by Dina Iglikova
How to Transition from Successful Career to Authentic Living: Mari Chirinashvili's Journey to Self-Discovery and Balance
Mari Chirinashvili’s (CELA’11, Georgia) inspiring life illuminates the courage to reinvent oneself continually. As a young upstart in Georgia's tourism industry, she pioneered a pivotal air route. Yet, at the pinnacle of success, Mari recognized a deeper calling - to reorient towards family and self-discovery. Walking away from a glamorous career, she embarked on introspection that led her to become a health coach and start ventures aligned with her values. Throughout her compelling story, Mari unpacks vital lessons on balancing ambition and well-being, embracing one's full self, and remaining open to life's unexpected gifts on the journey of authentic living.
"Outwardly, I looked like a glossy woman, but inside there was emptiness. The emptiness came from not understanding the balance between work and family and not understanding myself in general because my whole life was built around surviving and achieving".
Mari Chirinashvili
CELA'11, Georgia
Mari, as we reflect upon your earlier chapter in life, it's evident that your tenure with flydubai was notably successful. Would you share some insights and experiences from that period?

I joined flydubai in 2012. But before flydubai, I had spent most of my life in tourism and aviation. From age 19, I worked for an airline. Later, I worked for a travel company. And in 2011, I won a scholarship in the US for a training program on inbound tourism. For one month, all I heard was what an incredible country Georgia is, that we simply live on a treasure that can be utilized wonderfully for niche tourism.

When I returned home, I wondered which countries had flights to ours because, thanks to the training, I realized that air transportation is the key condition for tourism development. One of my discoveries was that, apparently, no one flew from the Middle East to us.

One day, as I walked with a friend in Tbilisi, he mentioned that Air Arabia planned to start flying to Georgia. I went home, read about Air Arabia, and looked into other airlines. I wrote to Air Arabia that I worked for a travel company whose main destination was Dubai and that we would be interested in partnering. They didn’t respond. I found another low-cost carrier, flydubai, wrote to them, and flydubai invited us for a meeting - which was tremendously exciting because I could have never imagined such a major project starting from such a small step.

I flew for the meeting with flydubai’s Commercial Director, and we were told the route seemed unimportant. They had a Boeing 737-800 with 189 seats – how could we fill it from Georgia to the Middle East? This is where my American training came in handy. I was absolutely convinced that tourism would work in reverse – from the Middle East to Georgia. They agreed to come in the summer to study the market further. They visited. We won a tender, and we became flydubai’s General Sales Agents in Georgia. As I went around to travel agencies proposing partnerships, people called me a scammer. But the flight happened. I remember losing around 8 kg before the first flight arrived; I was so nervous. On that first flight, 124 people flew into Tbilisi – a huge number. Today, there are three flights a day to Tbilisi. I believe this revolutionized the history of tourism in Georgia. Of course, had I not made it happen, someone else would have – perhaps the airline itself. But I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Would you attribute your success to serendipity and fortuitous circumstances?

I don't think coincidences are ever truly random. Often, information comes our way, and we either hear it or don’t; we seize opportunities or let them pass. You could call it a coincidence, or you could call it being alert. When my friend mentioned Air Arabia wanted to fly to Georgia, I took that and built all my next steps around it. Within six months, the airline started flying here. Within six months, I had become Fly Dubai's Country Manager in Georgia. And within six months, we were at a trade show promoting Georgia as a destination. It looked like this – in Dubai, people would come to our booth asking what Georgia was, where it was located if it was safe. flydubai played a huge role in promoting the destination.

I remember they assigned me a person for sales from Dubai to Georgia. He joined me as I went around to companies. As the commercial manager, he handled sales from Dubai. We had to persuade major companies to start selling trips to Georgia. At the end of the trade show, I got called in for a meeting with the commercial director. I went in thinking I must have done something wrong and would probably be fired. I walked into the office, and they told me they had a vacancy for a regional sales manager for the CIS countries, Russia, and Central Europe. Would I be interested? After several interviews, I quickly became an employee of the head office in Dubai, responsible for the CIS, Russia, and Ukraine markets. Later, Central Europe also joined my portfolio. I worked there for around six years. It was an incredible experience that brought me to a whole new level of understanding of work and cross-cultural communication. I had to implement completely different strategies in each country. I think that was the most interesting part for me.

