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Turning Forty and Blazing Your Own Path, Mom Edition
Episode 914th June 2022 • Forty Drinks: The Podcast About Turning 40 • Stephanie McLaughlin
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Turning Forty and Blazing Your Own Path, Mom Edition

Melissa Llarena stepped off the corporate track and became an entrepreneur after becoming a mom and not being able to find adequate childcare. She doesn’t feel like a “pure working mom,” but she doesn’t feel like a stay-at-home mom, either. This “in between” status means she’s carving out her own path, which requires energy to create the path, in addition to simply walking it. If there’s any “crisis” to Melissa’s midlife, it’s more answering the question: am I going to do what I thought I was meant to do? Now that she’s in her forties - and after a reflective exercise with Post-It Notes that you’ll have to listen to understand - she has given herself the permission to execute on who she’s always been.

Guest Bio

Melissa Llarena is a high-performance coach to moms who have chosen the path of entrepreneurship as their best option for being both a fully present parent and an ambitious woman. She is also the host of her own podcast called An Interview With Melissa Llarena, where Melissa helps you go from imagining to living your best life.

In her podcast, you will learn how to believe in yourself, unleash your biggest potential, leave perfectionism behind, and build a fulfilling life. Melissa believes moms deserve the best; here is a taste of some of her featured guests: entrepreneurs (Suzy Batiz, Beth Comstock), creators (GaryVee, James Altucher), world changers (David Meltzer, Asha Curran), beacons of hope (Raphael Rowe, Dr. Joel Fuhrman), and world-class storytellers (Cal Fussman, Jordan Harbinger).

Meanwhile, Melissa’s background includes a psychology degree from NYU, an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and she holds a Transformational Coaching Academy certificate based on Tony Robbins principles and Landmark Education insights. She is a native New Yorker who has lived/worked in Paris as well as London, and courageously relocated to Sydney, Australia with her family. Melissa is a mom to three boys; included in that mix are identical twins.

Celebrating Turning 40

Melissa turned 40 as an expat living in Sydney, Australia. To celebrate, she climbed the Harbour Bridge, even though she’s afraid of heights. An iconic tourist destination, the climb is safe, but scary. She was chasing the butterfly feeling in her stomach. She believes that her moments of greatest growth have been the ones when she’s got butterflies or big nerves. 

She asked herself: what can I do to celebrate turning 40 and up the ante that is in integrity with who I am or who I tell the world that I am? 

Melissa tells herself and the world that she is courageous. So climbing the Harbour Bridge became the idea that was bad-ass, kind of risky, but not crazy, that made that moment super memorable and was culturally relevant to where she was at the time.

But as epic as it was, while she was ascending creaky wooden plank stairs and looking at the cars parked below her, she wondered why she chose this particular celebration and not something more….comfortable. 

Mapping Out Where She’s Been

As she approached 40, Melissa started to map out her life, decade by decade, on Post-It notes stuck to her wall. Milestones each got a Post-It. 

In her 30’s, Melissa became a mom. She got into the labor room for her first-born and realized “I can't’ do this.” But what do you do at that point? You power through.  

After she had her son, she left corporate America because she didn’t have childcare she trusted. So she became an entrepreneur and started to build a business. That got a Post-It. 

Leaving corporate America came with trade-offs that she had to work through. She had to let go of the idea of having a dream house because that came with financial obligations that could only be met with the corporate job. 

Then she became pregnant with identical twins and, even though it was a single event, they each got their own Post-It. With no history of twins on either side of their family, they were pretty shocked to learn they were having twins. 

She launched a podcast - on a dare. She heard on the James Altucher podcast that Gary Vaynerchuk would appear on someone’s podcast if they launched after hearing that episode. Launching An Interview with Melissa Llarena in 2017 got a Post-It. 

As she reflected on her achievements through the years, she wondered what she could do to make her forties incredible. This is traditionally an income earning decade for people on the corporate track. But Melissa looks at the world a little differently. Instead of income earning, she wants to focus on impact making.  

She decided she wants to write a book based on the interviews she’s done on her podcast, which she’s working on now. She wants to go all in on being a mom. And she wants to coach moms who have been squeezed off the corporate track. She wants them to know that entrepreneurship is an option. 

The Business Feeds Her

Melissa is innately inquisitive, so examining her life via the Post-It exercise is something that’s in line with who she is. When the boys are at school, she’s always working on the business. Since she is central to the business, that self-examination is part of her building process. 

When you’re in a corporate position, you have a job title; you have some cache from the job or the company. It becomes part of your identity. Outside that framework, Melissa’s business feeds her need for significance. 

She doesn’t feel like a “pure working mom,” because she’s not held to someone else’s KPI’s and she doesn’t have to ask anyone for time off to take care of the kids. But she doesn’t feel like a stay-at-home mom, either. She says she’s in the middle of those two positions, making her “someone who still wants to contribute her talents and up-level her skills and has to learn a lot about herself in order to grow.”

Her introspective nature comes from being raised by a mom who suffers from manic depression. She’s been in or around therapy for a long time, and that makes someone reflective. And that’s what she brings to her coaching practice. 

Midlife Crisis

Melissa remembers her mom turning 43 more than 40, because her sister was born when her mom was 43. And she recalls that her mom was probably more concerned about her weight than her age. She wanted to keep up her appearance. And she probably wasn’t thinking about unleashing her potential, as Melissa is. 

If there’s any “crisis” to Melissa’s midlife, it’s more answering the question: am I going to do what I thought I was meant to do? 

She has an MBA from one of the top business schools in the country, which comes with expectations. Just being in that class, she was surrounded by people doing incredible things. Sitting there, she thought of all the things she should have or have done by the time she was 40. 

