Margaret Meloni is a businessperson, Buddhist practitioner, and advocate for what she calls Death Dhamma. She is the president of Meloni Coaching Solutions, Inc., where she creates and provides training and educational programs for project managers. Margaret is also an author and a dynamic speaker who combines inspiration, common sense, and a dash of humor.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in a small town in Southern California, in an area called the San Gabriel Valley. My parents were loving but strict. They instilled a strong work ethic in me, a need to be productive. I probably took this lesson to heart too much, and I work to keep “workaholic” tendencies in check on a regular basis.

The most important lesson my parents taught me is that family is what you make it. My brother and I were both adopted from different families. As far as I know, I have never met someone with whom I share DNA. And I always knew that I was adopted. How could I have always known that I was adopted? Because there was never a day when there was a big announcement or that someone accidentally shared the family secret that my parents were not my biological parents. The way my mother used to explain it to me was that when they brought me home as a nine-month-old baby, they always referred to me as, “Our special chosen child,” or similar phrases. And they never told family members not to discuss the adoption or the fact that either of us was adopted. I have always been grateful for this, and I have always admired the decision that they made in not just normalizing adoption but helping me see that I was truly loved and wanted. Because of this, I have a more global view of family, in some ways no one is my family (genetically) and so everyone is my family.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

There are so many lessons that my older self could share with my younger self. For many of us, part of the journey is the importance of those lessons. Would my younger self have listened? Probably not. A few things that would have made the journey easier include:

Understand that some things are not meant to be. No matter how hard you work and how much energy you put into some situations (relationships, jobs, desired outcomes), you cannot force things into existence. Learn to tell the difference between when to work harder or try a different approach, and when to walk away.

Know who you are and what you stand for, as the saying goes, “Be yourself, those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” (Dr. Seuss)

Never be less than who you are for anyone.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Since MOST of us work with other people, advice that encourages you to act in a way that is harmful to others and damaging to your personal and professional relationships with others is advice that is probably best left unfollowed.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

Back in 2014, my mother and my husband died within five days of one another. They were the two people I was closest to. I knew my husband was terminally ill, and I thought that after he died, spending time with my mother would be part of my healing process. But she was eighty-six, my father had been dead for two years, and it was her time to die.

For me, the only way out of the sadness and grief was to go through it. To be with it. To embrace the lessons, I had learned in my Buddhist practice. To see my own suffering, and attachment and to offer myself compassion.

If I were to try to define how I regained my strength, I would say that this was the formula:

Time + Self-compassion + Self-awareness + Acceptance + Action + Spiritual Path

Time, because, as annoying as it is, it is also true that time can heal all wounds. How much time? That is different for each of us.

Self-compassion because this is not the time to beat yourself up. I learned to be my own best friend. I did not shirk my responsibilities or engage in harmful behavior. I did treat myself in ways that helped me overcome my grief.

Self-awareness, I really needed to understand my limitations and boundaries, and then know when to push myself to exceed those limitations.

Acceptance, understanding that my life was changed, but I was still alive.

Action, I did not just sit on my meditation cushion. I got back to work and created a new routine and actively worked to create a new life.

Spiritual path because I needed meaning and a way to process my grief. In my specific case, Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path helped me recognize and reflect on my pain.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

Create your own definition of success and work toward it. Only change that definition of success when it makes sense for you to do so.

What is your morning routine?

Perhaps the most interesting thing about my morning routine is that it violates so much of the conventional wisdom around morning routines. I do not get up at 5 am unless it is necessary, and I do not wake up to an alarm. I generally wake up naturally around 7 am. I get up, I make coffee and I feed the cats. I feed myself when I am hungry. I review my priorities for the day. And I do something that is so often frowned upon – I answer communications first – or I at least review them! What is the best morning routine? The one that supports you and your lifestyle and your goals. Be open and honest about what works for you and put supportive habits in place. Take charge of your day, take charge of your goals, and take charge of your success. Take responsibility for your life!

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

When I was a child, if I was hungry, I had a snack, if I was tired I took a nap, if I was restless I moved around, if I was bored I looked for new and interesting things. I strive to go back to that. It is simple and effective.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

A healthy dose of honesty in terms of how I really work, and how much I can really accomplish on any given day is critical. I am aware of my priorities and how to meet them. I give myself flexibility. For me, knowing what kind of work I do best and when has proven to be tremendously insightful. First thing in the morning is not the best time for me to jump into something complicated. Late in the evening is also not a great time for me to work on something complicated. Whenever possible I work on the items that require my deep concentration in the middle of the day, until late afternoon. Then I put that work aside and tackle easier tasks. For me, productivity is matching the right task to the right time of day.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

A book I return to repeatedly is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It was the first time I encountered a book that really cut right to the heart of how to live, love and lead. I say it that way because it was introduced to me by a professor in a leadership class I was taking. He came from a very specific religious background. One that I did not share. Many of the books he recommended were written for that specific audience. It was not quite working for me. I approached him tentatively. I was certain that he was going to belittle me for not sharing his faith. But he did not. He simply pointed me in the direction of The Four Agreements. It was the right recommendation, and I was so pleased that he took my question seriously and treated me respectfully. Several days a week I remind myself to follow the agreements, and in this time where people are stressed and upset, I especially work with not taking things personally.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

There are two quotes that I draw on frequently. One is for when I encounter challenges and the other is a reminder of the importance of being kind to others. I know you will be able to tell which is which:

“When someone tells me “no,”, it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.” – Karen E. Quinones Miller

“We are all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass