If you are a parent, you may have given your kids a toy from her company. This week’s remarkable person is Melissa Bernstein, she is the Melissa in Melissa and Doug.
So you’d naturally think that this is the story of how she started a remarkably successful toy company, and you’d be wrong. If you want that story, listen to the excellent interview Guy Raz conducted with both Melissa and Doug in his podcast called How I Built This.
By contrast, the interview is about how Melissa found herself after fifty years of trials, tribulations, and silencing of the self. This episode is all about self discovery and coming to grips with your talents and tribulations.
If you think Melissa is a good entrepreneur, wait until you hear her poetry. This is one of my favorites:
Keep it coming
Bring it on
Attack me with your wrath
For I no longer
Feel the blows
As I have found my path
One more thing: you need to know the definition of the word “sophomoric.” It means something that’s juvenile. You’ll hear why the definition is important in a second.
Listen to Melissa Bernstein on Remarkable People:
I will be live streaming with Melissa on March 17th at 10 am PT, watch then or catch the replay.
I hope you enjoyed this podcast. Would you please consider leaving a short review on Apple Podcasts/iTunes? It takes less than sixty seconds. It really makes a difference in swaying new listeners and upcoming guests.
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This is an automated transcript. It is sometimes incomplete and inaccurate because of the limitations of transcription services. However, we wanted to provide it for people who have hearing issues or prefer to read the interview.
Guy Kawasaki: [00:00:00] I’m Guy Kawasaki. And this is Remarkable People. This episode’s remarkable guest is Melissa Bernstein. If you are a parent, you may have given your child a Melissa and Doug toy. She’s that Melissa natural for you to think that this podcast is about how she created her remarkably successful toy company.
[00:00:31] You’d be wrong if you will. I want that story. I suggest listening to the excellent interview Guy Raz conducted with both Melissa and Doug. In his podcast, how I built this by contrast this interview is about how Melissa found herself after 50 years of trials, tribulations and silencing. If you think Melissa is a good entrepreneur, wait until you hear her poetry.
[00:00:58] One more thing before we get started, you need to know the definition of sophomores. It means something that’s juvenile. You’ll hear why that definition is important in a second, this episode of Remarkable People is brought to you by reMarkable the paper tablet company. Yes. You got that, right? Remarkable is sponsored by reMarkable.
[00:01:20] I have version two in my hot little hands and it’s so good. A very impressive upgrade. Here’s how I use it. One taking notes while I’m interviewing a podcast guests to taking notes while being brief about speaking gigs, three drafting the structure of keynote speeches for storing manuals. For the gizmos that I buy five roughing out drawings for things like surfboards surf, sheds, and office layouts, six, wrapping my head around complex ideas with diagrams and flow charts.
[00:01:53] This is a remarkably well thought out product. It, doesn’t try to be all things to all people, but it takes notes better than anything. I’ve used. Check out the recent reviews of the latest version. I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. And now here’s the poet and toy mogul, Melissa Bernstein. So to put it mildly, when I started reading your book, It was not at all what I expected.
[00:02:26] Um, I’m so used to, I’ve done about 70 episodes of this. And when I interview CEOs, it’s typically like your, how I did this Guy Raz kind of session, the story of. Your company and how you started it and started in a garage and driving all over Connecticut and trying with the video tapes and all that stuff.
[00:02:51] So I was blown away by it. I don’t know if
[00:02:54] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:02:54] that’s blown away in a good sense, or you were just like, Oh my gosh, I cannot interview this one. No,
[00:03:01] Guy Kawasaki: [00:03:01] no, no, not at all. It’s good to have challenges and differences. So I appreciate basically your. Talk about exposing yourself. I don’t think I’ve read a book where someone exposed herself or himself more than that.
[00:03:14] So I congrats.
[00:03:17] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:03:17] Thank you. It took every ounce of strength and courage that I have to do that I want to
[00:03:23] Guy Kawasaki: [00:03:23] read you. Two of your poems that I just love. Okay. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The first one is, keep it coming, bring it on. Attack me with your wrath for I no longer feel the blows as I have found my path. So I just love that.
[00:03:45] Thank you. And the second one is the best adjusted folks are those who never fit it in for, they need it to forge courage from the wellspring deep within. Wow. That is such depth there. Oh my God. Thank you. I read more poetry in the last 24 hours because of you than in the first 66 years of my life. Um,
[00:04:15] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:04:15] that it brings me to tears because as you know, from reading that the one word I can never use to describe myself is poet because I was rejected for my words very early on.
[00:04:28] And. I never saw myself as a writer at all. Just
[00:04:32] Guy Kawasaki: [00:04:32] pretend that the person from the university of Connecticut is listening to this podcast. What would you say to him now?
[00:04:41] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:04:41] Look at me now, honey. Now I wouldn’t say that. I would say you really. Should think about your words a little more carefully when you craft them, because something you write seemingly on a seemingly obliviously can actually change the trajectory of someone’s life.
[00:05:04] And I didn’t write for 25 years because of that one word, sophomore trick that he used to describe my verses. And it really changed my life in such a. A negative way. So I think I would say words can be very powerful. And your one words surely was in my life.
[00:05:25] Guy Kawasaki: [00:05:25] When I read that part of your book, I I’m like what.
[00:05:30] Goes through a person’s mind when they write something like that. I can understand sort of the neutral, no controversy. You’re highly qualified, but we have so many other candidates. We just aren’t able to offer you a position, but why did he have to call your writing sophomore? I don’t understand that.
