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Thoughtful Human: Maya Smith's Vision for Authentic Connection

Maya Enista Smith is the President of Thoughtful Human — a plastic-free, plantable card company, which was founded to help you find honest ways to communicate in dynamic relationships and challenging life circumstances. Thoughtful Human offers ultra-sustainable sentiments for real issues and a hub with resources and community to help people find the support they need. Maya recently joined Thoughtful Human after serving as the founding executive director of Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation for over a decade, where she worked to empower young people to create a kinder, braver world and also be a source for mental health support. Prior to her role at the foundation, she was CEO for, where she worked with millennials to identify societal challenges unique to their generation and fund their solutions through grants. Thoughtful Human has expanded beyond greeting cards to include a podcast where they explore shame, stigma, and how to start and continue conversations around really sensitive issues.


Listen to the full episode here.





[00:00:00] Introduction

[00:02:15] Maya Enista Smith on what she’s most passionate about.

[00:03:20] Maya Enista Smith on her daughter's birthday party

[00:04:23] Maya Enista Smith on her childhood

[00:06:12] Maya Enista Smith on where her passion for community came from

[00:08:40] Maya Enista Smith on the power of community

[00:10:05] Maya Enista Smith on how did 9/11 impacted her career choices

[00:13:12] Maya Enista Smith on becoming the CEO at

[00:15:58] Maya Enista Smith on getting hired by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation

[00:17:47] Maya Enista Smith on being on the road with Lady Gaga

[00:19:37] Maya Enista Smith on what she learned about herself on the road with Lady Gaga

[00:22:06] Maya Enista Smith on leaving Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation

[00:25:31] Maya Enista Smith on Ali O’Malley and Thoughtful Human

[00:28:59] Maya Enista Smith on the Thoughtful Human website

[00:30:28] Maya Enista Smith on honest communication is so important

[00:32:31] Maya Enista Smith on creating the Thoughtful Human cards

[00:34:33] Maya Enista Smith on advice for people wanting to have those honest conversations

[00:37:38] Maya Enista Smith on grief

[00:39:53] Maya Enista Smith on the Thoughtful Human podcast

[00:41:45] Maya Enista Smith on the vision for the future of Thoughtful Human

[00:43:50] Maya Enista Smith on where to find Thoughtful Human online

[00:45:06] Maya Enista Smith on what her mom taught her about women's roles in society

[00:47:35] Maya Enista Smith on her professional mentors

[00:50:05] Maya Enista Smith on her secret to a rewarding life?

[00:51:25] Maya Enista Smith on her dream for herself and her dream for women


Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project. We've created an inclusive sisterhood where passion driven women come to get support, find their purpose, and feel empowered to transform their lives and change the world. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success, and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.


Today, we're talking with Maya Enista Smith from Thoughtful Human — a plastic-free, plantable card company, which was founded to help you find honest ways to communicate in dynamic relationships and challenging life circumstances. Thoughtful Human offers ultra-sustainable sentiments for real issues and a hub with resources and community to help people find the support they need.


Maya recently joined Thoughtful Human as president after serving as the founding executive director of Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation for over a decade, where she worked to empower young women to, sorry, young people to create a kinder, braver world and also be a source for mental health support.


Prior to her role at the foundation, she was CEO for, where she worked with millennials to identify societal challenges unique to their generation and fund their solutions through grants. Thoughtful Human has expanded beyond greeting cards to include a podcast where they explore shame, stigma, and how to start and continue conversations around really sensitive issues.


We're so excited to have Maya here today, so please welcome Maya Enista Smith.


Maya: Thank you so much for having me, Nancy and Amy. Hanging out with y'all makes me want to have a sister. I'm fortunate to have a handful of sisters in law, but, um, only one brother.


Passionistas: Yeah. And we found you, you actually found us, and part of the reason you loved us, you liked us was because your, your middle name is Enista.

And you like anything that's Passionista, so I thought that was great that we connected with you. So tell us what you're most passionate about.


Maya: Oh, that's such a great question. So, uh, right now I'm most passionate about my family. We're in birthday week for my daughter who turned nine. And so it's just like, you know, there's so much to celebrate and, um, it's really wonderful.


Uh, and then secondly, I'm super passionate about the power of community, which I know y'all embody every day at The Passionistas Project. I just feel like my whole life. Personally and professionally has been about witnessing and trying to support the power of community. And I'm really proud to have the opportunity to continue to do that.


I'm a thoughtful human. Um, my husband is also traveling for work and he doesn't like sushi and sushi is my favorite food. So I've had it for like six meals in a row. Um, it's probably my, like, mercury is a little too high right now, but those are like my three current passions,


Passionistas: Those are perfect. So is your daughter's birthday party going to be a sushi party with lots of Thoughtful Human cards?


Maya: So she considers herself the creative director of Thoughtful Human, and we actually have the only, our home has the only non retail card spinner. So I have a 48 pocket card spinner in my living room that she frees herself, helps herself to freely, and we had to talk to her about like these cards cost money, and like we can't just like Write mommy a sweet note on them five times a day.


