10 Questions with Maura Sweeney
The self-created Ambassador of Happiness, Maura Sweeney is on a mission to advance the human race. A former decorated corporate manager and home schooling mom, Maura set out at midlife to positively impact the greater world.
Featured on NBC, BBC, European TV and African press, she has lectured to aspiring FBI and CIA candidates, moderated for a Florida think tank event, served as panelist for a national virtual town hall for race relations, spoke at the inaugural Nelson Mandela Day celebrations and joined several celebrities as a spoken word contributor to Action Moves People United raising awareness for world peace.
Author, Podcaster and International Speaker, Maura was named Woman of the Decade at the 2018 Women’s Economic Forum held in The Hague. Having traveled to 60 countries and engaged with an array of diverse peoples, Maura shares life lessons, reflective questions and paradigm shifting concepts to inspire personal leadership for a better world.
Why are you passionate about the topic you speak about?
I speak about happiness, personal leadership and influence from my own experience. As a younger person, I tried to please others around me - in my case my parents - who groomed me for a future career in law. Finding myself exhausted, dispirited and unable to physically move out of a chair one day to drive myself to law school classes proved a seminal moment for me at age 23.
Taking stock of my own interests, aptitudes and passions from within was what I needed to tap into my own life, energy and sense of purpose. Helping others to find their best talents, to live authentically, and to see themselves through a brighter, and more hopeful lens, gives needed empowerment to others today. Moreover, it helps pave the way for a healthier, more harmonized, society.
What is the best advice you have ever received as an expert, speaker or coach?
Best advice I ever received was to "be yourself." I actually learned this prior to my speaking career when stepping into my first management position during my corporate days. I was nothing like my predecessor who bested me by 10 years of work experience and 150 additional pounds of girth. He was a great leader and a wonderful motivational trainer and speaker. I remember feeling ill-equipped to step into his shoes. As if reading my mind, he remarked, "Maura, don't try to be me. Just remember to be yourself." I might have been a poor substitute for a confident, middle aged, male executive back then. Instead, I led with my own style and ended up with the Chairman's Award for managing the top branch office in the nation. I remind others today who are going through substitution anxiety of the same advice: "Be Yourself because there's no one else who can do you!"
Who do you admire and why?
I have always felt a special admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt. For a woman of her day who was overlooked as a child, thought plain during an era that venerated beauty and who endured her husband's unfaithfulness, she carried an enormous spirit and sense of purpose. Rather than playing victim, she found her calling and became a one of the most influential women in the U.S. and the world. I consider Eleanor Roosevelt a forerunner and inspiration to many who would like to make a difference today.
What is one piece of advice you could share with our readers to uplift them in life/career?
We live in a world that spoon feeds us values, attitudes and ideas that might not be our own. Spend at least 5 minutes each day with your own thoughts and ruminations. Learn to tune in to how your soul speaks back when you inquire. For example, where did I feel at my best, my worst, my most vulnerable and my most inspired? Take personal notes and start to live according to your own "knowing" -- and your own leading. You'll feel more authentic, empowered and probably a lot happier, too!
What is your favorite book?
A Course in Miracles by Dr. Helen Schucman.
What do you do to relax?
To relax, I enjoy yoga classes and sharing a glass of wine on the couch at night with my husband while we're watching a travel, food or serial crime show.
What are some of the challenges you face as a speaker, expert or coach and how do you overcome those?
Early on. I had a few people question my focusing on happiness (my mantra is "living happy - inside out"), considering it too nebulous and impractical a topic. I overcame the nay-sayers over time, demonstrating that when people feel happier, they are more energized, creative and successful.
Another challenge has been differentiating myself from other speakers and experts in a veritable sea of similitude. I was never a competitor and couldn't drift away from my authentic nature, but I am also a highly purposed and consistent worker who followed after interests, connections and opportunities that felt meaningful to me. Ultimately, I found that my personal happiness messages translated and extended into many facets of life. Knowing how to take my background experience and connect it to happiness and authenticity has landed me on over 300 media outlets both in the U.S. and abroad. I've become a well-received guest on radio and podcast interviews, providing relatable stories and helpful suggestions to more segmented audiences. Further, I've always had an interest in travel and different cultures and focused my efforts on speaking overseas. Over time, I developed expanding relationships and have since keynoted dozens of times at universities and leadership conferences in eight or nine foreign countries. These venues appreciate hearing from an American voice with a different perspective and have often invited their national TV and press to interview the visiting Ambassador of Happiness(R). It's uplifting and fun for all involved - especially me who grew up with a global goodwill mentality.
A final challenge is my lack of administrative expertise. I might be a diligent worker, but I am often challenged by record keeping, logistics and a lot more. I can say I've overcome my challenge by having a husband who does a great job of keeping me organized and inside the rails - as well as expertly planning the overseas trips. I like to joke that I'd have difficulty getting out of the garage, but my husband can successfully and expertly navigate himself around any country in the world, even if he's never been there before. I guess the "take-away" of this last challenge has been, do what you do best and then find or hire someone to help you do the rest!
How do you see the world of coaching and speaking evolve over the next 5 years?
If there’s anything I could foresee, it’s a combination of enhanced technology (TBD) and personal, physical contact. While many have become accustomed to advances in social media for on-line programs, my sense is that anyone who can master more of a “personal touch” in the future will have a significant advantage in the marketplace. If I had to bring out a crystal ball, here’s what I might envision. First, I’d imagine the emergence of AI (artificial intelligence) as a client learning aide, helping speakers and coaches off-load some of their repetitive, day-to-day commitments to their general base. Further, I’d envision these same speakers, consultants and coaches alternatively freed up for more in-depth and robust engagements, small group and private sessions elsewhere. Given AI’s self-learning capabilities and its growing availability, it may prove a significant time and cost saver on the tech side while providing expert speakers and coaches greater opportunities to be up front and personal with clients more often.
What technology can't you live without?
My iPhone -- and I'm sure I'm not alone! More specifically, I use my iPhone for recording podcasts and creating videos with my iMovie app.
See Maura Sweeney's online course:
Personal Leadership, Happiness and Authenticity
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