What Matters: Christine Mau On Resiliency and Constantly Reinventing Yourself

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Christine Mau’s inner child couldn’t decide if she wanted to be a nurse or a designer. So it makes perfect sense that she’s enjoying a role as a VP of Strategy & Creative in the medical industry at Medline.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

So many ways to answer this question! 

I’m going to go with the simple things that I can do anytime, anywhere. And that is to make myself a glass of iced coffee, set up a table outside with as many art supplies as I can find, turn up the music and sketch, paint, carve, print, gold leaf, or bead a series of notecards for friends and family. Recently I’ve been going back and forth between linoleum block printing and blotted ink monoprints. What they have in common is that the more you embrace the imperfections of the medium, the better they turn out. I’m not big on phone calls or writing correspondences, so my notecards are my way of telling people they are important to me. I very much hope it brings them a moment of joy when discovered in their mailboxes. 

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

We didn’t have much money when I was growing up. So in first grade, I would make Christmas tree ornaments with styrofoam balls, napkins, hodge podge glue, and glitter. I would spend days carefully crafting each one to be a different, sparkly gem. Then I would go door to door through the trailer park where we lived, selling them to make money for holiday gifts.

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t think in terms of “regrets.” It’s just not part of my vocabulary. I’m more interested in looking ahead than dwelling on the past. It’s not that I don’t learn from mistakes, but I see them as learning opportunities versus regrets.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Resilience. Embracing the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I obsess over what I could have done better or different to get a different result. Why, why, why! So if I can turn it into a learning opportunity, I’m anxious to move forward to see if I can get a different result the next time. 

What makes you cry?

Seeing someone perform on stage, a graduation ceremony, kids in a marching band, watching someone achieve something they’ve been working hard at. Basically, bearing witness to other people’s moments of achievement moves me to tears.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Perpetuity. Thrilled to complete a project with the team, but then we all want to know, “how did it do”? I’m as interested in trying to figure out why one piece of content or ad worked better than the other and diving into as much data as we can get our hands on to hypothesize new principles. But remaining proud of what was delivered with the information at the time, and excited to try to beat our best results the next time.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I heard a theory once that we all get the afterlife that we believe in. Isn’t that a wonderful idea? 

What do you hate most about yourself?

Isn’t it obvious? I can’t seem to do things in order. If you give me a list of ten things to do, I will start randomly with number three and move on to number seven. When that’s half-done, I’ll start with number one. At any moment, five will be in play, and they will all get done, but it’s a bit of chaos along the way. As I write this, I realize number eight of this ten-part questionnaire is the last answer to be completed. 

What do you love most about yourself?

Rather than get stuck in a situation that is no longer positive or feeling stagnated, I’ve been able to reinvent myself whenever needed. I’ve transitioned my career from freelancing for KI and building their brand standards to illustrating product graphics on Huggies diapers. I’ve gone from being an award-winning children’s book illustrator and having my own line of greeting cards to packaging design for the Kleenex brand, which led to trend forecasting and a dozen patents for innovation. Then, leading a design thinking transformation for a Fortune 500 company in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and North America. When that mission was complete, I focused on brand strategy and building a content marketing team. 

I have three simple criteria to guide my decisions on when a transition is warranted.

  • Have challenging work.
  • Have challenging work at a company with a learning environment.
  • Do work that gives me a sense of purpose. 

What is your absolute favorite meal?

My favorite meals are the impromptu ones where family and friends pile into a kitchen for hours to cut, slice, peel, and prep the meal. It doesn’t matter what comes to the table because the best part was creating and enjoying the day together.