Today, we have Dr. Maura O’Neill on our podcast. She is a lecturer and distinguished teaching fellow at the Haas school of business. In 2009, she was appointed by President Obama to be the first chief innovation officer of the US agency for international development, serving until 2013. She was responsible for inspiring and leading breakthrough innovations in foreign assistance and development worldwide. Above all, she is a Haas alum.
In this episode, Maura talks about her research on the notion of narrow-mindedness, her passion for living a life with no regrets and how others can do the same thing, and practicing deliberateness or intentionality.
She shares the importance of knowing what you want in life – your purpose and your passion and leaving a legacy behind.
She also has some excellent advice for students graduating during this time of uncertainty about seizing and creating opportunities until ultimately finding your passion.
“Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things, and they’re only capable of extraordinary things if they go in the direction of their unique gifts.”
“Living a life of no mistakes, no regrets, is not no mistakes. We can make mistakes. The things that we regret in life, I think, are the things we do for other people. If we do it out of compassion and empathy, that’s fabulous, but if we do it because we should, even though we don’t want to, it isn’t who we are, then that’s probably the wrong reason.”
“I’ve learned if I want to live a no regrets life to not only be generous with others, but to actually be generous with myself.”
Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today we’re joined by Dr. Maura O’Neill. She is a lecturer and distinguished teaching fellow at the Haas school of business. She is relentlessly focused on sourcing and scaling breakthrough ideas and has been thrilled to grow businesses as a serial entrepreneur teach and mentor others wanting to make a difference.
[00:00:38] In 2009, she was appointed by President Obama to be the first chief innovation officer of the US agency for international development, serving until 2013. She was responsible for inspiring and leading breakthrough innovations in foreign assistance and development worldwide. Above all, she is a Haas alum.
[00:00:57] Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
[00:01:00] Maura: Oh, thanks so much, Sean. It’s great to be with you today.
[00:01:04] Sean: I want to start our journey by asking you to share with our listeners your origin story.
[00:01:10] Maura: So, I was born in the Bay area before it was Silicon Valley, back when there were a few more apricots and fruit orchards. It was a place that was always a source of innovation, you know, Neal Cassady and the Beatniks, San Francisco. It just is not surprising that the free speech movement really started at UC Berkeley.
[00:01:32] The gay lesbian LGBTQ started in San Francisco. It just was a place that was just open to new ideas. So that’s where I grew up. And probably the most stuff, there’s two really defining moments in my life when I was five, my eight-year-old sister was diagnosed with leukemia and passed two weeks later.
[00:01:57] And while that was a huge tragedy in my life still to this day, blew my family apart, what it taught me is that every day is a gift and that I’ve got to run as hard and fast for the things I care about. And then when I was in junior high, in the middle of the night, two big tankers full of oil collided under the Golden Gate bridge.
[00:02:21] And they spilled 800,000 gallons of oil all over the Bay area. And I thought to myself, we are building very successful businesses but we’re not always paying attention to the impact. And so I aspired to say to both have the biggest impact I could have in a lifetime but also to curate this idea that you could build profitable businesses in a belief that you can build profitable businesses and still care about your environmental footprint, how you treated people, what the sort of larger impacts on the world.
[00:02:56] So that’s a little origin story, Sean.
[00:03:00] Sean: When did you go to a school for your undergrad?
[00:03:04] Maura: So, my undergrad, I started, I had a couple of friends throw my belongings in a station wagon and went down to UCLA when I was about 16. I stayed there for about two years and then I said to my family, I’m going to Seattle for a quarter and made us fall in love with the place. So, I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Washington.
[00:03:24] And then as many years later, I got a couple of MBAs in the joint Berkeley Columbia program and then went on to do my Ph.D.
[00:03:34] Sean: What was your Ph.D. on?
[00:03:37] Maura: Well, there’s a theme of my life, Sean, and that is I sort of invent a lot of stuff. So, I wrote my own Ph.D. It was across three departments, biology, psychology, and business. And I was particularly taken by the notion of narrow-mindedness, which is really the opposite of innovation. Why doesn’t innovation happen?
