How to Reawaken Your Imagination with Melissa Llarena: Podcast Episode #108
Kristin Revere chats with Melissa Llarena, author of Fertile Imagination: A Guide to Stretching Every Mom’s Superpower for Maximum Impact about how to reawaken your imagination!
This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am so excited to chat with Melissa Llarena today. Melissa is an imagination coach, consultant, seeker, contributor to Forbes Women articles, having garnered four million plus views, and the host of Unimaginable Wellness, the podcast for entrepreneurs, founders, and creators who happen to be moms. Melissa holds a psychology degree from NYU, an MBA from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, a Transformational Coaching Academy certificate, and is on the road to becoming a meditation practitioner. Melissa lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and three sons.
Thak you so much, Kristin! What a mouthful, but thank you! I think I’m an expert in tongue twisters, it seems, but thank you so much for this opportunity.
Yes, I am so happy to chat with you! We are both fellow Hey Mama members, so it’s great to connect. You have such an impressive background, and it seems like so many different interests.
Yes, Kristin, I would say I love a slough of things. For me, I think being someone who has a lot of knowledge around a variety of topics has actually helped me as a fellow podcaster, to be honest, Kristin. So it really helps with conversations and just having that rapport with anyone, including clients who come to us and share some intimate details and seek our honest opinions. I think having that variety of experiences is so helpful for anyone that’s even curious about this space, including a mom who’s listening right now.
It is interesting that oftentimes as mothers, our career paths tend to take a few little detours and changes. Did you want to work with and interview moms because of your own journey as a mother, or what led you to your focus on working with women, especially mothers?
It’s such an amazing question because you would think that this is like my coming out party. Like, oh, I’m a mom. I’ve been a mom for 12 years and in parallel, a coach and business owner. I launched my business, actually, with my firstborn in my Ergobaby, so on my chest in midtown Manhattan, and it all began with his diaper blowout on my prospective client’s wife.
Oh, no – oh, yes. I still got the sale.
You made it work.
Oh, yeah. Just like a mom, right? Whatever it takes. I think that’s such a phrase that resonates with any mom. For me, I would say that was the beginning of a pivot because I had worked prior to that in corporate. I was on the agency side, working at a design agency in Brooklyn, and before that, having pursued my MBA, the anticipation would have been that I would have been working for a Fortune 500 organization, which I had worked for prior. But there was this incongruence when I was at the design agency in Brooklyn and I had just had my first son. The incongruence was this: I was working on the car seat account, like the Graco baby car seat account, as an agency professional. And I was not – that was the choice I had to make, and I was not being a mom to my firstborn. So when I came back from maternity leave, the very first day, it just felt so out of sync with my heart. It was like, this is really weird. I’m here working on these advertising briefs and such for a brand that is supporting moms; meanwhile, I felt unsupported. So that was a cue for me to send in my resignation letter. This was totally pre-pandemic, pre-hybrid work opportunities. Yeah, Zoom existed, but it was just not common in an agency sort of setting. That was the moment that I just had to figure out what else would be more flexible.
Entrepreneurship, for me, has been more flexible, but there’s been some hiccups along the way.
So you moved across the country? When did that happen, the move to Austin from New York?
Well, I moved even across the world. This is the interesting bit, and I definitely share this story in the book that’s coming out, Fertile Imagination. I remember there’s been moments, and maybe other people can relate, where you look at it like a restaurant menu, and you’re anticipating what you’re going to order when you get there. And you spend some time making that decision. So I remember when we were living in Connecticut, actually, and my husband then says, what if we move to Australia? And I literally didn’t even have to think about it as long and hard as I would have for a menu item at a restaurant. I was like, heck yeah. And we had three little boys already. I have identical twins in my mix.
Yeah, fun and frazzled, I guess, is the best word to say.
We work with a lot of twins and triplets, so I don’t personally get it, but professionally, I do.
Yeah. It’s a blast. Every single day, you just don’t know what you’re going to get, to be honest. I remember we had three little boys at the time, and my husband says, oh, Australia, and I was like, heck yeah. We had just bought a home. We had a car for maybe three years. And it was like, okay, let’s make this move because we wanted to experience life in a different sort of way. And so this was pre-pandemic. We went to Australia, made it happen. It was not because of a job. Again, this was pure interest, and we had to work through the visa process and figure that out. When we landed, that was when they had the wildfires, which maybe listeners are aware of, right? You probably saw it in the US on the TV. Australia, right?
