Written By: Brittany Bagnato
I have too many mugs. Many of you can probably relate. Even after purging my collection every so often, I still end up buying more mugs. Whether it’s from a targeted Instagram ad or the drinkware aisle in Marshall’s, I’m a sucker. Most of the mugs I purchase cost me under $10 – and come with a small side of dopamine at no additional charge! But the true value of the mug is what it brings into my life: memories and connection.
There is a Grinch mug I frequently use that reminds me of my dad. Thankfully, he’s still living and is a mere 10-minute drive from my home. I can’t recall where the mug was purchased, but it is the perfect coffee mug and has an image of the Grinch making his well-known smirk. That Grinch mug will forever remind me of my dad, and how he would walk around the house at Christmas time and quote lines from the movie or make references to his Grinch-like state. To put it simply: he is a pessimist-realist hybrid with a kind heart. I won’t be using that as his epitaph, but hopefully, it paints a clear picture. And every time I use that mug, whether it be tomorrow or in the future when he’s gone, I expect to have a happy but dull ache for my dad and the moments we’ve shared.
I also have a small assortment of Harry Potter mugs. Even in my 30s, Harry Potter is a prominent part of my day-to-day life. Judge all you want, but from the time I was in grade school and the popularity seemingly skyrocketed overnight, the series and its characters have held a special place in my heart. [I’ll take a moment to acknowledge the frustration that many others and I experience surrounding author JK Rowling’s transphobic commentary. If you can compartmentalize the series and the author’s missteps for a moment, let’s continue.]
So, this Harry Potter mug collection of mine includes about five mugs. One has the Ministry of Magic emblem on it, another is covered in the Marauder’s Map with the notorious “I solemnly swear I am up to no good” saying. And the one that tends to be my go-to is designed with the Hogwarts Crest and “Hogwarts Honor Student” written around it. This is the mug that sparks connections for me.
Before COVID, I had a couple of mugs that I kept at my work desk, and the Hogwarts Honor Student mug was one of them. I never drew attention to it. When you’re a 30-year-old woman working in a male-dominated field, it can feel uncomfortable to call attention to your passion for a “children’s” series. But one day as a colleague passed my desk, he said, “Hey Brit, I like Harry Potter too. Nice.” That sentence sparked a brief chat about which house we each belonged to, if we thought the movies did the books justice, etc.
One day he mentioned the movies and specials on HBO. I stated I didn’t subscribe to HBO with some context of being money conscious. Even though it was probably a mere $10 per month, I just didn’t see the value for myself. And that’s ok. But when we spoke about money and experiences, he once told me, “You can’t take it with you.” I think about that a lot. I’m rather thrifty, with some of that frugality being in my DNA (thanks Dad) and much of it stemming from a desperation to ensure I am financially independent. Should I somehow find myself in an unhealthy romantic relationship, I don’t want my finances as an inhibiting factor for removing myself from that situation. But, partially thanks to my unnamed fellow Harry Potter fan, I work to ensure I find a healthy balance between frugality and frivolity in my spending.
That same mug went on to spark at least three or four more conversations with colleagues in the future. One senior legal executive lived in London and told me she’d visited the set where they’d filmed all of the Harry Potter movies (cue my combination of child-like wonder and jealousy). Another colleague, a member of our talent acquisition team, joked around with me and shared a YouTube clip of how Harry Potter was just a rip-off of Star Wars. I was not amused. However, this jokester was one of the best business partners I had the pleasure of working with. He brought his full self to work, operated logically and collaboratively, and is an overall good human. Our time together taught me that the most solid of working relationships often occur when people talk about their upcoming wedding anniversary or that they’ve been planning to surprise the kids with a trip to Disney in the summer. This man is good at his job, but his job is only one part of him. While I feel confident that my connection with him would have occurred irrespective of my mug, it functioned as a catalyst.
One of my favorite Hogwarts mug experiences is connecting with a colleague who is on the quiet side. She has built a solid professional reputation for herself, and I greatly admire how she accomplished that while operating with both kindness and respect for others intact. We worked together for approximately six or so years before life took us in different professional directions. During that time, I learned a good bit about her. Despite no longer being colleagues, we keep in contact. When she went to Universal Studios on vacation, she mailed me a Hufflepuff mug. And after she had her second child, I mailed her a Harry Potter onesie for him, along with a Hogwarts blanket for her older son. I don’t know how well I would have gotten to know this woman if not for a simple mug, but I’m so grateful that I did. I have no doubt that her heart will remain solid gold.
My simple mugs have brought connections, which have evolved into a stronger sense of belonging, rapport, fulfillment, and—as I search for my next professional role—potentially one day an opportunity. Many of the positive outcomes that I attribute to my mugs arise from a willingness to be myself. To offer someone a chance to connect with me over a shared interest, to be vulnerable enough to risk being judged as a juvenile nerd, to reject an antiquated definition of what it means to be a professional, and to finally accept that I am a Hufflepuff and that is A-OK. After all, we Hufflepuffs are “just and loyal” and “unafraid of toil.”
So, please . . . wear your Hellfire Club shirt at the office summer picnic, drink from a Hogwarts mug during a Zoom call, and buy that Central Perk canvas bag you’ve been eyeing. And when you see someone doing the same, take a moment to comment. You might share a quick smile or laugh, but you also might form a more lasting connection. Life is a labyrinth, and we never know where we might end up. But following your true north will keep you on the right path.
Photo ©Sal61 via Canva.com
Meet the Author
Brittany Bagnato Brittany Bagnato is a Pittsburgh-based dog mom and mental health enthusiast. She fosters thru Paws Across Pittsburgh and manages their LinkedIn page. Brittany has spent the last 10+ years working in finance and is currently taking a pause to assess what is next for her professionally. Ideally, her next role will sit outside of finance and align more closely with her passions: dogs, mental health, writing, and gender equality.