After her time as a homeschooling mom had “run its course,” Maura chose to reinvent in midlife. Today she is an author, podcaster, speaker, and course creator—all aimed at “the advancement of the human race.”
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born Maura Haggerty in 1958 and grew up in the one-square-mile town of Lyndhurst, NJ. From the top of our cemetery hill, we could view the nearby skyline of New York City.I am the eldest of three, with two younger brothers, in a half Irish, half Italian family. My earliest recollections include being doted upon as a “little princess,” dressed in fine clothes from retailers like Bonwit Teller, taking piano lessons beginning at age 4, and given lessons in etiquette. Despite enjoying certain privileges, I never wanted to be thought of as special or weak. Having fun outdoors with friends and being one of the gang in the neighborhood was more my style.
From an early age, it was evident that my family had high expectations of me with respect to both how I presented myself and how I performed academically. Most of my dresses were turtle-necked and A-lined, preferably in navy blue, winter white, or cranberry. Where I went and with whom I associated was guarded and critiqued—I was never to be seen where “nice girls” shouldn’t be. As a result, I was often indoors but used my time to busy myself in creative ways.
While I was groomed to become a lawyer like my grandfather, I recall many times when I’d visit my grandparents’ house and spend time in his adjacent law office. I had little interest in the legal side of things but was fascinated by the office secretary, Mildred’s Royal typewriter. She’d put on her cat eyeglasses and start to peck away in the most professional manner. A very smart woman, Mildred also had the compassion and patience to allow me to sit beside her as she typed. So began my inordinate interest in writing for the purpose of extending ideas that others would read and talk about. After my grandfather was gone, I remember using Mildred’s old typewriter to teach myself how to type. My interest in learning how to use words wisely has remained with me over the years and is evident in what I do today.
Living in a middle-class town, our family had too much of a material presence: first in-ground pool, a large, black Lincoln Continental car whose back doors opened like a limousine, and a live-in domestic from the island of Trinidad. These noticeable differences made me feel socially awkward. By 9th grade, I was told that I would have to leave my familiar public school and neighborhood friends to attend an all-girls private Catholic day school. Despite my repeated and sincere pleas, the decision was made: I was to be among “nice girls” from “good families” where I could receive a superior education.
While I succeeded academically at this private school, I suffered socially and emotionally. Picture a Mother Superior who was clearly angry and intimidating, several nuns who were not speaking to one another, and a class “clique” with conversations revolving around jewelry, cosmetics and “Daddy’s plane.” I had never been in this type of setting and found the environment odd, uncomfortable, and suffocating. By the middle of that school year, I became anorexic—at a time when the term and diagnosis were yet unknown. I felt like a silent scream, yet neither of my parents seemed to notice or care. Following the death of my maternal grandmother, I eventually returned to public high school where I gained back my weight (and then some) but also felt far more “normal.”
Later on, I attended Boston College, where I studied Political Science (at the behest of parents) and picked up a second major in Spanish Literature, a language I loved thanks to my public school Spanish teacher. I worked as an intern for former U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy the spring semester of my senior year and was offered a full-time job. Instead, I followed my parents’ plan for me and moved back to NJ to attend Seton Hall Law School in Newark. By then, I was married to Jim Sweeney, my college sweetheart. We’d met sophomore year and had clicked immediately on so many levels, even though he was a basketball player on scholarship and I had no interest in sports. I worked part time during law school for an executive search firm because I had no passion for the legal profession.
A major turning point took place in the middle of law school when one day I literally could not get up from my seat to drive myself to class. I panicked! My body stopped moving; it was so heavy—laden with the prospect of a 40-year profession ahead of me, likely in the state of New Jersey (a northern state I never wanted to live in), that I dreaded my future and wondered if I had the energy to fulfill the obligation. It just wasn’t “me.” I left Seton Hall and focused on my job in executive recruitment, where I learned so much about business organization and, more importantly, had the opportunity to interview and learn from top business candidates. I even served as editor of the firm’s national human resource newsletter.
A downturn in the economy caused job orders to dry up for both Jimmy and me. He was offered an executive development opportunity with a relocation package at one of Florida’s largest corporations. Since I was still looking and had no current prospects up North, this presented a welcome and “guilt free” opportunity to move away from family and head South to where the sun shined year-round and the weather was always warm.
The next decade brought me into the burgeoning telecom industry of the 1980s. Looking daily for employment in the Tampa Bay area, I was only offered one job – telemarketing sales to area businesses. A few months later, I was promoted to supervisor, then manager, branch manager and a few more extending titles, but always remaining close to my home in Florida and resisting promotions to corporate headquarters in Chicago or back to the New York metro area.