And following that chapter, what transpired in the subsequent phase of your journey?

Afterward came burnout, although, at the time, I didn't fully grasp that it was burnout. I read Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now and felt sorry for myself for how much of life I was missing. On the surface, everything seemed wonderful - I had a great position, a high income. I loved my work. But after 2015, after the CELA Academy, I realized for the first time that there was another world where you could live happily rather than just exist. It was the first time I considered what purpose I brought. I clearly saw that relationships were a huge gap for me. At that point, I had a bad relationship with my parents. I was divorced. I had a difficult relationship with my teenage son.

Outwardly, I looked like a glossy woman, but inside, there was emptiness. The emptiness came from not understanding the balance between work and family and not understanding myself in general because my whole life was built around surviving and achieving. A major flaw in being achievement-driven is that you achieve but miss the journey itself. You're so focused on the destination that you miss the path and can't even enjoy your achievement. You just arrived at that point and are already setting a new goal without even realizing to be grateful for what you did. You immediately start chasing the next target.

It greatly impacted my mental and physical health. In 2018, I quit my job and moved to Batumi with my son. We spent six months there, relearning how to communicate and tuning our relationship. I was recovering, you could say. Afterward, I got married again, for the second time.
"It doesn't matter how much broccoli we eat if we're in toxic relationships. We won't get healthier".
Mari Chirinashvili
CELA'11, Georgia
As you embark on this new chapter of your life, can you share the nuances and experiences that are shaping this journey?

I met my future husband at the flydubai office in Tbilisi. He has a company for local tourism in Dubai. He flew in with a roadshow. That’s how our friendship began, then a business partnership, which developed into a personal relationship. After I had my second child, my husband and I decided in 2019 that we would live in Dubai.

Here began my different, more spiritual development, getting to know myself. For the first time in my life, I had the time and opportunity actually to get to know myself. To ponder who I am and what I would really like to do. Did I want to return to an airline, into tourism, or try something new? I don’t think I could have done it in Georgia as well because there is constant socializing. Here, when I moved, I didn't have many friends. At flydubai, I had friendly relations, but you must understand - when you leave, people simply forget about you. You cease to exist, which is also hard to experience.

Could you share more insights about that particular experience?

In theory, I was prepared for it. At CELA, we had covered the concept that we are not our positions; we are not our roles. But understanding something theoretically versus living it are different things. When you're a cool manager with your office filled with flowers and congratulations on your birthday, then you leave, and no one remembers you - literally no one. Even those you thought were friends disappear. On the other hand, I wouldn't put all the blame on others. At that time, I had closed myself off from people, too. Professional contacts and work relationships definitely faded - 99.8%.
Such an experience must have been a profound challenge to one's sense of self-worth, wouldn't you say?

I think so. Additionally, I had postpartum depression, which women don't often talk about. But it's completely normal. The main thing is to recognize it and find the right support system - there's nothing dreadful about it. In its way, sadness can be very beautiful. It's in this state that you gain huge life insights. You reevaluate so much of your life and start to build it differently.

In light of those events, what aspects of your life or perspective did you find yourself reassessing?

I reevaluated relationships. Since then, I have two very close people that I've maintained relationships with. I decided to invest more time in restoring relations with my parents, son, and family. I realized that a woman is the center of the family. I understood that how I feel is most important for my kids and family. It doesn't matter what we say or how we convey information to our children. They read energy. No matter how widely we smile and pretend everything is fine, if it’s not good deep down, children's nervous systems sense it. So, women's mental and physical health carries a huge responsibility.

In 2020, I enrolled in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and became a health coach. A whole new world opened up. What does health even mean? How everything is interconnected - food isn't just what we eat; the primary food is how and where we live. It doesn't matter how much broccoli we eat if we're in toxic relationships. We won't get healthier. So, our work with clients focused first on their "big plate" - what's happening at work, in relationships, finances, career, physical activity, spirituality, and creative energy. If the "main plate" is in order, one can eat McDonald's and stay healthy.
"No one asked me to work Saturdays and Sundays. No one asked me to fly in for a business trip on Sunday to avoid losing Monday. No one asked me not to spend weekends with my son. No one asked me to take a vacation and work on other projects. But for some reason, I worked two or three times more than anyone expected".
Mari Chirinashvili
CELA'11, Georgia
Given that you've brought up your children, specifically your son from your first marriage, he has been a part of various chapters of your life. Could you share the challenges he encountered and how those shaped and influenced your personal path and experiences?

