YOP102: Dancing Out of Your Comfort Zone with Maura Sweeney

By March 22, 2018 Podcast Episode No Comments

Bio: Maura Sweeney is an author, podcaster, HuffPost Contributor and international speaker called the “Ambassador of Happiness” by the UNESCO Center for Peace. Groomed to become a New Jersey lawyer, Maura left law school mid-stream to discover her own life’s purpose. Today, she shares engaging and thought-provoking stories that inspire others to see themselves through a brighter and more purposeful lens. With her “Living Happy – Inside Out” mantra, she empowers others to convert their inner thoughts to experience a happier outward life.


Zephan:  Maura Sweeney is an author podcaster Huffington post contributor an international speaker called the Ambassador of Happiness by the Unesco Centre For Peace.  Groomed to become a New Jersey lawyer she left law school midstream to discover her own life’s purpose today she shares engaging and thought provoking stories that inspire others to see themselves through a brighter and more purposeful lens.  With her living happy inside out Mantra she empowers others to convert their inner thoughts to a happy outward life what is going on today.

Maura:  I am so happy to even talking to you, Zephan. Seriously, this is like my life coming full circle talking to people never met exchanging really great ideas and inspiring other people in the process thanks so much for having me on today.

Zephan:  Totally. You know, you have an unfair advantage here because you are calling in from Florida while I am stuck here in this rainy cold weather you might have some rain but I bet it is a little bit warmer down there.

Maura:  You know what earlier today we did have some rain but in my office right now looking outside the palm trees the sunshine and after I might actually go sit in the sun for a little while.  So I love it and you know what I grew up in New Jersey right outside of New York City and as a little girl I always had difficulty in the winter time as soon as the leaves would fall off the trees I used to think oh my gosh I have to hibernate imagine the entire winter season being cold rainy and grey and I would always wait till like April when things would come alive and here I am many years later living in Florida very un-experiencing in the very State that I used to dream about as a little child.  I since also learned that regardless of where I am I can always be a happy State of sunshine.

Zephan:  That is awesome it is funny to hear you say this because I am actually sitting here at my desk looking at my bottle of vitamin D that I had to take through the winter because I get you know like just the winter blues a little bit when the sun not out so much.  I am so used to being outside during the summer as a roller I am like always on the water and so the winter is tough but at least you know when I am inside got this whole podcasting thing now I get to talk to some cool people and they can kind of send some sunshine over the radio waves.

Maura:  Happy to do it.

Zephan:  So let’s jump into like how does someone dropout of law school like how do you go from you know I feel like law school is something that most people have to want to do.  They don’t just say hey I guess I will do this like most people are pretty dedicated too it like where does this sort of bump in the road come in you are just like I don’t think this  is for me.

Maura:  You know you bring up an excellent point; you do have to want to do it.  I would sense that maybe unlike some other careers where let’s say Accounting you go into the office and each day you are doing the same thing.  When you embark on a career of law it is a passion it is a vocation and it is really got to be something that you have a flame and fire for.  In my case it was not my choice it was just sort of applied to me my girlfriend use to tell me when I was growing up she said Nora you were groomed as a child and it was true my family expected me from the time I was maybe 5 years old to grow up and become a lawyer my Grandfather would say a powerful lawyer New York New Jersey area and people always said to me Nora is going to be a lawyer just like her Grandfather and no one ever said to me “Would you like to be a lawyer?” and the truth was that I was the eldest of 3 children.

I was kind of a do-gooder and I was also a pleaser and I was also I had one of those personalities let’s say looking for approval from my parents from my family.  So I always did what I was told so fast forward I end up going through college one of my majors was political science I took a second one in Spanish literature because I loved the language and I really envisioned myself as a foreign dignitary to South America and then I end up in law school in New Jersey living back at home in Jersey and back when I went to school if you went to law school not many people did and if you graduated from law school you are expected to practise most likely in a State that you got your law degree from and all I kept thinking was oh my gosh from the time I was a  little girl all I did was dream about living in Florida or somewhere that was warm beyond that I was really more of a creative type I was very much a visionary like I could remember being in 4th grade when the sun would start coming out in the springtime and again the sunshine would be out all the leaves would be on the trees.

