Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health and wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Melena Kiriaki, Co-Founder of The Awareness & Compassion Project, located in Austin, TX, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
The Awareness & Compassion Project is the name of our organization. We teach kids and teens—and teachers, parents, and counselors—mindfulness and meditation! We are a humble gathering of a yoga teacher, a filmmaker, and a musician to help do just that: plant seeds of awareness and compassion in the hearts of young people.
Tell us about yourself
For so long, I thought I was my mind. The thoughts in my head controlled everything. My fear, my anxiety, and my stress were all parts of me, and they made up who I was. Growing up, it was all I knew. In order to survive, I convinced myself that this was my edge. My constant thinking, my worrying, and my productivity of always DOING—I thought this was what made me successful. Being the child of two immigrants who moved to the US for the American Dream, my early achievements were widely accepted and, as time went on, expected. Of course, being a first-generation American in my family, I wanted to make my parents proud. The mindset I engrained in myself wasn’t just to meet expectations but to redefine them. However, it was my own misunderstanding of my relationship with my thoughts that led me down a path of utter burnout. There was no room to move. I was a "human doing."
I heard about meditation here and there. I thought it was an excuse to take a break. I didn’t see any value in this. Where was the productivity in "sitting"? Ah!—to think more! I ignored it. But meditation kept popping up. Over time, I learned that it was a consistent practice of meditation that worked. I figured, "Okay, I go to the gym every day—I don’t expect to hit my fitness goals after one day... so consistency makes sense." I was also an athlete, having played basketball since I could hold one, so I reasoned that if I could commit to practicing and improving at a sport, surely I could at least try meditation—if only to prove that it didn't work.
I decided to commit myself to sit every day at the same time for ten days to prove to myself that meditation did not work. I was so skeptical, even embarrassed, that I told no one. I was in college. I went into my room, closed the door, and pretended to study. I secretly turned on a meditation recording. I remember the first day I laughed to myself. I was thinking the entire time! About thinking! I vividly recall the whole ten minutes: what emails I’d send, which chapters I’d finish for homework, and what I’d make for dinner. "Well, that was productive." I laughed because I knew meditation couldn’t be just sitting and thinking. But what else would I do? My thoughts are ME.
After all, I AM my concerns, right? "This is my edge," and why I achieve so much. Part of me didn’t want to let go of the fear that all of my success and achievements would follow. How would sitting to meditate help me? But I did make that commitment. So I did the same thing the next day. And again on day three. I told myself I had made a ten-day commitment for ten minutes. I was skeptical the majority of the time and only did it to prove it! That meditation isn’t for me. It wasn’t until the last day that I noticed my jaw gaping open and my eyes tearing up when the ten minutes were over. I can’t quite put it into words because it was a feeling—it was space. I'd never felt so detached from my thoughts before.
From my mind, I finally experienced space to observe my mind, my emotions, my thoughts, everything. Space to see everything more clearly. I now had proof that there was more to me. Much, much more. This was the consistent commitment throughout. Meditation transformed my entire perspective on life. Not only do I show up better for myself, but I also show more compassion and empathy to the people around me. My meditation practice also helped me discover my spiritual yoga practice and my passion for intentionally spreading both techniques. I know many people who have tried meditation for a few days and given up. And it is my joy to share with them all the benefits of regular practice: mind, body, and spirit.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
The fulfillment. The biggest accomplishment is the fact that we found meaningful work that aligns with our dharma. I am balancing a corporate career alongside my entrepreneurial work with the intention of becoming a full-time entrepreneur in the future. There are few things as fulfilling to me as meditating with kids. and showing them that they are not their thoughts. I wish I had known this when I was much younger. And as soon as I figured it out, I knew that this was what I wanted to do full-time.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Building a brand takes time! Staying consistent with everything. Patience and the ability to balance all of the responsibilities—from research to product development to marketing and sales to administrative work—are essential. All of this is alongside personal growth and continuing my own education to improve my own ability as a teacher. It’s a lot of work! But it’s also not working.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Do only what you are extremely passionate about. You must be passionate about your business, given the amount of time you devote to it. There are a lot of things from a lot of angles that are going to make you feel like it might not work, and so rooting yourself in the intention of "the why" you’re starting the business is what pushes you through, especially when things get hard.
- And having amazing business partners is also a plus! We’ve found that our team is very complementary—we have a great dynamic in how we work, so we’re able to get a lot done in an efficient and soulful way.
- We teach mindfulness in our work, so it's critical that we truly embody this level of mindful awareness in everything we do: from how we conduct meetings to how we create content. We've done quite a few group meditations as a team to kick off our most important meetings and projects.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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