MELISSA BERNSTEIN is the co-founder of Melissa & Doug, a toy company with a mission to “provide a launch pad to ignite imagination and a sense of wonder in all children so they can discover themselves, their passions, and their purpose.” In this article, EMILIE MOGENSEN starts with a simple interview approach with Melissa, which blossoms into much more – a meeting of kindred spirits!
“I am fearful, oh, so fearful, that if you do not show me light I will lose the will to live, and choose to end this futile fight.”
Back in 1970, this verse was written by a 5-year-old girl, who learned early in life that expressing her innermost vulnerable feelings in creative writing was not merely an expression of words, it was a way to survive.
Originally, the intention of this article was to write a portrait of a very successful and conscious entrepreneur. But that seemed too linear for her. It feels true to the essence of her lively, ethereal, and delicate being, to instead share a mystical and most rewarding story of how a meeting on Zoom turned into a sweet connection between two creative souls.
When I first experienced Melissa Bernstein, she was a guest speaker at The Inner MBA, which I am currently doing through Mindful NYU, Sounds True and LinkedIn. I was unaware that I had been buying her designs over the years as toys for my kids. I discovered that when I looked her up and recognized the online red logo of “Melissa & Doug.”
I was taken by storm from the moment I saw her. She was free and fun, loving and sharing. Melissa has created more than 10,000 toys and made millions of children happy around the world. I was especially inspired when Melissa spoke about being a “white space creative.” I could relate to that frame of mind, or should I say lack of frame of mind: an ability to see the entire universe of a certain project, long before the first drawing is even made; an intuitive, delicate, and very sensitive ability to open up and allow the stream of creative inspiration to come through the body, in order to manifest into a product or artistic expression. I found myself tearing up several times during the one hour gathering we had with her. That inspired me to reach out to her – I wanted more!
So I am meeting Melissa on Zoom and we bond immediately in a very natural way. We dive into a very personal and vulnerable conversation about my journey as an entrepreneur. I share with her how I had to close down my company after two years with a wrongly-matched investor on board. She listens and asks questions, is compassionate, caring, and very intriguing.
So, here I am, having forgotten all my planned interview questions, in a fruitful and connecting conversation about life and death, heart-centered entrepreneurship, and how draining it can be to insist on cultivating intuition and sensitivity in a harsh business world.
She has transformed these
tormenting shadows through
intense therapy, heart centering, and
her never-ending need to
express herself creatively,
through toys and writing verses.
Her joyful spirit makes me feel seen and appreciated, for what and who I am, in my innermost real place. In her presence, I unfold and expand my intuitive and creative wings in a free and relaxed way.
Later in our conversation, I discover that this happy spirit of hers was not always so happy. Melissa suffered from severe depression over more than two decades. Design and creativity were literally a lifeline for her. She needed to express herself creatively in order to transform what she calls her inner darkness. Inner despair, suicidal thoughts at the age of 19, and profound inner shadows, were part of Melissa’s journey.
She has transformed these tormenting shadows through intense therapy, heart centering, and her never-ending need to express herself creatively, through toys and writing verses.
She now helps many people through her newly-established entrepreneur adventure, Lifelines, which assists people to transform their inner darkness.
I don’t want to go into details about the achievements of Melissa and her husband Doug. You can Google their extraordinary journey – two entrepreneurs, who have been happily married for more than 35 years, with six kids. Today, Melissa & Doug has a net worth of nearly 1 billion USD. Seen through the eyes of an average person like myself, this seems like the classic, slightly overwhelming, and maybe even intimidating fairy tale of the American dream.
But there is no such energy around her; she is not overwhelming and intimidating. She shows up as a very authentic, present, and feminine person, with wet hair after her morning shower, open-hearted, curious, and joyful.
I know that we can trust each other, and so does she. We laugh, skip all the surface talk, and jump right into the deepest and most painful parts of ourselves, sharing them in a space of mutual trust and empathy.
My intuitive feeling of a new world dawning, where like-minded people from different communities meet and connect, despite sitting on different continents with different backgrounds and nationalities, is unfolding in front of me. Feelings of deep meaning, gratitude, and connection bring me great joy in the two hours we talk, laugh, share, and connect.
We talk about how it has taken her many years to truly believe in herself, when surrounded by commercial people who use the left side of the brain in their work. It is a personal coaching session for me. I take it all. It resonates profoundly with my own journey as an intuitive creative in the business world.
She clearly feels in her body how the powerful urge to create can feel like a blessing in disguise. She even has a word for it, “Blurse” (blessing-curse). Coming from a family with a lot of creative entrepreneurs, I can relate to this rather exhausting paradox.
When Melissa starts sharing with me, she always checks in with her heart before taking any decision. I mention to her that I am a trainer of Heartfulness meditation. She immediately feels inclined to meditate together, and we clear three days during the following week to dive deep and transform together.
A part of me is soothed by her presence. Something about her having gone through inner pain, questioning her reason to stay alive, yet creating a company with more than 800 employees, fascinates me. There is a hidden power in her, behind the down-to-earth, smiling, and curious personality.
She shares how hard she has worked with her therapist to transform her anxiety and need to control the outer world. I resonate with this constant need to manage and balance feelings, as they are the main drivers toward the best ideas. Shutting down feelings, which we feel forced to do when dealing with business people, can be counter-productive. We stop getting ideas. Nevertheless, it is crucial for mental stability to learn emotional management.
Some of the best artists throughout history are known for their mood swings and difficult lives. Creativity often goes hand in hand with emotional challenges, in my experience, and Melissa certainly seems to fit this category. Her courage to transform this sensitivity into her superpower is inspiring, and I feel it comes from a very authentic place.
We bond very nicely on a personal level, sharing an intuitive and creative approach to life and entrepreneurship. But in meditation with her, it becomes clear that she is more – a kindred spirit. A deep sense of knowing is present in our three 30-minute meditations, and I find myself smiling many times. It feels the same as when I am at a concert; the power of the collective, sharing deep feelings, coming through one individual.
It’s fascinating how one individual can channel something and impact the masses, like she does with her toys and her new company, Lifelines.
Why am I sharing this rather intimate space of meditation in an article? Because I feel the purpose of Melissa Bernstein is to inspire people to be exactly who they are. She courageously allows us into her innermost vulnerable place, and shows us how transforming darkness can make us come out stronger. It’s priceless and honorable, and profoundly needed in today’s world, where young people suffer from FOMO and low self-esteem. With Social Media, we brand ourselves, artificially, through the filters of so-called beauty.
Melissa unlocks creative potential in me, and transforms it into dynamic and balanced new energy. She engages in my journey, her thinking is free and expansive, and she keeps reminding me about the crucial need to be truthful to myself and my values. Always.
I pray, sending out the intention that more and more people in this suffering world will follow the example of Melissa, unlocking their inner and most truthful creative potential in order to co-create a wonderful world, where kindred spirits meet and meditate together.
Thank you, Melissa, for your ability to show us how to transform darkness into creativity. You make me feel like showing up as the best version of myself, where I create from the full potential within.
Illustrations by ARATI SHEDDE
Emilie is Danish born with design and spirituality in her DNA. Besides being a designer, she holds an Inner MBA, a Masters in conscious business and entrepreneurship, from NYU. She is on a mission to enhance unity, compassion and heart centered entrepreneurship in modern life business endeavors.