So now she’s in a funny situation where many of her peers are on that corporate track. They’re cranking through their income-earning years. And Melissa is “in between” working and staying at home, which means she’s carving out her own path. And carving your own path requires energy to create the path, in addition to simply walking it, that perhaps those on the corporate track don’t have to expend. 

So as she faced her “shoulds,” Melissa was grateful for her Post-It exercise and how that illustrated the entire arc of her life, and all her accomplishments. Sometimes we forget all that we have done and accomplished. When the “shoulds” set in, that picture can remind us of all that we have done, because we forget; we even forget the really hard things we’ve done. 

One of the things entrepreneurs are familiar with is uncertainty. But if you have figured out a path or approach to navigate uncertainty in another situation, you can apply similar tools and tactics anytime you face uncertainty. 

A Detour

Melissa and her family moved to Australia before the pandemic hit, and just a couple months before the wildfires that ravaged that continent in 2019 and 2020 - the worst in recorded history. Looking out the window of their home in Sydney, the skies were bright orange, like something out of a movie. She and her husband were second-guessing their decision to move, wondering if they had made a mistake. 

It got so bad that it was difficult to breathe, right in the middle of the city. So they made the decision to move their family 11 hours south to Melbourne, where they set up shop for a few months until it was safe to go back to Sydney. 

Melissa believes that if she hadn’t had the experience of carving out her own path, and figuring out all the resources she needs to do that, this quick decision to move may have gone very differently. Figuring out how to relocate in a foreign country is enough like building your own business and carving your own path that she was able to pull it off. 

They returned to Sydney just in time for the pandemic to hit but she was grateful that they had left Melbourne in time to avoid among the longest of international lockdowns. 

What Life Experiences Can Help Me Carve Out a Path for My 40s? 

She asks: “What are all the tools that I've been able to gather in my life experiences that can help me carve out my path for my forties?”

Melissa says that reflection and looking backwards is the only way to make sense of life. If you take the time to process and identify what worked and what didn’t, and what tools you can carry forward, you have the opportunity to reimagine what the present and future could look like. 

She’s learned through building her business that it’s necessary to experiment in order to build anything. 

She also committed to following her intuition and her integrity in her 40’s, which she didn’t do in her 30’s. She figured that since she had an MBA, she had to do “MBA things.” But now, she’s committed to listening to her intuition and trusting herself more. And learning from all the introspection and reflection she does. And asking the hard questions - and answering them, too.  

Melissa says that now that she’s in her forties, she gave herself the permission to execute on who she’s always been.

The Forty Drinks Podcast is produced and presented by Savoir Faire

Marketing/Communications

Additional Resources: Podcast: An Interview with Melissa Llarena

Tell me a fantastic “forty story.”

Transcripts

Stephanie: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for joining me on the 40 drinks podcast.

Melissa: Hello, Stephanie, I am excited about this. I mean, I've been wanting to talk about the age of 40, so this is like such a treat.

Stephanie: Yes. And, I am a little amazed that you and I are on opposite sides of the planet. You're in Australia. You're in Sydney, right?

Melissa: Yes, I am.

Stephanie: And I am based in Manchester, New Hampshire. So pretty much opposite sides of the planet. Although the planet becomes a very, very small world because you have connections to New Hampshire, don't you?

Melissa: Yes, I do. Hanover in the house over here. I know. Right. It's kinda like, it's weird to say that. Usually people say like Queens in the house, Brooklyn, but no, we're going to Hanover because that is where Dartmouth is.

Melissa: And I spent two highly stressed out years, pursuing my MBA at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in Hanover. So I, I love all that Hanover represents minus the blizzard cold. Like that is something I would have swapped, but, uh, but it was an amazing experience. And Manchester is also the place where my husband first did a marathon, which was like killer on the calves, but anyhow, it was amazing.

Stephanie: Well, I got to tell you, even those of us who live here would trade the blizzards.

Melissa: I know. I know. And it's funny when I was going to Tuck, I, I just didn't know because I am a New Yorker. And so for me, like the tri-state area was very like defined, right.

Melissa: It was like New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania. New Jersey. And when I heard about New Hampshire and yeah, literally I had to hear about New Hampshire, being a born and bred New Yorker, and my parents as well. It's not like I'm from really anywhere else. Um, when I heard about New Hampshire, I had to ask that question.

Melissa: I was like, how does one get to New Hampshire as in, like, how does that become your home? And then I was like, oh my gosh. So like, this is like the tri-state area sorta kinda, if you work in Boston. And then it made sense to me .Otherwise I just couldn't figure it out, which is so ridiculous, but it's the God's honest truth. So the truth.

Stephanie: It's funny too, because I am a third generation native on my mother's side. So, um, I was born in Manchester. My mother was born in Manchester and her mother was born in Manchester. So I have got some deep honkin' roots over here.

Melissa: Wow. That is so outstanding. As context I interviewed the New Hampshire, a state Senator, , Martha Hennessy, on my podcast "An Interview with Melissa Llarena".

Melissa: So New Hampshire is well, well reflected in my life. And I flooded her home when I was on School Street in Hanover, but that's for another day.

Stephanie: Okay. All right. I'll make you tell me that story later, but today we're here to talk about turning 40. And as a born and bred New Yorker and a short time New Hampshire resident, you turned 40 in Sydney, Australia.

Melissa: I did. I mean, I wanted it to be epic, but I don't think that I anticipated literally celebrating it while climbing the Harbour Bridge. It's the bridge everybody sees when it's New Years, you know, and Australia then becomes the first experience or one of the first to experience the New Years. So I, I opted to do something epic and I remember, you know, so many people they're like, oh, let's do a marathon when I'm 40. Or let's like, I don't know. I don't even know the alternative because I haven't seen a lot of like muscle competition stuff with our group, but marathon seems to be the thing. And I was like, I don't want to run like at all, ever in any way, shape or form, but I am afraid of heights. And this was before the pandemic.

