Melissa Llarena

Founder & CEO, Career Outcomes Matter for Marketers

At Tuck, I really wanted to design my journey.

By Adam Sylvain

As a career coach and host of the An Interview with Melissa Llarena podcast, Melissa Llarena T’10 is driven by helping marketers and creative professionals rediscover their sellable strengths. “The goal is to help people catapult in their career so they are not just trying to pay the bills, or work within corporate systems, but are really excited about what they are doing and have that fire in their belly,” she says. Llarena’s own career journey mirrors the advice she gives her clients to follow their curiosities with a deep sense of creativity and courage. Before enrolling at Tuck to earn her MBA and pursue a career in advertising, she spent one semester in law school. “I made a really hard decision to let go of a dream that wasn’t mine,” says Llarena. “At Tuck, I really wanted to design my journey.”

Llarena’s MBA experience, which included studying abroad in Paris while completing an international internship with Ogilvy & Mather, ultimately led to her next brave career pivot when she launched her coaching business in 2011. Since that time, she’s connected virtually with thousands of clients across the United States and throughout the world, helping experienced professionals overcome obstacles and regain confidence to pursue dreams they left behind. During a time of disruption and uncertainty, here are her tips to feeling hopeful, empowered, and limitless.

Be Mindful of What is Within Your Control.
During this difficult period of COVID-19, racial injustice, and high unemployment reckoning, it is paramount that you focus on what is within your control. Analysis paralysis may be okay for spreadsheets once-in-awhile, but clarifying your purpose and building real momentum in your career requires honing in on what is most important and where you can add the most value.

Resist Outside Expectations.
For anyone who is feeling uninspired and unfulfilled in their current work, now is the right time to redefine your career rather than double down on what is not working. You can follow your curiosities and creativity and make the courageous choice to play bigger, but it requires untangling who you are from what you do and refusing to force-fit yourself into an uncomfortable box.

Be Incredibly Honest with Yourself.
When it comes to making hard choices about what you want in life—including your career—it can be tempting to over rationalize. Finding a career path that is personally meaningful requires taking intentional steps to follow your curiosities, not second guessing your heart’s desires.

Be Willing to Make Hard Quality of Life Choices.
Making hard choices and pursuing big rewards often demands an openness to certain risks. As Theo Travers, writer and executive producer of Showtime’s Billions, recently shared on my podcast, it can also require eating some humble pie. With few exceptions, dreams are realized through intention and hard work, not a few strokes of good luck.

Be Proactive in Changing Other People’s Perceptions.
Once you make the brave decision to pursue a career that reflects your passion and interests—not other’s expectations—you may find some people in your network who have a hard time understanding or supporting your new goals, especially if they are unconventional or unexpected. Be prepared to purposefully and passionately explain why you are making this change and the value you bring. Also be willing to let some people go from your inner circles if you do not feel supported.

Talk to Strangers.
Unlike your existing network, strangers do not need to recalibrate their perception of who you are. By reaching out and talking to strangers, you have a chance to make a strong first impression and enroll them as your internal champions and mentors. Like all of these steps, this requires intentionality and courage. This is also the most important step because it goes against corporate cultures where you are empowered to only speak to people within your level of seniority. When making a shift, it behooves you to engender trust with those in positions of power and influence. This is often uncomfortable but so worth it. I built my podcast as my ultimate excuse to reach out to power players and it’s been incredibly fulfilling.

Overcome Doubt and Rejection. Seek Accountability.
Even the world’s smartest CEOs and entrepreneurs are human and careers are personal. Know that accomplishing your goals will often require overcoming moments of doubt, rejection, and adversity. Stay open to wisdom from unconventional sources. Tuck Next Step alumna and U.S. Olympic gold medalist Breeja Larson attributes the work ethic she developed in part to the example of a former coworker at Subway.   

Build A Legacy and Not Just A Career.  
One of the most common refrains I hear from people looking to move in a new direction in their career is this feeling that they have spent all this time building someone else’s dream. Building a professional legacy that you are proud of is not as simple as becoming financially successful. During each step of your career, you need to constantly assess whether you are pursuing work that honors who you are and where your interests are leading you. 