The teacher would be teaching front of the class and I would be daydreaming about oh I would love to be outside in the warmth so here I was midstream through law school and I thought I just can’t do it anymore because what I saw in front of me that was a path that was going to be unlike anything I was and it was really draining a life that was in me I really wanted to do something in life that gave me joy and purpose and I felt like law was not going to do it so we took everything  out of me to tell the people at law school I was taking a leave of absence not telling them that the leave was a permanent one and then telling my family that I needed to you know take another path in life.  It was huge for me really huge because you know if you related like I was to that whole idea of being a people pleaser and realising that you couldn’t not carry that kind of a weight for the rest of your life that was basically my turnoff point.

Zephan:  Yeah I mean I think that when you are a people pleaser you kind of living by other peoples agenda you know we talk about the first thing you don’t want to do in the morning is check your phone the second you wake up because all of a sudden the emails start coming through you know you already starting to follow somebody else wants from you as opposed to what you want from you so you know if you have a morning routine that is going to through a wrench in it right away because second you start answering emails is the second that you give up that freedom to really follow your core desires.

Maura:  You know you are right there is something that comes to mind back in the 80’s when I was in law school we didn’t have cell phones but this is what I got.  I remember the closer I was getting toward that graduation date the heavier I felt literally heavier and I had this vision that was with me all the time.  I felt like I would get out of bed in the morning and I was responsible for carrying a second name known as Nora and I would have to strap her onto my right shoulder and carry her along everywhere I went.

So basically the picture I had in my head I was carrying a cadaver of myself and carrying that cadaver everyday got heavier and heavier and heavier and there came a day I remember sitting in a seat in my apartment and feel like I couldn’t get out of it to get into the car and take myself too school and that was my day I just thought I can’t I psychically couldn’t carry myself any longer or couldn’t carry the fake name.

Zephan:  Yeah I mean that is a lot of weight to bare and I think that there is probably a ton of people that are tuning in right now that feel that way and I think you know that is part of the audience that we attract to the show here is you know if I look 2 years back I mean maybe 2 and a half years that is kind of the weight that I was carrying too you know.  I was working in a job that really didn’t suit me.

I wasn’t really using my skills and you know I felt the same kind of like you ache and hurt to get up and go to work in the morning and for me I was like I am not even 30 yet my body should not be reacting in the way which it is.  I am not ready for a hip replacement or a knee replacement just because you know I feel terrible about what I am doing and I think maybe you have experienced this too is you know you almost have this biological physiological response to the mental stress and mental weight that is hitting you at the time.

Maura:  Well I am shocked listening too you see I was 23 when I had to get off that path and you were 30 what I always tell people is if they were to go to my website maura4you dot com and look into the section that says about Maura there is a photograph of me midway through law school just before I left and if you were to look at me you would think who is this last person I looked like a walking cadaver my eyes my downcast face you could see that I was not connecting with my own life force and then if you look just a little ways down that page you will see a picture 30 years later and you will think I can’t believe it is the same person.

So in my head like a 23 years old in law school I felt the weight that I was carrying of a fake name a secondary name and then if you look at me later where the weight was removed and I had spent the next 30 years just finding myself, finding my own way living from the inside of me outwardly in other words pursuing things I was interested in developing skills and curiosity and talents that were mine and mine alone you could see the life fill itself out of me.

So really it’s an amazing thing and I think that everyone if they allow themselves can relate to that at some form or at some level yours you said you felt it physiologically in my case I just literally felt like I was carrying a ton of bricks.  Like think about Santa Clause instead of carrying toys he is carrying a huge bag of bricks that is what I felt like.

Zephan:  Yeah I mean it is certainly it takes its toll on you but let me ask you this you are saying how if you look at this photo and the 30 year difference you know you can see big difference obviously in the later photo a good way for sure you know I am sure some people are sitting there and saying did it take me 30 years I mean God forbid, yeah so let me ask you, you know like I would say first of all is this something that is going to take everyone 30 years should they just say oh my gosh it is never going to happen or you know how can they almost  speed up that process you know is there one or two things that you really learned along the way that might have taken you longer because you had to learn it the hard way perhaps somebody could put into their life put a place right now and maybe in the next 6 months turn it around.