[00:05:51] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:05:51] I understand.
[00:05:53] The truth is it was so simple and so different. And to be honest, I’ve had the same thing happen with my toys. It’s this sense that when something is too simple, well, it cannot be accepted by people who view themselves as erudite and big thinkers. And the same thing happened. Luckily, our toys have sold, we sell whatever 65 million toys a year.
[00:06:19] So those have proven. To be commercially viable, but without the awards and the accolades, but he couldn’t do it. It would be demeaning his entire career to give those words credit,
[00:06:32] Guy Kawasaki: [00:06:32] shame on him. That was a ridiculous thing to say. Even if it was sophomore, it would, it’s a ridiculous thing to say.
[00:06:41] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:06:41] You are giving me a much needed validation from 30 years of heartache because of that.
[00:06:48] Guy Kawasaki: [00:06:48] Let’s just say that I’m not calling him to interview him for the Remarkable People podcast. Okay. Now you have to, you have to ask you, so what if you were accepted. The entire arc of your life may be different. You might be Maya Angelou instead of a toy mogul
[00:07:07] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:07:07] to know, but the truth is now, obviously it is one of the profound dots of my life that have connected because.
[00:07:15] It showed me what a true white space creative goes through because it’s it, wasn’t just that, you know, anyone who thinks differently is going to, to be criticized and rejected time and time again. And that’s what’s happened to us again and again. So I should have known, had I had the foresight to know this actually means Melissa, that you’re doing something different because it is being rejected by the head of a poetry department.
[00:07:41] I would have saved myself a lot of anguish, sadly. Well,
[00:07:45] Guy Kawasaki: [00:07:45] this is a little late to help you, but you never know. So I have a favorite book. This book is called. If you want to write by Brenda Youland, are you familiar with it? Not at all. Okay. So you need to read this book is U E L a N D and it’s obviously.
[00:08:07] From the title, you can tell it’s written for writers, but it really pertains to any creative endeavor. And so the gist of this book is if you want to write, write, don’t wait for permission from people to tell you that you’re a writer, don’t take an English class to learn how to write if you want to write, write.
[00:08:28] And one of the big things she addresses is some of the worst critics. Is not the person in charge of university of Connecticut creative, fine arts program. It’s inside your head where you don’t think you’re a writer. And so that’s maybe the biggest problem for people in that position. And the reason why that book meant so much to me is because at the time that I wrote my first book, the Macintosh way, this is 1987.
[00:08:58] I didn’t consider myself a writer. I took AP English. I promise you that my English teacher who has passed on is laughing in heaven, because let’s just say I’m probably not the person at the top of the list who he thought would be coming
[00:09:14] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:09:14] off. Yes. A major author. And you know what? One of my life missions is to get people to move from their head to their heart.
[00:09:23] And my number one mantra that I say every single day is. Step on out of the head and moving into the heart free to channel all dread into jubilant art. And I think when we go here, which is the critique, which is the analysis, which is that professor at the university of Connecticut. We leave where all creation lives and we’re all innovation lives, which is right here.
[00:09:47] So even with Melissa and Doug over all the years, so many people gave us advice. Like you can’t make simple toys, they’re not going to work. They need screens, they need apps. They need all sorts of gizmos. I never, even though. It made me want to go up here and question everything I was doing and everything we were doing.
[00:10:07] I knew that if I left my heart where all that intuition and true white space, creativity lied, you know, I would lose the ability to truly create something different that spoke from my heart.
[00:10:23] Guy Kawasaki: [00:10:23] When you started off that answer, you basically recited poetry. So can you just recite poetry just at will now it just comes
[00:10:31] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:10:31] out of you like that because every one of my verses was a lifeline.
[00:10:36] It saved me. And when I write. Have a lifeline it’s because I have either some anguish that I can’t seem to. It’s like a, it’s like a needle poking in me that I can’t seem to swash unless I write a verse about it or I’m pondering a question. I don’t have the answer to. So it becomes my method of taking this chaos inside and making sense of it.
[00:10:59] So it’s like a piece of me, it becomes interwoven into my. Tapestry. And I know probably thousands of them and every time I’m in a situation where I’m like the same question arises, I bring up a verse and I say it to myself so I can get through
[00:11:15] Guy Kawasaki: [00:11:15] it. I, I mean this as a compliment, but you’re like the, a female Jewish.
[00:11:22] Muhammad Ali. I mean, you can just,
[00:11:25] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:11:25] I don’t know. No one wants to hear it. So it’s not like, I mean, half the time I’m muttering to myself and my kids are like, what are you doing? Like with this disgust, I’m like when either writing a verse or reciting a verse.
[00:11:37] Guy Kawasaki: [00:11:37] Sorry, you can, you can float like a butterfly and sting like a poet maybe.
[00:11:43] Yeah, not quite. Maybe what you can do for us now is because you mentioned this so many times the magic number in your book is 50. So can you just explain what was going on inside you for those first 50 years?
[00:12:01] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:12:01] Wow. You know, it was something that I couldn’t even put words to until I was 50, because I truly repressed it to such an extent, but all I can say is from the time I was born, I felt like I wasn’t at home in the world and I felt this.
[00:12:21] Deep deep sense that something was very wrong. The sense of not quite rightness, it’s like that an itch that’s so terrible. That’s deep inside you that you just can’t scratch. And that sense of just being off and what it was. I now know it was this sense of utter meaninglessness. To life and these questions that started ever since I can remember, I think I was probably either two and a half or three basically saying, what is the meaning of life?