[00:03:58] And I realized that we’re really hard-wired to be narrow-minded. And because we wouldn’t function, we couldn’t walk out the door because we’re so bombarded with so much information all the time. And yet, so it’s our friend it allows us to be operationally excellent, allows that pilot to fly well until it can result in a spectacular air.
[00:04:20] And really that’s what Silicon Valley is built on is. And Berkeley’s and Haas’s defining principle of questioning the status quo. Questioning the status quo is just about stopping for a minute and not being so narrow-minded. So that’s what I did my Ph.D. on. I discovered how it happens in your brain and therefore in your decision making and a methodology for breaking that natural narrow-mindedness that we all have.
[00:04:45] Sean: So, this is actually a personal question when I was doing my research on this Ph.D. thing, because, you know, I just got my MBA and my family, my dad, we moved to the States because my parents came here to do their master’s and then subsequently, their Ph.D. and education is in my family.
[00:05:06] And I have a later question about this as well, around, you know, around teaching for you. And I don’t want to say I rarely, because I guess by data point is very, my data sets are small, but seeing someone like you who went to get an MBA and then went to get a Ph.D., what was the story behind that?
[00:05:28] Maura: I always wanted to get my Ph.D. but I got married really young. I had met my husband the month before I turned 20. I had two kids by my mid-twenties. So, the idea of building entrepreneurial ventures, I founded four companies, being a good mom, like a Ph.D. was not gonna be added on to that in any way. So, when they went off to college, I said, now’s my time.
[00:05:53] And my husband has a Ph.D. in math and he thought I was just nuts. He said, Maura unless you are absolutely driven like you have to have it. By that time, I was judging business schools, entrepreneur competitions, I mean, there were only a couple people in my life, and yet I would say that both getting my MBA at Berkeley and getting my Ph.D. were two of the best things I ever did in my life. I think we’re going to live many chapters along with life. I think we’re going to talk about that in a minute. And I think the ability to stay current, to push yourself intellectually.
[00:06:29] And that’s why I was interested in pushing the boundaries of how are our brains helping us without getting in the way of really being innovative. And since everybody always thinks everybody else is narrow-minded, it’s the person that watches that other TV station or votes for that other elected official or whatever it is.
[00:06:51] What I discovered is that we’re all narrow-minded, we’re born that way. We’re hardwired that way. And so, we have to figure out how to break that if our life isn’t going to get smaller and smaller. So, I believe in, you know, I changed Haas’s defining principle from student always to a voracious learner. And I think, getting my Ph.D., boy, did it kick my butt. But as I said, one of the best things I’ve ever done, so I’d highly recommend it.
[00:07:21] Sean: That’s amazing. Okay. That’s something I’ve been contemplating for a while is I think what I’m hearing is that throughout along your journey, there was something that you really wanted to do a deep dive on. And this is an opportunity to do that, which I have a lot of these, I actually read a lot in this area as well.
[00:07:39] I’m reading a book right now called Liminal Thinking and right before this, I’ve been reading a lot of philosophy around stoicism, practicing stoic, the courage to be disliked, just a bunch of books, crutches. I don’t know if you’ve heard of courage to be disliked, it’s on Adlerian psychology.
[00:07:54] Maura: No, I will love to look at that. I will love to cause I think as one who thinks big and hopefully comes up with solutions that people have not thought of before, it takes a lot of courage and people only think it’s brilliant in retrospect. And so that ability, that courage, to be disliked and yet to understand, to be both open-minded and listening to feedback, not be so pig-headed that you don’t pay any attention, but also to realize that, to have the confidence in your convictions.
[00:08:34] Sean: I do have to ask, this question just came up. Was there a defining moment that made you want to study narrow-mindedness? Was there, it was like, an interaction or a personal moment?
[00:08:47] Maura: Yes. So I actually expected and had finished all my research to do my Ph.D. on why women had gotten to the top and why women had flooded into so many sectors. The business sector, the social sector, the government sector. And yet somehow hadn’t gotten those top jobs in the numbers that they had been in.