Melissa: So it was an option and this is also a tourist thing. So I want to be super clear. This was not like a death wish. This was not like, okay, I'm going to go and climb this bridge that no one can climb. People like David Hasselhoff climbed it. Like you have all these celebrity pictures as you're waiting in the line or the queue as they say here.

Melissa: And so I would say it was a definite safe climb, but it was scary. And I did it by myself and I was not by myself. There was a crew, but like, you know, my family was not with me. My husband was like not interested. And so it was like my thing, that was my 40th yeah.

Stephanie: I'm with you on both accounts. I, I won't even run if I'm being chased and, I'm also afraid of heights, so I cannot even fathom why you would choose to, I mean, other than it's beautiful and iconic, the bridge. Why would you choose to celebrate your birthday by facing death?

Melissa: Yeah. So, I mean, if you're not really alive, right? Like if you don't actually almost experience it like a mini death. And I think about the gym for me as a mini death every day, um, it's like, were you even here? And so for me, it was kind of like a butterfly feeling in my tummy that I was chasing, which is super weird. I have always felt that my moments of greatest growth have been the ones when I have been either, and this is so crude, but I'm going to say it running to the toilet because my stomach is just doing a number on me, cause I'm super nervous about like a talk I'm giving or whatever. Or, that butterflies in the stomach feeling. Right. And so for me, it's kind of like, okay, what can I do to up the ante, as it relates to turning 40, that is in integrity with who I am or tell the world that I am.

Melissa: And I tell the world, and I tell myself every day, that I am courageous. And so it's kind of like what would be something that's like, bad-ass, kind of risky, but not crazy, that I could do that's going to make that moment super, super memorable, and also like culturally relevant to where I am. I dunno why that became such a thing in my mind, but I was a bit obsessed about that.

Melissa: I was like, well, I'm in Australia, let me really figure out how to make this part of my story. And so that's why I would say, you know, the, the bridge was important to me and I would say, yeah, it was like, this is as close as I'm going to get to a marathon, of which I have no interest in ever doing. To your point, which I just want to give you the side note.

Melissa: If you don't even run, if you're being chased after then I suggest you do not go to New York. Stay in Manchester, please. It's safer there, but, um, should you feel inspired to run if you're being chased then? Yeah, the world is your oyster. So it was it was an epic thing and you know, what's the scariest part?

Melissa: You have this bridge that looks like a coat hanger. So for those of us who are not familiar with the Harbour Bridge, we don't know that they also call it in a very loving fashion, a coat hanger bridge. So it does kind of resemble that. Ultimately you're walking and there are actual steps.

Melissa: So it's not like this like rickety sort of thing. However, As you are walking onto the bridge, there are literally wooden planks, okay. Wooden planks. There are metal handrails that you're holding onto and there's no, like there's nothing connecting the handrail to the plank. So you're holding on to this.

Melissa: You do have some sort of, uh, apparatus on you. I don't know if I'm going to call it like a harness, but you have something that you could technically hang from if you fall, but the planks? The walking the planks? First of all, the symbolism for me was just like, I don't want to walk a plank. Right. But that's step one.

Melissa: Step two is literally, it was like creaking. And I was like looking down at cars that were parked and you're just like, oh my God, like, what did I just get myself into? And I'm sure other people who have turned 40, who have decided to make it epic, have probably thought the same thing. Like, why am I running this marathon?

Melissa: Like, why am I going on this juice diet? Like, why am I relocating to wherever? That wasn't the plan. Originally, I wanted to go to Croatia and eat some seafood. That was the thinking, but I was in Australia. So, so I made it work.

Stephanie: I going to tell you right now, I will have to look up, uh, the height of the Sydney bridge.

Stephanie: When I turned 40, uh, we went to Paris. When we did the Eiffel Tower, I gotta tell ya my, fear of heights. I freaked out on the Eiffel Tower and that was all, um, elevators. So I cannot imagine. I am so impressed and in awe. You're exactly right to call it a totally bad-ass. Um, so talk about facing your fears and, going for it. I, I love that. That's a really wonderful celebration.

Stephanie: But tell me were there larger things at play for you in and around turning 40? I'm always curious about the transitions that we go through sometime in our late thirties, through our early forties. It feels like those are really big years for people and you know, all kinds of crazy things can happen and life can turn, whether it's on a dime, or whether it takes two or three years and all of a sudden you have a new life. So I'm curious what kind of things you were facing in your late thirties and around the time you turned 40, that, that sort of fall in line with that kind of idea.

Melissa: So it's interesting because what comes to mind for me is how I was literally mapping out. So I was using post-it notes and I put the post-it notes on my wall and I was just mapping out like my decades.

Melissa: Right. So obviously like zero to 10 is a little hazy, but beyond that, I was able to kind of figure out like, what were like the turning points of my life, the milestones, the things that I'm most proud of. And for me, what I did was, I was like, okay, so here are. Thirties. And so my thirties comprised of becoming a mom and it was like a complete, like, I don't even know what to call it.

Melissa: Like it's like someone smacks you in the face and then they just keep smacking in the face with water or something. So that's like the thirties, the entire thirties for me, because my first born. Um, I remember being in the hospital, not even knowing, like, is this labor? I was telling my husband, I was telling my husband this.

