The Pain and Beauty of Life

At age 36, I left my financial practice and decided to launch my own business. The company has grown into what is now the SOAR Community Network. In that same year I published my memoir, A Million Fireflies, and coauthored a business workbook, Seen and Sustained, with three female entrepreneurs. That July I traveled to Spain for one month to participate in a friend’s wedding and allowed myself the first vacation in seven years.

When I arrived back in the United States, Victor, yes the gentleman I met while networking, called me to share that he had separated from his wife. He was living with an old childhood friend from Puerto Rico and wanted to start writing and playing music. He knew that I was a poet and that I had collaborated with a friend on writing songs. On that call, he was very honest in sharing that he was trying to uncover his own gifts and talents to create ways of healing and moving forward with his life. He asked if I wanted to meet his roommate and join them in writing original songs.

A year after we started writing and playing music, our feelings for one another grew but neither of us truly knew when it had turned from friendship into love. It slowly happened and it grew through our shared values and vision for life. As complex as it was, both understanding that he was still in the midst of a separation, there was a knowing that we would be fine regardless of what direction our friendship needed to take. We both agreed that peace had to be a part of the equation.

As fate would painfully have it, the same week that he and his wife submitted their divorce papers, she was diagnosed with Leukemia and within 8 months she passed away peacefully with her loved ones, including Victor, by her side.

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. It offers so many contradictions including pain and joy, hatred and love, light and dark, life, and death.

I have come to learn that our life experiences, especially the most painful ones, create an empathy bucket that stretches far and wide. Because I truly understood what happens to a human heart when you lose someone you love, I was able to support Victor on his personal journey of loss and healing. It made us grow closer. I got him. He got me. This newly, yet unwanted experience, bonded and solidified our friendship. Today he is my best friend, husband, business partner, and life companion. He accepts my humanness and knows the purity of my soul like no other on this planet.

The pain and beauty of life means that everything moves forward and in time if we so choose to keep walking toward the light, our spirits eventually find a sense of harmony again. One day we arrive at the end of the dark tunnel and are greeted with new blessings and lessons that will add to the width and depth of our empathy buckets. That bucket will become the reservoir we get to draw from when we realize and accept that some of the greatest roles we will ever play in this life include friend, lover, teacher, and light bearer.

If you’re out there and are feeling alone, remember to look up into the sky and trust that there are infinite souls who see you, have experienced what you feel, and are shining their light upon you.

There will come a time when other souls will be looking up at you and drawing hope and inspiration from your life experiences and the lasting contributions you offered when you were here, living on this earthly plane.

Mali Phonpadith
Mali Phonpadith
Mali Phonpadith is the CEO of the SOAR Community Network and Cofounder of the SOAR Community Nebula, a C3 online community of business owners and nonprofit leaders growing and scaling their organizations to create greater social impact. She is a two-time #1 International bestselling author, TEDx speaker, workshop and retreat facilitator, and Certified Talent Optimization Consultant. In 2015, Mali was selected as a Belief Team community partner through Values Partnership for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network BELIEF initiative. Mali has consulted with leaders of small to midsize organizations for more than two decades. She is passionate about helping leaders map their purpose, develop their people, and build communities of change agents. As the Founder and CEO of the SOAR Community Network and it's Chief C3 Community Architect, Mali and her team are committed to helping leaders increase employee engagement and build innovative teams. SCN does this by mapping strategic vision, optimizing talent and building compassionate, cohesive, and collaborative communities within organizations to help drive business results. She has shared her insights at The Library of Congress, Smithsonian, University of Maryland, George Mason University, SAIC, and other national venues. Huffington Post,, Better Business Bureau (BBB) Trusted Magazine, BBB Podcast, Advisor Today Magazine, Asian Fortune Newspaper, WJLA DC, Radio Free Asia, WHUR Radio, Voice of America, and numerous blog talk radio programs. She has been nominated for several awards including Heroines of Washington D.C. Award by the March of Dimes, twice for the Women of the Year Award by NEW – Network Executive Women and recognized as the iBoss Capital Navigator in for helping entrepreneurs and organizations grow and thrive.


  1. Mali ~ your story is moving … very inspiring. Making your way to the US reminded me of the book: First they killed my father ~ by Loung Ung
    In combination with your story and one similar (whose story I recently learned) I wrote a LI post. (below)

    Yesterday I heard a song that touched my heart. You instantly came to mind as I listened so I share it & a few lines

    Tell your heart to beat again
    Close your eyes and breathe it in
    Let the shadows fall away
    Step into the light of grace
    Yesterday’s a closing door
    You don’t live there anymore
    Say goodbye to where you’ve been
    And tell your heart to beat again
    “The journey of healing”
    It has been said that “what is buried alive never dies.”

    EMOTIONS & feelings do need to be honestly expressed
    Explored as to depth … to be understood
    Pain carried inside … sometimes buried inside … needs to be UNEARTHED.
    LOSSES … need to be GRIEVED before they can be released.
    Grief is a PATIENT process.