[00:09:10] What was that really about? And so of course it leads you to unconscious bias. And so, I studied under the pre most authority who really developed the method for understanding, for testing unconscious bias. And so, I walked into his office one day and I said, Tony if my son is a white male and my daughter and son’s roommate Quasi, who is African-American, went to the University of Washington emergency room while having heart attacks. They would admit my son and they would dismiss, they would send home Quasi and my daughter, and chances are, there’s much more likely that Quasi and my daughter would die. Isn’t that discrimination? And he said, no, because of course the piece I didn’t tell you is the reason why that ER doctor sent quasi and my daughter home was not because of discrimination.
[00:10:07] It was because they weren’t presenting heart attack symptoms that he or she understood. And that’s because we didn’t do any research on women and African Americans, medical research prior to 1990. And so, all of our medicine and all of our cognitive heuristics are shortcuts that we use either to choose as a venture capitalist.
[00:10:33] Who I should invest in or who I should treat and what their problem was in the emergency room had to do with these long patterns. We just didn’t pay attention. And he said, you know, I’ve been in social psychology all my life. He had won most of the industry awards. And so, he said, I think you may have discovered something here that’s never been discovered.
[00:10:53] So, I think you should go in that direction. And so that was the defining moment. I thought, well, I could take the easy way out. I’ve got all my research done. I could just write up my dissertation or what piece this would contribute so much more to discovering science. It would contribute so much more to our better understanding.
[00:11:17] So I set aside all the Ph.D. right work I had done and decided to do it in this new area. I called it, if you discover something that I’ve never been discovered, you get to name it. So, I named it Cognitive Myopia. That’s the sort of technical term but I translate for all of us into the word narrow-mindedness.
[00:11:38] Sean: I love that. Have you thought about writing a book?
[00:11:40] Maura: I have, in fact, we’re going to talk about no regrets and living to no regrets life in just a minute. And I’ve had a top book agent in New York who’s bugged me fabulously, a really wonderful guy, for a number of years. And I just haven’t taken the time out of my life to sort of do it, but it is one of those things.
[00:12:03] Much like once upon a time, it was to get a Ph.D., writing a book about this and about how it both enhances our life but how it causes spectacular air, particularly in this world where social media is having us just pay attention to people that think like us or AI and machine learning where it’s just causing us to be much more narrow-minded rather than offensively it should have been that we were more broad-minded. And I think it is in many ways, an existential threat to our society, to our invention, as we go forward. So, I’m particularly interested in that.
[00:12:46] Sean: That’s really interesting you bring that up because you would think that we have with the unparalleled access in information these days, right? I mean, number reading that we have at our fingertips. More information than a billionaire had in 2000, in the year 2000 that we would be more open-minded, but because of how everything is designed, it’s resulted in the opposite in a way.
[00:13:16] And I just, I don’t know, have you seen or heard about The Social Dilemma? It’s a new Netflix movie, a documentary, I think. I haven’t seen it yet but buddy send it to me and I watched a trailer. And have you seen it, have you heard of it?
[00:13:30] Maura: I haven’t. So, I’ll have to do this right after.
[00:13:33] Sean: It’s called The Social Dilemma. And because I haven’t seen it, I probably shouldn’t be talking about it, but they talk about, from the trailer at least, they talked to the creators of Instagram and all these different apps and how they designed all these behaviors and triggers to get people, I think in their head, they weren’t thinking to get people addicted was to get people to use their software. But they realize afterward in this documentary as were just speaking about it, that they created a monster of sorts and the implications of that.
[00:14:11] Maura: In our exec ed program that I lead on executive leadership, we have, so our use of who’s a cognitive neuroscientist from Berkeley and she was working on some of that, and she said, yeah, who would have known that. When we tried to get people addicted like that’s where notifications come from on our phone.
[00:14:28] They’re like Pavlovian things to say, come look at me, come look at me. And she said all that behavior and what has caused is just a huge disruption in our ability to finish our tasks, to use our whole cognitive ability focus on this because it turns out those switching costs when those notifications come on are just huge.