[00:12:56] I don’t get it. And why am I here? And what am I meant to do while I’m here? And because I couldn’t much less even voice those questions and certainly couldn’t get an answer to them. I was left with just. Not able to become comfortable and because I was so unsettled and so burdened with these questions that I couldn’t answer, I basically needed to repress deny and dis disassociate from everything I felt.
[00:13:30] Guy Kawasaki: [00:13:30] Do you have any explanation for how this came to be? Why were you like this?
[00:13:37] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:13:37] I now know, so throughout my life, because I didn’t have an explanation and I couldn’t show it to anyone. In fact, innately, I channeled it into music. I wrote songs and I wrote verses from the time I was like two and a half, three years old, they just came out of me, but they were so dark.
[00:13:53] And so despairing. That I never showed them to a soul and never even looked at them myself after I wrote them. I just squirreled them away and tried to be normal. And I think I never was normal. Unfortunately, even though I tried to be, and I realized again at age 50, That I suffered from this thing called existential depression, which we are born with.
[00:14:18] Like some people have existential crises because of an event, but not me, not, I, I was born with this.
[00:14:40] Guy Kawasaki: [00:14:40] Can you. Define existential depression because. Those two words may not be familiar to most people.
[00:14:49] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:14:49] To be honest with you, I read the Sufis Saurus as a hobby, as a child. And I did not know what existential depression was. So when I saw those words, just by accident in a book I read by Victor Frankl and looked them up out of curiosity, I was floored because it described my entire life.
[00:15:12] So basically. Existential depression has three different arms to it. It has existential nihilism, which is where I started existential. Nihilism means there is no meaning at all to life. And we, as people are insignificant and unable to make meaning. And that is the worst part of existential despair. When you’re there, you pretty much feel no hope.
[00:15:43] And that is when I was at my lowest of lows. I was an existential nihilist. I did not believe that I had the ability and anyone had the ability to ever find meaning it’s not a good place to be. However. The really incredible thing is I always had this rabid curiosity that I needed to find the meaning and I wasn’t going to end it, even though I was really close.
[00:16:11] I needed to find that hope. And that’s when I moved into existentialism. Which still posits that life has no meaning. However, despite that we, as individuals can choose out of awareness, freewill, and personal responsibility to still make meaning. Out of our time here. And that was where I moved into. Then there’s a third part that’s called absurdism.
[00:16:42] And those of us who have existential despair, we always think of life as absurd. We look at what’s going on, people racing around crazies, trying to search for meaning. And we realized that it’s all absurd because unfortunately we’re realists, we’re like deep, real as too realistic. But the absurdism philosophy says, although there’s this conflict between an utter lack of meaning and man’s search for meaning, we must accept that.
[00:17:11] And simultaneously rebel against it by embracing life and making whatever meaning we can while we’re here. And that’s where I have come out. I’m happy to say, were your parents
[00:17:23] Guy Kawasaki: [00:17:23] aware of this existential depression this whole time?
[00:17:28] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:17:28] Okay. Not one person, including myself was aware of any of this until I was 48 years old.
[00:17:37] Guy Kawasaki: [00:17:37] And was there particularly a catalytic moment where the light bulb went on?
[00:17:43] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:17:43] Oh, yeah, there was, I called them my, my dot moment and yes, there, there was, I read a book by Victor Frankl called man’s search for meaning. And he talked about existential despair. And when I looked that up, I was utterly flabbergasted because it explained exactly what I was even more.
[00:18:10] It said. That those who suffer from existential depression are highly creative. And when I saw the list of some of the people who were afflicted with existential depression, it was like, no, it couldn’t be people that I just, obviously I’m not in a category with, but just people like Beethoven and Mozart and Hemingway and Tolstoy, and a lot of others who are not prolific creators too.
[00:18:34] But then it further said that. And those who have existential depression and are prolific creators. Also have these things called over excitability fees, which are a heightened arousal of your central nervous system, which makes. Your sensitivity to life so much greater. And I always said both the beauty of the world and the pain of it are impossible for me to bear.
[00:19:03] And I always felt like my tuning knob was just turned up a little too much. And when I was little, I said, please turn off the noise. I’ve lost track of the joys. I can’t hear any more with this deafening roar. I can’t see any more with this staggering light. I can’t. Feel any more with this stifling fright.
[00:19:21] And I wrote that when I was like five, because it seemed like everything was just like this crescendo in my body and that people would touch me. And I jump because it was like my nerve endings just on the outside of my body. Yeah. So once I read about the existential despair and the overexcite abilities, I suddenly had to you for a second.
[00:19:48] Guy Kawasaki: [00:19:48] Yes. So you’ve used the term existential despair and existential depression. Are they one in the same?
[00:19:56] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:19:56] They are they’re existent. It starts with existential angst. So you first feel the anxiety and then if it doesn’t get fixed, it turns into depression. This mayor anguish. Like they’re all I use them all interchangeably.
[00:20:11] It’s just a lot of existential mess.
[00:20:16] Guy Kawasaki: [00:20:16] You mentioned in your book, two more dots and one dot was when you were rejected by a sorority. And do you look back at that now and say, Why did I have an angst and despair over being rejected by a sorority or ex post 50? How do you view that the trauma that caused.
