Maya Frost of Switch Strategies: “Make your own luck”

Make your own luck. When I met my half-brother (my birth father´s son) for the first time when I was 21, we spent hours telling our stories. He was sixteen years older, an only child, with degrees from Yale and Princeton, several years in the Foreign Service in Chile and Brazil, and worked as the […]

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Make your own luck. When I met my half-brother (my birth father´s son) for the first time when I was 21, we spent hours telling our stories. He was sixteen years older, an only child, with degrees from Yale and Princeton, several years in the Foreign Service in Chile and Brazil, and worked as the executive director of a major business organization in Chicago. At one point, I told him that I had always felt unlucky. He looked at me and said, ¨You know what´s better than luck? Adaptability. You can make your own luck.


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Frost.

Maya Frost knows about change. An author, educator, and change strategist, she has lived in six countries and finds new ways to thrive everywhere. Through Switch Strategies, she helps women design change they love, and collaborates on creative projects around the world. Maya offers cheerful tips for change artists at MayaFrost.com


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up seeing change as catastrophic, something to be avoided at all costs. I was the unexpected result of an affair between a married 36-year-old executive and a single 21-year-old nursing student, and was adopted at birth by a young Mormon couple who had struggled to have children. (They later had two sons.) When I was four, my adoptive father told my mother he was ¨homosexual.” She had to look it up in the dictionary. Devastated, she packed her three preschoolers in the car, and drove from the Bay Area to Portland, Oregon to live with her parents.

Within months, our beloved grandfather died after having a heart attack while mowing the lawn. My grandmother´s grief prompted early dementia, making life even more challenging, as she was our caregiver while my mother worked to support us. In her confused state, my grandmother saw me as an evil interloper wreaking havoc on her family. She tried to kill me. Twice.

When I was 10, my mother married a divorced man who had four other kids to support. It was tough on everyone, and there was abuse. We all worked hard to build a tar paper-covered garage on ten acres of rural woods three miles down a gravel road from a town of 365 people. We lived in it for the next five years.

Now, I am truly grateful for my tumultuous childhood. It gave me some serious resilience! As a skilled change artist who delights in new circumstances, I love helping others find their way through chaos to create change they love.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I served as the English-speaking governess for the family of Jack Ma, China´s most-admired entrepreneur. Jack was always friendly to me, and there were many surreal moments. It became normal to bump into Jet Li in the hallway, for example, or to teach while Jack was singing karaoke a few feet away in the home theater.

Early one Sunday morning at the house, my student had just scampered off to use the bathroom. I heard Jack outside calling his wife´s name repeatedly. Curious, I looked out the window.

There was Jack, standing barefoot in the grass, wearing sweats, hair disheveled. When he saw me, his face lit up. He motioned for me to come open the door, which had locked behind him when he stepped outside. Grinning, he thanked me and said, ¨It´s always good to start the day humble!¨ He often made jokes about himself, and his humility was refreshing. If I start to get uppity, I remember that.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I read a lot, and this year, I´ve been diving into books that provide insight on making a positive impact. One of the most powerful books I read this year is Manifesto for a Moral Revolution by Jacqueline Novogratz. Her organization, Acumen, does groundbreaking work in Africa and elsewhere by re-imagining the way we communicate with each other, listening deeply to problems, and working with stakeholders to create meaningful and effective solutions. I´m taking her course, The Path to Moral Leadership, based on this book, and meeting weekly with my teammates around the world via Zoom. It has been a fantastic tool for helping me create Switch Strategies as a way to support women as they create change in their lives and communities.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

My husband and I agreed early on that we would not spend our lives chasing money. Instead, we wanted to have freedom to live the way we choose and create work that excites us. Over the years, we´ve had a range of fun businesses and projects. We never made a ton of money, so with four daughters lining up to be in college at the same time, we had to get creative about finances!

For us, that really kicked in when we sold everything in the U.S. and moved to Mexico in 2005. Our girls were teenagers at the time. Everyone told us we were ruining their chances for a good education. But because we were used to doing things differently, we just jumped into it. We put our businesses (he was selling products in the U.S., I had a mindfulness training company) online. Though we were making only around 50,000 dollars a year combined, we dramatically reduced our expenses (freeing up more for college costs), and were much happier.

A year later, we moved to Argentina. (We let our youngest daughter pick the country, since she had the longest time to be there with us.) People were curious about our girls´ schooling, as they were combining various non-traditional options rather than attending local schools. I pitched an idea for a book on how our daughters (and many others) were crafting an affordable, personalized, and super-relevant education without going into debt. I had zero contacts in publishing, and did not know a single published author, but I got an agent and a book deal with Crown (Random House). The New Global Student was published in 2009. I spent the next few years consulting with global educators, parents, students, and others who were seeking flexible ways to learn, travel, and live fulfilling lives of their own choosing.