[00:14:49] So I think that, beware of what we asked for. But I think one of the most troubling things, there’s a professor at Berkeley who told me his research the other day was working at who actually believes that you’re telling a lie or telling the truth in politics. Cause we have a big debate and he says, sadly, the research is showing that we tend to not believe that the elected officials who are who we have an affinity with are aligned. So, if I’m a president Trump supporter and he’s lying through his teeth, if I support him, I will give him a total pass. If I am a Nancy Pelosi fan and for some reason, she chooses not to tell the truth, then I’ll believe her if I’m a Nancy Pelosi fan. And this is indicative of how this channeling or this narrow-mindedness or the social dilemma is causing just spectacular dilemmas, spectacular, unforeseen debates or moguls that we’re going to have to figure out, as a society, how to get over.
[00:16:03] Sean: Yeah, that’s a Pandora’s box right there. By the way, I love Sahar. Doctor Sahar Yousef, I took her class in the spring.
[00:16:13] Maura: She’s fabulous.
[00:16:13] Sean: And yeah, and I had her on the show a couple of months back. She’s just such a fun person. Let’s segue into a topic that you are passionate about. Why is living a no regrets life so important to you?
[00:16:33] Maura: I this it’s important for two reasons. One, last I know, at least that we know for sure is we only sort of get one dance card. We only get one pass at this life. Now, maybe there are more, but you know, let’s just take that for argument case. And I think that I’m mindful of Martha Graham who really invented modern dance.
[00:16:56] So she’s spent 96 years redefining what mattered. And I love a quote she said that you are unique and so am I. And if we do not fulfill this uniqueness, it is lost to the world. And no matter how uncomfortable it may be, we’ve got to pay our debts and to do so with courage. And so, the reason why I am passionate about living in no regrets life is that I think ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. And they’re only capable of extraordinary things if they actually go in the direction of their unique gifts. And that isn’t always popular and it’s scary at times. And so, I just believe that the new invention to solve a healthcare problem that somebody you and I love or a new solution to American competitiveness lies in ordinary people that embrace the no regrets life.
[00:18:01] Sean: What are some of the biggest factors holding people back from living a no regrets life.
[00:18:21] Maura: I think what holds people back is fear. And I know this from my own self and I bet you do as well, a fear of failure of feeling, fear of being disliked, a fear of letting down somebody that we love. I think that the other thing is and then that goes back to the notifications issue is that, often what’s right in front of us, the easy thing that’s right in front of us is like sugar. It’s just easy to pick that up rather than stop for a minute and say, is this what I really want to do?
[00:18:58] Do I still want to keep working here or is my passion to actually start a business or as my daughter-in-law’s sister who had worked in daycare realized when COVID hit their daycare, she thought, you know, I worked here because my mother was the director and I wanted to support her. And I’m really good at this but that’s not really what I want to do.
[00:19:20] I want to go into it support. And so, she quit. And said, I’m going to forge that. So, I think it’s fear. I think it’s not believing in ourselves. And I think it’s not taking the time to sit back, really listened to who it is and what makes our life sing and what our hopes and dreams are. And realizing that it’s about living a deliberate life.
[00:19:47] It is not about living a life of no mistakes. No regrets is not no mistakes. We can make mistakes. The things that we regret in life, I think, are the things we do for other people. If we do it out of compassion and empathy, that’s fabulous, but if we do it because we should, even though we don’t want to, it isn’t who we are, then that’s probably the wrong reason.
[00:20:17] If we do it because society told us, I mean, look at how many gay people married somebody’s heterosexual because they were told by society that that’s what they should do. And I think the things we do and the things that we didn’t try, and I think that no regrets is a little like zero defects. Living a no regrets life is like a manufacturer doing zero defects. It’s impossible to live a have zero defects. But if you go in that direction, if you really embrace and say, I’m going to have a no regrets life, like I’m going to have a manufacturing plant with zero defects, you get a hell of a lot closer to no regrets.
[00:20:59] Then just to say, that’s impossible,
[00:21:02] Sean: Right. It’s very much a mindset thing.
[00:21:04] Maura: Yeah. I also think that it’s easy and I do this too. I don’t know if you do this but sometimes, I can fall into if only. If I would have had an easier time to raise money from venture capitalists if only I was a white male. I would have an easier time to do this, if only.
[00:21:25] And so that can be something to hide behind. And to explain a way, and that’s a bad thing. And I think if we just look at things, look at the options, and deliberately choose something, as somebody said, that’s a good decision. It may not be a great outcome but it was a good decision because I made it.
