The picture above says it all. It pretty much sums up what I’m all about.
My life may not have been perfect, but it’s been very good to me. I’m using what I’ve learned about life to share it with others, so that they can discover their own sense of happiness and well-being, too.
I’m happy, no, extremely happy. I have my health, my family and my ever evolving and increasingly influential mid-life career as an author, publisher and public speaker.
I’m also work with my husband (for the third time in our 32-year marriage – imagine?). A few years ago, Jimmy and I decided to leave behind our sanity and security (only time will tell if it was wisdom or folly) to engage in something of purpose and fun.
So in addition to publishing videos, blogs and books under Maura4u, I help publish and promote my husband’s entertaining series of MIKE Sports Comic Books. If you liked what Norman Rockwell did for capturing a slice of American life, then you’ll love what MIKE does for capturing the best about sports! (I admit I’m partial, but MIKE’s my go-to guy for what’s good – and happy – about sports.)
I’m not just Jim Sweeney’s wife, but I’m a mom. Serving on the Board of Directors for Empowered Voices, a non-profit whose mission is to empower women in Uganda, makes me especially happy because I work for our daughter who is one of the organization’s founders.
If you think I’ve taken this happiness thing too far, then I’m guilty as charged. As co-founder and co-host of the State of Happiness Radio Show which aired in the Tampa, FL market, I’ve even got this cool cartoon of myself as proof. On The State of Happiness, we had a blast interviewing authors, travelers and entrepreneurs about what made them happy in life!
A bit about me (or perhaps more than you need to know). Life can become a long story by the time you’re on the other side of age 50. . . . !
I grew up in New Jersey – northern, that is and Exit 16W to be exact. I used to think I was articulate, pronouncing things like water (whaa’-tah) and coffee (kwah’-fee). I’d also reference others as “you guys” but never as “youz guys”. It wouldn’t be proper grammar for the girl voted Most Dignified in her Lyndhurst High School graduating class.
Long before Snookie and The Situation, I spent a number of very happy summers at the Jersey Shore- the brilliant sunshine, warm sand and sea air provide me with wonderful memories. At 15, I worked on the Pt. Pleasant Beach Boardwalk as a Jenkinson’s Pavilion Penny Candy girl. Literally earning pennies per hour, I was most proud to be wearing a uniform and earning my own wage!
At 16, I waited tables at the beach’s Pancake House. At 17, worked women’s retail at the foot of the Boardwalk. That summer, I even had a brief stint at the little-known and long-forgotten establishment known as Your Father’s Mustache, singing, playing piano and strumming my guitar to Carole King’s It’s Too Late, Paul McCartney’s Yesterday and James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend. It was the 1970s and those tunes were folk era standards.
For college, I am forever grateful. My post high school years took me to Boston College, a junior semester abroad in Madrid, Spain and an internship with the late US Senator Ted Kennedy.
If you’re wondering why I make such a big deal about the subject of happiness, it’s because what came after high school and college was a time of being NOT very happy. By age 23, I was very happy to marry Jim Sweeney, the awesome guy I met while at Boston College. I hadn’t considered marrying before age 30, but partnering up with this uniquely encouraging and empowering guy made marriage a happy no brainer.
On the other hand, I was an emerging attorney. No offense to anyone who’s currently practicing law (I applaud you for it if you love it) but making a living as a New Jersey lawyer was not for me. At the half-way mark through Seton Hall Law School, I took a “leave of absence”. In my case, the leave signaled a permanent break with a life and livelihood that would head me toward something I neither wanted nor desired. Though family and other factors groomed me for the role, the prospect of a future that applied me to an inauthentic box was sucking all the joy from me.
I was meant for something else in life . .. even if I wasn’t sure what that would be. Leaving behind what I had been groomed for nearly all my life was very scary: but it also was necessary for my personal sense of well-being. Who wants to live a life that is suited for someone else?
Traveling back and forth to law school in Newark, NJ in the dark days of 1983, I’d never imagine that decades later I’d embark on my ultimate calling in life as Maura4u, a proponent of happiness and authentic living. In the quest to find my own sense of self, I would ultimately inspire others to do the same.
What you really want to know is this: I’ve had a LIFETIME of experiences, and then some.
Married since 1981 (happily, I might add:). After losing my job as manager of an executive search firm during a downturn in the economy and my husband getting an offer to join the management ranks of Eckerd Drug Company’s headquarters, we happily relocated to sunny Florida in ’83.
