Working with thought leaders on shaping their speaker platform is an incredible privilege. In this candid conversation, Relationship Alchemist, underwater photographer, poet, and TEDx speaker, Marie-Elizabeth Mali, shares some insight into who she is and who she has become based on her integration of self and how she shows up for her community.
Marie-Elizabeth Mali, A Relationship Alchemist, two-time TEDx speaker and Coach
How do you define Relationship Alchemy?
Relationship Alchemy happens when you learn to take the heavy challenges of love, which can feel like lead, and turn them into gold, which is the ability to work with whatever’s coming up within you and between you and another person in a way that deepens intimacy and connection.
How important is relationship work inside the culture of a team?
It’s crucial for each member of a team to be doing their own relationship work in order for the team to function best as a whole. Self-responsibility is the name of the game!
We all carry habitual and automatic responses to certain triggers, like if someone we’re on a team with looks at us a certain way that reminds us of our critical father, or someone has a certain tone of voice that reminds us of a teacher who was particularly harsh.
If we’re not careful, pretty soon we’re reacting to that team member as if they’re the person they remind us of, instead of being an adult on the same team as us who we can communicate with in present time to let them know their impact, if necessary.
Often, if we’re doing our inner work, once we see the trigger that someone inadvertently activated, it no longer becomes necessary for us to ask them to change because we see that it’s our stuff and it’s on us to work with it.
When we’re NOT doing our relationship work is when we tend to feel a strong need to control how others behave around us so that we can avoid getting activated.
Obviously, if someone on a team is being verbally abusive or is abdicating their responsibility to interact with the rest of a team in a constructive way has to be addressed and rectified for the team to work well together.
What have been the biggest challenges leaders face in the balance of work and relationships?
The biggest challenge has been to get leaders to prioritize their relationships more, instead of expecting that they’ll just be there when they have time to get to them.
As leaders, when things go sideways, we skillfully consider the landscape, pick a strategy, make it work.
But when it comes to our relationships, our well-developed ability to lead and shift outcomes doesn’t necessarily yield the same results.
It can be confronting to realize that no matter how competent we are in our work, we may not already know what to do in the arena of relationships. We have to start almost at square one to learn the skills that work best there.
Because it can be so confronting to admit we don’t know, we can tend to create barriers to doing the work we need to do to improve our relationships.
This may look like avoiding conflict and letting the relationship drift apart.
Or burying ourselves in our work, because it’s where we get to feel successful and alive.
It also may look like blaming our partner for why it’s not working.
If we can open ourselves to the idea that relationship skills are learned, just like we’ve learned skills to lead well, then a whole new landscape of love and joy will become available to you.
You recently did your first TEDx where you opened with a poem, featured your underwater photography and spoke about gender fluidity. How did you come to integrate all of who you are?
This process of integration has been a long time coming for me. As a multi-passionate person, I used to think I had to keep the different parts of me separate, that people wouldn’t get me if I threw all of me at them at once.
But the truth is our power lies in integrating all of ourselves and bringing all of ourselves to what we do. It’s what makes each of us truly unique and makes us stand out.
As I worked on getting clear on my idea worth spreading and worked on my talk, it finally came together when I brought my poetry into it, alongside my underwater photography and my passion for people getting to love and be loved for exactly who they are.
Once I wove together all of my passions into the talk, it all came together.
This is what’s at the heart of Relationship Alchemy, learning to integrate all the parts of yourself into a rich and dynamic whole, and sharing that whole with others, so that you’re no longer moving through the world having to compartmentalize yourself in different areas of your life, which sets you up to block your own fulfillment because you don’t ever get to be fully expressed.
Why is it important for leaders like you to fully embrace who they are and share it?
The age of doing one thing and being another is over. We can see that in one leader after another being taken down for ways that they’ve acted out and caused harm.
What matters in today’s world is integrity, authenticity, and the alignment that comes out of being true to ourselves.
There’s a deep hunger for true connection now that I’m SO here for, having been hungry for true connection my whole life.
Connection happens when we embrace and integrate all of who we are and we share that whole, true self with others. You can see it in the intense devotion people feel for leaders like Brené Brown, Glennon Doyle, Bozoma St. John, and Luvvie Ajayi Jones.
They all show up so real and relatable you can’t help but fall in love with them!
By embodying and sharing our whole selves as leaders, we actually open up permission for others to do the same.
And more people embodying and sharing their whole selves and embracing whole-person leadership in their families, communities, and professions is what this world truly needs for the next phase of our evolution at home and at work.
As a Relationship Alchemist, two-time TEDx Speaker, and host of the Relationship Alchemy podcast, Marie-Elizabeth Mali shows women leaders how to cultivate deeper love and connection in their intimate relationships. Drawing on her Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and over 20 years of working with clients, she teaches women how to show up as authentic leaders in their relationships and work instead of twisting themselves to fit in. Marie-Elizabeth’s work has been featured in Thrive Global, SWAAY, and Forbes. She is also a member of the Forbes Business Council, a published author, and an underwater photographer who has a thing for sharks. Take Marie-Elizabeth’s QUIZ on relationship style.