Power Women: Iti Malken of Level Up by Iti On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman
You are absolutely worthy of everything you want in life and you get to have it all. Just focus on one big goal at a time so your attention isn’t scattered. If you put your focus on one goal, it often happens that the other goals will align as well. Or you will have an even clearer picture of where you want to end up. So, get crystal clear on your current goal!
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Iti Malken.
Iti Malken is a self-development expert for women and the creator of Level Up by Iti. She believes the secret to creating more success is to embody your divine feminine energy whether that is in your career, relationships or business. Through her signature coaching method, she helps her clients to make quantum leaps instead of linear movement towards their goals.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was born in the 80s in the Soviet Union. The wind of change was already in the air, yet no one really could dream or imagine what was going to happen next.
My early childhood had two opposing themes, one part being that everything was grey, the houses, the people and surroundings, reflecting exactly the experience that the Soviet occupation was. At the same time some of my childhood memories are super vibrant, with lots of laughter and spending time with other kids in the block, running around in the beautiful woods and being totally free. Our parents were occupied with work, so there was no one really to keep an eye on us and this brought out our creativity in the best possible way.
When the Soviet Union Collapsed in 1991, it was like a fresh breath of air for everybody. My home country Estonia became independent again and the rebuilding of the country could start. The 90s and early 2000s where very turbulent times in Estonia, to say the least. Everything was built up again, but it all came with the cost of uncertainty, poverty and many families falling apart.
But as always there is a bright side. In just 30 years Estonia has turned into a success story of its own, the country has turned into a hub of innovation and technology and has a rich historical and cultural background. I’m very proud to be part of this amazing journey!
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I have always believed in lifelong learning, so I read as much as possible and like to “deep dive” into the eclectic topics that interest me the most.
Even as a child when I was in our family summer house and there were only adults around, I would cure my boredom by reading. I would read about the Middle Ages, Ancient Egypt or Japanese geishas, really anything I could get my hands on. My grandparents’ farm, summer house and our home all had extensive libraries.
Books were the only vehicle for learning which were readily available in the 80s in Estonia. Anything “western” was not allowed but people still smuggled records, books, jeans, anything they could into the country. In some parts of the capital city Tallinn, you could see TV channels from Finland which was free from Soviet rule.
People were just breathing in anything and everything with fascination from outside the USSR, seeing how people were living. Knowledge was power then and it still is!
My journey has led me to embrace self-development as a way of life and I want to share my experience with other people, especially women. My body of work up to the present moment has been a natural flow of ideas which led me to creating Level Up by Iti my signature 4 step coaching method which helps my clients to make quantum leaps instead of linear movement towards their goals.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I started my career in my late teens when I was around 19. I was doing my degree and working at the same time. It was normal to juggle 100 things at the same time. Looking back if I could do it again, I would take the time to enjoy the learning process and being in an educational environment and postpone work to much later on.
My first “real” job was at an advertising agency in Estonia, and later I moved into Public Relations. The high intensity masculine energy in the companies I worked for left me burnt out. There was actually a time in my life when just the sight of a computer would make my stomach turn.
I decided to take some time off and travel, which I did extensively. I went to Southeast Asia. At first I landed in Kuala Lumpur and travelled around Malaysia, Bangkok and then later on in Singapore and other places. I was freelancing with my tiny PR business back then and I remember being on a small island close to Bali, in one of the Gili Islands where I was staying for a couple of weeks. It was before the digital nomad movement started and became popular in Bali and all over the world.
I was sitting in a cafe with my laptop just near the beach trying to send out a press release that did not want to go through. It was like mission impossible as the internet was so slow on the whole island. Suddenly I took my eyes off the computer and looked around. I was in sunny Indonesia, on a golden beach in February, surrounded by total peace and calmness. In that moment I understood that I could do anything I set my mind to. That was probably the most empowering moment of my travels. And I got the press release sent as well with the help of Gili island spirits.
You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I will share with you the qualities which I believe have been the most important to me. These are qualities which I have honed on my own self-development journey.
1 . Motivation that comes from within. I have always been very motivated. Growing up in Estonia you had to be very creative to succeed even in the smallest things and get your message heard. I soon learnt that the “fire” inside you must be so big that you just can’t wait to jump out of the bed every morning.
A lot of my clients ask me how I stay so motivated, and the truth is I don’t need to see out extra motivation. I need the opposite. I sometimes need to try and not do everything I want to do at once.
