Words & Photos by Deborah Honore
It’s the crack of dawn, and Erica waits in the cozy room of a small café in Lowry Hill East Minneapolis. She’s speaking for YNPN’s Breakfast of Champions this morning, and she’s early. To pass the time, Erica shares that she’s thought a lot about what she’s going to say. When asked about the trajectory of her career, she tucks her hands into her pant pockets, and admits that she’s going to have a hard time condensing her story into an hour.
“So, I just do the next right thing, and then more things become apparent from there.”
Erica Mauter is a Twin Cities activist with extensive experience in social and political organizing and campaigning. A Detroit native, Erica moved to Minnesota in 1999 after receiving her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She came to Minnesota to start her new job in research & development for General Mills, but Erica explained that it didn’t last for long.
Twists & Turns
“At the time General Mills and Pillsbury were merging, and I at the ripe old age of 23 said: ‘oh I’m gonna take a voluntary severance package,’” she says. “I had this dream that I was going to go and have some wild adventure. And I kind of did… until my money ran out.”
After a three-month road trip and eight months of unemployment, Erica’s career took an unexpected turn into the pharmaceutical industry. First on the production line, which she says she was “really super bitter about,” then, after “hanging in there” for a couple of years, as a full-time engineer.
Erica explained, “At that point two things were happening. I was getting paid really well, and I had serious ethical issues with the pharmaceutical industry.”
Though it wasn’t a perfect fit, Erica’s new role did offer a lot more free time, and she took full advantage. She joined the board of the Twin Cities Women’s Choir, where she’d been singing. She met her now-wife MIssy Weldy. But just as her life began to settle down, Erica once again found herself looking for the next right thing—she learned her job was being eliminated.
“I, very fortunately, had a little parachute from that gig. We were eligible for what’s basically a federal version of a dislocated worker program. So I said, ‘I do not know what to do next, but because I can I’m gonna go to grad school.’”
“Flip a coin!”
Shortly after receiving her Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from St. Catherine University, Erica was offered the opportunity to become the Executive Director of the Twin Cities Women’s Choir.
“Their executive director said to me: ‘I’m ready to retire. Do you want to do this?’ And for better or for worse I did not think about it, and I said yes.
“I do literally have moments where I’m like, ‘I don’t know. Flip a coin!’ It sort of forces me to release the pressure that I put on myself to make just the right decision.”
Soon after finishing her sentence, Erica was asked how people can adopt a healthy mentality of knowing when to move on from a role. “Part of it is — I’m not going to lie — paychecks are real,” she says. “So, you get there and you do get comfortable.”
She added: “I also think a lot of people are bound up in their job like their job is their identity. But that ability to sort of step back and feel self-actualized outside the job itself. I think that’s hard for people as well.”
Today, Erica works as a full-time social activist. She admits that she could never have predicted her path when she first arrived in Minnesota. Most of her life’s choices were spontaneous leaps of faith. Looking back, Erica does eventually identify one common thread through all of her jobs: discovering what it means to be a leader.
“You have to be listening to people. There has to be a feedback loop. You have to be grounded in your organizational cultures, values, and goals. You have to be able to communicate the vision. And it’s really important to stay connected to who you’re doing it for.”