Maria McGinn


Act II Part 1 presently "Daring Greatly". Connecting women through intentional mentorship.

© Cayce Pollard. All rights reserved.


Transitions don’t always mean breaking away from what we know, but instead evolving towards the next phase. I like to think of this recent period in my life as attraversare. An easy word that rolls off my mother tongue to mean “to cross”. When I found this picture of the Golden Bridge in Vietnam, it resonated for me because I certainly feel I did not make this journey alone.

In a recent interview, a question about my career break came up. Afterall, I have been out of a traditional job for nearly three years. What started as “in between jobs” turned into a world of uncertainty due to the onset of a global pandemic, and a series of events in my personal life. I explained that through this time, I never stopped working and never retired. I adjusted to my circumstances and unpacked and unlearned a bunch of things I accumulated along the way.

I am a curious and continuous learner who enjoys finding creative ways to solve problems. I also enjoy technology, so it was natural for me to embark on a project that would see me put these two things together. During my break, I developed a platform that would help women easily find each other for mentorship. I developed this idea and manifested it, trusting my instincts and taking risks I only ever dreamed I might one day have the courage to do.

Along the way, I found myself in the choices I made. It was a very vulnerable time for me. I seeded an idea, applied for a trademark, incorporated a business, built a website, developed an app, dove into new business networks, and immersed myself in the most important topics impacting women during one of the most significant global events of our time. So much learning. No regrets whatsoever.

When an opportunity came up to consider taking a traditional job, I listened. I allowed myself to be open, and for a split second I allowed the negative thoughts to float above like a rain cloud. I wondered if I was abandoning my passion, if I was selling out. Then it passed, and I remembered something my younger daughter taught me: “Two things can be true at the same time.”

I can continue to help women through mentorship, and I can dive back into a traditional job. The career break gave me time to come back to myself and what I care about. It allowed me to reconnect to what truly matters to me, to discard the noise and hear myself.

Like many, I keep a bunch of random notes on my phone. Some are quotes that resonate with me, or perhaps some profound realization I had during a run. Here is one such quote that stuck whenever I contemplated a change, from an article I came across on LinkedIn: “Focus on the personal reason for quitting rather than the wider narrative about quitters, and keep the decision in perspective. You’re not deciding your role for the rest of your life – you’re just deciding on the next job, or the next decision.”

I agree. I don’t like the sound of quitting – I prefer attraversare. I made it across.

Written by: Maria McGinn
Edited by: Shauna McGinn
Published: April 11, 2022


March 8, 2022. It's International Women's Day and there is war in Ukraine.
The reason why we do things can run deep.

The day Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, I called my mom, worried about how her and dad were feeling. At 83 and 89, having grown up in Italy during the Second World War, I could only imagine their anxiety. My mother is triggered watching the news and seeing women and children running with fear. Her sisters in Italy are riddled with anxiety hearing the increased air traffic in recent weeks.

I listened as she recalled her experience running into my grandfather’s bunker in the yard, where they hid during German air strikes. She was only about 5 years old. That story is not new to me, but today as I reflect on how my mother’s life has shaped my own, I feel immense pain for her and all the women of Ukraine who are fleeing, seeking shelter for their children and kissing their loved ones goodbye.

March 8, 2022. This is International Women’s Day. Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality. I see only despair in the faces of the powerless women running with children, pushing baby carriages, standing in long lines. It seems kind of irrelevant to talk about women, power and equity at a time like this. It is a fact that this war, like so many others, will have a profound effect on the lives of girls and women and men.

A few weeks ago, before Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine and we were just coming out of the third wave of lockdowns, I had tea with some new friends. One of the ladies who has been following my progress with MentorSHE asked, “What actually is it? What is the thing inside that made you want to do this?”

On that day, my inclination was to recite this story I have about myself that goes something like this:

English was not my first language at home. I was born and raised a first generation Italian girl in Ottawa. I would end up living a completely different life than my mother. A life, not fraught with poverty or war. I was educated in Canada and grew up in the ‘70s, amid the roar of the women’s rights movement led by Gloria Steinem and Florynce Kennedy and watching Mary Tyler Moore, a show about an independent career woman living alone in her own apartment. I sang every verse of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” in the bathroom mirror and I watched Carol Burnett on Sunday night. I felt empowered. I wanted all of that. My brother teased and nicknamed me “Hollywood”. Did I want to be a star? Maybe. But all I really wanted was to be free and independent.

