10 Things I’ve Learned: Maux
Hey everyone! I promise I didn’t forget about our 10 Things I’ve Learned series here on the blog. (And apparently, neither did you — thank you so much to all of you who sent kind emails asking about it.) Things have been a little crazy here behind the scenes as I’ve been working on a new project, so I took a temporary mini-break with some of the series on the blog over the summer. But in honor of television’s season premiere month, we’re back and kicking off what I’m fondly calling Season 2 of this series with a lineup of some great people who I’m excited for you to meet.
First up is my good friend, Maureen. Although most people close to her call her Moe, and most of us like to spell it the fancy French way, Maux. This girl is all sorts of cool. And I credit her with having taught me so much — probably much more than she even knows — about life these past few years, especially what it means to live a meaningful one. Because that’s precisely what she does.
You see, one of the things I love about Maux is how she balances a life that is both deeply global, yet also deeply rooted locally at home. She has quite literally traveled the world, having lived for awhile in Hong Kong, worked with various countries in Africa (and earned a masters degree in African studies), and visited all sorts of other interesting places. But while life now finds her married and living in the Midwest, she is still just as interested and involved in important things happening around the world. So whether that means spending considerable time staying up on current world events, or digging down deep to study the actual-factual truth about international aid, or supporting and even blogging for cool non-profits that she believes in, or (my favorite) organizing classes and initiating fascinating conversations about social justice…Maux’s on it. She’s a natural leader, and people listen closely to what she has to say because it’s clear that this girl knows a lot and cares a lot about this world we live in.
At the same time, Maux is also deeply invested in her family, and friends, and community here at home. She is totally “that friend” that all social circles need who will step up to the plate and help initiate and/or organize everything from happy hours, to events, to trips, even to my beloved book club. (Actually, it’s kind of astonishing how many of my favorite memories are probably directly linked to her initiative, which I so deeply appreciate.) But much more, Maux is the friend that takes the time to just be a good friend. She’s the friend who remembers things and checks in, she’s the friend who will shoot it to you straight, she’s the friend who will make you believe you can do it, she’s the friend who miraculously turns all sorts of “dog people” into cat lovers, she’s the friend who will drop everything to help someone who needs a hand, and she’s the witty, charismatic, smart, giving, intuitive, talented, spiritual, brave, wine-loving, Arrested-Development-quoting, #caturday-gramming, and awesome girl you basically just want to hang with as often as possible. I credit her specifically with having taught me what it looks like to live life with confidence and strength I didn’t always know I had, and most of that I learn just by watching her live that out well herself. Yes. Very grateful for this friend.
So lucky you! Today it’s your turn to get to “hang” with Maureen as she shares with you 10 things she has learned in life. Go Maux!
1. To thoughtfully support good causes, and to take the time to make sure they’re actually good.
I’ve long been passionate about social justice causes, and after going to grad school where I studied international economic development, I learned how absolutely crucial it is to ask some questions and do some research before supporting a cause, whether financially or even just by spreading the word on social media.
One of my favorite causes is Sseko Designs (founded by Kansas Citians!). They and companies like them (such as Oliberte, Nisolo, Kianga, Awava, Edun, Akola, or Della) are selling excellent, beautiful, modern products while their profits support and empower men and women working hard to pursue their dreams and alleviate poverty in their lives and in the lives of those around them. While some philanthropic organizations and companies send a bunch of stuff to Africa, these organizations are honoring the skill and drive of people from developing nations and sending their handiwork to Americans instead–and that is the equation that results in economic development.
Of course it’s not as simple as that, but that’s a basic summary of an impactful model that I support wholeheartedly (here’s a more detailed summary), and that I hope others seek out while making a doing-good purchase. And, I’m so thankful to team up with Ali on highlighting Sseko over the next few days here at the blog–so keep your eyes peeled for more about Sseko and their gorgeous, handmade products (like these killer flats I’ll be buying the second they hit the virtual shelves).
2. Reserve anger for situations that deserve it.
I can be a very angry person, and it most often comes out in the form of road rage, or extreme frustration after a bad restaurant experience, or letting a work email ruin my whole day–all things that I should not give an excess of emotional energy to. Unworthy anger drains my emotional ability to truly engage with things that maybe I should get angry about, like war or violence or poverty, or even a personal situation that I find myself avoiding instead of confronting. When I spend too much of my energy yelling at some driver or lamenting about a work situation, I lose the capacity to properly emotionally engage real anger (or sadness, or whatever other difficult emotion). When I can find calm in the small things, I’m able to more properly face the big things.