And then after that, for another global milestone, that was the pandemic. And that was when I wrote the book, and that was a choice I had to make because Kristin, for me, entrepreneurship was supposed to be flexibility. And during the pandemic, I’m sure a lot of folks can attest to this. I felt really inflexible. It was wild. And it was at that point, to kind of go to your earlier message, which was why did I choose moms as someone to support. I would say during that moment, as I felt even less supported than when I had my corporate career, I just decided. I said, what, I do have a book inside of me. And if you’re listening and you’re wondering to yourself if you do, maybe you do. But that was all I needed in order to say, this is the time to actually work on this book, and who do I want to support? Like, who needs the most support? For me, it’s moms. It’s us. Like, we need so much support. We have this village for our kids, but I would argue that we need it for ourselves, as well.
Absolutely. 100%. That’s why I pivoted my career, as well. I was a political fundraiser before opening the doula agency and getting into birth and baby work.
I mean, yeah, what an opportunity. As I think about that support – and I love the idea that we have doulas. And I know that it’s not necessarily a new invention, right? Since the beginning of time, there have been individuals helping other individuals get through this extremely tender and sensitive moment. And I use tender in a thousand ways. But I think it’s so beautiful to have that new sort of support, especially coming from a position of empowerment, you know?
Exactly. There’s no perfect way to birth or parent or feed your baby, and everyone is unique. And so our focus is judgment-free support, and I feel like moms have so much judgment, whether they go back to work, start their own business, freelance. And certainly in their choices in schools and parenting and feeding; there’s just a lot on our shoulders. I love the work that you’re doing, and it definitely seems to be both focused career-wise but also on the mental and emotional stability and support for women.
Absolutely, Kristin. My background, and part of the reason why an imagination is critical, is because I was raised by a single mom with manic depression. So for me, mental health is not like the month of May. It’s not something that is all of a sudden has this bright light after the crisis we came out of in terms of the pandemic. I know my mom as someone with this mental illness since birth, so for me, it’s like my podcast, right, Unimaginable Wellness. And when I think about entrepreneurs, it really is about bubble wrapping your sanity. This is not an option, if moms are at the front of what’s happening the next generation and the next generation. We need so much support that it’s like – it would be horrible, immoral, not to have the sort of back up plans and back up solutions and all the resources to make sure that we can raise this next generation with a level head and clear mind and a clear conscience. And in terms of how I think about this by way of the book, I would say that it’s really about reclaiming our power and that one super power that I firmly believe is one that every mom has is a fertile imagination.
Yes. I love it.
Yeah. And the reason why I’m imaginative, to go back to my mom’s mental health, is because during her manic highs, for anyone that’s familiar with manic depression, you get very – how can I describe it? Very active, for lack of a better word, when you have mania, and you have these grandiose ideas. So when I would see my mom have grandiose ideas about her and what she can do, that just told me, oh, there is no roof. There is no ceiling on what I can do. And this is me interpreting it, right, as a little girl. But then when she would have her lows, so those depressive states, that was when I had to pick up the slack and use my imagination to do a myriad of things. Find her at a movie theater. Get her the help that she needed. Negotiate with her so that we didn’t cause a scene in the street. These are the things that really, really fine-tuned my ability to cast this huge vision of what was possible in my life.
And that’s a skill that, in my book, I would love to teach a mom because right now, I’m thinking about last year, for example. I dropped off my kids in a school here in Austin, Texas, and there was this kind of false lockdown moment. And for me, I thought to myself, this is the stuff that moms have to be ready for, right?
Absolutely, Melissa. We are at all times, prepared for whatever may happen.
Ready for anything. We’re like the Navy Seals on crack. You know what I mean? Yeah. And for us, this is at the DNA level. This is not at the surface; oh, there’s a community we have to support. Oh, no, it’s like our heart, like our inner organs, our outside of our bodies, and we have to protect them. And so who – what mom can’t use all the resources available to her? And that’s again why I really point to this idea of a fertile imagination and why my book walks a mom through the process of how to wake it up, because for me and part of why I wrote the book, it was in a coma because I wasn’t sleeping very much as a newer mom. And then you have to also play with your imagination.