Instead, on that afternoon discussing MentorSHE, I shared another story.

I remember myself as a young freckled girl of about 4 or 5. The house I grew up in had a backdoor entry that opened to our kitchen. The hallway was big enough to hang a few coats on one side, and for my mom to tuck in a sewing machine. Beside the door to the kitchen was a wall that had a built-in radiator with a shelf and cabinet above. I often tucked myself between the wall and radiator, usually because there were no more chairs while the adults talked around the table, or because it was warm. Most often, though, I squeezed in there because it was closest to where my mother sewed in the evenings.

Like a slow train, back and forth, I listened to the sewing machine, watching her pull threads, tuck pins on her bosom, cursing and mumbling – and then triumphant – when she got a piece exactly the way she wanted. My mother was so talented. She sewed for many friends and neighbours, and soon she had a clientele that included some of the nuns working at the school, and wealthier ladies in nearby neighbourhoods. She made her own patterns, could manage any fabric, and outfitted entire wedding parties. She ran a whole industry in our cold back room.

One day, one of my mother’s regular clients who often praised her talent offered to help open a ladies clothing boutique for her, convinced it would be a great success. Excited by the prospect of working outside the home, my mother “shared” (asked) my father about it. He said no.

At this point in the story, my friend looked at me and said, “She had no power.” I slumped back in my chair and replied, “She did not.” She was silenced.

The reason for why we do things can run deep.

Whenever we are silenced, unseen or unheard, we suffer. My mother suffered the impacts of a world war and the trauma that followed. She was subordinate to her father and then my father. I heard her stories. I watched her. I saw her talent. She worked so hard. She learned to speak and write English. She cared for us and her grandchildren with wonderful meals and continued to mend and sew our clothes. When we moved, she gave up her sewing business for clients and took a part-time job as a lunch room monitor. She stood by my Dad when he started a business and learned to run a payroll for his company.

Now, at nearly 84 years of age, she still has the little red book with all her clients’ names and measurements. She showed it to me the other day. Even with all her accomplishments, she still wonders what if? I wonder too. I admire her and have felt so much empathy for her all my life. Knowing her great love for me, gave me a thirst for independence, justice, and equity. Laugh out Loud. It wasn’t Mary Tyler Moore.

So today, I celebrate my mom, the business she ran in the back room of an old house. I celebrate that she educated herself, that she ran a business behind the scenes for my Dad. I celebrate that despite being a child of war and with all the trauma that came with that, she survived, she took a chance and gave us a life filled with opportunity.

I want to end with a message of hope to the women and girls of Ukraine. We are here. We got you. It will be okay. We are not overlooking you or this war.

Writen by: Maria McGinn
Edited by: Shauna McGinn

I bought this sweet painting in the summer of 2020. at the time, i didn't know i was in that boat.

This is how it has felt being laid off, not retired and a “new founder”.

After being laid off from my career job, a global pandemic had me facing the reality that there would be no immediate job. I did online yoga classes, walked everyday, chatted with friends and enrolled in an online course on app development. As part of my program, I was required to sketch out an idea for an app. This was easy, because I had been ruminating about an app that would allow working women to connect with the intention of mentorship. I created MentorSHE, and was accepted into Invest Ottawa’s pre-accelerator program for 10 weeks. I was so excited!

While COVID raged on, I kept going. With zero funds, I carried out surveys, interviewed many women, managed to create a website and build a prototype app. Ironically, for the first time, I actually had mentors through the Invest Ottawa program. I soaked up every webinar that was offered, and since I won crowd favorite in the pitch finale competition, I had the ongoing support of coaches and mentors. I learned more about what would be available to me as a woman founder, and did more research about women and mentorship.

I started a MentorSHE blog on Medium, became more active on LinkedIN, and created an Instagram profile for MentorSHE. I commented on discussions and participated actively on panels. I learned how to use MailChimp and create campaigns. I watched my social media pages begin to crowd with news and stories about women in business, and the issues impacting women at work today. I made new connections. None of this has been easy. I am self-taught, and even though I designed and developed the app, I bit off more than I could chew with social media marketing, and I’m not well versed when it comes to using things like analytics. Creating MentorSHE had been a full time effort (without the pay) but I was investing in a vision, my own skill development, and staying “in it” from the outside.