I'm very grateful to my son because when I decided to quit my job, it was a tough decision. I was happy myself because it was a great salary, a great position, and great opportunities. Everything was great. Except for one thing - I barely saw my son. I was constantly traveling. After the divorce, it was hard for him. I saw how we grew distant. We got to the point where he said, I'm tired of constantly traveling, living with grandpa, then grandma, then dad. So, at one point, he went to stay with Grandpa and decided to remain there. It was a huge shock to me because I thought we had a good relationship. But in reality, I assuaged guilt with credit cards, letting him buy anything he wanted. I brought him gifts, took him to the Maldives, and whatnot. But that wasn't enough. It impacted his studies and his overall lifestyle.
I remember I was in Krakow, launching a new route, spending lots of time with employees, explaining, and teaching. And I thought, here I am explaining something for the 10th time to these people, and I still have patience. Why don't I have the same patience with my son? At that point, I simply didn't know how to keep the job and restore my relationship. So, I took a radical path. I wanted no way back to work because I knew if I had a way back, I would definitely return there. My transformation sparked his transformation. Our relationship today looks completely different. I stopped wearing masks; he stopped wearing masks.

Could you elaborate, please?

I wasn't genuine and didn't express how I truly felt. Very often, we get angry at children because of something when, in fact, it's because we can't process our own emotions. For instance, your son doesn't get into the best university. And you get angry. But if you think about why you're angry - it's probably because you expected it of yourself at some point, wanted to get in but didn't, and now you've put hopes on your child. It could be a shame because society actively imposes standards of what ideal kids or families should be like.

With the addition of your daughter to your life, in what ways has your perspective evolved or transformed?

I had my daughter at a mindful age, but how mindful I was myself is another question. I experienced postpartum depression, so I no longer had a choice - I had to get to know myself, connect with my feelings, and understand what was happening. Based on that, I reshape life going forward because, theoretically, I thought a good mom spends lots of time with the child - sitting, engaging, cooking, breastfeeding, etc. And I was acing it on paper. But afterward, I had no energy, nightmares... She was four months old when I started therapy. I couldn’t fully answer when the therapist asked how I felt. I didn't understand my feelings. I felt general anxiety. But what was behind the anxiety?

But as soon as these processes got on track, life changed dramatically. And what does it look like with my daughter now? I believe there's much we can't teach children. Children teach us far more. Firstly, we discover brand new facets of ourselves we didn't know before. The role of adults is to provide a safe space for the child to unfold. She's four years old now. I don't know how I'll deal with it when she’s 14, but right now, I see it this way.

In the broader discourse, there's often a debate about whether women can genuinely strike a balance between a demanding career and family responsibilities. Reflecting on your own journey, you've achieved remarkable success in a prominent company. Yet, during the early stages of your career, you underwent a personal transition with your divorce. You've also shared that there were challenges with your son due to time constraints. Given these experiences, can you offer insights into the perennial question: Is it truly feasible for a woman to seamlessly integrate a flourishing career with the intricacies of family life?

I think it's possible. I'm not one of those women who dissolve into motherhood. I thought I could be that type. I assumed that once I was financially secure with one, two, or three apartments, having passive income, I would just sit around enjoying life. Being a mother. But I'm a woman who needs to expend energy on different projects, work, and so on. I don't think they are mutually exclusive. You just shouldn't force yourself to meet certain expectations. I burned out not because work was hard but because I had too many demands on myself. No one asked me to work Saturdays and Sundays. No one asked me to fly in for a business trip on Sunday to avoid losing Monday. No one asked me not to spend weekends with my son. No one asked me to take a vacation and work on other projects. But for some reason, I worked two or three times more than anyone expected. So, the responsibility lies entirely with me.

Would you say that you shoulder the entirety of the responsibility for those circumstances?

Absolutely. And I don't think it's necessary to make radical jumps like I did, although with the parachute.

Did it open by the way?