[00:20:45] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:20:45] That’s an incredible question. So the biggest trauma, and it’s funny, we’re starting this community lifelines and we’re having all these really deep discussions now, and we’re having so many about this, about what it means to be your true self. And I think the thing that I’m saddest about, to be honest with you, Is I truly, nearly killed myself to be like these girls, I wish to emulate emulate, which was tall and blonde with long hair and a great figure.
[00:21:15] Like all the things I’m not, and that was sad in and of itself. But the saddest part of it was I rejected the girls just like me, who I could have had these incredibly deep. Friendships with and what I didn’t put in there, or maybe I did is a couple of sororities. Really wanted me with girls. Exactly like me.
[00:21:37] But I looked at them with disgust and basically said, I’m sure I didn’t say it. I actually say it, but I thought, I don’t want to be like you. I want to be like these girls who are rejecting me and it’s such a testimony to how I killed myself throughout my early life. Trying to be something I’m not, and not accepting who I was.
[00:22:00] And I think another example of that, which is just so heartbreaking in ninth grade, we get these things called superlatives for like exemplifying a certain quality. And I wanted to get one of the ones related to looks more than anything. I wanted to get like most attractive, best smile, best dressed, best couple.
[00:22:20] And I ended up getting most musical. Which should have been like, it was like one of the only skill-based ones because they musical and I got it with this Guy and I looked him up and he’s like a professor now at UCLA. And he’s like this prolific musician. So I should have been so happy. But I was so upset about that, that when I got my yearbook at the end of the year, I literally ripped out the page and threw it in the trash.
[00:22:48] And how sad is that? I wanted to be something superficial. And it doesn’t even seem like it’s me, but it was that’s. I cared so much about the superficial and didn’t care about anything that was truly meaningful. It’s heartbreaking. So I want to help others not go that path and through our community, show others that.
[00:23:10] They don’t have to hide there. Things that make them unique and unique is unique is isn’t bad.
[00:23:31] Guy Kawasaki: [00:23:31] two more points that tie into this, those two girlfriends. That you asked for advice and their opinion, both of whom kind of blew you off. Right. They said, get over it. It’s not that bad, whatever. They only saw the facade. So what did you learn from those two instances?
[00:23:49] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:23:49] It was the same thing everyone else did.
[00:23:52] And I wrote a verse. Like they could never just accept me as the one I truly was always hoping I’d get better though. Depression never does. So it’s that sense that people always wanted me to be better and to be different and to not be who I was. And the thing I wanted to say to them, but I couldn’t is, but this is who I am.
[00:24:19] So if you’re telling me I need to get better to be accepted, then you’re basically saying that how I am is unworthy and it truly made me feel. Even more unworthy and that I never could show who I really was and never let them see because the very few times that I showed even an inkling of the despair, that was really just swirling around me.
[00:24:45] I was disdained, I would say by anyone I showed it to.
[00:24:49] Guy Kawasaki: [00:24:49] So the question that I have for you based on that is people who listened to this podcast or read your book. How do they spot people who have these issues and then assuming that they can figure out how to spot these people, then how do they help people?
[00:25:14] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:25:14] That’s such a great question. Thank you so much for caring about that. What I’ve realized is to be a highly creative person. You will have these overexcite abilities. It’s a condition. It’s. One is tied to the other. My blessing is my curse and I will never be free of it, or I will be, I, or I will not create anymore.
[00:25:35] Like you must be highly sensitive to the world. To be able to create from nothing. It is just a condition for creativity. And I now get that because I never quite understood why I could just create it and write something without just having to just have a pop into my head. But I now realize that the cost of that is tremendous anguish, like the full spectrum of the highest of highs to the very lowest of lows.
[00:26:03] So I think. Knowing that, and the goal in our community is to make people aware of this. I want to speak out for the creative misfits out there. I feel like it’s my duty because so many of them don’t have a voice and are in the shadows, creating and locked in themselves in despair of some sort in order to create.
[00:26:25] And I want to make people aware that we are weird. Like we are not going to be your average person. Like we think differently, we act differently. We are out of the box, we have quirks and that’s what makes us able to create. So if you like the things we create then dammit, you better accept us in all our East central cities.
[00:26:53] And I really. I mean it is. So I’ll get emotional because so many creative people take their lives because they feel they’re never understood. And again, at lifelines, like we want to embrace every single person for all they are and show the world that it is in those different qualities that our gifts emerge.
[00:27:21] Most of us.
[00:27:22] Guy Kawasaki: [00:27:22] So would your answer to the question, how to help be. Simply accept them as opposed to try to get them to be normal.
[00:27:32] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:27:32] Exactly. We all deserve to be accepted for exactly as who we are. And I think that was always. Inside my deepest sadness. And I think one of my verses, I hope I can say it perfectly, but creatives are maligned for being overly dramatic, exceedingly despairing and uncommonly dogmatic, but it’s those divergent qualities.
[00:27:59] That birth such brilliant art, and we all deserve a chance to be exalted from the start. You
[00:28:05] Guy Kawasaki: [00:28:05] can just whip that out, just
[00:28:07] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:28:07] like that. It’s like my toys they’re my children. So I have to be able to honor them. They’re like my babies. But I think that’s my comment is that we’re maligned our whole lives for being who we are.
[00:28:20] And yet, what do you expect if someone’s going to create a symphony out of nothing? Do you think it just comes from being not sensitive to the world? I just, I think we need to appreciate our, and that most creatives are gonna be introverts. They’re gonna have a hard time speaking. I mean, I haven’t spoken until now.
