What Matters: Maurice Cherry on Zero Regrets and Why You Need to Hit the Reset Button

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Debbie Millman has started a new project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an ongoing 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 10 identical questions, and submit a decidedly nonprofessional photograph.

Maurice Cherry is a creative strategist, designer, podcaster, and pioneering digital creator in Atlanta, GA. He is principal and creative director at Lunch and the founder and host of the award-winning design podcast Revision Path.

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

The thing I like doing most in the world is probably nothing.

I am a big proponent of relaxing, vegging out, chilling—basically not working. Even though I do produce a lot of work consistently, whether it’s through the podcast or other projects, I build a good bit of time into my schedule for not doing anything. During that time, I can think. I can analyze and process ideas and concepts. I can rest and recover and then come back stronger to do more work.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

It was probably in my Enrichment class when I was in grade school. (They called the gifted class “Enrichment” for some reason.) I might have been in either second grade or third grade, and my teacher Mrs. Wood would give us these random small objects—a scrap of paper torn in a certain way, a little bauble, or something like that—and she would instruct us to do these critical thinking exercises with them. She would say, “think of the many different ways that you could use this or utilize this.” Then we would take the object and glue it on a sheet of paper and then maybe draw an outline around it or find a way to include it as part of a larger drawing.

That was probably my first memory of being creative, because you’re taking something that is used for one purpose and then stretching yourself to discover another way that it can be used.

What is your biggest regret?

I just turned 40 earlier this year, and honestly, I’m thankful to have gotten to this age where I don’t have any regrets.

I feel like every choice that I’ve made in the past was not only good at the time, but in hindsight, was also good for the future. If I were at a job or volunteering for an organization where I felt myself or my work wasn’t appreciated, I left it. If I was in a relationship where I didn’t feel that love was being served, I left it. I tell people exactly how I feel. I don’t code switch. I take a fair amount of risks, and for the times when they don’t pay off, I use failure as a lesson learned. I believe all of that has helped me live as authentically as I possibly can—and a good byproduct of that is not having any regrets.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Time, patience, self-care, and a lot of introspection.

What makes you cry?

When I was younger, I discovered I could cry on command. My father would often parade me around his friends when I was a kid and ask me to do random things like spell long words or do two-digit multiplication problems in my head—parlor tricks for drunks, basically. The way I would get out of doing that would be to think of something sad and squeeze out a few tears. I’ve gotten more adept at tapping into and sinking into those feelings as I’ve gotten older—shout-out to compartmentalization—but now I have more references to pull from, like old songs, past memories, etc. I mean, it’s not a skill I’d put on my resume or anything, but it’s something.

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

Seconds. Milliseconds, sometimes.

Growing up as a child prodigy, you’re always in the spotlight for one reason or another. The awards, the articles, the appearances—it doesn’t give you much time to rest on your laurels. Although I’ve gotten better at carving out space and silence for myself—see the answer to question one—the actual feeling of pride and joy of accomplishing something ends up getting washed over by the expectation of what the next thing is that you’re going to do.

When I was younger, I felt like focusing on the pride and joy of accomplishing something meant dwelling in the past. And I suppose I still feel a bit of that now, but that’s because I know all of the hours I’ve spent and all of the hard work I’ve done that have gone up to accomplishing said thing. That’s what makes the point of accomplishment so fleeting for me, because, in hindsight, it’s not really for me; the accomplishment is for everyone else. It’s for the people who consume the work and the ones that are inspired by and build off of that work. I let them have that. I’m already thinking of the next project or the project after that. I’m thinking well into the future, and the sense of accomplishment is normally a marker that occurs in the present, but to me feels like the past.

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

No, I don’t believe in an afterlife.

This will sound a little hippie-dippie or woo-woo or whatever, but the first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed in an isolated system. It can only be transformed. So the afterlife, from my point of view, I think doesn’t exist because that energy—or the energy that you have spent in your life affecting people, inspiring people, hurting people, etc.—lives on in those people. You live on in their memories of you, in their recollections of you, and you live on in the work that you’ve done that’s out there in the world. I feel like that is the afterlife: your remembrance in the minds of other people. I don’t think of the afterlife as a personal singular destination—i.e., if I die, I’m going to heaven or hell—but I believe that the afterlife is a concept that encompasses the work that you’ve done in the world as you were alive and how you are remembered after you’re gone.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I really don’t like having my picture taken. Which reminds me…I need new headshots.

What do you love most about yourself?

I love that I know exactly what I’m capable of achieving. I love being the expert of my own experience.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

A four-piece chicken tender meal from Gus’s Fried Chicken with fried okra, macaroni, a large sweet tea, and some ice-cold banana pudding for dessert.