So here’s the thing. With our children, I hear this all the time. “Your child is never going to be five years old again.” “Your child is never going to be ten years old again.” Well, guess what? At those ages, our kids are ripe for imagining, for wonder, for awe. And guess what? As a mom, I’m never going to be 40 again, even if I lie about that age, right?
Right? Or AI, at least the way it is being discussed right now, is never going to be as exciting in this moment, either. So what if I have an idea? What if I, as an entrepreneurial mom, have an idea, and it has a timestamp on it? And what if my child is five and their imagination is ripe at the age of five? Could you imagine if I, alongside my child, decided to play, and maybe I would stumble on a new, innovative solution for a creative problem that I’ve been trying to solve? I mean, it’s like – it’s this missed opportunity that I feel that moms have because we might feel overwhelmed or just in the stuck of all these kid things, like kiddie toys and kid talk and all I do is talk to a child, and it’s hard because I don’t talk to an adult. Well, why not use that opportunity to incorporate a level of playfulness that can, A, maybe lighten up your load emotionally and bring joy into your life, or B, help you come up with a new business idea.
How many ideas are brought up in a play room? Like, you’re looking at toys all around you, and you’re saying, I think there should be a toy that looks like A or B. Or you know what, why haven’t they thought of a way to just close up a stroller with one hand – for real? Not pretend that you can. Right? So that’s the second part of the book. So you’re waking up the imagination, and a lot of that has to do with the way that we feel about ourselves, and a little bit of it is imposter syndrome, and I share with readers my own journey around that.
The second part is playing with your imagination, so using the moment in time with your kids to come up with these ideas or just introduce joy into your life. And then it’s about stretching your imagination. That’s the third part. And that’s really about almost duplicating yourself. What mom does not want to duplicate herself? That’d be amazing, right?
It would, yes. All of us do.
Yes. All of us. All of us. And so for stretching your imagination, what that means is that you’re enlisting the help of other people. You’re mobilizing your network, right? And so it might sound like a businessy, jargony phrase, but even from the perspective of a stay at home mom who’s not in the corporate world or an entrepreneur yet – and I love using that word because I feel like a lot of us should really explore that as an option –
Agreed, Melissa, for sure.
Right? I think that it’s the way to go as far as making sure that whatever skills we have, whatever talents we have, whatever dreams we had, actually make their greatest and maximum impact. And that’s where I stand. I see so much beauty on a playground when I see moms look at their children. I actually see wonder in the eyes of moms on the playground with their kids, and my mind, what I can imagine, is a situation where you’re there with your child – maybe holding their hand, maybe skipping along a path, and you’re both dreaming bigger, but at the same time, you’re respecting and honoring the fact that everybody needs support, needs love, has their moment. Moms do not have to wait until their kids graduate high school to get started on their ambitions. Sometimes those ambitions, as I said, do have a timestamp, and that’s part of the book. I want to make it happen for moms. It’s a guide. Lots of reflection questions. I have examples of people that I’ve interviewed on my podcast who are imaginative, and some of whom are not moms. And I feel like there’s a place for that because it gives you a sense of what’s possible as humans.
And we all as women still have the mothering instinct, whether we’re a mother or not. Some of my doulas are child-free, and they have the instinct within them, the same way that our doulas who are mothers do.
Absolutely. I mean, I have an example of a client in my book who doesn’t have children, and she did the most beautiful thing for a little girl at a school where she was working. She saw that this little girl who has different abilities couldn’t participate in a ride to school on your bike day, and then she launched a fundraiser for this little girl. Like, are you telling me that this person is any less nurturing than someone that has a child? No way. I can learn from her.
Exactly, yes. It’s still in us, whether you’re an aunt or a teacher, whatever it may be. We all carry that instinct to nurture and grow and mother and care for others. I love it.
Your book basically is for anyone, as you mentioned; stay at home moms, working professionals, mothers, women in general.