While telecom wasn’t my passion, being around people certainly was! These corporate leadership years were quite challenging for me, learning how to handle many “people problems” with dignity and diplomacy, but they were golden in many ways too. Over time, I had the rare privilege of selecting my own people, building my own teams, creating great working cultures, and developing and promoting others into higher positions of responsibility. In many ways, it was my laboratory to experiment with influence, leadership, and group dynamics—and to find out how to create happy, healthy, and prosperous work and social environments.
I had my first, and only, child at age 34. Having learned all that I wanted to in a corporate environment and feeling like a burnout case, I left soon after our daughter was born and transitioned big time. Growing up a stone’s throw from Manhattan (and all the news we’d receive from that bustling city), I decided from an early age that I would never depend on a man, always hold my own, have a career, etc. I did very well financially in my positions and could have supported a family on my own.
However, something within me knew that my stepping away was important to my growth. My time as a mom filled in several childhood gaps I probably needed. It allowed me to bond with our daughter and gave me the opportunity to turn our lovely house into an inviting and thriving home. I painted, cooked, did some volunteering, and studied topics that I was curious about. I welcomed exchange students, friends, extended family, and so many others to spend time with us. I became “mom” to family pets: our boxers Henri and Buster and, thereafter, an enormous English mastiff named Lily.
Jimmy went into business for himself while I was at home with our daughter, so I became his unwitting part-time partner, originally as his receptionist then later working computer events and filling in wherever needed. I took our daughter to the office, where she enjoyed helping out by doing small tasks; she was always looking to learn and enjoyed feeling like a big person. We had to explain to her, however, that it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to answer the phone – lol!
Eventually, I became a homeschooling mom—an initially dreadful and highly anti-social thought! It had been Jimmy’s idea. He wanted to have me homeschool through kindergarten so we as a family could continue to travel off-season during the school year. Despite my initial misgivings (to this day, I’d never want to be homeschooled), our daughter relished the freedom and opportunities created by home schooling. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the reading, exploring, learning, field trips, etc., that the experience afforded. I think we learned a lot together! Fortunately, our area had a large homeschool network that fostered a vibrant, social, and fluid situation.
When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?
As busy and fulfilled as I’d been while at home, several things began to change as time marched on. One day, I found myself muttering over my vacuum cleaner, “What’s my issue here?” I realized that what used to fulfill me was running its course. The beautiful food spreads I’d put out for guests were beginning to turn into a labor. Our daughter was becoming more independent and required less of my oversight with school. The trips to the grocery store were becoming mundane.
Our computer firm was doing very well financially, but it served no real purpose for either my husband or myself. What would our future look like as our daughter grew up? Would we peak here at midlife, take an annual cruise, and maybe an annual trip abroad when time allowed, then grow old like our aging neighbors?
I was always a worker, someone who likes to pursue things with passion, but selling techy computer components to a major international distributor was not very fulfilling. With a husband who was already itching to do something of purpose, we decided to scale back, sell our house and move to a modest town house. We also worked out an exit plan with our computer business.
In 2004, when I was 46, we established, a Florida-based LLC called New Vision Entertainment with a mission to “positively impact culture.” We began by representing outside clients, two musical clients with bright futures and a preschool teacher whose books and music series we brought to a national stage. We initially loved what we were doing and learning and the impact we were having. However, we soon discovered that we were working harder than our clients; our desire for their success exceeded their commitment and resolve. Eventually, we decided to represent ourselves and our own creative ideas. My husband created an alter-ego sports cartoon named MIKE® and I helped him edit a fun and robust series of MIKE Sports Comic Books. While undergoing my own midlife transformation, I started blogging about personal growth and happiness as Maura4u.
What is your next act?
I “do” many things today: I’m an author, podcaster, international speaker, moderator, panelist, trainer, creator of an emotional intelligence course, and a guest on hundreds of radio shows and podcasts. However, all that I “do” is designed around a single vision and calling: to see the advancement of the human race. To that end, I use my voice, vision, stories, travels, and ideas to help people see themselves and others through a higher, brighter, and more unified lens.
I believe my greatest satisfaction is in synthesizing, and sharing what I have learned along life’s path. For example, because I have traveled to 60 countries and have always enjoyed meeting people on their own turf, when I speak overseas, people literally “feel” that I naturally relate to them on a personal level. I tell them I carry much of the world’s cultures in my ever-evolving DNA!
When I was invited by the St. Petersburg College Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions to moderate an event called Full of Hate: The Toll of Violent Extremism in America, my background had prepared me to moderate disparate views, including a former neo-Nazi, the head of a transgender organization, an expert on Islam, and a black history professor.
I spoke to several hundred students from over 25 countries, at the UNESCO Center for Peace International Model UN Summer Camp on how to become a future leader in their own right, without undermining or negatively competing with anyone else. I also lectured on identity, leadership, and emotional intelligence at University of South Florida’s National and Competitive Intelligence certification program. This is a program that helps prepare students for careers at the FBI and CIA.