[00:21:51] Sean: How do you practice this deliberateness or intentionality?
[00:22:06] Maura: So, I do, you know, we’re all works in progress, including me. So, I just told you that I had an awesome opportunity to write a book. One of the top book agents in New York City, patient fabulously, did Malcolm Gladwell’s books. So, I tell you saying, we’re all a work in progress, but I think it’s four things.
[00:22:26] I think the first is to really do some thinking about what’s important to you. I told you about some defining moments in my life and I am now, I have them for a while but every year I get more and more clear that my life is about having the biggest impact that one person can have on a lifetime. So, I think that’s part of it.
[00:22:52] Maura: I think second thing is to be deliberate and intentional. So, when I have a bunch of decisions in front of me, I try to take the time to say, uh, yes, no, no, no, yes. Steve Jobs said Jony Ive, who was his big designer and they were superglued to the hip doing these amazing things, he got really angry at Steve one day because Steve can sometimes not be the easiest to deal with. And so, he gave Johnny, I think some of the best advice, which is great advice for us. He says, Johnny if you were going to do incredible things with your life and invent stuff that’s never been invented or to have this no regrets life.
[00:23:37] That’s my language. But he said you’re going to have to say no. Not just the things you don’t want to do, but you’re going to have to say no to things you want to do every day. And I remind myself of that, cause like I can be a kid in a candy store. Sure. And everybody listening to this podcast is incredibly talented, incredibly smart, incredibly determined.
[00:24:03] And so as we live our life, we have more and more options and it’s like going into a candy store. And if you try to eat all of it, you’re going to get sick and it’s not even going to be enjoyable. So, I think it’s to be determined and intentional, I think it’s to take the long view that’s actually what I think is one of the most important things.
[00:24:23] A lot of people ask me, Oh my gosh, I’m finishing my MBA, particularly if it’s an executive MBA, what do I do? I asked and I say, that’s actually the wrong question. The right question is what do you want to do before you hang up your boots? So, be intentional about the long view. So, I, as you saw, as you mentioned, was fortunate enough to get a high-level federal appointment.
[00:24:50] I’ve always thought it would be, I’ve been involved in politics all my life on the side but I never was interested in running for politics, but I thought, boy, would it be incredible if I could have a chapter where I had a very high-level policy position? And so that was just in the back of my mind.
[00:25:11] And so I kept doing a bunch of things that were enjoyable, impactful, I liked, but also set me up that when that opportunity came up, I had all the grit, resident skills, relationships in order to walk through that door. And so, you never know when these things are going to open up. And so, I think that people just end up being too narrow-minded about what’s next, rather than we’re creating a whole life.
[00:25:39] We’re gonna have lots of chapters. So, let’s figure out what those things are. And let’s go about creating that life, that awesomeness.
[00:26:04] Maura: So think the last one is to be generous with others and with yourself. I think the way to have a no regrets life is not to be a narcissist. Some of the most joy I get in my life. Perhaps the majority of the joy I get in my life is being generous with others. With my time, with my wisdom, with my spirit, with my money, however, you are on that, but also with yourself. I think people that are listening to this podcast and I would probably put you and I in that category because we got where we are because we’re tough on ourselves. We don’t cut each other slack, you know, good enough is not good enough. And so, I’ve learned if I want to live a no regrets life to not only be generous with others but to actually be generous with myself.
[00:26:52] Sean: Thank you so much for sharing all this. This is very, it’s hitting home very personally right now because two things – I’ll just start backward with this generosity to resolve to be kind to yourself as I am great at reminding other people but it’s like a doctor, right, it’s very difficult to take your own medicine. And the long view, this is something that I think for our listeners like you said, our listeners are intelligent, they’re smart. They know a lot of these ideas and concepts that you just brought up. But when it comes to the day to day, I think that’s where sometimes it can get lost in the minutia.
[00:27:35] And even just today, I was having this dilemma where I was looking at these businesses that I’m building and getting caught up in the execution and the short-term view and saying, Oh, this is not working, that’s working. Oh, this is definitely not working versus saying what is the impact that we’re looking to have?