[00:28:38] I’ve spoken mostly through my hand, through creating. I don’t speak through my voice. I never did, but I’m, I’m doing it now because I feel like there are too many people who are suffering because they’re denying who they are
[00:28:54] Guy Kawasaki: [00:28:54] and what happens if you go on good morning America and. Hundreds of thousands of people start writing in saying I heard you and you described my life.
[00:29:05] And is that the intended outcome?
[00:29:09] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:29:09] Absolutely. Are you kidding? That would be the greatest thing ever because we’re starting this incredible community and I w I believe we’re doing something that no one has done. We’re offering no promise. Lifelines. Is basically no promise. We’re not saying we can make you better.
[00:29:26] We can fix you. We can change your life. Not even in the slightest. We’re saying that we accept you in totality. We’re saying that you are not alone. That starting with Melissa, she felt her whole life that no one would ever understand her, that she was on an Island and no one would ever accept her for who she is, but she realized that.
[00:29:51] That isn’t true at all. And once she had the courage to say who she was and shout it from the rooftops that there were people like her, and there were people who said, Oh my goodness, I feel the same way. And there were people who said, yes, show me how I can have the courage to say who I am. And that’s all I’m doing.
[00:30:12] All I’m trying to do is through having the courage to finally accept myself in totality, which took 50 years. I now Doug and I, now we want to take the goodness that we gained from 32 years making toys and funnel it so that we can offer this free community that offers content and a journey and all these things for people just like me.
[00:30:37] Guy Kawasaki: [00:30:37] Where are your kids in this? Are they going to like pick up this book and say, Oh my God, I had no idea this is mom. Or have they built and been along this journey with you side by side?
[00:30:49] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:30:49] So that’s the craziest thing. Like the craziest thing is. My own father, who about a week ago for the first time I told him that I wrote this book and that I was afflicted with this.
[00:31:02] He said to me, and this is maybe one of the most staggering things ever. He said, I find that hard to believe because you are the most optimistic, happy contented child ever. And I found that so sad because it just showed how incredibly well I hit it. And I knew I hit it. Well. I mean, I was so disassociated from how I was feeling that it took me four years.
[00:31:28] When I finally admitted that I was broken and needed therapy. It took me four years to actually start to be able to feel emotion. I was that disassociated from it. So I think nobody really knew excluding myself. That’s the weird thing. Like I fooled everyone and my facade, which was a facade of perfection.
[00:31:51] Like it was no chink in the armor. It was like a perfectly constructed life in a perfectly constructed box that I lived in. I don’t think anybody knew, honestly,
[00:32:04] Guy Kawasaki: [00:32:04] ask a rather tactless tasteless question now. Okay.
[00:32:09] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:32:09] Go for
[00:32:10] Guy Kawasaki: [00:32:10] it. How did you not get divorced through all this? You’re carrying quite a burden here for 50 years.
[00:32:17] I dare say most people might’ve gotten divorced. So can you explain that magic?
[00:32:23] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:32:23] Yes. Doug has been like the most incredibly supportive person through this whole thing. And to be honest, when he met me and I was 19. I was at my lowest of lows. I had a terrible eating disorder and I looked like a skeleton and he really was the first one.
[00:32:42] We never really talked about it, um, because I was in such denial, but he forced me to eat. So I’m probably only here today because of him. And I think forging Melissa and Doug, although again, Part of me was so afflicted, right. And in such denial of this act, that just a fused me. The other part was a miracle when we formed Melissa and Doug and I was able to take all this darkness because as I told you for 25 years, I channeled darkness into darkness.
[00:33:13] And it had no meaning, right? Because when you funnel darkness into more darkness and it doesn’t touch light or, or touch anyone, you can’t bring meaning to it. But when I saw that, I actually had this choice. This was when the existential nihilism changed to existential ism because through creating toys, Again, just by accident.
[00:33:36] I realized that I had a choice to channel darkness now into this profound light, through making toys. And that was salvation. And for 32 years, Melissa and Doug has been one of the greatest joys of our lives. And we’ve really reveled in every single moment. So it wasn’t that we weren’t having an incredible life.
[00:33:59] We were building this company. We had six children, we were raising kids. And to be honest with you, my life. Gave me such structure and I couldn’t even breathe. Right. I was running this large company with Doug. I was the mother of six children. I didn’t have time to think. And it was actually really good because I just basically did what I needed to do to, to survive and be a good mother and good wife and good business owner and time just flew by.
[00:34:27] So there wasn’t time to ponder.
[00:34:30] Guy Kawasaki: [00:34:30] Okay, but was this a huge surprise to Doug one day or was he. You know, in on the inside story for a long time,
[00:34:40] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:34:40] he was in on it? No, it was as much a shock to him. I think as to me, obviously he knew me and he knew that I was highly sensitive, although I hid most of it and I was a creative, I had.
[00:34:52] Whatever vacillations and mood, but no, when I first discovered this and started to read about, especially the hyper sensitivities, I th I was like sobbing for days because I couldn’t believe that someone had really articulated what I felt like and who I was with such a laxity. It was staggering. And I think.
[00:35:15] He was shocked as well. He was, Oh my gosh, this is incredible. And totally supportive. Like what can I do to, you know, support you in this? But I think we were both completely astounded.
[00:35:31] Guy Kawasaki: [00:35:31] Do you think that this excitability, do you think it caused the creative expression or do you think the creative expression caused the excitability?
