Michelle Maisto

Writer
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What do you do for work and give us a few reasons you love it?
I’m a writer, which increasingly means I’m also a marketer. I’ve always loved to write (or maybe, “felt compelled” to write — the act of writing itself is awful). As a kid, a teenager, a young adult, the challenge was to portray a thing — a feeling, a place, an idea. Could I find the words that could make someone understand or see something exactly as I did? I wanted to be a mirror, really.

The older I get, the more I understand that in order to show anything, I’ve first got to dig and dig to find it. I’ve got to be brave enough and honest enough (with myself) to find the thing worth talking about. Because nothing on the surface is meaningful enough to show/share.

In the jobs I’m hired for (versus my personal writing) this is also true. I’ve been freelancing, helping companies with their social media and editorial/content. And it’s startling how even established companies struggle to say or explain what they do or what they’re about. Because it’s hard. So much of being a writer is being patient enough to peel back the layers until something almost always very small but very true becomes clear.
 
Your current company aside, name two other companies that you admire and explain why.
I like people who don’t contort themselves to please everyone, and I feel the same about brands. To be everything is to be nothing. I admire brands that strive for a meaningful, moral goal that’s backed by a good business case. I like that Nike, for example, has worked to make itself incredibly environmentally efficient and respectful — understanding that it’s attractive to customers, great for its bottom line and plainly essential for the planet.

And I love a passionate brand like Vaute Couture — a vegan fashion brand that makes no apologies and sees itself as in no way compromising. It’s innovating — it insists it can make clothes that aren’t comparable to what we’ve been wearing, but better. It wants to make us look back at our old clothing choices with horror and wide eyes — as we should look back at our unenlightened, old choices. Women couldn’t vote? People once smoked in airplanes? People used to wear animals???
 
Where do you expect to be in 5 years?
I ask myself this every day. I’m embarrassed to say I’m not sure. Though at the very least, I hope that in five years I have another published book to my name, a healthy, happy 11-year-old and nice abs.
 
In your opinion, what is wrong with the corporate world and how would you fix it?
I think a big problem is the need for companies to always earn more — to present shareholders with a chart that shows perfectly rising lines. If you make a good product in a sensible way and are successful, what do you do the next quarter and the next quarter to keep revenue growing, as businesses feel compelled to do? It seems to me that a lot of problems stem from that idea — that it’s not enough to be successful, you have to be increasingly successful — and very important “corners” start to get cut.

It’s a deeply American idea, of course. And we also apply it to individuals — so often we work to be promoted out of the jobs we love and/or are great at, because we feel compelled to keep pushing forward. Though the skills that make a person a great salesperson, for example, don’t necessarily equate to being a great sales manager, or even enjoying that role. But it can be hard to allow ourselves to feel satisfied, and successful, without continuing to climb. There’s a false sense of worth built into the proverbial ladder.

I’m not sure how to fix this. But I think B Corps, which “redefine success in business,” are a great part of a solution, and so is a degree of mindfulness about what success might really feel or look like for each of us.
 
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in your life?
One lesson was a writing lesson and goes back to my first answer: When you labor to look deep inside yourself and find a small but very real truth, it would seem that truth is incredibly personal to you; but actually, it’s the most universal information you can share. In writing terms, you can reach more people when you share a hard-won truth — it will resonate far more than anything general you could say. And in life terms, the better you understand yourself (what really motivates you, why that one thing embarrasses you, etc.), the better you’ll be able to relate and feel compassion for others.

So, maybe a second lesson, then: I’ve come to believe that the most essential quality that we as humans need to cultivate — to avoid war, to be better neighbors, to simply be decent people, etc. — is compassion.
 
What are your priorities outside work? Where do you spend your time? What do you care about?
My 6-year-old daughter is the keeper of just about every minute of the personal time I once had. And really, the phrasing of your question is pretty perfect — I suppose everything I care about is what I do with her or talk with her about: the environment, politics, reading, writing, running, cooking, travel and being a good person in the world. Kids are terrifying little mirrors: I see my unedited self reflected in her, and it makes me want to be a far better person.