Melissa: Okay. I was telling my husband, this is this labor. Right. Everything happening in my body. And, and he's like trying to distract me, which you can't distract someone that's going through that. And I remember thinking to myself, okay, if it is labor, then I can't do this. It's like, where do you go from there?

. So I started my business in:

Melissa: My thinking at the time was okay. I want to leave corporate America because I don't have trusted childcare for my only son. And I remember when I made that choice. Early in my thirties, it was a choice that it, I mean, there was a lot involved with that. You know, in my mind, I also was letting go of the idea that I would want or have like a house, like a dream house, because in my mind, if I'm going to have a dream house, then I have to pull my own financial weight and then stay involved in corporate, move over, you know?

Melissa: All these dreams. So when I made that decision in my thirties, that was like the, the, the beginning, that was the beginning of the rest of my life as an entrepreneur. So that was what the thirties really reflected. It was like having a family and building a business. So literally you could imagine post-it notes.

Melissa: I was like, I was like, my first born son was like one post-it note. You know what I mean? And then of course, to my extreme shock, I became pregnant with identical twins. And it was like, yeah. So I was like, that's worthy of a milestone and a half. Right. So they, they each got their post-it note.

Stephanie: Good, good.

Melissa: Yeah, they are as unique as, as anyone. So they each got a post-it note.

Melissa: I was like, okay, so we've got the building a family thing, kind of aligning up here. Again, straight up shock to the system point 35% odds that you become a identical twin parent. Never in generations on either side, do we have twins of any sorts.

Melissa: So, um, so that definitely shook things up from a business perspective. So my coaching practice always was online, you know? And so again, you know, that's the thirties, then one big highlight for me that kind of propelled me into my next step of my journey was that I wanted to launch a podcast. And so I have my own podcast and the reason I launched it was a dare.

Melissa: So my husband caught me in the kitchen making some rice and beans as I would make them often. And he was like, oh my God. I just heard on the James Altucher podcast that Gary Vaynerchuk would appear on someone's podcast if they launched it due to that episode. Oh, and right. And it's kind of like, what else do I have to do, but be a mom to three kids and like build a business.

are. I launched my podcast in:

Melissa: And this is what it took. It took a hundred days of writing, a thousand words every single day on medium.com of my podcast journey. Plus it took arranging childcare, to go to the standup comedy club that belongs to James Altucher or at least did in New York City. It took all that. So that was the. Um, it was still just one post-it note.

Melissa: And right now, maybe that was like a poor reflection of the intensity of the moment, but it was its own post-it note. Right. So this is my thirties. So in my thirties I was like, okay, wow. It was pretty killer year. Like, you know, I built a family in a way, you know, two. So there was like total buy one, get one free situation with my twins.

Melissa: Then I got, you know, Gary V on my podcast, James Altucher on my podcast. So then like, oh my God, how can I get into my forties and make them sound and feel incredible. Like at this point, at least for me. As a mom who has a business and has had it for the duration of her thirties. You know, I was like, what can I do?

Melissa: What can I do now? Like, is this the decade, my forties, is this a decade where a I'm supposed to bring in the most income humanly possible? Like, I know if you're working in corporate, like that's a thing it's like your income earning years are your forties. Right. And so for me, I look at the world very differently.

Melissa: It's kind of like, is it my income earning or my impact making, right. So for me, that was an important piece of the puzzle. Plus it also freed me up because my forties, I thought to myself, well, surely I'm not going to have any more kids, for me personally, even though my mom had my sister at 43, but I'm not going for that.

Melissa: And in my forties, I wouldn't have to, not that I had to, but I decided to nurse anybody, which made a big difference in my life and what I could do in my business. So then I just thought, I was like, well, okay, 40, how can I start it off with a bang? This was before the pandemic, by the way. Yep. So it seems like I got some global support when it came to that and I'll, I'll speak to that in a bit.

Melissa: But then on top of that, I was like, I really want to write a book. I really want to write a book and that plays into the podcast because now as I am writing my book now in my forties, um, the chapters are based on the podcast interviews that I've done. And so there's definitely, a natural progression in terms of the content that I have, but there's been an evolution as well.

Melissa: So it's kind of funny because my thirties, I spent becoming a mom and I also didn't necessarily outright coach moms. And now my forties, I want to like go all in on being a mom and coaching moms who have been squeezed out of corporate. Like, I feel like they've been totally, the rug has been pulled out from underneath them.

Melissa: And it's like, well, now what? And guess what? Entrepreneurship is an option. And here's how I've been doing it the last 10 years. So my forties, like I said, it's like starting it out, you know, with a bang and then we get into worldwide crises and situations. But, um, that's been my focus. So now I'm writing the book and this is where I'm at.

Melissa: And now we're going back to the states too. We're moving to Austin, Texas. Yeah.

Stephanie: Wow. Wow. What brings you back to the states?

Melissa: My husband. I will say that over and over, because this is like pretty, pretty cool. Like the beaches. I think there's like 70 something beaches around here. The weather's amazing. The cliffs are stunning and the lifestyle is more laid back.

Melissa: Granted I'm comparing it to New York. I understand that Austin will be more laid back than New York. So I do look forward to that and no snow. Notice there's a pattern. So Austin. We look forward to that, but I think it's, it's also that, you know, from a Aussie perspective, our visa just didn't translate into like permanent resident.

Melissa: And so it's kind of like, well, where do you want to go next, such that your kids can have the best opportunities and be around technology and all that's happening in, in the U S and Austin seems to be the right place.

Stephanie: Wow. That's amazing. I'm very curious about your post-it notes. Was that exercise uncommon for you when you were looking at 40? Or is, is that level of introspection something you, are known for or have done regularly through the years? I mean, was that, was that specific to that period in time or is that just a part of who you are?