Our daughters are now in their early thirties. Our oldest has a doctorate, the second has a master´s, and the younger two have bachelor’s degrees. They are living happily in Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Dubai, and Sacramento. Consequently, my husband and I live a nomadic life, spending months at a time in different places.

In 2019, my husband and our best friend started a wholesale glass straw company based in Portland, Oregon. I served as the strategist, overseeing marketing, sales, customer service, and outreach. i loved the variety, from taking photos and creating content for social media, the blog, and our weekly newsletter to developing brand partnerships and expanding our social mission, including using a non-profit employing people with barriers for all our packing and shipping.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

We went to Buenos Aires for the birth of our first grandchild in December. (Our youngest daughter, who picked Argentina in the first place, has an Argentine partner.) In January, our daughter in Sacramento had a baby girl, and we planned to return to the U.S. to spend time there during the parents´ transition back to work. But the pandemic hit, and everything was locked down tight in Argentina, including a ban on all travel.

Within weeks, it became clear that we be unable to meet our new granddaughter anytime soon, and could not return to our Portland warehouse to oversee a necessary pivot. Our main customers were bars, restaurants, and events, all of which were closed or cancelled. Reluctantly, we announced that we would close our company in June. One of our customers in Oregon offered to buy it, and the sale was completed in July.

I had just turned 60. Another daughter was now expecting her first baby in November in Dubai. Missing my far-flung family, and facing months in a studio apartment in Buenos Aires during a winter lockdown, I decided to pour my heart into helping women who were impacted by the pandemic.

Using the skills I´d gained over years of consulting (both in my mindfulness training company and through my book-related work), I launched Switch Strategies, and began reaching out to women facing change or needing help initiating projects. Because I love a good bargain and use many free or low-cost business resources myself, I know how to help others achieve great results on a shoestring budget.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

My aha moment was realizing I would not hold my new granddaughter during her first year, or see my daughter in Dubai even once during her pregnancy. It made me want to nurture women and what they are nurturing!

I was inspired by both Jacqueline Novogratz´s book and See No Stranger by activist Valarie Kaur, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project. (She likens revolution to childbirth, with all the requisite breathing and pushing.) My main goal was to help women who could not afford traditional coaching, but I also wanted to find work collaborating with creative teams. I live a very low-cost lifestyle, and have the flexibility to offer my services at reduced rates. I view this new decade of my life as an opportunity to be of service, and to use whatever wisdom and experience I have gained as an educator, writer, business leader, and mother to help creative women launch their new ¨babies¨ into the world.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Better than I imagined! I offered personal change strategy sessions via email to women in exchange for their donation of 25 dollars or more to their local food bank. This way, they see themselves as being able to help others even as they are receiving help. I used organic traffic from lighthearted video pins on PInterest, making it clear that this was not counseling, and that we would focus on strategy and quick turnaround. In the first three months, I helped 38 women in six countries launch something new and exciting.

I added a video/email support option for those who want additional guidance. For my work with creative teams, I reach out using LInkedIn and collaborative women´s groups. I always start with email. I find it valuable to have a written record of our work together, and it encourages women to spend time thinking critically about the questions I ask. They discover deeper intentions and resistance than they would If we started with video. Plus, since I work with women in other countries, email is an easy way to avoid time zone hassles and make it more accessible to those who speak English as a second language. I focus on understanding needs and exploring sustainable ways to meet them.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband is my best friend and partner in all things. He grew up just ten miles away from me in Oregon, but we met as teaching partners in Japan. Our shared sense of place drew us together. (That, and the fact that we were the only single foreigners for miles!) We got married young (he was 21, I was 24) and started our life together in rural northern Japan. We had to rely on each other. When our first two daughters were born there, we had to figure out how to be parents with no English books and no internet. I had never even changed a diaper, but I learned! We developed our ability to make creative choices when we lacked certainty. That set the tone for the rest of our lives together. Now, we look back at that time and wonder how we managed! We just viewed everything as fun rather than challenging.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

One story fits with the labor/birth/adoption theme. I worked with a midwife in her forties who had a business partner who was a photographer. The photographer documented the labor and birth, taking photos and videos, but the midwife was getting feedback from the couples that the photographer was insensitive. She felt she should end the partnership, and prepared to have a hard conversation. It was clear to me that there was something important underlying this issue, so we came up with a strategy and she met with her partner to talk.

Well, the photographer, someone she had known for years, revealed that she had a hard time with the parents because she had given up a baby for adoption as a teen. It brought back a lot of pain for her. As much as she truly loved capturing these birth stories, she realized that her resentment was coming out in the sessions with joyful new parents. The partners decided to take a break while the photographer went through counseling. Two months later, after heartfelt apologies to the new parents, they are working beautifully together and their bond is deeper than ever. Not to belabor(!) the point, but it really comes down to creating safe opportunities for deep listening.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I have been lucky to soak up so much great advice over the last 50+ years. So, I´ll share the best advice that I turn to again and again.