Um, but yes, she's obsessed with Thoughtful Human and her birthday party was last weekend. Um, and I'd imagine this is probably similar in your house growing up with two of you, the octaves that those girls can reach. My husband was like, where can I go to escape this?


Passionistas: It gets loud. There are actually four of us. There are four girls in our family and one boy. So yes. That's incredible. Yeah, you wonder why the boy wore headphones and listened to music all the time. Totally. Um, so tell us about that. Tell us about your childhood. What, where'd you grow up and what was your childhood like?


Maya: Thank you for, for asking me. And I, I think we talked about this briefly. I'm Particularly reflective on my childhood these days, um, because I just lost my mom and, um, she was the North Star of, of my life. I'm 40 years old, just recently turned, um, and so figuring out a life in a world without her has been, um, um, a, So, I think it's been a really challenging and empowering and all sorts of things.


But my parents immigrated from Romania, and I grew up, I was born in New York City, and grew up in a suburb of New York. I have, you know, I'm really open minded about a lot of things, but not about the fact that New York City is the greatest city in the world, and that will always be home for me. And so I have a younger brother who's a year and a half, You know, brother, um, who's younger than me and he's one of my best friends.


And we grew up, um, in the care of this incredible woman who was a psychoanalyst, my mom. And I grew up in a home that was filled with people and filled with acceptance and inclusivity, and with a lack of stigma around mental health. I actually would get sick of, you know, I, sometimes I'd hit or tease my brother as big sisters tend to do.


And she would say to us, you know, Maya, tell me what it is your body felt like doing in that moment. And I was like, oh, like, will this woman just ground me? Like, I don't want to talk about everything. Um, and I have like this deep appreciation now for how she parented. I'm unable to access the patient part of myself in the same way that she did, but, um, really grateful for the childhood that she provided us.


Passionistas: And where did this love of community and passion for community come from? When did it start?


Maya: So I, as we were joking before the podcast started, I'm like an extreme extrovert, like just, I love people, I think people are good, more people together are better, you know, um, My daughter joked the other day, you know, she's talking about how Hunter, my son, he collects baseball cards.


She collects stuffies and mommy collects people. Um, and I thought that was just like an astute observation for a nine year old to make. So I've always just been, and maybe it comes from my mom and being a psychoanalyst and just being endlessly fascinated with people and studying people. And so, um, I feel like I've always been that way.


I've always been a glass half full, optimistic, idealistic person, and I've always just looked for the good in people. When I, um, my first day of college was September 11th, 2001, um, in my hometown of New York City, and so The power of community in my life has shown up in some really incredible and tragic and inspiring and heartbreaking ways.


And I feel very fortunate to have gotten to bear witness to it in so many different ways. Um, and so community has always been a, a thread for me. I, I think I explained it to someone like. You know, you feel like a little bit of a, like, it's like a little bit of a superpower of like, come, like, be friends, like, be part of, come sit with me at lunch, come be part of this group, come feel included, come see that I acknowledge you, come see that you're valued, right?

And like community, this accumulation of people who like, feel part of something, and the opportunity to create that is something that each of us have, and Like, what a gift that is to get to do that with your life. And, and I've gotten to get paid for it, which is just wild.


Passionistas: Yeah, we can relate to that. It's funny. The, um, we are introverted. We're the opposite of you, but building the community and really like connecting people is such a high now. It's like, oh, they joined and we know that this person lives one town over or that they both love finance. And it is totally thrilling to be able to do that. You know, bring people together and see, oh, they went and they had a Zoom meeting.


This is so cool. They, they loved each other. So we can, we can relate to that. Um...,


Maya: The Passionistas is such a great example of that because so many of the, the folks in your community feel like they alone are facing this challenge or have the burden of this opportunity. And so to feel like I know a place where I can take that burden off for a minute or share it with someone who's going through something similar, I think especially.


As women, you know, I feel a lot of pressure to be like, I've got it, right? I've got the parenting. I've got the work. I've got the house. I'm baking cookies. I'm going on this field trip tomorrow. Like I'm going on this business trip. Like I've got it. And there aren't that many safe spaces where we can, you know, say maybe we don't have it or, hey, how did you get it?


Because I don't know how to get it yet. Um, and so Passionista is an incredible place for that.


Passionistas: Thank you. Thank you for saying that. And that is definitely the feedback we've been getting. It's nice to just be able to come and say exactly how you feel and not worry that someone's going to jump down your throat or try and fix it for you.

You can just let it all hang out and get, get love and support. Um, so let's take a step back to 9/11. So obviously that was such an impactful day for so many to have it be on such a momentous occasion for you as your first day of college. How did that impact kind of your career choices and path moving forward?


Maya: Yeah, so I think, um, because I had the great fortune of watching my parents become citizens and they immigrated here for the American dream and, and everything that meant to them individually and collectively, I feel like I, my mom used to say, I speak Romanian. It was my first language. There's like a, saying that translates to like, it was written in the stars, basically, like it had been decided for you.


