From Doctor to Award-Winning Author: How Maria Phalime Followed Her Dream

Maria Phalime had finally become a doctor but soon realized it didn’t give her the fulfillment she hoped it would, and the demands of her job became overwhelming. She chose to walk away and has now found success as a motivational speaker, coach and author.

Tell us more about yourself. Who is Maria?

I grew up in the township of Soweto in South Africa. My dream as a child was to become a doctor, and I worked very hard to realise that dream. Unfortunately, when I started working as a doctor, I realised that my dream was far removed from my day-to-day reality. I eventually burned out in medicine, which prompted me to leave the profession for good.

I’m a coach, leadership development facilitator and speaker.

Nowadays, I work with doctors, academics and leaders in the public and private sectors, helping them to achieve the goals that matter most to them while thriving in all areas of their lives.

Why did you walk away from medicine?

I burned out. The public health system in South Africa is highly dysfunctional. The demands placed on doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals lead many to burnout.

How did you know writing was your calling?

I wouldn’t say that writing is my calling. Writing is an instrument I use to express my thoughts, feelings and opinions.

When I wrote my memoir Postmortem: The Doctor Who Walked Away, I was responding to an inner nudge to share my story with others and to highlight the challenges that many doctors face.

How did you deal with the transition from a doctor to a writer and how did the people surrounding you respond to your decision?

My career path has been colourful, to say the least, and it continues to evolve. I think too often people define themselves by the work they do, which makes it difficult for them to consider alternatives when their work becomes detrimental to their well-being.

The people who care about me support my decisions. I don’t make decisions lightly, so they’ve never had reason to be concerned.

Who inspires you and why?

I admire people who have the courage to live life by their own rules. Society tells us who we should be, where we should live, what cars to drive, and what to care about. I love seeing people who go against the grain, honour the truth in their own hearts, and gain success because of it.

What advice would you give to women in line with finding their purpose?

We all need to learn to spend time tuning in to the wisdom within, whether it’s through meditation, prayer, journaling or even taking walks in nature.

Most people are afraid to leave their comfortable jobs and start a business or follow a different path. What is your advice to these people? How can one deal with the fear of change?

The fear of change is a normal human reaction, a survival mechanism designed to keep us safe. So, I think the first thing is to realize that there’s nothing wrong with you if you feel afraid!

Then, decide how important the change is to you. If it is really important, start taking tiny actions to move yourself towards your goal. Often people think they need to take giant leaps, which makes them even more afraid. Leaps require a lot of energy, and you have no way of knowing how you will land. However, if you take tiny baby steps on a consistent basis, you will build internal motivation from seeing yourself making progress, and in time you will also tame your fear.

What are your key achievements?

I’ve done a lot in my life that I’m proud of, from qualifying as a doctor in the first place to having the courage to walk away when it wasn’t working to reinventing myself as an award-winning author and successful coach, speaker and facilitator. I’m also the proud mother of two wonderful girls!

I continue to learn and grow as a human being, and I’m sure many more achievements lie ahead.

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