[00:35:45] Oh my
[00:35:45] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:35:45] gosh. I just made this connection last week. This is the best question you could ever asked. Well, that’s why I’m
[00:35:52] Guy Kawasaki: [00:35:52] a podcast
[00:35:53] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:35:53] or yes. So this is the really cool thing. So I’ve always believed because everything I’ve read has made this connection, not between overexcite abilities and creativity between depression and melancholia and creativity.
[00:36:09] And basically it says that. People who create. And in fact, there’s even a statistic. If you can believe it. And poets are the highest that 87% of poets are depressed and composers are the lowest they’re 60%, but from composers all the way up to poets. 60 to 87%. And supposedly rhyming poets are even higher, which I am because it’s the chaos that rains and you need to make order of it.
[00:36:35] So you’re even more afflictive. And I shouldn’t say just depression it’s 87% are afflicted with some psychological malady and that always. Plagued me because although throughout my first 25 years, it was definitely the despair that fueled the creativity. As I’ve grown to understand existential depression and understand myself I’m not depressed anymore and actually a more creative than I’ve ever been.
[00:37:03] So this connection didn’t make any sense to me. And suddenly about a week ago, all the dots connected. I realized two really crazy things. One is that existential depression is actually a symptom of intellectual hypersensitivity, meaning they’re five hypersensitivities. One of them is intellectual, which means you really like ponder things and are, you’re always thinking.
[00:37:34] And you’re really curious. That is what allows you to ponder your existence and what makes you ponder these things? What is life’s meaning that gave rise, of course, because when you ponder what life’s meaning is you usually find the really, may not be any that makes you depressed. So that made me depressed and I’ll get to your original question.
[00:37:59] Also it’s the intellectual hypersensitivity that got me out of that depression, because I needed to use philosophy and really look at all the philosophers throughout history to understand how I move from nihilism to existentialism. So the intellectual hypersensitivity got me in and out. And it’s also the intellectual and imagination and emotional hyper sensitivities that allow me to create, so I was born with hypersensitivities first and they are what fuel, what spawn the creativity a hundred percent.
[00:38:40] Guy Kawasaki: [00:38:40] So when. We encounter extremely creative people. Should we assume that there’s hypersensitivity going on too?
[00:38:50] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:38:50] In my opinion, it’s a hundred percent, 100%. Yep. You can’t do it with you cannot. You need such like, you know, I talk about nature and nature truly spoke to me like in a Dr. Doolittle way. Like I heard voices in nature, you need that level of sensitivity to.
[00:39:11] The world in order to forge something out of nothing, it’s just, it’s impossible not to.
[00:39:19] Guy Kawasaki: [00:39:19] And do you think that all hypersensitive people are also creative?
[00:39:24] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:39:24] No, because they’re five of them and not all people have. All five people could have one small aspect of one. And you could have an intellectual hypersensitivity that just makes you a rabbit.
[00:39:37] You need for knowledge, if you just have intellectual and you don’t have the imagination, you won’t be a creative, right. You’ll be a thinker, but it’s combined with living in your imagination. So if you combine, you start to see it’s so cool. If you combine imagination with intellectual and emotional, they usually say the three that are essential for creativity are.
[00:40:00] Intellectual imagination and emotional, which you can understand, right. You feel highly emotional. You feel highly in your imagination and you’re, you’re highly curious and intellectual. What do you think yours are?
[00:40:18] Guy Kawasaki: [00:40:18] I’m going to avoid that. I’m going to tell you something. Okay. So by any chance, do you know who Stephen oil from is.
[00:40:29] Stephen Wolfram is a mathematician and physicist. He is the youngest recipient of the MacArthur award. And I know him, he’s a friend of mine and his conversations are always at a level about physics and corks and particles and stuff like that. That I have figured out that I can talk to him only once every year.
[00:40:56] 10 years or so, because it takes me 10 years to recover because his brain is so much faster and bigger and on such a different plane that I am exhausted for 10 years. And I mean, this as a compliment that you are the second person that I would put in that category, it’s going to take me not, not that I wouldn’t mind seeing you again soon, but it’s going to take me a while to, shall I say.
[00:41:25] Recover is the wrong word, because that has a negative connotation to it, to embrace, to embrace this. This is such a deep conversation. I am so used to people telling me. Yeah. You know, I, I decided that I would. Create this new widget and come to find out more people wanted it. So my partner and I, we decided to ship it and lo and behold more people liked it.
[00:41:51] And then we changed our distribution and that’s the secret. I thought I was going to have a Guy Roz, how I did this conversation. If Guy Rob listens to my podcasts. And here’s this, what do you think his reaction is going to be? Is it going to be like, are those the same people that I interviewed? Why didn’t this come up in his interview?
[00:42:14] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:42:14] Yeah, because people don’t go below the surface. Let’s be honest. You have the courage to go deep. And if people just want to talk about the superficial, there’s a lot of that to talk about. Hey, we have a pretty cool story. We built a $500 million toy company in our garage. Just the two of us with our meager life savings, still dating.
[00:42:32] So it’s a cool story in and of itself. Like. There, you don’t need to go much deeper to have that really sizzle story, but like I’m sold, not sizzle. And the truth is I am. I’m very, I’m a deep person and that’s where I create from. So I think for anyone who’s who has the courage like you to go there, Is such a gift because I do feel like we need to go there.