3. Reapply sunscreen.
Seriously, everybody. Nothing ruins a good time like a sunburn. I don’t want one ever again, and neither do you. If I can keep fuel in my car and hold a job and keep two cats alive and remember to floss (oh…wait…okay, I never remember that one), then I should be able to remember to reapply sunscreen!
4. It’s good for my well-being to have a pet(s)*.
Speaking of keeping two cats alive, I have two cats who are my second and third favorite people in my life (after my husband; and yes I realize they’re not people, but they are to me). Pets create companionship, joy, fun, laughter, and something to talk about (after five years of marriage with cat ownership, my husband and I find ourselves talking about the cats a lot. We make fun of ourselves and say we should talk about something else, but then we always go back to it. They’re just so darn cute ALL OF THE TIME). But in addition to the Extreme Cuteness, having a pet also creates a sense of stability amidst a culture where there are so many distractions and packed schedules–with a pet, I always have to get home to care for it, and on top of that, I usually want to! And for the record, I love dogs too. It’s a common misconception that people have to either be “cat people” or “dog people”. Not the case.
5. [Geographically] follow your passions.
So much of what I’ve learned is from experiences where I’ve traveled to a location or went to an event based on my passions or interest. From learning about wine in Napa Valley, to seeing life after war in central Sudan, to being front row at a U2 show in St. Louis, I’ve learned that if you love something, go to it–don’t wait for it to come to you.
6. Have a mantra / meditation / centering prayer.
Several years ago, one of my mentors introduced me to a short prayer by St. Francis of Assisi that I’ve memorized and long kept a small print-out of it on my dashboard (for those angry driving moments). It’s my go-to meditation when I’m angry or anxious or jealous or sad. It’s short, it’s repetitive, and it’s a game changer for me when I’m in an emotionally precarious moment.
7. Cell phones aren’t good bedfellows.
I am sooo tired of being glued to my phone all the time, and yet I can’t stop. So a few months ago, I was inspired by a coworker to simply stop using “But it’s my alarm clock” as an excuse, to get a real alarm clock (yes, they still make those), and before hitting the hay, plug that phone in to charge in a different room of the house. No longer having the ability to check my email or instagram last thing before I go to sleep (and consequently not getting completely distracted by work or start thinking about my weekend schedule), and also not picking it up the second I wake in the morning has created a lot of mental space in my life. It forces me to just think, or pray, or sleep for that matter, and gives me just a little extra brain space at the beginning and end of a crazy screen-filled day. Plus my mobile phone now acts as a fool-proof snooze alarm, because if necessary, I can set it to go off 10 minutes after my bedroom alarm, and have to get my butt completely out of bed to turn it off. It’s a win-win.
I’m perpetually stressed by the amount of stuff that I own, whether clothes or trinkets or furniture or dishes….so I’m cleaning out closets and drawers and the basement on perpetual rotation–but always feeling like I don’t make a dent in it.. Recently I was discussing with a friend the debacle of having so many sentimental items that are hard to get rid of, so I end up with boxes of “keep forever” stuff that I don’t know what to do with. She said to me, “But, do you like that stuff?” I was shocked! It had never occurred to me to ask that question. I went home and made a way bigger thrift store box than I’d yet made, realizing that while a lot of my items were given to me by good friends or were collected on fun trips, I didn’t actually like most of them anymore! (Of course, this does not apply across the board when it comes to family heirlooms, etc., but it does apply to things like souvenir coffee mugs or All Of The Owl Trinkets I collected when I went through that owl phase in 2007.)
9. Light aromatic candles and buy fresh flowers just for the heck of it.
I think I spent the first ten years of my adult life buying pretty candles and never lighting them, or only lighting them if I was hosting a social gathering. Not anymore though–I’ve finally learned I can light a fragrant candle on a Wednesday night when I’m watching Arrested Development for the hundredth time and eating a frozen pizza. No romantic setting required. Also, flowers. The grocery store kind, because they’re cheap and you’re already there.
10. Be the one to reach out.
My husband Toby and I have been married for five years now, and one massive lesson I’ve learned through marriage–a lesson that fully applies to all of my relationships with family and friends–is to be the one to reach out, even if I’m angry, even if I’ve been hurt, even if I believe the onus is on him or her to reach out to me. The marriage counselors we’ve seen say “Marriage isn’t 50/50, it’s 100/100”. Cheesy, but true–and I think this applies to community life across the board. True love, true friendship, and true community happens among people who are all in all the time, who are never looking at the other person as the outsider or the person responsible for keeping the relationship going. It is often incredibly difficult to come over that wall, but it’s always better on the other side.