Melissa: It's a part of who I am. I'm very inquisitive. And I would say that, you know, if I'm going to be by myself at home and my boys are at school, I'm always working on my business.

Melissa: But part and central to the business is me. Like I am so important to my business because I am a solo preneur and my business has to have, you know, all the flexibility possible and also has to give me like a, uh, it has to feed into my need for significance. You know, so when you're in a corporate setting and you have a job title, you derive some significance from that. That's part of your identity.

Melissa: For me, I don't quite feel like a pure working mom in the sense that I'm not going to be, you know, held against like someone else's KPIs and have to go and be on someone else's schedule. And I surely never have to ask someone and I feel so grateful. You know, I never have to ask someone. Can I take off so I could take care of my sick child? And that's a big deal.

Melissa: I know my mom experienced that a lot, being a single mom to me, but, um, I don't feel like a stay at home mom either. And so I'm somewhere in the middle and the person who's in the middle is someone who still wants to contribute her talents and up-level her skills and has to learn a lot about herself in order to grow.

Melissa: And so my reflective nature comes from the fact that I was raised by a mom that has manic depression. And so she was always in and around therapy and that's very reflective. And being her daughter, I've had to do my own inner work. So that was always a part of me. And that's the way that I coach a lot of people and they find it surprising because when you're in it, when you're going from meeting A to B to C to whatever, you lose sight of the fact that there's an inner game that needs to be won as well, right? It's not just like the dashboard. It's not just whatever financial metrics of success. There's a lot that happens behind the scenes, under the hood of your head, I guess. Right. That needs to be, you need to be made aware of.

Melissa: Right. And that's, that's also why we tend to admire a lot of the leaders out there because they have a lot of self-awareness. They know their strengths and weaknesses. So for me, long answer to your question, it's always been a part of me. So when I decided to think about what I want for this next chapter of my life, I decided to just up the ante, right?

Melissa: So in the past it may have been like a random notebook and I'm just writing things out, but I was. I'm going to turn 40. This deserves post-it notes of every color under the sky. Yeah.

Stephanie: And seeing the entire arc at once versus like you say, in a notebook, it's usually just sort of, you know, smaller impressions or thoughts.

Stephanie: Do you remember your mom turning 40?

Melissa: We didn't celebrate in any sort of way, a hundred percent. There were no post-it notes to be had anywhere. For sure. You know, her turning 40 versus me it's night and day. I would say for me, what's interesting is turning 43 because at 43 she had my sister and it was, yeah.

Melissa: And I'm just like, no. Thank you. I'm not, I'm not here for that. I'm not here for that. So, so that age, I remember more than when she turned 40, but I feel like her turning 40. I just remember her always thinking about, more about like her weight than her age. Like that was more top of mind for her, you know, and like looking cute.

Melissa: And it was, you know, a time where like the eighties was still a little bit alive in people that had their heyday in the eighties, but it was like not the eighties. I think it was the nineties already, early nineties. So I remember the hair, the blowouts. I remember that like keeping up her appearance in her forties and her weight being the thing.

Melissa: Not so much like how she could like unleash her potential. That was not top of her mind.

Stephanie: So no thoughts towards that sort of midlife crisis kind of thing. Um, for either of you really.

Melissa: Yeah, I would say, well, you know, given my mom's mental illness, I would say she had several mini crisis before the midlife point.

Melissa: So that was almost like not even a big, like blip on her radar, to be honest. But for me, it's not a crisis in the sense that now I'm 40. Now I'm getting old. The crisis is this though. So there is a crisis it's like this mini little crisis that maybe a lot of people don't speak about. And it's this one kind of like, well, am I actually gonna do what I thought I was meant to do?

Melissa: You know, it's like, when you think about individuals who have all this education, And the way that I say this, I say this in a way that my mom would say, it's like, you have a piece of paper. You know, you have all this education, there's all these expectations. And I just remember, for example, bringing it to Hanover, New Hampshire and sitting in a big auditorium at Tuck.

Melissa: I remember being told, amongst you there are people who have done these incredible things. Right. So insert, you know, Olympian. Insert, business builder. Insert, whatever sort of amazing thing you could imagine. And so you think to yourself, and this was before having children, you think to yourself that, okay. So that means that when I'm 40, as an example, I should have A, B or C.

Melissa: And I know that you interviewed someone who had that as a main topic, right? She should, she should. She should. And we all have different shoulds, for sure. And ultimately, you know, when I thought about my peers, a lot of my peers at this point right now, as I mentioned, it's like their income earning years, they're in corporate settings and they have decided to continue down a path that had kind of already been carved out for them, you know?

Melissa: And so it's kind of like, it's a funny situation to be in where at least for me feeling like a mom who's in between working and stay at home. For me, it's kind of like, well, what does my path get to be? And I also have to acknowledge that because I'm deciding on carving out my own path, that too takes energy, not just the actual walking of the path.

Melissa: And so it's like, do I feel bad? Like I haven't, you know, achieved all that I wanted to achieve. Like, I didn't anticipate, for example, having twins the second time around. Like that was like a real, real, like, I don't know, mental milkshake of sorts, you know? Like it, it kind of. It didn't put a pep in my step, but it certainly made me trip a bit.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Melissa: When it came to ambitions, you know, my dreams of building business. So I would say that that was like the mini crisis. The mini crisis is okay. I'm going to turn 40 isn't this, when I'm supposed to have done all these incredible things, like there should be a lot that I'm looking at in terms of. I don't know if it's right to say in the rear view mirror, but there should be a lot of past experiences. Thankful to my post-it note is kind of funny how sometimes you forget. It's like, oh, wait a minute, I have done things. And then you just forget, even the hard things, which I think is crazy.