Meditation has helped me to learn how to stay grounded and I practice it every day. My best piece of advice to anyone who struggles with motivation is to take some time off to get reconnected to yourself and discover what you REALLY love and enjoy in this life. The motivation will then come!
2 . Inner Work has been the biggest game changer in my long self-development journey. Inner work is often overlooked because it can be uncomfortable. What I have learnt is that if you do not start this journey on your own, life sooner or later will push you to.
Inner work is about taking back your personal power and owning your journey to inner peace. It is about being present, slowing down and feeling what is really going on in yourself and around you. Also, you need to fill your own cup before you can fill anyone else’s. This is a important reminder for women especially.
3 . Emotional Intelligence that comes from Inner Work is the key to success. Emotional Intelligence will be even more important in all areas of our lives and a highly sought-after quality. Artificial Intelligence will take over the mundane tasks in our lives, but it will not have the ability to feel or have emotions.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
I’m a big believer in soft power. What do I mean by that? Be so strong that you can be gentle, that’s the real power of women. Women should embrace their feminine side more; it creates more prosperity in the long run than any Excel sheet ever could.
Ursula von der Leyen is a beautiful example of a woman who is an excellent communicator and gets her message across yet is still harmonious in her masculine and feminine energy. I love when she nonchalantly brushes off some unexpected questions thrown by the press and remains true to herself. You can see that she enjoys being Ursula. She is a true feminine powerhouse!
I love my masculine side but when you operate 95% of your time in masculine energy as a woman you become burnt out. Evolutionary men are built to thrive on masculine energy, be warlords and embrace danger. Women are created differently; women thrive fully in creativity and flow. Feminine energy is often viewed as weak by society, but this can be further from the truth. Feminine creates humans and nature is feminine energy, these are the most powerful forces in the world, and we are all missing out on them collectively.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
It saddens me that many companies still haven’t understood that women and men function differently and need an individual approach. Often only masculine characteristics are praised in the workspace.
Like nature has its seasons, women are cyclical beings, and we are not created to be alert 24/7 like men. There are times when our masculine energy dominates and there are other times when we need to rest, take it easy and lean into our feminine energy. From this perspective alone it explains why the 40-hour work week is an outdated concept.
Taking all of this into account, it is no wonder that most of my clients are burnt out and they can’t figure out what’s wrong. Everything seems so perfect from the outside and their life should be amazing by today’s societal standards. But they find something is still missing…
Many women are still trying to fit into this masculine office mould, when they should be creating a pathway on their own, free from corporate stress and letting their creativity flow. I’m not saying everyone should be an entrepreneur, but it is important to know that the opportunity exists to carve out your own path in a way which is aligned with what you truly want. One size fits all simply doesn’t exist.
Adapt everything to your own needs and wants. It will create much more abundance in all areas of your life in the long run as well as creating a ripple effect on society on a larger scale.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her? What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
It is an art form to make everyone around you feel included. Women are excellent communicators by nature, so you’ll probably know by instinct what to do in this case and what’s the best solution!
As a society, there should be more opportunities for all, not just a select few. It is unbelievable for me that in 2023 one of the most powerful countries in the world has a non-existent health care and parental leave system. Women give birth and are expected to be back at their work cubicle almost instantly. You just gave birth to a new human being that needs closeness of both parents, nurturing and care!
This situation would not happen if there were more women and feminine energy in the higher echelons and politics. Right now, it is a boy’s club and half of the world’s population is unrepresented. True, there has been a shift towards women in high power places and politics in recent years, but I feel like these positions are given to women just because the previous leaders have failed miserably or were just totally corrupt and no man wants to take them on and ruin his reputation. These jobs are kind of hand me downs to women to fix the mistakes of previous generations. And that is setting up the future women leaders to almost certain failure.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
Women are powerful this cannot be ignored. But what I want to point out is that this “I don’t need a man, I’m a strong and independent woman” narrative that is so popular now, is not helpful. You do not need to do everything on your own, it is important to trust others as well. Yes, independence is great, but we need to understand that humans thrive in communities. Let’s face it, women need men as much as men need women. And that is beautiful.
What I see as real power is being able to use your feminine energy and masculine energy when needed. Different circumstances need different solutions. Sometimes it is great to be a masculine powerhouse and the next in your feminine creative and playful mode. The ability to do that is what I call a real superpower!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I love how innately confident men are! If a man enters the workforce, they feel that they have made it and are accepted from the first day onwards. I think that a lot of women feel the need to constantly prove themselves in work situations. Darling, if you qualify for the job, you are already accepted and already more than worthy. No need to do cartwheels here, you are a Queen and there is nothing to prove. Just enjoy the process, the work and do the best you can!