[00:27:55] And that’s something that I actually came to the realization, was that okay, focus on the impact because that’s ultimately going to drive me motivationally, not these small wins and losses day to day basis.
[00:28:09] Maura: I’m also here to tell you that I’ve always tried to focus on the impact. And I tell you amazing things happen when you do, because those people, like I was a presidential appointee in Washington, DC. A lot of people go to those jobs and they try to figure out because they live in DC all their life, what did they do to get the next promotion?
[00:28:32] What do they need to do to get the next highest job? And it’s not just similar to a lot of us. I knew that I wasn’t going to spend my life in Washington DC. And so, I said, I have this unique platform to have the biggest impact. I talked to somebody who had been in the previous administration and I said, how do I make sure that its long-term impact, that it doesn’t go out like the tide on January 20th after this president goes away and he told me you’ve got to build constituencies, you’ve got to build support, you’ve got to basically build the infrastructure that would make this have a lasting impact. So, I think the question is not only do we have an impact but how does it last way long past us? And I think we also make better decisions when we’re focused on impact because we’re really clear and everybody around you knows that. The thing I didn’t realize is everybody’s watching us all the time even when we don’t think so. And if you’re focused on impact, that is a very powerful convening force for people and for ideas and for solutions. And so, I think a great leader is one who becomes a force multiplier. Because however talented we are individually, I am, you are, anybody on this, and we’ve all realized that by definition, everybody listened to this is pretty damn good.
[00:30:04] But that isn’t anything compared to being that force multiplier. And so, I think I have found that the collateral advantage of focusing on impact is like a magnet.
[00:30:20] Sean: I’m so glad you went so deep into explaining the no regrets idea because on the surface, someone could take it to exactly like how you were mentioning earlier. I only live once, let me eat this cake. And living in a no regrets life, I’m very tiny things that are incompatible.
[00:30:41] I don’t want to say inconsequential. How would you discern something, no regrets life of impactful decisions versus no regrets life on terrible decisions?
[00:30:54] Maura: I think I would say it’s easier, convenient, or right in front of you. And I think the analogy these days is everybody’s getting more thoughtful about the food system, where their food comes from. Guess what? It takes more effort to actually decide to source from a local farmer versus going into your big supermarket and buying whatever they have from a thousand miles away or from South America.
[00:31:22] And, it takes more effort to have a relationship with the people that perhaps if you’re immediate or a fish eater who your fishmonger is or who is the animals. And so, I think that, but the residual is the benefits are so enormous. So, uh, and it also makes, I think what Steve Jobs was telling Johnny IB, which I think is a lesson for all of us, is that there is only so much time in the day and there is only one life.
[00:31:57] And so we do have to say no a lot and that’s something that I struggle with because it all looks so attractive, you know, but the issue is what impact do you want to have? What impact do I want to have? And what impact do I want to have now? And what are the best opportunities that are laying in front of me?
[00:32:19] Because maybe I didn’t think about one of the alternatives that is actually all of a sudden been thrust upon or gifted me. And I say, wow, that’s what I mean about taking the long view but also being opportunistic.
[00:32:34] Sean: That’s really amazing. And I think also there’s, there’s a deathbed exercise that have been recommended before, especially by Sahar, that’s in her class, a deathbed exercise. And I was just thinking, maybe that’s the question I asked myself well, is eating this cake a no regret decision, right?
[00:33:19] That’s the last thing I’m going to care about on the death bed, right? It’s going to be more around what are the pivotal moments where I had a decision to make that could impact a lot of people that including myself obviously, that I make the right decisions then and there.
[00:33:35] Maura: I think the hardest part of living in no regrets life or the toughest part of it is around our loved ones. I think that as a parent, as a partner, as a child, as a friend, we never can quite answer the question. Have I done enough? Have I been there, present enough for them? And I think that listen, there’s this whole theory of snowplow parents where they go completely overboard and they plow every obstacle out in front of their kids and their kids end up 20 years old with absolutely no skills, no resilience, because their parents said, Oh, you haven’t trouble writing that paper, all right, I’ll write that paper for you. You’re having trouble either college essay, oh, you need a job, here, I’ll make an opening. And so, you end up with kids at 2025 that are lost, that are not resilient, who didn’t have 20 years of or 10 years of developing that. I’m not a believer that giving everything to our kids, our partners, our parents, our friends to the exclusion of everything else in our life is the right solution. It isn’t.