These, along with other opportunities that allow me to act in a diplomatic function for the benefit of the human race, inspire me to learn, to grow, and to sharpen my skills for greater platforms ahead.
What makes this fun, challenging, creative and ever-expansive is the way I’ve incorporated many things from my past and present: completing a political science degree and half a law school program; working a decade in corporate management; parenting and home schooling our daughter; serving as host family to several exchange students; mentoring incarcerated teens, volunteering for a national women’s organization, bringing medical supplies to villagers in Honduras’ mountainous coffee region, and staying on Fly Island in Uganda’s Lake Victoria in a self-pitched tent.
I also leveraged decades of acquired interpersonal and problem-solving skills, my private study into the workings of government, the foundations of monetary systems, and the institutions and functions of Christianity—not to mention the many growing pains that life causes us to confront.
How supportive were your family and friends?
It’s a mixed bag!
Looking backwards, I can see that I was the curious child. As early as preschool, I was asking too many questions. Perhaps my questions were unwelcome or even improper at the time, but they were important to me. As I got older, I remember having several increasingly serious conversations with my mother whose political alliances, or lack thereof, were either illogical or conflicted with my sense of honor, truth, character, etc. I was never satisfied with information that made no sense and wondered why others could be.
During adulthood, a few friends of mine told me to stop writing lists, to stop studying the news, stock markets, etc. Others today enjoy my questions, my sharing of information, and my desire to learn more about things around me. Some have been especially appreciative of the way I interview them! For example, I’ve come in contact with several people over the past decade whose life experiences are completely different from mine. They are honored and excited to share their ideas and to respond to my further questioning. It gives them an opportunity to openly share things that are very important to them and they realize that I will honor their perspectives.
My husband is probably my biggest supporter. He tells me that the moment he met me (we were only 19 at the time), he “fell in love with my mind.” Jimmy has always—and I mean always—helped foster and further my curiosities and interests.
Our daughter, too, is a socially- and globally-minded thinker and kindred soul. For that reason, I would place her right up there as a supporter. I often laugh when my daughter and I get together because, within minutes, we have bypassed the mundane and gone straight to bigger issues, questions we’ve been pondering. We both want to see a better world. We share ideas back and forth, talk about our latest learning experiences or books we’ve read. We challenge one another’s perspectives and are continuously expanding our notions about the greater world around us.
What challenges did you encounter?
I’d like to return to a day when I was around 50 years old. I was no longer going to be a mom in the traditional sense as our daughter was highly independent and ready to travel 1200 miles away to finish university studies in Boston. We were on a family cruise that summer and I remember getting an enormous headache. A walk on a private beach caused me to “see” a vision in front of me: It was an 8” X 11” piece of paper – and it was BLANK! If you can think about resumes, I saw it as mine. Despite the fact that I’d had a successful time in corporate life, time as a homeschooling mom, and even helped my husband launch a new business, I saw NOTHING on the page. This challenged me in a very deep way. What was I doing with my life? I had left so many supposedly desirable careers like the law. What in the world was I doing here on planet earth? I was walking around for a half century and was coming up empty!
Some people speak about dark nights of the soul. Mine lasted a very short time, perhaps just one night. Nevertheless, it was a very deep and personally dark time. Everything I had been doing, then stepping away from, in my life was now showing up as a ZERO? What could this possibly be about?
Later that night, with my husband and daughter asleep in our cabin, I went into a totally darkened bathroom, sat atop the closed toilet seat and let the pent-up tears flow. In that moment, I could recognize my stepping away from things not as bad, but as inwardly tactical, strategic, and personally meaningful. All of my previous moves were somehow “good” for me. I didn’t have any answers about my future, but I felt like I could exhale.
Another challenge was my thinking, “Just who did I think I was to step out and say something under my own name?” Further, who did I think I was putting my face out there without any formal credentials—starting in my fifties! It had an outrageous ring to it.
A friend one day told me that I was a “hider” (she was right) and a “coward.” I used her words as a positive kick in the pants and jumped off some proverbial personal cliffs and straight out of my comfort zone.
Yet another challenge was that I had spent so many decades “supporting” others, even when in management, putting the spotlight on others rather than on myself. I had been quite comfortable in a supportive role and found that being front and center challenged my sense of identity. This “hiding” was also true of my writing. The first time I shared one of my stories in a local writer’s group, three people, including the leader, told me I wasn’t being honest. They were right. The confrontation with that truth actually made me cry.
I was so accustomed to swallowing upsets, taking on the frailties of others, and “covering up” for certain people’s unseemly behaviors. I was uncomfortable with the process of writing transparency. How could I possibly tell stories about life while excluding or covering up important elements about those with whom I’d interacted?
