Maria Phalime: Doctor Turned Award-winning Author

Life Lessons from the Women of TEDxJohannesburg

(Article 2/20 in the series)


August is Women’s Month in South Africa. To celebrate, we’re conducting long-form interviews with 20 women who have spoken at TEDxJohannesburg. Inspired by Huffington Post’s Sophia project, we’re asking them to share stories and advice about topics that are central to a well-lived life.

Maria Phalime shares thoughts on what becomes available when we have the courage to let go. Her story is personal, but the lessons are universal. Click on the image to watch the talk.

What is a recent realisation you have had about living a more rewarding/fulfilling life?

Like many people I spent a big chunk of my life learning the rules of how to live a successful life. These rules are agreed by our society’s culture and norms, and in many ways I learned the rules well. However I now realise that real — and sustainable — fulfilment comes from living in alignment with who I authentically am. This means bucking some of the rules, and it may mean alienating some people. That’s a small price to pay — though not an easy one — for living a truly fulfilling life.

Tell us something about an area of your expertise that took you years to learn.

Throughout my studies and early working life I thought that my ability to think was my greatest asset. And in many ways it helped me to get ahead. But I realise now that I have a more powerful asset in my ability to feel.


For my parents it was a choice between buying a house and sending their children to private school.


So I’ve learned to open my heart and I find that this has enhanced the quality of my work, and the extent to which I can connect with people and be of service to them.

What do you feel is the most helpful thing your parents did for you that many parents don’t do?

By far the most valuable gift my parents gave me was a great quality of education, even when they couldn’t afford to do it. For them it was a choice between buying a house and sending their children to private school, and they chose to send us to school. This has yielded huge dividends for me, and has been my way out of the more predictable path for a Black child from the townships.

Tell us about a book (or books) that had a significant impact on you.

Books have always played a key role in my life. As a child reading novels was a form of escape from the harshness of my reality. I got to see that there was more to life than what I was seeing around me, and they helped me to dream.


I’ve kept a journal since I was a teenager, and this has been a hugely valuable practice for me over the years.


As an adult the books I’ve enjoyed most have been in the personal development realm, such as “The Celestine Prophecy” (James Redfield) and “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” (Deepak Chopra).

What is something small or seemingly insignificant that contributes greatly to your happiness?

I am happiest when I remember that I can only control my own actions, and not outcomes. I’m a control freak by nature, and I can easily drive myself crazy trying to control the world around me. I’m happier now that I’m learning to let go.

Tell us about a memorable gift you’ve given or received.

I am blessed on a daily basis by having the opportunity to work from home while raising my children.

What is a regret you have that others could learn from?

I have no regrets. I’ve made mistakes in the past and I’ve learned from them, but to regret anything would rob me of the opportunity to learn and grow.

Tell us about a travel experience or destination that you would recommend to others.

The South of France is a fantastic travel destination. Not only is it a beautiful part of the world to visit, it is also great for a food lover like me. The French know their food!

What habits/routines do you keep that are especially unique or beneficial?

I’ve kept a journal since I was a teenager, and this has been a hugely valuable practice for me over the years. Journaling gives me an opportunity to reflect on the events and experiences of my life, to gain perspective, to solve problems, and to map my progress over time.

What apps (or other technologies) have the greatest impact on your happiness/personal fulfillment?

The Kindle app on my iPad allows me to take my favourite pastime everywhere with me.

How would you have handled your own education differently?

I’m blessed with the kind of education I’ve had. My schooling and university years fed my brain, while as an adult I’ve taken responsibility for educating myself in a more holistic manner. I will never stop learning and growing, and I encourage everyone to adopt a similar approach.

What do you know now about living a satisfying life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?

I know that I can create the kind of life I want. It all starts with my mindset.

What do you think about when you think about death?

Death is inevitable, so it doesn’t serve me to give it too much thought. My focus is on living a meaningful life. When my time comes to leave this planet, I hope to do so with peace in my heart.


Watch Maria Phalime’s TEDxJohannesburg talk: The doctor who walked away

Visit tedxjohannesburg.co.za for more.

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