[00:34:49] But I think the toughest part of a no regrets life is have I done enough? Have I been present enough for the people that we love? And that’s, it’s easy for me to say in my work life because I pinched myself and I say, wow, I had the opportunity to help launch energy efficiency and electric utility industry nationwide.
[00:35:14] Oh, I had the opportunity to help launch the first curbside recycling programs. I mean, those are lifetime, just things I’m really proud and feel great to be involved in. But that I can sort of check-off now somebody else is doing it. But when you’re a parent or when your child, you don’t actually pass that off.
[00:35:36] And so I think that’s the harder thing. We just have to trust our instincts. And also understand be generous with ourselves and say, this is a time for me to blossom and to contribute. And it means I’m not going to be as available all the time.
[00:35:56] Sean: I’m starting to get it. This no regrets life sounds like it is, they are continuous moments of reflection, of evaluation, of deep self-reflection, saying because I was just thinking, you know, if I have a, have I had a troubled relationship say with my parents or in the future, I have a troubled relationship with my son, how do I ask myself, ask the question, am I living a no regrets life? Because I, now answering it myself, if I were to live no regrets life, I would repair that relationship with my parents. It’s never too late. I would repair that relationship with my child, even though I snowplowed his life, you know, like, I can still help him.
[00:36:40] I can still put in the time and that requires a lot of introspection and self-reflection, just honesty with yourself being honest with yourself.
[00:36:49] Maura: I think it’s two things. I think it’s absolutely that but if you don’t know what you’re trying to go for like I say, if we get on an airplane and we don’t know whether that destination is Chicago, New York or Mexico City, that plane can fly all over the place. But if we set the autopilot, so if you go on a seven 47 now, an old plane, but I suspect the triple seven, the same thing in Seattle.
[00:37:18] And you fly to DC that plane flies on autopilot, but it on average will make 3000-course corrections in one flight. And so that’s what that self-reflection is, are those 3000 times. Some of them will be automatic but some of them will have to be deliberate about in order to live in no regrets life. But it doesn’t work if we don’t know we’re going to DC. We don’t actually know how to do the course correction if we haven’t decided. Am I going to DC? Am I going to Mexico City? Am I going to the Arctic?
[00:37:54] Sean: I see your…
[00:37:54] Maura: So, it starts with people say, I don’t know how to get that purpose. I don’t know how to find that center in me. And I would just say that’s where taking the long view on having lots of chapters. So maybe you can articulate it into one line the way I can now have the biggest impact one person can have in a lifetime and most people and become a force multiplier. But you can actually say, before I hang up my boots, what are the things I want to have accomplished?
[00:38:31] And what I say is in every job, and I helped found a public charter school for young women in the inner city of Baltimore. There’s a killing every day in Baltimore. This is 97% are African American girls and young women. And we had this audacious aspiration to start a school where we took anybody in a lottery system and we wanted them to all go, all graduated and all get accepted to college, which was a pretty incredible thing to have done. We’re now in our fourth year. And that’s happened. But I said to the CEO, when she was the principal, trying to decide whether she was going to go for the CEO job and I think that’s true of all of us. We have a job.
[00:39:16] I say, Chavonne, think about what you want your legacy to be. And I think that’s what helps us decide what are those things we want to do before we hang up our boots, like with this podcast, you have an amazing opportunity, Sean, but it will be so much better and you will be so much proud of prouder of it if you say, I want the legacy of the OneHaas podcast to be this. And don’t edit yourself, be audacious. Because you’ll manifest that. And I think that maybe you don’t know all the things that you want to be but for each of the things you’re doing, you can say, what do I want my legacy to be when I’m gone?
[00:40:05] What do I want them to talk about that I did? What do I want to look back on and say in the quiet of my room, I’m so proud of that? And I think that helps you craft a no regrets life.
[00:40:21] Sean: That’s amazing. This actually one of the, this reminds me one of the questions I always get asked from, you know, from young entrepreneurs is how do I find my passion? I guess let me ask you that question.