And so my mom would say that like my career path had, had was written in the stars. I already knew that I wanted to find a way to give back to the community that had the community of the country, the world that had given so Thank you so much to my parents, um, and allowed me to have the freedom and the opportunities and the family and the choices that I was able to have, that I am able to have.


And so I always knew that I wanted to do something that improved Thank you. The lives of the people around me, especially the folks who didn't really see themselves as part of the process, because my parents, you know, weren't citizens for a long time. And, and that was a different time in the 1980s than it is now, you know, and, um, I, I, and to be clear, it's much harder now than it was for them then to just go to the embassy and say, we want to seek political asylum.


And the embassy was like, sure, this is, you know, we welcome you. And that's not the case anymore. And, um, and so. So for me, 9 11, uh, it fast forwarded, right? It made it come quicker for me. Like I knew I wanted to do this. And then literally the first thing, the first time I left my dorm room after watching the devastation unfold was to go give blood at a church in downtown New Brunswick with these new friends that I had made because they were expecting to find a lot more survivors than they had.


But just that, like, that immediately being called on to act, right? Even though I was 17, even though we were scared, even though we didn't know what to do, like, being given this direct action of like, you are needed in this moment, and you can do something to make a difference, sort of immediately activated me.


And I feel like, And I think my psychologist would agree like I've been activated ever since. Um, and, and so, uh, I, I think it, like I said, it was written in the stars, but, um, September 11th in the, the weeks and months afterwards, especially seeing the way New York City came together and the community that was forged in that tragedy, um, really fast forward for me, my, um, career and I, I, you know, I started it, um, with an organization called Rock the Vote, so doing really sort of the simple voter registration, simple, the, the, the voter registration and civic engagement work that most identified to me, like democracy and what my parents had come here for, um, and so there's been a thread of that, uh, ever since, um, in all of my choices.


Passionistas: That's amazing. So then talk a little bit more about the path from there to becoming the CEO at


Maya: Yeah, and I was actually, I was talking to somebody at Cal today about a fellowship opportunity, and they were saying like, why, you know, why do you want to teach? And I said to them, I was like, nobody ever told me.


That this could be a job, right? Like I was, I was making it up as I went along. Like the, the, the idea of making a living building community was not something that anyone said to me at any point in the game. And it might've been, you know, because my parents were immigrants and there was like this scarcity mentality and they hadn't had this experience themselves.


But I, one of the things I just like desperately want to do is like, Tell people that meeting unmet needs in the world, you can make that a career, right? Like it is, it's an incredible gift that I've been given, um, to do this work and be able to take care of my family through it. So, so I was doing voter registration and civic engagement work, uh, through the 2004 election.

And like all hopeful, idealistic young people, I wanted to head to Washington, D. C. and be in the mix. Had seen a lot of West Wing. Um, and, uh, moved to Washington, D. C. to become C. O. O. of an organization called that was designed to, um, empower young people to solve their own problems. And I think what was true then is often still true, is that we talk to young people less than we talk about young people, right?


And we. Project what we believe their experiences are instead of giving them the platforms that we have access to to tell their stories. And this actually, this podcast represents an interesting shift for me because usually I say we, but I think I'm like finally coming to terms with the fact that I am no longer a young person.


Um, but my time in DC was magical leading this incredible organization. And, um, yeah. Uh, during that time, fell in love, married my husband, and then when we, um, found out we were pregnant with our first child, he is like a Cal he's a California boy through and through, and I know the Harrington sisters are from California as well, like, It's this magnetic pull that brings you back.


I don't, I was unfamiliar with, like, you know, I said to him, like, we might not live in California. And he was like, I do not accept that premise. That is not possible. This is the only place we can live. Um, so we made our way back to California, uh, and had Hunter here in 2012. And I left Mobilize and then started my next journey, uh, with Lady Gaga.


Passionistas: All right. So tell us about that. How did that come about?


Maya: Yeah. So that's a great question. So she, um, she had this vision for this foundation. It's called Born This Way Foundation and continues to thrive today. And she said, you know, uh, Maya, will you help me, uh, create it? And I said, I'd be honored. I'd be so excited.


And I said, what do you want the foundation to do? And just a testament to who she is in the world and what she believes in. So deeply, she said, we need to ask young people first. So my first to do at the foundation was to convene a group of young people who served as the youth advisory board for the foundation and continue different groups of young people continue to steward the vision and strategy of the foundation and, um, and from them and with the vision that, that LG had, um, created.


Born This Way Foundation, which, um, the mission is to build a kinder and braver world. And the work that that incredible team at the foundation does is three buckets. The first is to make kindness cool. The second is to validate the emotions of young people around the world. And the third is to eliminate the stigma around mental health.

And so I started working there when I was nine months pregnant with Hunter, and I can't imagine a A more important mission to work towards, especially as you're starting your family and you're saying, this is exactly what I want for you, Hunter. I want a kinder and braver world. Um, and so super fortunate for the time I was able to spend there and grateful for all the awesome work, um, that I was able to be part of and the amazing team that's continuing to, to build it today.