During the next decade I found my niche in the fast moving Telecom industry, opening and managing a number of branches in the Southeast. By age 34, I became a burnout case and finally became pregnant. It was time for a change and I knew there were lessons to be learned in discovering a sense of value apart from a sizeable personal income.
We welcomed our one and only child, a little girl named Kaley, in May of 1992. I thought I made her name up as a departure . . . only to find that the city of Orlando popularized one of their main streets by the same name – Kaley Avenue. A corporate position was behind me, but motherhood, suburban living and plenty of personal growth was ahead of me.
For someone like me who believed that staying at home and becoming a home schooling mom would be boring, lacking in challenge or worse, I learned that this unique opportunity would prove a gift. I traded suits and stockings for Keds and khakis, but this uncharted new life was about to expand in some unusual ways. I’d learn the joys of cooking from an older aunt. I was able to entertain plenty of house guests. I would also bond with a highly inquisitive, growing child and even find myself filling in blanks of my own childhood in the process.
In a highly unexpected move, I became my daughter’s home educating parent. What began as a “just for kindergarten” request from my husband who wanted us to travel abroad during the off-season (think non-school breaks), became a vocation. I would ultimately become our daughter’s primary instructor both in academics and in life. Kaley loved the freedom to set her own academic goals and I enjoyed opening her mind with plenty of books, field trips and insightful questions.
Having the freedom from my previous 12-hour-a-day work schedule presented a completely new paradigm for me. I could still arise early but spend an hour or two reading arcane journals, books and other things that eluded me in the past. I would also volunteer at nursing homes (frequently with Kaley in tow) and make periodic visits to the local juvenile detention center.
I even took up two new languages – French (Kaley and I learned as co-students during her home schooling years and she fared much better than her mom) and Italian (something more my style!). In addition, my encouraging husband sent me to places like Cuba (without a passport), Uganda (where I spent a week in a self-pitched tent on some remote island that National Geographic would love photographing if they could find it!), the hills of Honduras (where I helped bring medical relief to coffee growers) and Argentina, so I could investigate the fall of their economy (and manage to purchase a beautiful leather coat while I was there).
Those years translated into an enriching time. We would also welcome exchange students from both Russia and Japan, experiences that proved as special to our family as it was to the girls who joined us in our home.
Somehow during this period, I encouraged my husband to start his own computer rep business. He had worked nearly a decade in another firm and suddenly found himself facing a relocation requirement and a non-compete clause. It was time to launch out, despite the fact that doing so would leave us without an income for almost a full year.
In an effort to keep ourselves on a shoe-string budget, I became my husband’s first secretary. I’ll admit I did a very sub-par job. I happily chatted with everyone who called on the phone, but I’d hang up without asking for a message or even remembering their name!
On the other hand, I’ll admit to handling myself more admirably elsewhere in the business. Despite my lack of computer component knowledge, I enthusiastically worked vendor tables during computer fairs. Also, at the time, my highly capable husband avoided public speaking like the plague. He once cleverly roped me in with a suggestion that I help train a group of “newbie” sales reps on our product lines. How could I say no?
By the time this little training day arrived, I’d learn that the small group of about 20 newbie sales reps would explode into a sales and technical force of over 700. Jimmy worked the power point presentation and I warned the techies not to ask me any more than one question per product. Otherwise, I’d have to expose my computer ignorance and total lack of technical depth. They didn’t seem to mind and the product sales continued to grow.
Somewhere during this post-career era as a mostly stay-at-home mom, I engaged in volunteer public relations, advocacy and communications work for a national women’s organization. The opportunity proved illuminating, enriching and broadening (including meeting a number of national political figures, dining in the Congressional Dining Room and even participating in TV and radio interviews) till I realized the founders didn’t believe in what they were professing. Despite receiving the National Award for Media Effectiveness and being asked to consider heading up their state office, it was time for me to step down. I had left a paying career to spend time with a growing child; the growing volunteerism was encroaching in on a little child’s need for her mother.
Those sort of “at home” years were filled with cooking, cleaning, exploring books and exhibits with my daughter and happily entertaining out-of-town and international guests. My favorite destinations with Kaley became the local Winn Dixie and Publix supermarkets and Michael’s Arts & Crafts store.