[00:42:57] Guy Kawasaki: [00:42:57] Moment of humility. I don’t think it took courage for me to do this. Just FYI. I think it took courage for you to write the book. So let’s just give credit where credit is due. I have never had an interview. Like this. Oh my God. So if someone’s listening to this and can identify with you on any of the five levels, what’s your advice?
[00:43:23] What should they do to find themselves in before they’re 50? If you will.
[00:43:30] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:43:30] I love that. So the first thing they should do, honestly, this is exactly what our. Community lifelines.com is going to do. We are going to have a whole series on hypersensitivities and I am going to lead them. And no one’s done this before.
[00:43:44] People don’t even know they exist. Like this is it’s almost like when Susan Cain came out with her introverts thing and it was like introverts everywhere. We’re like, we’re not weird. Like to me, for me, this was the most important thing I ever realized in my life. And there was this one Guy, like if I could meet anyone in my life, you know how they ask that question?
[00:44:06] If you could meet someone, his name is Kazimierz Dubroski. He died in 1980 and he spent his mere, I think, 78 years on this world. Trying to help people like me, highly creative people who are at risk for not surviving in a world that would never accept them. And to me, that’s my only goal to create a community of people who feel that they will never belong.
[00:44:36] And I can say to them, I get you. I get every bit of you and I understand that your scourge is your gift and you deserve to be here. And the other thing we’re going to do, because there are many people who have this hypersensitive nature and haven’t yet discovered their sparks. See, I’m so fortunate because I know creativity is everything for me, and I’ve been able to channel it like the crazy thing.
[00:45:06] When I think about the metaphor of my life. Yeah. I wrote a verse when I was like six years old, which is, I am a mighty Oak tree with limbs outstretched toward the sky often dangered by the elements that rage then roll on by. My appendages are brittle yet. My trunk stands tall in sound ever knowing it’s safeguarded with roots firmly in the ground.
[00:45:26] So I always viewed myself as this Oak tree, my roots here, and my arms were like up leaning toward the heavens, which is where my creativity comes from my imagination. But the trouble was my whole life. My trunk was so dense with. Despair and depression, even thus, I created through this little vein, through my limb that went up to the sky and it found its way through shockingly, even though I disallowed it theoretically with everything I was feeling, but as I learned to discover who I am to accept myself in all my hyper sensitivities, My trunk has now hollowed out.
[00:46:05] And now I’m just this incredible channel all the way, starting in my roots, going all the way through my being up to the heavens. And it’s like the creation now just flows through. We all deserve that ability. We all deserve to find our center to find that spark within us that can. Flow all the way from our core, all the way to the heavens.
[00:46:29] And that’s my goal to help people unearth their sparks, to hollow out their trunk and to figure out what their flow is. And we all have it, especially if we are hyper-sensitive. Some of us just, you know, we, we bumped to convention. We listened to the voice of others around us and we didn’t keep our own souls cry that we needed to
[00:47:10] Guy Kawasaki: [00:47:10] Exploding here. Maybe you should go on Joe Rogan show. Let’s see if he can handle you though.
[00:47:17] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:47:17] I don’t know if I could handle
[00:47:18] Guy Kawasaki: [00:47:18] him. You think? Yeah, you would have him. You’d have him twisted it. The knots, the Oak tree would be growing back into him. I have a tactical question for you. How do you do your deepest thinking?
[00:47:33] What do you say. Like at a very tactical level, do you, I don’t know. Is it a quiet spot? Is it fountain pen and parchment? I mean, what is it, if you S how do you do your deepest thinking?
[00:47:46] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:47:46] I love that. So I have had such trouble with everything in my life. Everything has been a struggle other than creating, and I just simply can be anywhere.
[00:47:59] Any place anytime. I just travel into the white space of imagination and I can get there in a blank. I literally just breathe and just go there. And my issue is that I don’t ever want to come down.
[00:48:19] It’s your rapture. That’s the only way I can describe it and it’s bliss. And because you know why, because anything is possible. And I am in utter control of that big, expansive imagination. And I have created so many lovely things out of that, that I know it’s possibilities and it just intoxicates me to no end.
[00:48:43] So that’s the great thing. And I think because. As a child, I lived in my imagination because the world was so terrifying and I had imaginary friends and I created an entire world up there that had, that is my muscle memory. Most people would be like, how do you do it? That is my default. So I’m fortunate that the hard thing is living here.
[00:49:04] Like you can, you shouldn’t say to me, how do you live in this world? Because my tendency is to always want to just go up there and never come down. And that’s what’s most natural to me. So I always laugh. I laugh when people talk about like, they’re having blockages and like they’re having creative, like dearth because I’m like, gosh, that’s never, ever been my issue.
[00:49:26] It’s the opposite. It’s like too much crazy, too much stuff coming out that it’s like, stop already.
[00:49:34] Guy Kawasaki: [00:49:34] Hey, so you’re telling me that you could be on the tarmac and Newark airport waiting for ground clearance in a center seat in United airlines coach. And you can just go to this place.
[00:49:47] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:49:47] Yup. I do some of my best stuff there anywhere, any place.
[00:49:52] And you can ask anybody in my life. I am always, I’m always because again, creativity is about connecting dots and. It’s about having that, like curiosity and seeing something again, the way it is and thinking, no, this could be different. So you never know. And that’s the way I feel like I have such excitement, utter excitement about the world, and that’s why I love getting out and about, because I never know when I will see something, it might, it’ll be in that center seat and I’ll look at one thing and I’ll say, Oh my gosh, that connects to these three other things.