Passionistas: So as part of your work, you actually You toured with Gaga, right? Like, you weren't just sitting in an office. So talk about what that experience was like.


Maya: Well, ma'am, uh, no sitting in offices for us. Um, and so again, because this work is not extra to her, right? This is sort of her life's mission to make people feel included and validated and seen.


She invited the foundation, um, on each of her tours. And so in each of the tour cities, the foundation would meet with local nonprofits. So you would see. So, we would be able to serve alongside organizations. We would table inside of the venues. She would talk about the foundation from stage. And so she viewed each city for the tour as both an opportunity for her to perform her own music.


I mean, outsized out of this world talents, but also an opportunity for the foundation to gain supporters, to make an impact, to connect with young people. And so, um, I think some of my favorite, favorite moments are like the quiet moments of The conversation I had with the young person in Seattle whose parents kicked them out because they were gay, right?

Or the young person in Miami who wasn't able to be called their preferred pronouns at school, right? Or the, you know, the young person in New York who was experiencing suicidal ideation and didn't have a safe person to talk about that with. Like, you know, everybody wants to ask. About Lady Gaga and she is everything you'd imagine and more, but I think the things that will stay with me for the rest of my life are the conversations that she allowed people to have in the world and the fact that those conversations saved people's lives.


Um, and I, I know that's the work that she's, um, extremely proud of.


Passionistas: So what did you learn about yourself during that time?


Maya: Oh, gosh. So, what's interesting, that's a great, that's a great question, and Amy, I've done I don't know, thousands of interviews and nobody's ever asked that. That is a great question. So one of the big like points of dissonance for me in my life has been around working for a mental health organization and suffering from my own mental health struggles and not being able to sort of connect the dots on the two for a long time.


So when Hunter was born, um, I struggled with postpartum depression. And so publicly, I was like, it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to seek help. You know, we all go through things, resources exist, like take care of yourself. And then privately, like I, I didn't get out of bed. Right. And so it took three or four years for me to say, The most important thing I can do at the end of each one of those sentences I'm saying is to say I know and I've experienced and the vulnerability required for me to share my own story instead of just like needling in other people's.


So I think the like, the work of like embodying the mission is probably one of the things that I've learned about myself. I also, um, I, I think sort of similarly to how we started, I've been overwhelmed by both the kindness and the hope that exists in the world, and also the pain and the trauma, and it's been at times really hard to hold both, and like, just running home, like my husband used to always bring the kids to pick me up at SFO, um, because he'd know that What I'd seen and what I'd felt and what I'd heard might be like breaking my heart a little bit.


And I purposely put myself in those situations because I think out of heartbreak a lot of like really incredible work happens. But then I would walk, you know, through the Delta terminal and see their little faces stuck to the glass and it'd be like, okay, grounding to go back out and do it again. Um, and so, yeah, I think those are just some of the things that come to mind about what I learned about myself.


Um, but it, I mean, It was an incredible, incredible opportunity and I'm very grateful for it.


Passionistas: Yeah, it sounds amazing. Um, so Why, why leave? What, what was it, what this, was it those little faces tugging you back home? Why, why did you end your, uh, work there?


Maya: Yeah, that's a great question. So I, um, in April, my, I left the foundation in April and my mom went into hospice.


And so my mom had been sick for a long time and I, I used to say things like, oh, I've already grieved her, right? Like, you know, the mom that exists today is not the mom that I'll remember. And so I sort of assumed that I would have a different relationship to grief than I have had. And then when, when folks said, you Oh, like, now's the time, Maya.

Um, there's only this much amount of time, and there's nothing that you can do to change that. It, like, I don't know how to explain it other than it just, like, jolted my whole world, right? It was this, like, seismic shift of, like, I've missed so much. And there's, at that point, I couldn't ask her questions anymore, right?


I couldn't be like, hey, you know what? Let me think about everything my children will ever want to know about, like, when I lost my first tooth and when I started walking and what I, like, I, it was too late for all of that. Um, and that, that is the first time in my life. That there, there was no more time for something.


And so, um, I felt like I needed to spend time with her, um, towards the end of her life and, um, and, and put into action the mental health advice that I'd been given, giving so many people for so many years, um, and take care of myself and my family. And so. I was fortunate enough to be able to do that and my mom passed away in August and, um, found, found myself wanting to, um, you know, I'm sure many of, both of you and many of the folks listening have lost people.


And it's sort of this like, damned if you do, damned if you don't situation where you're like, it's the only thing I want to talk about. So if we're not talking about it, I'm mad at you. But if you ask me about it, like, I don't want to talk about it. Right. So. So in that way, Ali and I and Thoughtful Human are such a perfect pair because she and I talk about it all the time.

We talk about how to show up for people who are struggling and where are the places we can show up for them and what are the messages we can show up for them with. And then if Ali and I aren't there, we have these Millions of greeting cards all around the world distributed in 1, 100 retailers that are like little miles and alleys being like, it's okay to not be okay.