Picking Kaley up from nursery school and dance classes, I was the mom clad in sneakers and torn tee shirts embellished by excess paints that refinished everything from old furniture to dining room walls. Kaley waited till the last week of school to ask if I could dress up a little better “like the other moms”. I hadn’t realized that my appearance had become a cause of embarrassment; she was right and I would take better care when presenting myself outside of work.
Life as a semi stay-at-home mom also included puppy love. In my case, puppy love is an extreme understatement. Truth was, I loved, cared for and doted upon my two canine buddies – Buster, a 75 lb. Boxer plagued by separation anxiety and gifted with escape artist talents rivaled only by the great Harry Houdini; and Lily, an English Mastiff, who weighed in at 200 lbs and feared rain, garbage bins, and anything that stood over 6 inches tall.
While other women in my neighborhood spent afternoons playing country club tennis or golf, I was playing home school mom and dog walker with a notorious group of brown bundles (Buster the boxer also had the rare ability to put out up to four – yes four – bowel movements in a single walk). The era was certainly a departure from my previous corporate career in management but added much to my personal grounding and growth. Vacuum, paper towels and Windex were ever on hand to clean up excess dog hair and slobber.
Suffice it to say I’ve racked up lots of mileage over the course of my life.
Since those days of bringing up a growing daughter, tending to the kitchen and cleaning up slobber, a lot has happened. Today, I’m still happily married. Our daughter grew up quickly, asking to skip high school and become one of St. Petersburg College’s earliest enrolled students. My husband and I are not sure how she did it, but by her 16th birthday she had completed all high school requirements and graduated St. Petersburg College with an Associate of Arts degree. Just a few months later, she was living in Boston where she would complete her Bachelors in Journalism.
Anticipating our future as empty-nesters, Jimmy and I had sold our suburban house, closed the computer rep firm and got rid of nearly everything we owned (okay, I got rid of nearly everything that couldn’t fit in our new town house but that’s another story).
The two of us decided to put our own marks on the world in the creation of New Vision Entertainment, our Florida based LLC. At middle age, we would jump off a fiscal cliff and attempt the unimaginable: we would start all over again in a completely different industry. Somewhere along the way Buster and Lily, our loving but very high maintenance canine buddies, drifted off to Doggie Heaven.
The changes to our lives were epic, transformational and hardly easy. We were opening ourselves to a brave new world of the uncharted: it involved the creative as well as the quickly emerging digital space. The two of us would start out representing emerging musical artists and bring a series of preschool books to a national stage. We’d deal with copyrights, trademarks, animators and sports agencies. We’d attend conferences in New York, Atlanta and Italy. I would learn how to do many things I’d never imagine, including ticking off a senior executive at Madison Square Garden and making friends with some of the most unusual personalities.
And why, you may ask, am I doing all this on the other side of 50? For one thing, my independent daughter didn’t need a busy body mom micromanaging her life. Secondly, she preferred Boston to Florida and has established her own life as a young adult. Third, I would have made a lousy golfer.
Instead, I really wanted something to keep me busy between now and the end of my odometer. Plus, I really do want World Peace. Ah, sorry. That was Sandra Bullock’s line from Miss Congeniality. But wasn’t she from New Jersey, too???
Here’s my personal answer to the Million Dollar Question. I could either grow old and die a slow death or create a new life for myself. The latter option proved less boring – even if it has proven somewhat daunting at times! Somehow, I was born with a pioneering spirit. This period of life has provided a window with which to discover where that spirit would take me.
With a half century behind me, I’m now taking most everything I’ve experienced and turning it into a cottage industry known as (drumroll, please) Maura4u!
My passion for people, my belief in the beautiful, and my expectation that everyone’s story possesses an eternally happy ending prompts me to promote my thoughts your way. Life is not perfect, but we can find elements in each that cause us to learn, to grow and to become. As I’ve journeyed through many places and stages to discover my own sense of happiness and well-being, I hope to inspire others to do the same.
We can all look forward – and back – through the mirror and find loving thoughts, kind memories and ways to be remembered. I hope I will be remembered as one who teaches others love.
Hope you Enjoy.
Hope you’re Encouraged.
Hope you Laugh.
And hope you feel the Love.
May you find yourself and the heart of your passions renewed as you read, follow and engage them through my videos, blogs and ebooks on The Art of Happiness.