  1. Make your own luck. When I met my half-brother (my birth father´s son) for the first time when I was 21, we spent hours telling our stories. He was sixteen years older, an only child, with degrees from Yale and Princeton, several years in the Foreign Service in Chile and Brazil, and worked as the executive director of a major business organization in Chicago. At one point, I told him that I had always felt unlucky. He looked at me and said, ¨You know what´s better than luck? Adaptability. You can make your own luck. 
    Shortly after that, I legally changed my last name to Talisman. It was sort of our little joke. Suddenly, everything shifted. I immediately got the job in Japan (the 76th job I had applied for during that recession!) and met the love of my life. It wasn´t because of my changed name, of course. It was because of my changed mindset. Making luck is my favorite hobby!
  2. Simple is enough. As giddy empty nesters, my husband and I bought a farmhouse on five acres in rural Uruguay that I´d seen advertised on MercadoLIbre.com (similar to Amazon) for 36,000 dollars. One day, a man delivered a truckload of manure. He looked at my struggling tomato plants and asked why I had planted so many. I proudly told him that I had started seeds for ten different varieties of tomatoes, including.pear-shaped, yellow, heirloom, etc. He nodded slowly, and in a kind voice, he said, ¨Here, we only have two kinds of tomatoes. Big and little. Simple is enough.¨ My cheeks burned as I stood there in my rubber boots, shoveling manure. I always remember this when I am contemplating upgrading anything. It has saved me thousands of dollars. I had to laugh when all the plants suffered from a gnarly aphid infestation, except the ones I started from local seed for the ¨big and little¨ tomatoes!
  3. Life is long. A dear friend of mine started her nursing career caring for injured soldiers flown to San Diego from Vietnam. She spent the next twenty years as an ER nurse. Despite all the casualties she had seen, she always said, ¨For most of us, life is long. There´s time to live a bunch of different lives in one lifetime. We owe it to those who couldn´t to get out there and try everything.” That advice has colored every major decision I have made during the last 20 years.
  4. There´s no shame in changing your mind. I headed off to college with scholarships. I had been both homecoming queen and valedictorian, and expected to thrive at college. The fact that there were only 36 people in my high school glass should have been a red flag. I cannonballed into a packed schedule of pre-med science classes, and nearly drowned, getting the worst grades of my life. In tears, I sat down with my advisor/physics professor. I told him I was not cut out for treatment, that what I really loved was writing and psychology. He said, ¨This is great news! Now you know what to take next semester. There´s no shame in changing your mind. It means you´re learning.¨ I remain so grateful for that advice, and frequently offer it to my clients.
  5. Wait two years to judge the timing of bad events. After Uruguay, my husband and I missed being around kids, and decided to return to Asia to teach English again. But the new school in Japan was a bad fit. After two months, I was fired for allowing my class of 3 year olds to read books and make art, which the owner thought was frivolous. We had sold the farm in Uruguay, and had no idea what to do next. Going back to Asia was feeling like a huge mistake.
    A few days after we left Japan to hunker down in Thailand and figure out our next steps, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami and meltdown hit. Two years later, I was the governess for the Ma family. It would not have happened if I had not been fired and found a job teaching (and then serving as vice principal) at a kindergarten in Beijing.
    Seeing disappointments as potential blessings in disguise really helps when things don´t appear to be going my way!

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

Partnering with creative women through Switch has been a big help, along with adding more art in my life. I spent the last year consuming endless news and numerous business blogs and podcasts. Now, rather than doomscrolling or reading about digital marketing, I start my day with the artist interview in The Creative Independent. Along with Michael Bungay Stanier´s Year of Living Brilliantly, I am doing a daily drawing challenge with my son-in-law, working on a large abstract painting for my daughter here, and exploring collage art. Making art is a wonderful way to stay calm and inspired. And of course, I also do my own playful mindfulness exercises.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

This may sound ironic coming from someone who wrote a book encouraging everyone to spend time abroad, but we need to mobilize people to protect the planet by transforming the way we travel. I am a conflicted traveler, needing to do so to visit my loved ones, but guilty about the carbon footprint, even if buying offsets and limiting our trips to one big slow loop per year with months in each place.

I would focus on shifting the airline industry to non-fossil fuel options that are sustainable, as well as transforming cruise lines and resorts to other multi-use purposes that rely on alternative energy sources. I am a big believer in spending time in other cultures and connecting with people around the world, but we must develop less harmful ways to do that.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Clearly, I´m crushing on Jacqueline Novogratz! Her role in improving the lives of millions of people is beyond remarkable. She started 30 years ago, heading off to Africa with an idea to create a microfinancing program for women. Also, she is married to Chris Anderson, the founder of TED Talks. Maybe we could have a couples´ lunch…

How can our readers follow you online?

http://MayaFrost.com

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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