Just keep swimming like one day at a time. Um, and so the, the match between, uh, myself and Ali O'Grady, our founder at Thoughtful Human is one truly made, actually, I've never said it this way, but truly made in heaven, um, by, by her dad and my mom. So, um, it's been an incredible journey.


Passionistas: That is beautiful. And they are, they're up there orchestrating things for us. Thank God. We lost our mom many, many decades ago at this point. And, uh, we always know she's up there. Just, just yesterday we met somebody and the first thing that they said to us is, sorry, I have a tickle in my throat, which is what our mother always used to say.


And we were like, okay, whatever this woman asks of us. We're gonna do it. Yeah. Because that was a sign. Um, so tell us about Ali and a little bit more about who she is and how you met.


Maya: Yeah, Ali is incredible. She is, I call, I call people a sweet baby angel a lot and I think that there's going to be a thoughtful human card coming out about it because it's just, it's a real good catch all about everybody's a sweet baby angel.


But Ali in particular, so Ali O'Grady, um, As a founder of Thoughtful Human, Thoughtful Human was founded in 2017 as a way for her to honor her dad. He passed away from cancer, and she sort of, similar to the experience that I had with my mom, was sort of gripped by I didn't have these conversations with him, right?


I didn't, like, was he scared? Was he worried? How did he want us to show up with him? There wasn't, there weren't these spaces where we could talk about those hard things and the, the not knowing, right? And I'll just speak for myself, but like, not knowing with my mom, like, will just Live rent free inside of me, right?


And, and Ali saw that and she said, this is the experience that I've, I've had. And how can I help other people have a different experience with grief? You know, there's all these well meaning people that show up with cards that say like, make lemonade out of your lemons. And you're like, this is neither ever going to be lemonade.


And these are not lemons, right? There's just not a sense of like, I am here for you and bearing witness for you in this. Unraveling moment in your life. And so Ali said, I'm going to try. I'm going to try and create a world in which the things I wish people had said, the wish I wish The things that I had said can exist.


And so with that beautiful vision, Thoughtful Human was created. So Thoughtful Human is a card company that memorializes and celebrates life's most difficult challenges and moments as well as the traditional happy birthday and congratulations and everything else because we need to be able to show up for the people in their, in our lives, whether they're battling an addiction or whether they're celebrating a birthday.


Um, and that's what Thoughtful Human does. And if I could show you, um, outside, I would show you that, um, thoughtful human cards are planted on seed paper. And so, though I could never plant my own cards, because I like hoard people's cards to me, I am told people plant their cards. No, I'm just kidding. I've planted many a card, but they grow wildflowers.

So from the seed paper, if you plant them and you can find more about that on our website, which is, um, but it's just such a powerful example that, you know, Growth does occur from grief, and some days it's just enough to see those flowers outside, and then some days I feel it within myself, but both are really great reminders.


And Ali has done an incredible, incredible job growing this brand, and I'm just honored to get to be her partner in thinking about the next chapter of how we deliver these honest, authentic, and real feelings to people. And support them in creating resource and community around it.


Passionistas: So talk a little bit more about that. You mentioned the website. The website is a place, it's not just a place to go buy cards. You can get resources there. You can have community there. So talk a little bit about that.


Maya: Yeah, absolutely. And as, as you see today, I'm just one big run on sentence. But I'm told that some people don't know what to say to other people. And so at Thoughtful Human, you can learn about what to write in the card, how to show up. If you have a friend who's struggling with their mental health, you can actually find resources on how to get help. Um, what we want to be is a place that invites these conversations, but then also resources the conversations.


So what are the trusted places that, um, that you can seek help, that you can lean into the hard conversations, if somebody so much for joining us today, and we hope that if anyone is struggling that you can get help, um, and, uh,, and then the community that we've created online through the social media channels and platforms, which I'm sure you'll include, you know, this is one of those magic moments where you're like, and click below, and then below just appears, um, so we welcome anyone from the Passionistas Network to join the Thoughtful Human community, because you are, you are all thoughtful humans, and we are all Passionistas.


Passionistas: It's beautiful. We agree. Um, so why is this honest, open, I mean, beyond your own personal experiences, why is it so important to you and Ali that we create this kind of honest ways to communicate during these challenging times?


Maya: I, I mean, I think both of us have seen firsthand the impact of having people lean in, um, the, the opportunity, um, and the support that it provides, and we see every day from the people who are, to receive our cards, how meaningful, and you'll see, I mean, they're always amazing.


Thank you. Uh, they're always blank on the inside because nobody knows, you know, how to show up for Nancy better than Amy and you have the perfect words. So nothing that I could say would be as perfect as what you, um, what you could say. And what we want to do is just create the easy invitation for you to show up.


I also think for me, like I have, you know, I don't know. Six email addresses and people connect with me virtually a number of different ways, but the act of taking the time to write something to someone, to think about someone, to seek them out and then send them something is just like so powerful. The kids and I do like rock, paper, scissors about who gets to check the mail every day because we're all the same, excited to get mail.