Stephanie: I don't think you should undersell, and you're not, but the energy it takes to craft your own path, that is just such a different mindset, everything.

Stephanie: And I know because I'm doing it as well. And I, followed, the, the sort of traditional pathways until I was in my, mid thirties. And then I, crafted my own path and, and you're right when you're making it up yourself, there's so much potential and opportunity, but there's also so much pressure.

Stephanie: And most of it is you, you put on yourself, but then you try to put over that a filter of what corporate life would look like, or what you should look like compared to corporate. It's it's mind boggling, how, we make forward progress. I think you nailed it earlier when you said it, it really does take, you know, amazing amounts of courage to do that.

Melissa: Yeah, it does. And I think that, I mean, it's uncertainty. It's uncertainty at its best. And so it's interesting though, because then when certain situations pop up in your life, if you have already figured out like your path to get through or navigate uncertainty based on another situation, you can really reapply similar tools and tactics.

Melissa: So for me, I was alluding to earlier the fact that, you know, we had the pandemic and obviously a lot of things had to be reconsidered. A mom who has a business, but doesn't quite feel like a working mom in the purest form. What's interesting in Australia. And this is different. Something that maybe listeners weren't aware of, or maybe you saw Ellen Degeneres feature Australia on fire. But we had something called the wildfires here.

Melissa: They really call it the Bush fires, but I won't go Australia and all, you I'll keep it as the wildfires. And the wildfires just to give you perspective. So Stephanie, right now in back of me, you see like an orange backdrop. What was happening on a given Wednesday, let's say outside of my windows, I looked like I was living in Mars.

Melissa: The skies were as orange as my backdrop and I was so scared. I was so scared. This was before the pandemic. And my husband, me and my three sons had gotten here, I think it was a couple of months in, from the U S to here. So that was the point precisely the point where we were thinking to ourselves, like, did we make a mistake?

Melissa: We started questioning ourselves, doubting ourselves. Like, did we make a mistake? Did we like come to Australia to the demise of our family? Like, is this like a bad thing?

Melissa: And we had to decide at that moment, again, going back to the point of courage and resilience and understanding what's worked for you in the past and being able to do it again. So like rinse, repeat as they say. So we had to decide on that moment. We're like, okay, it's hard to breathe here. It was literally hard to breathe in the middle of an urban center, which is super, like, I never thought I had to be grateful for fresh air.

Melissa: And that sounds so naive, but I just never considered it. And I'm from New York too, which you don't get fresh air, but it was just, I can never considered it. Point of the matter we had to make a, a game time decision. We had to think to ourselves, okay, we need to breathe. We need to be somewhere safe. We're in Sydney, Australia.

Melissa: So we decided to hop in the car and drive about 11 hours to Melbourne. And in Melbourne, you could breathe. And I remember thinking to myself, if I didn't have the training in the past to, you know, carve my own path, figure out all the resources that I needed, know how to even relocate from one part of the world to the next, then this reality of having to drive 11 hours to Melbourne, where I had never been, would have been so scary.

Melissa: And I may have been like frozen, totally frozen. All of that to say a lot of times, you know, when you go through life experiences, be it at the beginning of your forties, or even in your thirties. You have to take lessons from these experiences. And to your point earlier, because I personally am very reflective and I like to think about like, what's worked for me.

Melissa: That helped me in that moment be able to make a game time decision and, and go with it, with the bravest face I could possibly have, you know? And so we went to Melbourne, we went to Melbourne and we were there for, I don't remember if it was like three months or a month or whatever. And then this is the really weird part.

Melissa: And then when we decided to return to Sydney, once the air cleared, literally that's when the pandemic hit. And all the lockdowns that Melbourne specifically has been known for started up. So we avoided that, but Sydney had its own lockdowns, but we avoided the Melbourne because that's the place in the world that had the longest lockdowns actually Melbourne.

Melissa: So we avoided that. All of that to say, If you're considering how to think about your forties, definitely use the post-it notes and just think to yourself. Okay. What are all the tools that I've been able to gather in my life experiences that can help me carve out my path for my forties?

Stephanie: Yeah. I didn't know until I started my own business that I was so risk tolerant. Um, I never would've, uh, I would've thought myself adventurous because I was always kind of out, you know, doing crazy things. And I, I traveled the world a lot in my twenties and thirties. Um, but I never would have considered myself necessarily courageous. Adventurous to me was different, even though they there's a lot of shades that overlap those two.

Stephanie: Um, but the risk, uh, kind of blew my mind because once I went out on my own, I realized there was no safety net and I was kind of okay with that where I was in my life. I was single, I had purchased a condo, so I did have some bills, but, you know, they were manageable enough that, you know, freelance work took care of them until I really realized that I was going to go all in, on, on, on starting my marketing agency.

Stephanie: I think, I was maybe 35 when I started my business. So, you know, it wasn't until my, late thirties or 40 that I looked back again in that rear view and said, huh, look at, look at how much risk I'm okay with. Some of those things for me in my life I've always learned by looking in the rear view.

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, that's the only way to make sense of life. Right? Afterwards. Why not take the time to process, to identify what, what has worked, what hasn't worked, what you want to bring forth with you. I know a lot of people, and this might be like old language, but I'm gonna use it, you know, with the quote unquote new normal, it's kind of like, well, what if you didn't like the normal, you know, like, should you just take the pieces that worked for you?

Melissa: And then re-imagine, what's possible ahead of you. I think there's an opportunity there. And I think this fear of change or fear of making a mistake. That's a big one. Fear of making a mistake. It's interesting. Cause it's like the same situation could happen to like 10 people and not everyone is going to see it as a mistake.