[00:40:53] As a serial entrepreneur, when people ask you that question, how do I discover my passion? How would you answer that?
[00:40:59] Maura: So, I would start by saying, asking you to answer two questions to yourself, not to me, but what are the things that you want to have done when you’re hanging up your boots because that will probably point you in the direction of what your passion is. I would also say a question that I always use when I interview people.
[00:41:21] I say, Sean, in order to get two years of my time in life, we had to be good at a lot of things. But we’re probably only brilliant at two things. What are you brilliant at? So, if you think about your legacies, you think about what your unique gifts are that Martha Graham told us about. I think you get closer to understanding.
[00:41:45] And then I think we try some out and we discover, we test it out. It’s like trying on some clothes in a department store. We thought we liked that but that’s not really our passion but it leads us in the direction of what our passion is. So, I think we can’t be stopped until we know the answer to that but we have some clues, what do we want to accomplish in the long run?
[00:42:11] What do we want our legacy to be? And then what are we exceptional at? Because that’s where we’re going to have the biggest impact, particularly if you’re an entrepreneur. But also, it probably gives you a clue to what you love to do. And that if you’re not doing that, the things that you’re really brilliant at, then you’re probably not going to succeed particularly as an entrepreneur.
[00:42:35] Sean: Great. Alright. Anything else that you want to bring up about no regrets life?
[00:42:42] Maura: Oh, I think I would just reiterate that we need to be generous with ourselves as we would with our loved ones, to pick ourself up and say bummer, and do what we need to do to get our vessel filled, and go out and do more amazing things because that’s, we only have one life and we don’t know, what I learned from my sister is we don’t know whether today is our last day or whether we have decades more. But how awesome if we lived every day to its fullest, for however many days we have. Wow, that’s a life.
[00:43:21] Sean: That is a life. Any advice for graduates coming out during these challenging times?
[00:43:30] Maura: I think it is very challenging having watched people come out of 2008 where nobody was hiring and businesses were falling apart. And, it was a particularly sober time. I think we have a double whammy now. Maybe the economy, the stock market, which is not the economy, but the stock market’s doing well and people are still in some sectors, high rank.
[00:43:56] The only thing that we want a lot more than an interesting professional life is a healthy life. And now we see these converging. And so, what I’d say is, I didn’t grow up with parents that could get me a job or pay for my apartment while I pursued the thing I really wanted to pursue.
[00:44:17] And so I had to hustle. So, I took unpaid internships, acted as if I was the most important thing, and the most important job I had ever had. And those unpaid internships turned into paid internships that turned into job offers. And so, I said, this is a time that do what you have to do to keep a roof over your head and put food on the table but go in the direction of seizing the opportunities, even if they’re volunteer opportunities to start with, in the direction of the thing that you have a passion for. And that will ultimately create more and more opportunities for you. So, I see MBAs or executive MBAs who have worked for big corporations and they think or in law firms or in accounting firms.
[00:45:04] And they say, but I like to, I don’t want to start a business but I want to join a business at the start, and I’d say, start taking your skillset and start volunteering to help all sorts of businesses. Get in the ecosystem. One, you’ll find out whether you really like it or it scares the living daylights out of you and you say, forget it, no entrepreneurship from me, thank you. Which is perfectly fine. Or what you’ll start doing is building relationships. And I saw more than one person who had this very staid, very boring career, leapfrog within a year or two, and then on and on two amazing entrepreneurial ventures in the top companies in the Valley.
[00:45:49] So, I think that just start by hook or crook, be relentless about pursuing it, but also don’t hesitate to, you know, to apprentice your skills until you get that big job opportunity.
[00:46:04] Maura: I just fundamentally believe as I started this podcast to say that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. And what I hope is that in my life I can help break people out of that fear and out of that shell to be who they can, who they want to be and they can be, and to really never stop believing in themselves. Because I just look in awe at when people do that and they go in that direction, not only how joyful their life has been, listen, we all have bad days, but the impact that they’ve had, it’s just awe-inspiring for me.
[00:46:47] Sean: Well, thank you so much. You’ve been all inspiring yourself to me in this episode.