Absolutely. And I would say this, Kristin: I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the book The Artist’s Way. Are you?
I have not read it, but I’m quite familiar.
So I basically compare fertile imagination like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, but for moms who feel like they’ve lost their ability to dream big. So it’s all about rediscovering your imagination, and the reason why I compare it to this book, for anyone that hasn’t read it, is because it’s very much so like a course in a way. In every chapter, you’re invited to reflect on questions, do exercises, consider different perspectives. And it’s really about handholding you throughout your life. It’s not a book that’s meant to be just consumed immediately. It’s really meant to be enjoyed, depending on what you need.
So I basically compare it to going into one of those woo-woo stores with crystals. Like, when I was living in Sydney, Australia, I went into one of those stores. It was this beautiful, rainy day. And the person working said, hey, is there a crystal that you’re drawn to, and that’s how you choose the crystal that you purchase. That’s exactly like the book. The different chapters, they really share different adventures in a way, but in the beginning, it’s more like limiting beliefs and things that might stop you from dreaming very big. So if you feel, for example, that you’ve been very indecisive and you want a solution for that, there’s a chapter for you. If you feel like you have been like the boring parent, which I’ve been there –
Yeah, someone’s got to be the fun parent, and then you feel like, okay, I have to be the boring one, then, and keep the structure and routine.
I know, and then you’re like the bad person, right? So if you feel like you’ve been the boring parent, well, there’s a chapter for you there, as well. And what’s amazing is that every chapter features a podcast guest that I have had who’s exceptional in terms of their use of imagination.
For example, Beth Comstock. She is the former CMO of General Electric. This is a powerful, powerful woman who is inviting us to be and do weird things as a competitive edge.
And also, I would add – again, to lighten up the mood and just see what other interest might lie for you or might be right for you. So that’s a chapter that a working mom in a corporate setting – you could take that, and you could really come up with a really amazing business idea, right? Or if you are someone who has a child who reads books that are, like, picture books – I invited David Roberts, the New York Times bestselling illustrator of The Questioneers series that’s written by Andrea Beaty. I invited him to share how he uses his observational skills to really imagine bigger and better. So there’s a chapter with him inviting a mom who’s read books – I’m sure the same ones a billion times, as all of us – to see beyond what’s on the page through the lens of an illustrator.
It’s very, very much so conversational in the sense that I am vulnerable and I share my mom and entrepreneurial stories, but it’s also practical because for anyone that is curious about writing a book, there’s so much research that goes on behind the scenes. This was a two-year journey for me during a global relocation/pandemic historical moment. And I would say that part of the research that I notice as far as other books for moms on the market is that, okay, there’s a lot of theory out there, but what about practicality? What about – okay, I have a unique situation. I have two children, for example, that have different abilities, and I’m constantly schlepping between doctor appointments, et cetera. And I have children that maybe don’t need that sort of support. Like, how can I bring this idea, this big idea of a fertile imagination, to my life? And so that was important to me. I wanted flexibility in terms of how these concepts could be adjusted to a mom, and I completely know and am confident that any mom reading the book can make the adjustments based on her reality.
Beautiful. We need actionable steps versus feeling overwhelmed by some of the books, the self-help, business-focused options where you walk away and say, well, that’s not me. I can’t really make this happen in my life.
Absolutely, and I think what’s important, too, and as I was sharing the book with other moms who actually write books, as well – what’s important too is that some of this does read like my own personal diary. And I was like, oh, wow, people really want to read my diary? How weird is that. But apparently, there’s an interest for what we’re actually thinking versus the way we present ourselves to the world. So if I’m having a conversation with, like, someone who is powerful – like, Suzy Batiz is in the book. She’s the inventor of Poo-Pourri.
Big brand, right?