Stephanie: Right.

Melissa: Which I find super subjective.

Stephanie: Oh, for sure. Right. And for me. I think a lot of my mistakes have led to good things along the way. Right? You have to make some, some sideways choices in order to, it's almost like playing chess, right? You sometimes you have to move sideways in order to move forward.

Stephanie: And mistakes, a lot of times, if you're willing to look inward can be very educational. Can be really helpful in, in figuring out what you don't want, which helps narrow down the worlds to the things that maybe you do want.

Melissa: Yeah, I know. I know. And I think what, what I have learned, I dunno why it's taken me like a decade, but it's okay. I guess I'm a slow learner from that perspective, is that as an entrepreneur or business owner, it's kind of crazy, but it's like, that is almost like. That's necessary in order to build anything like you cannot not experiment.

Melissa: You cannot not test. Like, this is actually a place where if you don't experiment and you don't put out things that might not work, like you will suffer actually for not putting yourself out there and being open to mistakes and, and, and being open to criticism. It's it's really wacky. And I think it's a very different way of thinking about things.

Melissa: Cause I know people that have full-time jobs, um, in corporations around the world. You know, companies say, quote unquote, yeah, we want risk-takers and all that good stuff. But unless I see some like money being put to that particular thing and a performance evaluation, I don't believe it. So let's just be really honest.

Melissa: They want people that have made mistakes. Yeah. But on someone else's dime, right. So previous employers, et cetera. They don't want to pay for your mistakes. Um, although some of them say they will . So I think, I think that's one piece of the puzzle. And I think if I think about my forties specifically versus my thirties, you know, I think that my thirties were about being yes, a little bit risky, but also risk adverse because my clients were always in corporations. And my thinking was, should I ever have to go back, at least I know this person and that person and the other. And that was my thinking. That was my drive. And so now my forties, I would say, yeah, I'm a little more like unhinged.

Melissa: I'm like, you know what, at this point, I, I can't take it serious. Like if someone's going to interview me for real, for real, for a job, like I gotta be really honest. I know a little too much of what goes on behind the scenes and probably be chuckling inside. So at this point I've just decided, you know what? No. I really want to talk to moms and keep it real and talk about things that are entrepreneurial and things that are hard and you know, how can we figure this all out together? And, I'm not necessarily putting myself out of an entire career for the rest of my life. Like I know what needs to be said and to whom and all that good stuff, but I need to be in integrity.

t year was it? I think it was:

Melissa: I forgot I was a woman. And I need to actually listen to that thing, that inner knowing. Right. So if I do all this self-reflection, but then I do nothing with it. It's like, well, why did I just like ask myself these deep questions and then do nothing with the answers? And that's my forties, my forties is about intuition and doing things that are in integrity with what I truly believe in. That's my thing.

Stephanie: First of all, one comment about your clients in your thirties. To me, it sounds so safe to work with corporate clients, right. Cause because you're still, like you say, sort of connected to the, to the corporate world and you're, you're touching, you're tangential to the corporate world.

Stephanie: You've got that emergency, uh, exit right there. Yeah. But it also sounds like, and this is something that I'm, I'm seeing and reading and hearing is becoming, is becoming really consistent. It sounds like you're really starting to trust yourself more.

Melissa: Isn't that crazy

Stephanie: I love the way you said, I had an MBA, so I had to do MBA things. Who was it that determined what the MBA things were that you did, and what path you followed? And "should" by another name is MBA things. And now here you are taking what you learned during a wonderful, experience in business school and using it in ways that are more authentic to you and to the people that you're trying to serve. And I love the word integrity.

Melissa: It's important. I think it also comes across as just more honest. Every single person that I've spoken to that has been my client that has been in a corporate setting, it's almost like they get to just like, take a big breath out, like a sigh of relief, you know, when they talk to me and they just told me like, truly, truly what they want. You know, and, and it's, it's hardly ever, sorry to break it to the world, but it's hardly ever, like, I want that corner office with that job title. Cool. And that money blah-blah-blah. They might want their bonuses to like, be like their parachute. beyond that, it's usually like, I don't even know why I got myself into this.

Melissa: Now I have this big house I have to pay for. I don't even get to enjoy it. And, and my kids are, you know, I hardly know them other than like maybe reading a book at night, maybe. Right. And, and it's interesting because it's like, I mean there's crazier, crazier, things have been said, but something I will say is that if that's what it's costing you to upkeep or keep up the quality of life that you have, then why not sell the house?

Melissa: Why not move to a different neighborhood? Why not? Because, you know, for all the MBA education that we, that we have people that are listening, who have the MBAs, it's like, you got an income statement and there's like two parts of it. It's not just the revenue, but there's also the cost side. So we could do some damage in a good way.

Melissa: That's going to lift the burden, you know, from the other side of that equation. And so really considering, why you have that house. Why you have that zip code, why you have that car, is gonna take you to a place where you can make some tough choices. So for me, when I let go of working in corporate, I really did sit with that thought.

Melissa: I was like, well, this means I will not have a house. And then I had to ask myself, well, wait a minute. Here I am. Ms. Nomad. Did I ever really want a house? You know, last I realize I become obsessively clean if I have a house and that's not a fun way to spend my days. So then you got to do that. So all of it is about being re you know, introspective for sure.

Melissa: And then also having a good appreciation for the fact that whatever it is that you've been sold, whatever bag of goods, you could take it back in your forties.

Melissa: Right, right. You do not have to keep the bag of goods. You can donate those bag of goods straight back to Goodwill .