I would say that faith in purpose would eventually carry me through my own process: I knew I was to communicate and trusted that the right words, wisdom and intentions would follow.
Today, my challenges are a bit different. Everything I do, I do as myself and by myself. While my husband is an enormous support (he keeps me administratively on point and also arranges many trips for me that would be impossible otherwise), I am writing blogs, creating podcasts, interviewing, planning presentations, and writing lots of personal correspondence.
Something in my nature cannot turn me into a “commercial” entity that’s automated and lacking in the personal or authentic touch. It is exhausting at times, but I also trust that all my initial groundwork over the past few years will ultimately help change the dynamic for what I do. In my future, I’d like to be reaching more people and doing a lot less work at my desk!
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Yikes! I learned to swallow fears and anxieties and plunge ahead, over and over and over again. I learned to get used to showing up, speaking up, and putting myself out there. I discovered that I was more resilient and flexible than I knew; that I was serious-minded and committed to doing what I was doing—even when, at times, I struggled deeply with outward trends to “define a niche,” “sell a service package,” or appear as others in the social media marketplace. I’m still something of an anomaly.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
I often suggest they ask themselves what appeals to THEM vs. others and that they follow their inward interests, curiosities, passions, and desires. Start with attending Meetups in your area to meet others in a field of interest. Invite others to coffee to learn a bit about what they do. Do your own research and consider signing up for some classes.
I’d also advise women at midlife not to think “no” or “I can’t” but, rather, “How can I re-envision something I am interested in or used to be interested in years ago—and see it manifest in ways that work for me today?”
Also, I’d encourage women to get out and TRY something. Take a baby step or two before sabotaging your hopes and dreams. Take one baby step at a time and own it. Think of building a new life or career as climbing a ladder. You may be presently accustomed to “ground level,” where you know the turf, and fear the ultimate top of that ladder. Why not take one step at a time, get accustomed to the new environment, then take your next step up—or out. I do like the ladder analogy because it addresses our fears of leaving the very familiar “earth” we’ve been resting on.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your career/reinvention path?
Good question, but I’d like to answer it in the same way I once received it myself.
In my mid-twenties and “invited” by my manager to fill his shoes, I felt totally unprepared for the task. How could I replace this experienced 35-year-old husband and dad who wore gray business suits, sported wing-tipped shoes, had an enormously confident personality, and carried it all in a 235-pound body? Everybody liked and respected him and would surely be disappointed with skinny me who looked like she recently left college—which, just a few years prior, I had.
I felt overwhelmed and far from the challenge. As if reading my mind, you know what he told me? “You don’t need to replace me or try to be like me. All you need to do is BE YOURSELF.” Those words not only felt like a giant wave of comfort to my troubled soul, they represented the best advice I ever received—and the advice I live by and share with others.
For anyone contemplating the type of vocational “career” and “ambassadorship” I’m engaged in . . . just BE YOURSELF. Find ways to make it your own. Your ideas, your passions, and your experiences will guide you to your own authentic identity, messaging, brand, and persona. People are looking for authenticity today. Using a career like this to grow your own persona and messaging will only help you to help and inspire others along your way!
What resources do you recommend?
YouTube – Ask a question, use some keywords, and start investigating and learning! If you don’t like one channel’s version on your topic, YouTube will always provide additional, similar sources. It’s a great place to learn, explore, and grow.
The Passion Test – For any woman considering her next act, this is a great place to start finding out passions and purpose.
Biographies and historical nonfiction – I’ve discovered a wealth of information and inspiration while following the lives of social innovators, inventors, business people, leaders, etc. Reading biographies helps us get “up close and personal” with the growth process and discovering how people have overcome challenges to step ahead into their callings and destinies. Historical nonfiction provides different perspectives on cultural, economic, and social shifts.
Some of my favorites include:
Empire Statesman: The Rise and Redemption of Al Smith by Robert A. Slayton
Edison: Inventing the Century by Neil Baldwin
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst by David Nasaw
The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve by G. Edward Griffin
Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan
Honorable Treachery: A History of U.S. Intelligence, Espionage, and Covert Action from the American Revolution to the CIA by G.J.A. O’Toole
Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church: The findings of the investigation that inspired the major motion picture Spotlight by the Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe
What’s next for you?
I look forward to hosting a Women Economic Forum here in Florida in late 2018 or early 2019. Further, I anticipate speaking at more corporations and universities and a continued extension into large social, cultural, and governmental venues where my ideas and presence can make a positive impact, bringing people together toward common goals for the greater good.
Connect with Maura Sweeney
Books: The Art of Happiness Volume 1 – Exiting the Comfort Zone and other books in the series
Media Interview Profile