While being immersed in this project, I underwent a deep fracture within my family of origin. I was working hard to recover from past hurts, support my own family, and move on. The path of self discovery turned up lots of truths that it was time to face. Often, my turmoil would pour into my day and I would get derailed. There is nothing quite like pulling yourself out of the mud when you feel you have nothing left, like turning the ignition on a dead battery.

Then, I went quiet.

A few months ago, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. While the prognosis for a full recovery is very good, nothing can stop you in your tracks faster than hearing that kind of news.

Seven weeks of daily radiation ended two weeks before our daughter’s wedding. After the daily drive to and from hospital and watching my husband stand up to his treatments with unbelievable strength and dignity, he walked our girl down the aisle and we celebrated with our closest family and friends.

This month I came back to MentorSHE — my work. While my husband recovers and rebuilds, I am again facing this world of work, and my project. I promised to fulfill a commitment I made to myself for MentorSHE, and that was to find community, partnership, anything or anyone I could collaborate with that might have a shared interest in my vision. I reignited a few embers and told myself if these don’t catch, I am out.

I’ll admit, I sometimes question if I should keep going. I weigh the pros and cons. I think about going to work part-time, outside of the corporate world and doing something I would enjoy. It makes me think of my hobbies, and if there is some alignment there. I have lined up a few things to explore.

I am two years older than I was when I was first laid off, and COVID-19 is still with us. I am reflecting on what MentorShe has meant to me during this time — me and MentorSHE in the boat. From the shoreline, I see that the landscape of work has changed, and so have I. I am pondering what is next.

What I have learned about myself is that I am a builder. I am a creator. I am a communicator. How does that line up in a LinkedIN profile?

Like you, I read so many headlines about the decline of our mental health and the lack of systems to help. I read about employee experience and engagement, and how paramount it is for us to connect with our people. I am learning that we should all be bracing ourselves for the “future of work” and the ambiguity of it all. We have exhausted ourselves with information: some good, some bad and all of it just too much. It is no wonder we are seeing what they are beginning to call the #greatresignation.

On my birthday this past summer, I headed out to a small town to treasure hunt in vintage and antique shops. After hours of perusing and discussing the myriad items we saw, I landed on a classic oil painting of boats in a harbor. Excited with my $65 dollar purchase, I reframed and hung it in my home. Then I realized, I actually bought a painting of a boat in a harbor last year (pictured above) and over our bed is a print of two row boats tied to the dock. I also have a lovely water colour of a venetian gondola I bought in Italy, an homage to my roots. “I guess I like boats”, I mused. While showing off my new artwork, I shared this observation with my sister-in-law, who said, “Interesting. Safe harbor.”.

Safe harbor. Anchored to the shoreline.

Being laid off made me feel pushed out from a world I knew very well, and a field I competed in and played on since I was 22 years young. I was another version of me then. It was a good career. In a sense, it ended on a high note, working for a great company where I managed a product. But in the early days, I asked, “Why me?” Why wasn’t I part of the “re-imagined” workforce? I tried to get into other roles but that did not pan out. It hurt. Intellectually, I know I was a number on a spreadsheet. My performance and work was excellent, but I was also older, and maybe that played a part. I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter now.

Founding MentorSHE has been about giving women a place to find intentional mentorship opportunities, because I think one way out of the mess of our systemic barriers is to find new ways to connect with purpose. It has also been about finding the next version of myself. This is what we do. This is the human experience: recovery and starting again.

Recently, I told my daughters (again), “I am in transition”. They joked that it seemed to be taking a long time. Maybe instead I should say, “I am transition” and ask, “How does everything else live up to me?”

This soul journey is ongoing, and the richness of life is layers deep. Right now, I am trying to be still enough not to miss what is meant for me.

Written by Maria McGinn
Edited by Shauna McGinn
Published Date: September 31, 2021


Maria McGinn founded MentorSHE, a community and platform designed to help women connect with the intention of mentorship. This blog shares and explores her own journey of self discovery.


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