Believe That You Are the Difference and Act Accordingly.
Playing to win rather than not to lose requires clarity, confidence, and authenticity. As Neil Mossberg, fashion marketer and CEO of Frank151, explains, it takes courage to ask yourself whether you are emotionally invested in what you are doing. If you are not, then it requires even more courage to walk away and find the opportunity that allows you to flourish.

Continue Reading

Related Stories

A Strategic Approach to Talent Management

Liberty Mutual Vice President and Senior Talent Advisor Alice Lin T’14 shares how effective leadership and data analytics can drive positive company culture.

Read More

How to Shake Up an Industry, with Tomo Cofounder Carey Schwaber Armstrong T’10

Carey Schwaber Armstrong T’10, cofounder of Tomo, is working to transform the homebuyer experience.

Read More

How to Be a Successful Product Marketer with Meta’s Federico Queirolo T’14

Federico Queirolo T’14, product and go-to-market leader at Meta, shares his experiences and tips for successful product marketing.

Read More

How to Be a Successful Operations Leader

To succeed in operations, says ZOE COO Nicole Xu T’11, you need the short-term vision to run the business day-to-day, but you also need to be able to think three to five years ahead to build for the future. 

Read More

Improving Financial Health in the COVID-Era

Prudential President Jamie Kalamarides T'94 on how to improve your financial health during the COVID-19 era.

Read More

How to Create a Customer-First Culture

Alison Elworthy T’11, SVP of customer success at HubSpot, offers advice on how to put customers first—no matter the size of your organization.

Read More

How to Build Your Personal Leadership Style

Successful leaders develop their own authentic and personal leadership style, says long-time PetSmart CEO David Lenhardt T’96.

Read More

International Development

As the vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Andrei Belyi T'01 leads TechnoServe’s mission of providing business solutions to poverty in 11 countries.

Read More

How to Keep Your Company Data Secure

What Alison Connolly T’11 finds fascinating, most corporate leaders find terrifying. The director of strategic partnerships at DarkOwl is an expert on the darknet.

Read More

How to Make a Successful Startup Pitch

In her seven years as a venture partner at LaunchCapital in Cambridge, Mass., Heather Onstott T’07 has heard about 1,000 pitches from startups.

Read More

Marketing a Disruptive Brand

Together, two Tuck alumni, Kate Jhaveri T’03 and Michael Aragon T’01, led marketing and innovation at the growing global brand Twitch.

Read More

How to Promote Diversity and Nurture Talent

After Tuck, Suzanne Schaefer T’02 went into management consulting, figuring that eventually she might connect with a particular industry—to her surprise, she instead felt a strong pull toward recruiting and talent development.

Read More

On Networking

Not many people in ball bearing sales finish their careers in venture capital. For Mike Carusi T’93, now one of the most successful health care investors in Silicon Valley, that unlikely journey started with two eye-opening years at Tuck. 

Read More

On Leadership

Bill Achtmeyer T’81 has worked with hundreds of senior executives at Fortune 500 companies and shares five pieces of advice for managing a large organization effectively.

Read More

On Establishing Your Personal Brand

Helen Kurtz T’97, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of Foster Farms, Inc. talks establishing your personal brand. 

Read More

Tips for Transforming Your Career

After positions of increasing seniority at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, and JPMorgan, Kate Grussing T’91 decided she wanted to transform her career by helping others transform theirs.

Read More

On the Rewards of Nonprofit Board Service

Amy Houston T’97 was inspired to attend Tuck after seeing firsthand how a board with for-profit management experience can help a nonprofit, and she kept this lesson in mind when she joined the Robin Hood Foundation.

Read More

On Influencing Company Culture

In his six seasons as executive vice president and chief human resources officer for the National Football League, Robert Gulliver T’97 has helped manage the NFL through some major cultural shifts.

Read More

How Small Businesses Can Use Online Marketing Tools

After gaining experience at several software startups, Gail Goodman T’87 launched her own in 1999. As CEO of Constant Contact, Goodman has helped more than a half-million small-business customers navigate a rapidly evolving industry.

Read More