Maura:  Oh absolutely in fact one of the reasons why I blog and do podcasts and videos in fact right now I am finishing up my first ever foundations on happiness course everything I am about is inspiring people to live happy from the inside meaning instead of running after everything you are told to do check in with their air GPS now what took me for such a long time to figure out and develop on my own.

I would think what people can do a very short order obviously not overlooking the fact that they need to pursue it and make it a new form of life for themselves.  But I take my whole life journey and give it to people so they can look at it and think wow look at all these lessons that this woman took years to acquire I can get those things right now I can apply them right now.  But also before we started this actual interview you and I were talking offline and I said to you that we are living in a time where people are getting things much more quickly.

I was born during an era when most people didn’t think about the finer points in life and when I say finer points it is the question that said who I am what am I doing here what are those things that really make me happy from the inside what is my purpose where will I really get that sense of living out an authentic life people didn’t think that way when I was growing up people didn’t talk that way.  I felt that way but the pact to getting there is almost like I was forging my own path when there weren’t other waste showers.  Does that make any sense?

Zephan:  Yeah I think at some point in time it certainly feels like it is something that you have to force or make happen.  I think a big thing for me has been the funny thing about all this is that when I do try to sit there and force something as opposed to just saying or making an intention and just saying hey here is what I am about and here is who I am and I am dedicated to this.  I found that things kind of click into place better than to sit there and question you know what is my purpose if I just sit there and say what is my purpose here is a pen and paper lets rock this out, nothing is really going to come out of that and I think that is one of the hardest parts today is that this is important for the listeners tuning in is too understand if you sit there with a pen and paper and ask yourself what was my purpose and think that by the end of the night you are going to figure it all out, that is not how it works that is not how it is going to work it is never going to happen that way.

So maybe as a follow up to that just ask you how can we ask better questions or discover or learn more about ourselves without kind of straightforward asking the question we know isn’t going to give us the answer right on the spot.

Maura:  You know you are really touching that is something that is very important it is really a two fault process number one a lot of people especially those that have been following the patterns that the world sets around them they forget to even enquire of themselves.  But inside they kind of know where there happy zone is or what there genuine self is but they don’t often ask so.  I always say this close your eyes put your hand over your heart let’s say right below your collar bone and just sit quietly and start surveying your past you know all of us had a time in our lives for our parents our school teachers anybody else in society said no you can’t do that and I always ask people go back and think about things you used to enjoy doing and the moment a happy thought comes to mind and your face starts to smile you have just landed on something that is a part of who you really are a part of you that is looking to express itself in the outside world once you connect with that little happy thought that is your thread, that is like your starting point and then you got to take step two and in step two that is the part where you take outer efforts to apply yourself to those things you like you know there are many people they want to sit in a room and just contemplate or meditate.

But you got to take the inside person and start working into your outside world.  So that means that okay there is something that I was interested in when I was a little kid how can I connect with it today.  I will give you a perfect example I was told that I was supposed to be this lawyer when I was a little girl and I would go to my Grandfathers office and while he was meeting with everybody and his clients I was transfixed by his legal Secretary and I love the fact that she was typing official documents on her typewriter and you know what that when I think back to my childhood that makes me smile because I knew as a little girl that anytime somebody could write something professional and it was a document that it was important and I just I loved it.  So what am I today I am an Author I am a Publisher I am a Huffington post blogger.

I take my ideas and I put them into print so here you get this little child I was preschool age I am enamoured by that and I take that thought and so what do I do I start working on my writing.  I start practising my writing and I keep doing it until and I keep looking for ways to use my writing and eventually I start connecting with things and then I become something new.  So I took what I was interested in on the inside but I practised it in the physical realm.  So I think that is where people need to make those connections and you don’t know exactly how it is going to evolve, but by constantly applying yourself is sort of find your way around.

