We had the good fortune of connecting with Maureen O’Brien and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maureen, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Instead of the word balance, I now think about it more like work-life integration. Especially during this pandemic when most people are working from home, many of us for the first time, it forces us to re-think how to define the relationship between work and the rest of our lives. If you have the luxury to build flexibility into your days, I find that the more I tune into my body and mind and what I need in the moment, the more I can actually accomplish. Sometimes that means breaking for a little movement like yoga or pilates and sometimes it means turning off notifications and other devices so I can concentrate for an intense period of time on the task at hand. I also find that I do some of my best thinking and creative problem solving about work during off-hours. So while I might be taking a walk on the weekend with no intention of thinking about work, often important work-related thoughts come to me and I’ll simply pause to jot them down so I can return to them on the next workday. I do find it important to create some boundaries within my home space – I have a designated office area, and though it’s only steps away from the rest of the apartment, when I shut my laptop at the end of the day it is a way of signaling that work is over. Since there is no longer a commute to go to or an evening event to attend, I find it important to designate for myself that it’s time to switch into relaxation mode or to fully focus on preparing dinner or the task at hand. For those of us whose work normally involves a lot of meetings, the switch to Zoom versus in person has been challenging. While it’s wonderful that we have this technology, it’s important to be mindful that “Zoom fatigue” is real. I’ve reverted back to phone calls with my team members where possible, saving video time for group meetings and trying to intersperse them throughout the day rather than back to back. I’ve also tried to check in on my team, and to acknowledge that these challenging times affect each of us and our families in different ways. When we can provide that support and grace for one another, we can build the trust that will enable us to move forward our work but in a way that is healthy and sustainable for all involved.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I have dedicated my career to music, to fundraising, and to inspiring and motivating teams to do their best work. I couldn’t have predicted the arc of my career, but by following my passion for music, I have found a niche that suits and fulfills me. I majored in music and French in college and had my first job in arts administration the summer before my senior year in high school. I was lucky to discover early on this world of arts management that allowed me to be a part of the creative world but also find a steadiness and dependability that was important to me. I moved to NYC after college and worked first for a chamber orchestra and then for a music education organization, working my way up as a fundraiser. I love people and working with philanthropists allowed me to connect with interesting people and support the music that is so meaningful to me. In 2009, I moved to Phoenix and became part of the founding team of the Musical Instrument Museum, which showcases musical instruments from around the globe. Being part of a start-up was hard work but incredibly rewarding and I credit that experience with preparing me for the leadership role I now have at New World Symphony. Here at NWS I lead an incredibly dedicated team of fundraisers and public relations professionals that are responsible for raising the funds to support the symphony’s operations and grow its endowment as well as for telling our story to the media and to our constituents and donors. It is very fulfilling supporting the development of the NWS Fellows, young musicians in transition from post-graduate studies to professional work in orchestras and ensembles around the world. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
It feels a little sad to create a Miami itinerary in a moment when we’re all staying mostly at home for our own safety and that of others. But, when it’s safe to be fully out and about, a few of my favorite spots are: taking in a WALLCAST concert in SoundScape park, dancing the night away at Ball & Chain, grabbing a cocktail at the Broken Shaker, browsing the collection at the Rubell Museum, walking around Wynwood, taking a field trip to Homestead to buy orchids and visit Robert is Here, and enjoying sunset on the beach.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to dedicate my shoutout to my book club, an international group of women that comes together via Zoom once a week. Many of us are connected through our passion for Argentine tango but we came together to create a space to self-educate and discuss racial injustice. We are just wrapping up our discussion of Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning and are soon to begin the Autobiography of Malcolm X. I’m so grateful to these women for the open an honest conversations we have shared and am inspired by each of their commitments to combating racism.
Photo of Maureen O’Brien and Joshua Robison dancing on stage at NWS gala, please credit: Kristin Pulito Photo of Maureen O’Brien with Carlos Barahona at NWS gala, please credit: Manny Hernandez