Um, and so I think it's just such a meaningful opportunity and invitation to connect. And we've seen both. The two of us and in the broader thoughtful human community, the impact that it has.


Passionistas: And I love the messages on the outside too, because they're so real, you know, I, I, I, we had, I'll say kindly, we had a somewhat difficult relationship with our father at times. And I remember going and trying to get him a Father's Day card or a birthday card and all the messages were like, you are such a strong pillar of support for us and things that were like. No. You know, going through them like, no, those don't apply, but the things that you guys have on your cards are, are real.


They're real. So do, do you and Ali, or is there a team of people who sits and comes up with what's their, how, what's that process for creating these cards?


Maya: Oh, this has been the most fun. And I guess I'll tell y'all first, but, um, I got to make my first card, which will be coming out soon, and I'm really excited about it, and it's for my son, Hunter.


I hope Logan, my daughter, doesn't listen to this podcast, because I have not made her one yet, but I will. Mommy will. Um, so Ali and I, and it's so cool. It's to open your ears to the world and say, This helps me, or I heard these people talk to each other and that was like a really lovely thing to say. Or it would be amazing if my husband said this, like I told, I joked with my husband when I was going to make a card for him that said, I talked about you in therapy today.


Um, but just like, what's, what's real in a marriage? What's real in a friendship? Like your point, what's real, uh, in your relationship with your dad and how can we capture that and connect. And to ourselves and our individual stories, but use it to connect people to each other and to their feelings. And so, um, we have an incredibly talented designer who has been with us since the beginning and working on all of the cards.


And then Ali and I get to, we have this like fun spreadsheet where we're like, what about this? What about this? What about this? Um, and it's just, it's one of the most, I, Fun creative outlets I've ever gotten to have. And my kids really also fancy themselves like creative directors. My son like comes in every morning at breakfast.


He's like, you should have a card that says, I'm like, okay. And I write it in our spreadsheet. And, um, so if you have any card ideas, please let me know. And if the Passionistas community has any card ideas, definitely, um, definitely connect with us. We would love to hear from you.


Passionistas: We love that. We should have a contest.


Maya: Oh, that'd be so fun.


Passionistas: Really fun. We'll talk. Um, so what advice do you have for people that just find it really hard to have those real honest conversations?


Maya: Yeah. And I think so much of my work, even before Thoughtful Human was around gently encouraging people to start whether, and to embrace the awkward and to Have grace with yourself and that there's so many things and, and just, this is, this is how I think about it.


There are so many things I wish I had said to one person in particular, but I think it's probably applicable in all of these relationships. And if we could just find a way to say it and our job at Thoughtful Human is to help you say it in different ways, right? We're a greeting card company, but we're also a communications company, is like, how can we invite you to say these things?


But I will say from a mental health perspective, one of the biggest stigmas that we need to bust is there's this idea that if we talk about mental health or if we talk about uh, And if we talk about self harm or if we talk about suicide, that'll give people the idea to do it when in fact the opposite is true, right?


Oftentimes talking about someone, create something, creates an invitation for someone to say I'm struggling, or you said the thing that I couldn't say, right? Thank you for bringing that up. The words that we say as like a lifeline or an invitation for other people to say the things they might not be able to say, um, is how I think about it.


Um, and I also have seen, and I hope all of us have seen firsthand the ways that our actions and our words can put a smile on someone's face. Or sometimes you're like, I had no idea that that meant so much to you because you're going through something or because you needed to hear that. Right. And, and it is true, the old adage of like, you never know what people are dealing with.


And so the way that we show up, the words with which we show up, the opportunities that we have to show up, they really do make a difference. And, and, and just try if you mess up, that's okay. If you say the wrong thing, that's okay. Like just being there makes a great deal of difference.


Passionistas: And so do you mind if I just say one thing?


Um, I am was thinking when you were saying this earlier about your mom passing away and it's like, it's all you want to talk about. And it's that catch 22 of, you know, Asking or not asking. And I think that people think after a certain period, like, oh, she doesn't want to think about it. I don't want to be the one to upset her and bring it up again.


But the reality is you're thinking about it every day. And It's not going to make you sad. It's either going to help you express the emotion that you're already dealing with, or it's going to bring back a happy memory as time goes by. And so it's, it's those moments of like, what's the intent behind what you're saying? Are you saying something to be kind? Are you saying something to be supportive? Then say it.


Maya: Absolutely, absolutely. And I, I think back, I had a, I have a friend who lost her husband, um, suddenly. And, you know, everyone went to her immediately and was like, what can we do for you? What can we do for you? And she said, check back with me in six months.


And then in 12 months, and then in 18 months, right? And then, and her point was that everybody floods in, and it's a beautiful wave of support. And then, understandably, people move on. She didn't, like I didn't, right? And so this idea that checking in and being there isn't this one time thing, it isn't this transaction, right?


It's actually this, this state of being, of continuing to be there. I think that's just, that's a really important point.