Huge brand. During that conversation, I could have just given the world this idea that, oh, I’m just hanging out with multimillionaires and I’m fancy-schmancy. But I actually reveal in the book that it was a 2:00 a.m. conversation for me because I was in Australia. I had to write questions that were so clear that I just could not go off script because I didn’t trust myself at that hour of the day without sleep, and I was so intimidated, you know what I mean? Like, these are the things that a lot of moms, especially anyone that suffers with imposter syndrome, for example, might be struggling with and you’ll never know. Like, you’ll never hear this, but I wanted to really share the reality of what I’ve experienced. And I also wanted to show moms that, although some of these things may have not been “originally intended” for moms, so some of these adventures that I’ve gone on, for example, getting Gary Vaynerchuk on my podcast was not a walk in the park. It took 100 days, and I wrote 67,000 words in total in order to get his attention. But I wanted to show moms that if it’s something that’s on your heart – like, if there’s something that you really, really want, that there’s a way for you to explore the opportunity while, again, being mindful of your sanity and what you’re family needs and not having the guilt of, like, oh, I’m ignoring my kids, or I’m not a doting mom. No, how about your kids are watching you fall down and stand back up? Your kids are watching you do things that other people have not asked you to do, so take the initiative, and in that way, they’re learning from us, and not just because we’re telling them things, which I think we know that they learn more from what they see as opposed to what they hear.
Absolutely. So your book is coming out this fall, and tell us about how to get on the preorder list or where it will be as far as online and in store options.
Absolutely, Kristin. At fertileideas.com, you have the opportunity to do a myriad of things. I actually created a five-day challenge on my website that gives anyone the opportunity, whether you’ve read the book or not. It’s totally free. You can actually go through a real-life implementation of the concepts that I talk about in the book. So this concept of leveraging your child’s imagination, coming up with a business idea, playing with your child – you can go to the website and actually go through a five-day challenge alongside your kid.
At the end of the challenge, which is so much fun, and I know I’m super nerdy – you can actually print out a certificate of completion because your kids are imagination experts in residence. And I think that we need to really celebrate.
There’s also for free for anyone that’s an entrepreneur mom – you’re able to actually take a quiz, and on that quiz, you’re going to have a very clear area of focus on why you might be stagnant in your business and income. It’s really designed for moms that want a surge of energy in terms of both of their roles, as a mom and entrepreneur. So there’s two options, totally free. Take the quiz; do the five day challenge. You can buy the book on the same website. It’s going to be available October 31st. Oh, my goodness. I’m so excited!
So soon! Yay, that’s amazing. And of course, our listeners and doula clients can find you on your podcast, the Unimaginable Wellness podcast. You’re on all podcast players, and I know you have quite an active social media presence. Where else can our listeners find you?
I would love to hear from anyone who’s listening right now on Instagram: @melissallarena. Send me a DM with the word “doula.” I would love to know that you caught this conversation. Kristin has been so amazing. I am so grateful for this.
Well, I’m grateful for you, Melissa! You also are a coach, so if our listeners are interested in working with you personally, do you prefer that they reach out on your website or Instagram?
Either way, I’m available because hey, why not be creative about it, right? We’re using our imaginations. Smoke signals; that works, too.
I love it. Message in a bottle; whatever works.
Absolutely. I think right now the idea is that anyone that’s listening to the conversation – I mean, you have resources available to you. I can be a resource. If you do the quiz, you’ll be invited for a breakthrough session with me that’s complimentary. So there’s all these ways of us engaging and me helping you really strengthen and super power your fertile imagination, too.
Beautiful. Any final tips for our listeners, Melissa?
I would say here’s two tips. One is the following. I know as a new mom, the need for reassurance is such a big part of it, and there’s been so many moms who have been powerful in other realms of their life, but for some reason, when you become a mom, there’s this, like, am I doing it right, you know? For every step of the way. And what I want to say to anyone that’s listening is, your heart – follow what’s on your heart. Like, really, really. For me, as with the book journey, too, like, it was a very intuitive process. I was just really keying into what I wanted and what I felt when I saw what I wanted. So same with anyone that’s listening. If you are unsure what your baby might need or what you might need, at least give yourself the opportunity to be still and just really feel into your body and see what it’s trying to tell you, and I think that’s part of the medication practitioner coming out in me. But that’s the biggest tip.
I love it. Excellent advice. Well, thank you so much for all of your time and sharing your talents. I am so excited to read your book! Hopefully we can talk again soon, Melissa.
Thank you so much, Kristin. Absolutely. This has been such a pleasure.
Fertile Ideas – buy the book!