What Matters to Lauren Maffeo

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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.

Lauren Maffeo (she/her) is a service designer and Vice President of the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ Washington, DC, chapter. She teaches Interaction Design at The George Washington University, and her first book, Designing Data Governance from the Ground Up, is being adapted into a LinkedIn Learning course.

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

I love exploring new places with people I care about. I’ve done a lot of solo travel throughout places from Australia to Switzerland, and even when traveling with friends, I often find myself on my own at some point. But over the pandemic, it hit me that my best travel memories are shared with others. I was determined to travel again when it was safe, and to be someone who says yes to sharing travel with loved ones whenever I can.

I just spent a week on a platonic getaway to Southern Italy with my best friend. It was truly a magical trip, and few things in life spark joy like that.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I always say that I’m a writer at heart, and I recall learning to write by reading a copy of The Nutcracker while rewriting the words in marker on my own sheets of paper. I think I was four or five. It’s debatable how creative this was since I was copying words that were already written! But this was my way of learning how words are formed through writing, and over time, those words became my own.

What is your biggest regret?

I didn’t try hard enough in high school. That’s an intentionally broad statement: I didn’t put enough effort into any area of my life, from sports and clubs to specific classes. If I was inherently good at something, I coasted on that talent: If not, I didn’t want to waste my breath.

That was the wrong attitude, and I really wish I had more discipline. I especially wish I had found a sport that I liked and stuck with it. I’ve always been athletic and tried lots of sports as a kid, but I didn’t stick with any long enough to excel. I’ve embraced sports/exercise in adulthood and wish I had that backbone of teamwork as a kid.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Time, therapy, and medicine. The combination of all three is crucial for me, but it has been a slow burn. One mantra that my therapist taught me was to say, “I can survive and thrive when people reject me.” Something about repeating that like she asked me to clicked, and it really helps.

What makes you cry?

People pouring their hearts out to others because they feel safe. I last cried nine days ago at my friend’s wedding. Her now-husband read vows both to her and to her son from a past relationship.

He said something like, “Tommy, I thought I knew what achievement was and how to feel alive. But that was before I lay with you at night to read bedtime stories…” That’s when his voice cracked, and my own tears flowed. His ability to be so vulnerable in such a public forum really moved me.

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

Not as long as I’d like it to. I am proud of my achievements; I am also someone who’s always looking for the next thing. Not much can remove me from that mindset, which is a big reason why I love to travel. When I’m exploring a new place, it’s the rare time when I’m more focused on the world in front of me than my internal hamster wheel.

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

I do believe in an afterlife. I’m not sure what it looks like (is anyone?), but when I was in Capri with my best friend recently, I said to myself that if Heaven is real, it must look like this. Birds flying through calm, pink skies, an ocean in front of us and mountains beside us, wine and pasta flowing as you laugh with loved ones…. does it get better than that?

What do you hate most about yourself?

I get defensive easily. When I feel threatened, my innate reaction is to crawl into a metaphorical shell. If I don’t pull away, I feel like I risk saying or doing something I’ll regret. It comes from this inherent feeling that I need to protect myself because no one else can do it for me, and it gets activated in contexts (like work or romance) where a more mature reaction would be better. I’m working on this, but it’s so innate sometimes that taming the beast is really tough.

What do you love most about yourself?

I love that I am someone who is thoughtful about which words I use, and how I can pour into others’ cups by comforting them with words. Nothing makes me happier than someone I love telling me how I’ve helped them through a hard time, because if I can’t do that, nothing else matters much.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Fettuccine carbonara. I promise I’m not trying to make Italy my whole personality: This is and always has been my favorite meal of all time. If it has cheese, cream, and carbs, I’m in.