Passionistas: And not everybody has a mother on Mother's Day. Oh yeah. Has family to go to on a holiday, you know. Yeah, it's the hardest part of grief, I think, is that moment where everyone stops turning up and they've gone back to their lives as normal, but your life isn't normal anymore.


Maya: Yeah, and every, and everybody, like, grief, there are some things that will selectively affect us and not someone else. Grief is not one of those things, right? We're all going to be. Leveled by it. And there's nothing unfortunately that we can do to stop it. But what we can do is soften that inevitable blow by just showing up for ourselves, for the people in our lives.


And, um, and I, I feel like, you know, we started this conversation around like. If community is what was written in the stars in this like next chapter of my life, it's going to be like the showing up, right? Not just like building and building and building. It's like, no, now like we're just going to Do the care and feeding of the people that we've convened.

And we're just going to show up in the good times and the hard times.


Passionistas: Absolutely. And so your podcast is really an extension of that. So talk a little bit about the thought, thoughtful human process.


Maya: Ali created this beautiful podcast where she could get into conversation with thoughtful humans about the issues that they were facing, right?


So whether it's eating disorders or grief or addiction or poetry or sports or whatever it is that that they were interested in, it's a long form conversation Always really filled with resources and invitations to connect and learn more. And so you can also find those podcasts at Um, and Ali is an incredible and empathetic, uh, interviewer.


I am fortunate to have been the. The latest subject of her interviewing skills, and so definitely check that out too, but um, Ali's story is just such an inspiring one. In the way that she shows up, I mean, she, so she lost her dad, um, I believe it's been 12 years, but every single time we see each other, she's, I mean, it, it, it It's an, it wouldn't be right to say she's giddy about it, but she's just so present and consistent about it.


She's like, okay, so how's your heart? Like, what are you sad, you know, what are you sad about today? And she's like one of the few people in my life who's just like going to go right in there every time. And we're going to talk about what's real. And once we assess like, Yes, today we're at a baseline that we can build on top of, but there are some days where I'm like, I'm really sad.


And she's like, great, we're not going to do any work today. Like, what do you want to be sad about? You know? Um, and so definitely check out Ali's, uh, podcasts because you'll just like feel that connection that I'm fortunate enough to get to feel with her every day.


Passionistas: Yeah. We had the pleasure of talking with both of you and she's just a lovely, lovely person.


Yeah. So, what's the vision for the future of thoughtful human?


Maya: Yeah, the, the, so really what Ali and I talk about most now, and if you, if the listeners, like if you work at a funeral home, if you work at a hospital gift shop, if you work at an oncology center and you want to talk about our cards, what Ali and I really want to do, like we're so proud of our brand partnerships and really excited about the companies that distribute the cards, and it means a great deal for us, and we want to expand in these mission aligned markets where people are in their feelings, right? Like when I went to go to the funeral home, that was the first time I'd ever walked into the funeral home and I walked out with my mom, right? In a different form and there wasn't, it was, there weren't words that could have been put to that situation and yet there should have been a way for people to show up for me differently in that moment.


So what we're thinking about is how can we Bring our messages and our community to the places where people feel like they're, that people are in their feelings and may feel alone. So stay tuned on some of those exciting pieces and really would love to hear from anyone who has ideas on cards. One of the great things that I'm doing right now is I've been asking all of my friends, like, what's your favorite stationery store?


And what's your favorite bookstore? Like, I would love to get Thoughtful Human in the places where you go every day. Um, especially In Southern California, there are some really cool ones. So if you need any recommendations, let me know. Um, but yeah, so that's, that's part of what's next for ThoughtfulHuman.


And Ali and I are really excited to, to chart the future together. She's built such an incredible resonance. meaningful brand, um, and, and communications vehicle for this grief and sadness and celebration and joy. And so looking forward to, to developing it.


Passionistas: So, um, where can people find Thoughtful Human online and hear the podcast and buy the cards?


Maya: Yeah. So, um, Go is the best place to go. We have 1100 retailers, including Berns Noble and Select Whole Foods, um, and Cost Plus World Market, a bunch of places that we have all in our communities, and then there's also a ton of incredible local bookstores, like, uh, in my area, Rake Straw Books, Um, and as well as the podcast directions on planting seeds, opportunities, and prompts of how to show up and what to write in the cards.


And, um, I think beyond that, Beyond everything else, the wish that Ali and I have is that these are interactive conversations, that folks tell us what they need, and that we're able to show up for them even better.


Passionistas: So we've, we've obviously talked a lot about your mom. Um, what did she teach you when you were growing up about women's roles in society? And what's the most important lesson you think you learned from her?


Maya: Yeah, um, so she broke the mold in every sense of the word, um, in terms of women's roles. And she, um, taught me that beyond, like, loving my people, being good to the world, and like finding a Purpose greater than myself, there was nothing I should do, right?


I don't know how to boil water, I cannot feed my family other than DoorDash, and I am fortunate to have a partner who believes himself an equal participant in every single aspect of our lives, and I believe that You know, I tell my daughter every day that there's nothing that she can't do in the world, and I call her strong and smart and funny and all of these other things before I say anything else to her about, um, how the world perceives she may look.