Zephan:  Yeah I am actually really happy that you brought this up for two reasons.  So one for the people tuning in right now one of the biggest mentors in my life who actually was on Year of Purpose podcast episode 19, Misti Burmeister, one of the big things she taught me maybe she mentioned it either in that episode or just in passing with me was saying a lot of people are trying to figure out these happy thoughts and connect the dots and figure out you know what it is that they should at least start to follow.

Because it is a little hard to explore new idea or a new path if you don’t have some sort of starting point and she was telling me that if you take like a journal and at night write down just any thoughts ideas that come to you for a month and at the end of each week circle the top two or three things that kept coming up over and over again and at the end of the month narrow it down to like the two things that just kept coming up over and over in your head and those are the things that you should follow next and that was just such a huge thing for me because that played a big difference in my life and I am also really glad that you talked about this idea of your child you know your inner child going back to that you know it is something that I mentioned in my book rightfully scripted I had an experience going into a float tank as a light proof sound proof chamber filled with a 1000 pound of Epsom salt and about 6 inches deep of water and you float in it until roughly 5 or 10 minutes into it you get into a super meditative relaxed experience and the thing that I saw in my vision that I was experiencing this was my inner child and the crazy part was he was you know 5 or 6 years old.

But almost it was like he knew every answer to my questions that even the 35 year old me would have you know the 10 years older than where I am me would have and so I think that you are very right there is this sort of inner child or inner guidance or whatever it is of you know this thing that we were so passionate about as kids that is still there and I think we fall away from that as we get older it is almost like we become jaded as we go through life we lost sight of this dream you can go back to the Peter Pan analogy of you know he forgot who he was as he grew older and forgot that he could fly right  and I think that when you go back and really find that core belief or core one or two things that you used to do all the time.  I think that is where you are really onto something do you agree.

Maura:  Oh absolutely it is funny you can’t see me but all I am doing is yes you.  I love the fact that you brought up the idea of a journal because I have always been a person who journals and do you see the practise that you just explained.  That is no different from what I am sharing to do by putting your hand over your chest.  Because what you are doing is removing your tension away from your  busy mind which is your intellect that is the portion that is formed by society.  It is formed by the media it is formed by your teachers.

It is formed by your peer groups, when you reconnect whether by the journal and it is funny this woman you said was telling you to do it at night.  Do you know what I  most frequently write in the journal first thing in the morning, because I had just awoken and it is that same place when you are asleep just like you described in the tank that is the real you that is on the inside that has been  forgotten or let’s say ignored and you are giving that inner you that inner child an opportunity to speak and the more I feel you follow that inner child the happier you become because you unify your personality, you unify your interests, you unify your values systems and you become this more fully embracing fully alive individual rather than being a fractured person, which is what most of the world convinces us to do.

Zephan:  So I want to stay within the same chapter here if you will but almost turn the page in sense too comfort zones because this is in this kind of conversation this is kind of the part that some people either get distracted or kind of say oh man getting to that like woo, woo side of things it is getting weird and I don’t want it to go too far like I think that there is this interesting line that we can straddle your comfort zone and learning in who you are or who you want to be is definitely going to get pushed, outside of our comfort zone is definitely a space where we get pushed to learn about ourselves in a way in which we are not used too learning you know we are certainly exploring stuff that we don’t typically explore as a lawyer when you were in college you are learning about the law and throughout our lives we are trained to learn about topics whether it is our business or what we do for a living or maybe a hobby that we have and very rarely do we take the moment to move outside of that bubble and learn about ourselves and this is where people get uncomfortable, maybe share a little bit about you know you adopted to the space of being you know in an uncomfortable space how it is like you almost fully embraced it, how you fully embraced this person that you were supposed to become despite the process I am sure being a bumpy road over the last 30 years.

Maura:  Yeah mine was really incremental yet I will tell you each of us has our own life path I knew at some level with all the things I did, I had a background in corporate management.  I helped my husband built a business at the time I was home-schooling mom at another point I was doing a lot of advocacy work.  So in each one of these stages in my life I knew they were all building blocks for me they were all personal growth and yet my bigger story in life was not yet ready to come out and debut I want to just talk about this comfort zone thing and how incredibly freeing it is when you exit your comfort zones.  I said to you when I was little I was really groomed I was groomed to be inside a box and everything about the box was very boxy let’s say I had to be smart I had to be very serious and yet really what I was a free spirit personality who loved people and I was very creative.

