how maia mcdonald smith reset her life.
next up in my series on women who have successfully abandoned somewhat traditional jobs in favor of careers that are much more creatively challenging: maia mcdonald smith, freelance graphic designer, art director at rue magazine and blogger extraordinaire at design conundrum. i’ve been invited by Smartwater to share inspiring stories from women like maia who changed careers and might inspire you to find your dream job (or perhaps create one of your own!).
With an inspiring and impressive 1.8 million Pinterest followers and design experience at Shopbop and Williams-Sonoma, Maia found her creative stride as the art director at Rue, an online lifestyle and design magazine where she’s the in-house expert at finding and sharing hidden gems, from good food to brilliant boutiques like those around oakland, which she now calls home after moving west from viroqua, wisconsin. maia is also a new mom, and juggles her various freelance endeavors with caring for eight-month-old ingrid.
i met up with maia in old oakland, the newly revitalized neighborhood that she calls home. it’s booming with inspirational spaces and entrepreneurial stores and galleries, many of which started as a result of their temporary pop-up shops. i’d never visited before, but maia is the resident pro and proved to be the perfect guide.
Were there specific challenges about your former position that just didn’t work for you anymore?
The biggest change was moving from an in-house corporate environment to freelancing from home. (Technically I work now as a freelance creative director/designer /online curator.) Even though Rue is my main client, I work for myself on numerous projects, which is a huge change. I became really sick of the corporate world – it always seemed like everything had to take forever and be run up the chain of command before getting approved. So it was really hard to stay creatively motivated. Now I have more control over not only my projects, but who I work for, and I love working with smaller teams like rue because everyone is really inspired and feels like their ideas can be heard.
Was your new career path motivated by a particular creative need or personal goal you wanted to fulfill?
It had always been a dream of mine to work from home for a variety of reasons. But creatively, as an introvert, I felt like the office environment was zapping a lot of my energy instead of nurturing it.
How has starting a family affected your day-to-day schedule?
I always knew I wanted to start a family, which was one of the reasons I wanted to move towards working from home more. I thought I was set up pretty good, but my pregnancy totally threw me for a loop. I was so sick I had to turn down projects and clients because I couldn’t even sit at my desk. It was really stressful. But that taught me when it comes to mixing work with babies you have to be really flexible. Right now I’m technically on maternity leave but I’ve started working a little. I’ve found it much easier to get stuff done with a newborn than when I was pregnant. Luckily my husband helps out a lot – he’s a student/stay-at-home dad, so both of our schedules are really malleable, which works well with a baby since she doesn’t understand the concept of 9 to 5.
How has technology and social media made your job easier (or challenged you in some way)?
Technology has allowed me to do what I do from home, and social media connects me with so many people, whether it be new clients or someone who really inspires me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. On the flip side, it’s very distracting! Especially now with Ingrid, I just want to send out Instagram photos of her all day!
How did you attract so many Pinterest followers? Did that impact the career opportunities that came your way?
I was lucky to be on Pinterest very early, back when their logo was blue and they had a dropdown menu of suggested followers. Pinterest featured me as one of their top users in a couple categories. That helped me gain a lot of followers. Also, it was a site that I instantly loved using, so I was always a very consistent pinner, which helps. And I’d also like to think my taste has something to do with it.
What advice would you give to a person wanting to change career paths?
Making a big career change is very similar to starting a family. You can plan and plan and never feel quite ready. So when it comes down to it, you just have to take the leap and make it work.
From your experiences, what are the top three things someone should consider before changing careers or starting their own business?
• Taxes – get a good accountant.
• Insurance – be sure you and your family are covered.
• Consider what sort of work environment you think you’d thrive in, which is also related to who you want to work with.
What’s the most rewarding thing you’ve found about your new career?
All the amazing people I’ve been able meet, and that I can work from bed if I want to!
• photography by cindy loughridge for sfgirlbybay.
this story is brought to you by vapor-distilled smartwater, who found unique inspiration for their water by looking up to the sky. we hope the change in perspective this piece offers will help inspire you.