And I think everything that I believe about myself and the possibilities that I'll have, that my daughter will have, is because of my mom's, like, limitless thinking. And, I mean, just really, It was a miracle for her to be a limitless thinker, having endured the struggles that she endured, right? Immigrating from a communist country, seeking political asylum, like cleaning houses as she sort of made her way through this country.


And still at every point of her life, she just believed in possibility and opportunity. And, and so I, um, I very much do too. Um, yeah. And so I think my daughter, we're talking a lot about puberty around here, um, and so my daughter said to me, so like, this thing just happens one time and then it's over. I'm like, oh, you're in a world of You're just, that's gonna be a big disappointment for you when you figure out how many times and with what regularity it happens.


And, but I said to her, but I was like, but Logan, like, it's cause we're superheroes, right? Like it's cause we're superheroes. My son was like, Hey, I'm like, sorry. Like, um, and so I really do. I think how, how I show up in the world is because of my mom's limitless thinking. And I hope that, um, I hope that gets embedded in Logan too and Hunter.


Passionistas: Yeah. And what about professional mentors? Who have been some of your professional mentors and what have you admired about them?


Maya: That's such a great question. So I feel like my whole career is based on people who took calls when they didn't have to take calls, right? People who took a meeting when they shouldn't have taken a meeting, right?


Like I remember being 18, 19 years old and talking to Jerry Mannion who was at the Carnegie Corporation, right? And she had no business. Being that kind to me, right? Like, I don't, what was I even saying to her? Being like, I'm a volunteer at Rock the Vote, I'd like money from the Carnegie Corporation, but she just took the time to talk to me, admired my chutzpah, and my husband actually had a call with her last week, and I was like, wow, what a wild world, right?


Like, It is because she picked up the phone that I believed I would be good at fundraising, right? Uh, the fact that Daryl Hammond, who founded Kaboom, um, took the time to, to talk to me about how to lead organizations was the reason I thought that I could, you know, Step into the role of CEO at I'm so grateful for the people who took the time to meet with me, to invest with me, to be honest with me about the trade offs and the consequences of the choices that we make as leaders. And so Jerry and Daryl are two of them. And then there's incredible people like Paul Schmitz with Public Alis.


And, and then what's been cool is, um, so there's like. I mean, Kristen Campbell from Pace and Michael Smith from AmeriCorps. There's a group of us that like all went to DC in 2005, 2006. And we were all just like, Interns and, and assistants looking at the spreadsheet of happy hours, or we could save 2 on like a Natty Ice.


And now like he's running AmeriCorps and she runs this like philanthropic advisory council and this one's running a foundation and this one runs social impact for Toms. And you're like, look at us growing up. Like, how about that? And now we have the responsibility and the opportunity and, and it's the most important thing we can do with our professional lives is to pay it forward and to enable another group of young leaders to think that the world is their oyster, like we were able to, to believe.


Passionistas: So what's your secret to a rewarding life?


Maya: Naps. I love, I love. So to me, and this is actually, I never, I'm not even sure why I answered it so quickly, but I do stand by it in that you have to rest. And for me, like some people meditate or run, I actually like need my brain to, I need like the curtain to go down to reset.


But to me, every time I take a nap, I like, it feels like two days in one. So I actually feel like I get more life, but a life well lived to me, um, that's, that's my secret. I think napping is, is how I'm able to do it. Um, But I hope that I'm living a life that my kids are going to say that they were proud of me and that I was able to have this impact on the world while also like tomorrow I'm going on a field trip, right, with the third grade.


And so I hope they were able to see me show up for the world and for them, um, and not have to sacrifice one for the other.


Passionistas: That's beautiful. I love that nap. So it's like having two days in one. I never thought of it that way. I love that. Um, all right, we have one last Uh, two part question. What's your dream for yourself and what's your dream for women?


Maya: My dream for myself, I actually think it's sort of the same for both. I think with all of the confidence that we just talked about that I may have exuded, I would like to like deeply believe that I'm enough, right? Like I would just like to be like, We don't need more of any of this because of anything because like you're just enough and you have everything inside of you that you need to survive and thrive.


I think particularly right now because it feels like I've lost so much. I'd like to like anchor myself. Again, um, in a different, different way, obviously. Um, and my dream for women. I mean, I think it is so true to surround yourself with people who build you up, who will speak positively about you, even when you're not there.


I'm fortunate enough to have best friends that, you know, literally build me back up when I can't put one foot in front of the other. And I, I hope. That as women, we can surround ourselves with people who do that for us and who can see something in us that maybe we can't even see and help point us in that direction when we're lost.


Um, yeah, I think the limitless potential that my mom embodied is what I hope for us.


Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project. Since we're not only business partners, but best friends and real life sisters, we know how unique and truly special our situation is. We know so many solopreneurs, activists, women seeking their purpose and more, who are out there doing it all on their own.


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