I knew as a little girl that I wanted to learn how to dance and yet that was never part of my training.  So can you imagine turning 49 almost 50 years old and I finally step out literally as well as figuratively of my comfort zone and start learning how to dance I am whirling in a college class.  Now imagine how much mental baggage by that point in my life I had acquired and you talk about comfort zones it is okay I know I am smart I am academic I know I can do well on business I know I am a good parent I know I am great at entertaining people at my home.

But can I move my body in a way that is graceful that is coordinated well I never had the chance and here I am all of a sudden putting myself out there and I have to tell Zephan that was huge for me.  It meant that I had to get rid of thoughts oh I am too old or something that most kids learn at 5 right that I can do something that is unlike every bit of the personality I was trained to be thirdly I could see myself in a much more graceful way.

I had to fight so much of that and yet I would tell you going through of a process of learning how to dance which was exiting the comfort zone freed me in ways that were so dramatic that I ended up launching a book series about the art of happiness and the first the first chapter within the book series the first mini book in the series called exiting the comfort zone dance or die.

Every one of us really comes from much broader perspective but life will put us into small silos and we forget about the bigger part of ourselves and it is the stepping out of our little silos into the bigger places where we know we want to be that helps break down a lot of the walls we have erected helps us off load a lot of the mental baggage we have carried and lets the life in us just I want to say step out in full view and we end up with so much more energy enthusiasm and brightness and that too me is a universal message you don’t have to learn how to dance exit a comfort zone.

But when you do you end up stepping more into who you really are and in part freeing yourself and giving this voice to everybody else out there that sees you yeah you go free yourself to step outside of your own comfort zone.

Zephan:  Yeah I mean I think that the only way you are going to grow is through moving past this comfort zone place so I agree 100% with everything that you are saying and Nora this has been amazing conversation so far.  I want to do something unique to close out this episode I by trade am a video editor and something that video editors do I might go and film an event and come home with 200 300 sometimes 400 video clips right and at the end of the day when I put my video together or if you look at the time line you know I might use 50 60 a 100 of these video clips to tell one story.

But when I make that video at the very end it doesn’t matter whether I put 2 clips 100 clips 200 clips into making this video it all ends up being 1 file you know 1 YouTube video and no one really sees all the tiny pieces put together that make this 1 story.  But I would love to ask you real quick and this might be challenging take all the different stories all the different clips of your life right now and if you were to squeeze them together in 1 video what would be the 1 message that you would want to leave with people that you want to resonate the most with people.

Maura:  I am here to help you find yourself and find your own sense of happiness that is it.  I feel like everything I do is like a hologram no matter what people read that I write or watch what I do or listen to me speak if that same message is contained in all of it I am here to help you find your own personal path to happiness from the inside out and I just love doing it I feel like I am here for that specific reason.  Everybody has got a great life story most people don’t know how to work it out and I help them get there.

Zephan:  That is awesome Nora what is the best way for people tuning in right now who I like you know I need to learn more about this person that Zef was talking too you know how can I find your website or what is your book called what is the best way to learn more?

Maura:  The very easiest way is too go to my website which is my name Maura—M-A-U-R-A—followed by the number 4 and the letter U, as you can tell maura4u.com. I am for you, to help you and when you get there if you like to read blogs or even go onto Huffington post the link from my blog Huffington post.

There is access to over 200 of my YouTube videos if you are a podcast listener there are links to my iTunes and stitch podcasts there is a free book to download I am just releasing this week my first ever foundations to happiness course and so you can find everything at Maura4you dot com.

Zephan:  Awesome well thanks so much for spending your afternoon with me and I definitely look forward to continuing this conversation offline but thank you to the listeners everyone tuning in today if you like this episode of course go ahead and checkout.  The book her website you know check out more of our episodes if you really like the stuff and thank you for being a part of the year of purpose podcasts thanks for being here today Maura and I look forward to being in touch.

Maura:  Thank you too.