    Death & LOSS have freezing powers
    For the loss of a loved one … a child or a spouse,
    time can’t be halted … and grief can’t be rushed
    A heart that is broken … cannot be un-crushed
    “Sometimes I wish I never had to sleep. Sometimes I think that if I stay very, very still, if I never move at all, things will change. I think if I freeze myself I can freeze the pain. Sometimes I won’t move for hours. I will not move an inch. If time stands still nothing can go wrong” ~ Tahereh Mafi
    … If time could freeze …
    I would paint forever pictures
    Then frame them on the walls of my mind
    Of all the people I love
    Those who touched my heart … with their heart
    Some for a lifetime and some for a day
    Are kept my heart … and always will stay
    “Moments frozen in time”

    The key to healing & wholeness is beautifully captured here:
    “Be filled, with the knowledge of a real God and with his grace.” Laila Al-Alwan

    “He Giveth More Grace” by Annie Johnson Flint

    He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
    He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
    To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
    To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
    When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
    When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
    When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
    Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
    Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
    Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
    Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
    The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
    His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
    His power no boundary known unto men;
    For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
    He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

    Be a receiver of GRACE.
    Be FILLED with grace.
    Be a GIVER of grace.

  2. What an incredibly inspiring, heartbreaking story filled with resilience and much inner strength, Mali. I’m completely moved. Yes. You are correct that moving forward and making certain we seek support to move through the painful emotions-so they don’t get lodged in our minds, hearts, or bodies-makes a profound difference. Thank you so much for sharing you story filled with content to which I could relate completely as I have lost loved ones, too. My heart is with you in our shared humanity, healing, and transformation. So beautiful. Welcome to BizCatalyst360!!!

  3. Hi Mali,
    What an incredible, inspiring and so hearttouching journey! So sorry for all your precious losses.
    What your father said “Everything else was an additional blessing that he negotiated with the Universe.” I stopped there for a moment to feel it deep inside, as it kind of resonates with me.
    It is such a powerful insight and so very true, I really love it “What I have come to understand about life’s tragic events is that we will all experience them. With each painful setback, we also get set up for a higher level of awareness and consciousness that prepares us for how we handle future challenges.”
    Very much respect for your journey and your resilience, with no doubt you are a very streng woman, ready for future challenges of life. Thank you so much of sharing your story and very nice to meet you here.

    • Darlene, life’s terrain – I love the analogy and agree. We all go through ups and downs, painful and joyful moments. I’ve been blessed and am blessed to have my family and community to help lift me up from the depths of despair. I write about feeling smothered with care because those were my feelings in that particular phase of grief – but in actuality, their love and support was what guided me back into the light. Thank you for your supportive comments.🙏💕🙏

  4. Thank you for sharing a part of your journey. As you mention, we all suffer great losses, it’s how we cope that provides the forward momentum. Of course it takes time. Of course it involves some ugly an dirty feelings and thoughts. But coming out on the other side of it is where the beauty is. The resiliency. The joy!

    Your father was right, he sure raised an incredible soul. Thank you again for sharing a piece of your soul with me.

  5. Mali, oh I am so moved here. What an inspirational and compelling story. I’m so grateful to read your words and feel your love and compassion here. The greatest pain is given to the strongest people, for they live on to share the lessons and provide hope to others.

    The times where you feel nothing in life after tragedy are like an incubation period. The soul is buried by the physical shock and mind altering events. We are suffocated by the forces of darkness in despair and pain…
    It resonates with me greatly.
    Also, that voice in your head…this is the loudest one I have ever heard on my own head after being in a shroud of depression, Anxiety, and PTSD AS WELL…. the voice spoke… where once I felt nothing…I found spoke to me too.
    Thank you Mali, and welcome!

  6. Oh Mali! Thank you for writing your story! I’m sitting here, crying, your courage and resilience and strength washing over me. I’m grateful you’ve joined our BizCat family. I know your journey and all you’ve learned from it, will continue to inspire all of us.

  7. Thanks, Mali.
    I had a horrific loss about four years ago that flattened me for months and months. There are still ripples from that, and they’ll be a part of the fabric for my life. A friend gave me the C. S. Lewis book, “A Grief Observed”:

    “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

    At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

    Pain will find a way out. Some friends, every time we would talk, would ask the same question: “Are you keeping busy?” I wanted to shout to stop asking that same #$%^& question, but I simply said Yes. At that time, busy meant trying to eat and being very careful doing things like slicing vegetables.

    Be good. And well.

    • Dear Mac,
      Thank you for sharing so openly about your journey as well. There were some very dark and painful days – many more days of numbness and loneliness as we walk in, through and beyond our heartbreaks and stages of grief. Pain subsides, very slowly and over time, you will feel just a touch lighter and lighter and lighter. Surrounding ourselves with good people who love us and give us the room and space we need does help. I wish you more and more lightness through the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Thank you for sharing and connecting with me here. Wishing you well and sending positive thoughts and healing energy to support your journey.







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