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
My life is my life, there is no real separation between my work and personal life. Everything I create is and integral part of my personal brand and reflects on my life as well. I enjoy both my career and even more, I enjoy my personal life. I keep a lot of things private and my circle small. This keeps things light and easy and that is the way I like it!
If I were an employee, it would be a different story. I would just focus on doing the very best I could during the work hours. But my personal time would be sacred, no work emails or calls.
Also, I would keep very strict lines between work and personal life. After all it is someone else’s company, and the profits are made by someone else. You can’t build your identity only around your work as an employee, that’s a slippery slope. You have zero guarantee that you are an employee of the same company tomorrow. If I was advising someone in that position, I would say start by creating a vibrant life outside your work life and career. I have noticed that the best start-up ideas come from the hobbies you pursue or the work you do in your community. So, there is a high chance that your activities can turn into your own business over time.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
The tipping point was my personal burnout, I understood that I couldn’t function in a constant hamster wheel. Back then there was not much information about this topic and not from a women’s perspective. Also, there weren’t mentors or coaches who could help at the time. The thing with burnout is that often you are unable to acknowledge it yourself. It is difficult to ask for help when you do not know that you need help. How I see it now is that if you know that you might be burnt out, it is quite easy to fix with changes to your lifestyle. Am I saying that it is a fast fix? No, it is not but it is necessary.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
I absolutely love everything connected with beauty. I love flowy dresses, self-care and make-up. I do not think that there is anything vain or superficial about it. If you look good, you also feel good. Looking elegant and presentable is an essential part of my work, and I absolutely love it. Women are the creators of everything beautiful, we turn a house into a beautiful home, we create babies, we add feminine touches to the world. All this should be celebrated!
How is this similar or different for men?
Obviously, Men value beauty in women, it is one of their driving forces behind choosing a partner. But do men need to look good? I feel that men need to look presentable but for me personally, looks are not important. You can’t really choose a lifelong partner based on height or eye colour. Looks fade, character stays.
What I value in men more is their character, their integrity, inner drive, generosity and a strong vision. Men who are in alignment with their healthy masculine side, love to provide and to protect, not only their partner but also take care of the women and children in the extended families. My grandfathers were an inspiration to many, and they both would do literally anything for the sake of their families. These men should be celebrated in society as this is the foundation of how healthy families and societies are created!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need to Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.
- You are absolutely worthy of everything you want in life and you get to have it all. Just focus on one big goal at a time so your attention isn’t scattered. If you put your focus on one goal, it often happens that the other goals will align as well. Or you will have an even clearer picture of where you want to end up. So, get crystal clear on your current goal!
- Be open and receptive in your appearance and poise, this will open you up to so many new opportunities and possibilities. If you walk around in the world with a frown on your face, people assume that you want to be left alone. I often hear the sentence, but no one approaches me! Your face is glued to a screen, no one dares to come closer as you are busy. Enjoy the world and environments that are around you. Look people in the eye, smile and always be polite. This is the biggest take away in order to succeed.
- Embody the person who you want to become, not the current reality. This does not mean that you are fake or pretending to be someone who you are not. Show up to the world as your highest version and the world will mirror that! Yes, it is that easy!
- In order to calm your inner critic and be in the present it is important to take time for yourself. Self-care is important and meditation is a great way to calm the mind and get more into your body. Start with a 10-minute guided meditation if you are a beginner and take it from there!
- Asking for help is something we should normalise. I know how difficult it can be at first to ask for help but just start with the small things. Why is this important you may ask? Asking for help builds connection and trust. It requires a certain amount of vulnerability, a trait that not so many people want to show. We want to portray the “We can do it all” facade. But you never know, asking for someone’s help might be the highlight of their day. You just made someone else’s day brighter, what could be better than that?
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oh, I absolutely love this question! Without any hesitation, this person would be Maye Musk. I enjoyed her book “A Woman Makes a Plan” and she has a vibrant personality and presence. Maye is originally from South Africa, a country that left me dazzled when I visited Cape Town some years ago. I really miss it and can’t wait to go back.
Also, Maye is the proof that you can do or be whatever you want to be and life does not end at 25. I personally feel that life just gets started in our mid 30s. It breaks my heart when people say that they are too old for something. It is just a limiting belief created by your brain and society. Step out of that narrative and start living!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.