[00:50:29] And that’s a product. And it’s just like, and I call it the angel sing when you have that just epiphany and the angels sing and you just know that’s it.
[00:50:41] Guy Kawasaki: [00:50:41] How do you deal with quote unquote, normal life? When the angels are always singing in your head?
[00:50:48] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:50:48] It’s really hard. I have to, I have to Brown myself. I have to do a lot of mindful stuff because anytime that something goes wrong or even with one of my kids, they are just whatever, you know, kids they’re in any sort of, of, of angst at any point during the day.
[00:51:08] I’ll start to panic and I’ll start to truly feel myself getting like unnerved and go, my gosh, I can’t handle this and I’ll need to continue to manually ground myself and breathe and be like, it’s okay. Not to leave because my tendency is, I feel like a lot of times I’m a balloon. And I’m floating off that.
[00:51:27] That’s how I envisioned myself. I’m like going up there and I said, I’m watching it. I’m like, there you go. And that someone is no, you don’t. And they’re just taking, like, they’re grabbing it just as it goes out of arm’s reach the corn on the balloon or the string and they’re pulling it back down and it’s off.
[00:51:42] No, don’t I don’t want to come back down. So I just have to sometimes have to force myself. And sometimes it’s okay. And I can be here, but that’s my challenge. My challenge is staying here right here and being okay with being here.
[00:51:59] Guy Kawasaki: [00:51:59] We have to end this interview because my, my simple break, it only handles so much.
[00:52:08] It’s like when your iPhone says no more space to store, any more pictures, you have to delete some or get the iPhone 14 pro max. That’s where I feel I am right now.
[00:52:23] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:52:23] It’s not true.
[00:52:24] Guy Kawasaki: [00:52:24] Oh, yeah, it’s true. You can accuse me of many things, but false modesty is not one of them. Sure. You, so when does the book come out?
[00:52:34] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:52:34] The book comes out mid March and our community goes live mid February, which will have so much really exciting content.
[00:52:44] Guy Kawasaki: [00:52:44] And are you on good morning, America? Are you working on all that kind of stuff
[00:52:48] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:52:48] already? It is happening. And I, again, it’s right. It’s a double-edged sword. Do you want it or not? But I hope that everyone is as incredible as you and wanting to hear the story and, and just don’t get it.
[00:53:02] That was the best interview. Like you didn’t pro by this script that you like had to ask all these questions. Oh, actually
[00:53:09] Guy Kawasaki: [00:53:09] I do have a script. Checking that script. It’s just, my script is better. Okay. There
[00:53:15] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:53:15] you go. Your script is just better. See you didn’t, you don’t give that impression. So that’s, what’s such a gift about you.
[00:53:22] Guy Kawasaki: [00:53:22] Well, I hope that you get on a Terry Gross’s show. I think she would do a marvelous job with you or hear her or her head will explode. Um, You, you tell Terry Gross that she doesn’t know who I am. So it doesn’t matter if he’s suggesting you fresh air. She does either. Does Joe
[00:53:47] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:53:47] Rogan, by the way, that’s pretty amazing for yourself.
[00:53:50] And you are a hero to me, such an incredible author. And your books are amazing. And of course, before this, I absolutely read. I read, I believe it’s in champion. Yeah. And I also read, what was it? Art of the star. Yeah.
[00:54:06] Guy Kawasaki: [00:54:06] I
[00:54:09] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:54:09] sell my books there in my bookshelf, so, wow. That was long before any of this.
[00:54:15] Guy Kawasaki: [00:54:15] Wow. That’s fantastic.
[00:54:16] He flat on me. I’m proud to be on your radar. So thank you so much. And I tell you if I heard this, I would like your toys even more. And because now I know there’s a real, there’s a real soul behind your toys. It’s not simply.
[00:54:36] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:54:36] Yeah. And you know, a lot of people would say to me, That, when I played with your toy, I felt like there was something more to it and it would make me so emotional because I was like, There is I’m channeling so much.
[00:54:49] It’s my salvation. Like it’s literally my whole, so I was so glad that some people seem to feel that because it was true. I want to put the
[00:54:58] Guy Kawasaki: [00:54:58] little pieces of my brain that exploding back into my brain now. Oh, I’m so
[00:55:03] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:55:03] sorry. I didn’t mean to do that too.
[00:55:07] Guy Kawasaki: [00:55:07] I’m going to send this to Steve Wolfrom say, Steve, here I met.
[00:55:10] I met your man. No,
[00:55:13] Melissa Bernstein, Co-Founder Melissa and Doug Toys: [00:55:13] thank you. That means the world. To me, that’s a raw format and that, that sort of begins to put back my ego after the professor. So thank you. He just bought a piece of it.
[00:55:28] Guy Kawasaki: [00:55:28] Can I read you my favorite poem from her book? One more time. Keep it coming, bring it on. Attack me with your wrath for I no longer feel the blows as I have found my path. I hope you were inspired by this episode of Remarkable People. The path that Melissa Bernstein took after 50 years is remarkable. I hope that if you face similar challenges, Melissa story will help you on your own path of self discovery.
[00:55:59] I’m Guy Kawasaki. And this is a Remarkable People, Mahalo to Jeff Sieh and Peg Fitzpatrick who helped me on my path of podcasting self-discovery Mahalo and Aloha. This podcast is brought to you by reMarkable the paper tablet, company, focus more and goof off less using the reMarkable paper tablet.
Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.