Melissa: 100% or bad will in this case. Yes.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. A lot of these pathways, these, traditional and, quote unquote normal pathways, they work for a lot of people and that's great. And then there's a lot of people in, in those pathways it doesn't work so well, but like you said, they're sort of stuck in them for whatever reasons, whether it's, upkeep of, of lifestyle or whether it's, golden handcuffs or, or just not having the wherewithal, whether it be the introspection piece or the courage piece to, to break out.

Stephanie: Being out here without, without a plan, not a plan, uh, with, without a template, um, to follow is, is a, is a whole different world, you know, it's, um, it's, it's thrilling because you could sort of do whatever you want, but it's also terrifying because it's all up to you to make it up.

Melissa: Extreme ownership for sure.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. And do you find any of that? Do you ever get moments of that fear of, oh my God, what am I doing? Or am I doing it right? Or do you do, do those moments creep up on you?

So I've been doing this since:

Melissa: So in business school, like I wanted to study abroad and when I studied abroad, I unlike my peers also like worked abroad as well. So I worked at Ogilvy and Mather in Paris while I was also living abroad. That was different. In business school, I was the one that created my own independent project as a class.

Melissa: It's like calling all these companies that worked with China and figuring out how to like localize versus glocalize and all these other words, you know, when it came to products and services. So I've always been imaginative. And that is why I'm actually writing a book for moms on the use of our imagination to see the greatness in ourselves, because we tend to see it in everyone else.

Melissa: And I think that if we re-imagined what is possible for us that that's like, step one. Right? And then of course it's having the courage to literally create, make or build in a way that the outside world will see what you have imagined, is the other side of the coin. And so that's, that's why I'm writing a book on this, because this is just, it's been part of who I, who I am, you know, before turning 40.

Melissa: Now that I'm in my forties, I think I gave myself the permission to actually execute on who I've always been.

Stephanie: And that sums it up right there. That, that literally it sums it up in a sentence. What I'm looking for and in the, the curiosity I have around this topic. I spoke to another woman who, who said, she's basically turning back to all the things she loved when she was a kid, you know, um, that had gone away.

Stephanie: But why did they go away? Did they ever go away? Why did she ever think she grew out of them? Um, so tell me about your book. Is it, are you just writing now? Is there a launch date? Is there, uh, is there anything you can tell us about the book.

Melissa: Yeah. So, I would love people to join me like on a wait list and I'm still creating the actual wait list, but for now, just go to Melissallarena.com/courage, and you'll get a playbook as a gift. And what that is going to do is it'll bring you into my community. And so once I have the book launch date, I definitely will announce it. Trust me it is not a secret but it is an unknown because just for perspective, I've been writing it since I put pen to paper on May 18th. And basically I wrote 200,000 words of which I trashed, and then I hired a developmental editor and now I'm at 80,000 new words.

Melissa: So that's where I am right now. I'm in draft numero UNO. So join me. And you will know exactly when I launch it. That's one. And the other thing is that yeah, I mean, that was part of the forties. That was, that has to be a post-it note. I mean, and I told my husband, I was like, should something happen, make sure that the book gets finished, but don't make me look like a fool, please, please.

Melissa: You know, don't look at my first, my first edited unedited version. But yeah, I would love people to follow me on the journey and on Instagram too. Um, I release, you know, some updates on this book, writing journey, and I think for people in their forties, I don't know why, but, um, maybe it's in your fifties, maybe when you're 50 that's maybe that's the thing.

Melissa: Right? So if in your forties you're supposed to do a marathon, maybe when you're 50 is supposed to write a book. So maybe I'm on track for that. I don't know.

too. You said you started in:

Melissa: So I love reaching out to people that are really, really hard to catch, I guess it is.

Melissa: Um, what I've been doing is following my very curious spirit, right? So it's a podcast for people who have never stopped asking questions. And my guests are the people who actually benefited from asking a lot of questions. So they've made an impact. And so my intention is to inspire any listener to also make an impact based on the lessons learned.

Melissa: So I've had these amazing people like Susie Batiz, the inventor of Poo-Pourri, self-made multimillionaire. I've had James Altucher, as I mentioned. I mean, I've had people that have done jail time and then, you know, were found not guilty and have Netflix shows. So I definitely run the gamut in terms of the guests that I bring on.

Melissa: But the one criteria is that they're open to being honest. I'm not for like super official conversation and what's most important to me is that there's something in it for the listener. So I would love listeners to "An Interview with Melissa Llarena," that's the name of it. And it's available everywhere. ITunes, you name it.

Melissa: I would love for anyone that listens to one of my podcast episodes to really feel like, okay, these are instructions. This is how I might want to carve out my path, you know, and take notes and then execute on one insight. One idea. That's why I'm here. Like it's so about, you know, making sure that people are doing things to implement these lessons that other people have worked so hard to learn that you could avoid making mistakes and learning yourself. Like, just copy them. Copy my guests. Copy me. Copy Stephanie. You know, like let's not make it so hard.

Stephanie: There's a lot of overlap between what you, what you're trying to do. And what I'm trying to do, except mine is really focused on that this sort of time between 35 and 45.

Stephanie: And you know, this transition and hopefully. As people are listening to these conversations and they're approaching 40, it doesn't feel so hard because there are other folks who've gone through it. And other folks who are sharing their experiences and, and, and opening up about their transition. So I really relate to, what you're doing as well.

Melissa: Thank you so much, Stephanie. This is awesome.

Stephanie: Melissa. This has been wonderful. I appreciate you joining me all the way from Australia. And, I look forward to listening to your podcast and I cannot wait to read the book.

Melissa: Oh my God. Yeah, me too. I can't wait to read my book. Geez, Louise.

Melissa: How many more words? Thank you so much, Stephanie. This has been a pleasure.

Stephanie: Likewise.

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