On Leaning Into Your Drive: Mélissa Peng

On Leaning Into Your Drive: Mélissa Peng

Leading up to our Winter ‘19 iteration of WORK, we'll feature select interviews with some of our conference's speakers and thought leaders. In this interview, marketer and maker Mélissa Peng talks hustle and drive. Click here for a look at Winter 2019’s conference schedule.


Mélissa Peng a.k.a the Curly Executive is an award winning brand corporate marketer turned entrepreneur, content creator, and business coach. 

Mélissa's journey in marketing started at the ripe young age of 8 as her mother's right hand woman in door to door makeup sales and eventually several network marketing organizations. After completing her MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management she held roles with marketing behemoths including Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, & NBC Universal. Currently her focus has been sharing the knowledge she's accumulated from this wide array of marketing experience via in-person workshops, YouTube videos, and consulting. 

When she is not consulting she is usually making silk flower hair accessories and crowns for her brand camellias and curls or vlogging with her husband on their couples YouTube channel Chocolate Covered Chopstix.

How do you approach concepts of "work-life balance?" Does that term mean anything to you? 

I don't believe in work-life balance or perhaps it just does not work for me. I have built a life where I enjoy working and where 90% of what I do could be considered work by most but could also just be considered living life. It took me 10-plus years to get here and it's a constant exercise of paying attention to possible stressors and learning how to better tweak my plan!

All that being said—I do reserve Wednesday before noon for self-care (massage/chiropractor/acupuncture), and I force myself to do Bikram Yoga somewhat regularly. I also try to reserve one and a half to two days a week where I don't schedule client meetings, as well. I also have a daily dance break that I do my best to make sure happens.  

In order to make all of this happen, I've had to slow down on plans, reduce client work and revenue, and find other sources of passive income to make up for the time spent on me. It was not easy choice but it felt like a need, especially as I got older, so I started by planning these activities first on my calendar then filling in the work around it. 

I learned my lesson after a string of injuries when I did not take a long enough break after a car accident. Now I am focused on preventative activities—exercises that break up the day and things that introduce lots of stretching or force down time as well as nutrition that helps fuel my day.  

How do you approach working with others?

I usually just dive in! I'd like to be more cautious with that in the future, but right now it's just not in my nature. I'm a trusting person. At times, I end up with the short stick but more often than not it begets beautiful outcomes. My husband understands this and supports me and so that helps a lot since there is risk involved in any partnership.

The last note I will make about work-life balance is that the division between "work" and "life," I used to have in my head always made it difficult for me to realize the impact all the life things were having on me and to give myself credit for all the things that I was doing in those areas. As a result, I was taking on too much and feeling burnout—I also would never give myself credit for major time intensive accomplishments I made in the "life" category because it wasn't "work." It was anything but balanced for me personally when I approached it that way. 

What advice do you have for starting/switching career paths?

Go for it! Make a basic financial plan and figure out how much you actually need to make ends meet and how many months you need to have in the bank to feel secure. Also, don't wait until you have that money—build slowly while you work on saving and keep on chugging until you feel it's time to quit. 

If you need to quit right away ask yourself—what are the things you can do in the short term to make that minimum income you need? and do that while you launch what you're passionate about. A lot of people worry that if they fail they can't go back to what they were doing before but for most people that's not the case at all. Do not let fear hold you back. 

One additional tip: If you have a partner figure out your plan and make sure they are aligned and that you've discuss their needs and integrate them as well. 

Have you ever experienced a form of career uncertainty? If so, how did you overcome it?

For sure! Any time I find myself in either a creative lull or when I feel my work isn't making an impact on others I have asked myself: Am I doing what I am supposed to do? And—is this the right place for me to be doing it?

For a long time in corporate, while I loved what I did, I felt that my intensity, passion and sense of urgency were often misunderstood. People thought I had an agenda or took things I did or said personally because in corporate settings there is a set of expectations as to how you're expected to behave and I was different. (Or they'd get me and be totally excited and then burn out and want to be done with me.) I was young and I didn't understand that my drive to constantly push forward was a bit unique in some of the settings that I was in and that folks couldn't communicate that to me. It's easy to process now, but back then it just all felt like a weird roller coaster of being excited and then feeling alone and misunderstood over and over again. 

Eventually I started putting that extra energy into my side hustle and craft business Camellias and Curls. I started vending as a result and met other small business owners that I shared marketing advice with and they encouraged me to speak. That was the start of Curly Executive and now we are a few years later and I have fully quit the corporate world and am loving what I do, how I feel and the interactions I am having with folks! 

Now I just go with my gut if something feels right and I have the time and finances to move forward I go. When it doesn't feel right I stop or communicate with folks and make a change. It's been awesome—not easy—but awesome. 

My advice for someone who is having a hard time in their career would be: 

1. Find something that fills your cup and pursue it.
2. Ask yourself—is there a way to monetize this? 
3. Triple check that the way to monetize it wouldn't make you unhappy doing it
4. Go For it! 

If you think you don't have time start with 15 minutes a day. If it's something you like you'll be surprised how much time you create for it once you start. 

About WORK: WORK is a biannual pop-up space, designed for sharing new ideas and approaches to creative and entrepreneurial work. The event's panels, workshops and speaker sessions explore personal and professional curiosity, storytelling, diversity and equality, business management and creative entrepreneurship. Our next conference pops up in July 2019 at Rowling Hall in Austin, Texas. ✨Click here for more information.

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