divine in everybody, and that is the level at which you can connect with them.
I believe in the Platinum Rule: treat everyone as they would like to be treated.
Dan: You posed for me in my series of Rosie the Riveter portraits. I will comment as a photographer that you are one of the most convincing Rosies in the series with you standing under that big speech bubble announcing “We can do it!”
I think that really characterizes who you are and what I know about you.
Maysa: When things get scary, and things always get scary, courage does not mean there is no fear, it means to move through it. You say hello to it, or as you would say, Dan, smile at it.
Dan: Thank you, Maysa.
Maysa: Thank you, Dan.