It opened, but I ensured such a financial safety net that I couldn't crash. I hear many stories of women quitting without a safety net and then going through very difficult periods in life. My advice would be to turn the question again inward. If you can't do it yourself, go to a professional. It could be a psychotherapist or professional coach.

Understand your values and plan your actions. Is it possible to fix everything where you currently are? What blind spots do we have in ourselves that could open up and change? If not, you need to plan and move on if you feel there’s no way forward there. I like my path, and I enjoy trying new things. It's only through new roles that I discover new facets of myself, and I enjoy that. But we're not all the same. So, my story can't be universal. It's like avocado - a superfood, great for everyone. Cool! But I, for example, can't have it.
Opening an Italian restaurant in Tbilisi and a Pilates studio in Dubai is quite noteworthy. Can you shed light on the inspiration and motivation behind these entrepreneurial pursuits?

The restaurant is a simple story. People knew my husband and I were investing in Georgia, and some wonderful people in Dubai approached us about opening a restaurant. We provided market knowledge. I loved the idea, and we ended up with the best Neapolitan restaurant in Georgia.

Pilates came about through my health journey. After giving birth, I had intense back pain that multiple doctors couldn’t alleviate - nothing helped at all. It progressively worsened until I had to lie down for 15 minutes just to walk to the kitchen table. The pain was unbearable. I found yet another online Pilates instructor. I’d done Pilates before without success, but this time, we started with very gentle exercises. Now I understand where previous teachers had gone wrong. After practicing three times a week for six months, I began to improve - energy returned, pain decreased, and sleep regulated.

I invited the instructor to train me privately. She explained her method from Polstar Pilates, headquartered in the US. It’s a rigorous year of training and a minimum of 400 hours of practice before they certify teachers. As before, when launching the Georgia flights in 2011, information serendipitously arrived. I researched and found they had no regional presence. Of course, I wrote the head office, mentioning my experience launching an international airline in new markets. Ultimately, I secured an exclusive contract to represent Polstar Pilates education in the Middle East, Georgia, and Armenia. Without Pilates, I might have required back surgery, which, as we know, carries no guarantee. This venture emerged from physical suffering, so I deeply believe in it.

Over the course of your journey and through these experiences, have you found a deeper sense of self-acceptance and love for yourself?

I think so - I delight in who I am. Self-love is also about self-understanding. I was a woman who couldn’t devote 30 minutes a day to myself. I felt guilty as if I wasn’t giving enough time to my daughter. Now, I give myself two hours daily without any guilt. The more time I spend on Pilates, meditation, and so on, the more I fall in love with myself.

Which practices or rituals have you found to be fundamental for you?

Nutrition is the base, and by that, I mean primary and secondary food. The primary is the environment we inhabit – what is the atmosphere at home, the state of my relationships? I often catch myself feeling anxious and immediately consider who I spoke with, what was said, what triggered me. So, home environment and self-expression are paramount. With those two areas sorted, what helps me stay grounded rather than lost in thought is – walking, cold showers, meditation, and Pilates. My mind is very active, so during the day, restorative yoga nidra really supports me. It’s essential not to forget self-care rather than endure burnout, thinking I’ll relax after completing a project.

Do you make time for other interests? If so, what are they?

I’m currently fascinated by menopause, as at 42, I'm premenopausal. It’s not openly discussed, just like depression. Menopause terrified me as a child, but the more I learn, the more I realize it can be an incredibly productive time for women. Premenopause and menopause put our lives under a microscope. Any issues we try to bury and ignore will surface. The sooner we do the excavation work, the smoother menopause will be.

Do you mean both physical and mental health issues?

Absolutely. Here, relationships are paramount again – how we relate to ourselves and accept ourselves. Women at my studio will finish Pilates class and go lift weights. They’re battling their bodies, trying to reconstruct themselves. For some reason, they want the physique of a 25-year-old. I don’t judge them, but I long to tell all women that 45 can be as beautiful as 25. We don’t need to appear 25 to love and be loved. Who tells us we must have six-pack abs or a Brazilian butt? If it’s not our genetics, why force it? Perhaps just get to know your body and love yourself as you are. I never had a flat stomach. Either I accept that or continue a losing battle.

Throughout the various chapters of your life, have there been individuals who have stood out as sources of inspiration for you?

You actually give me chills saying this. My health coach played a huge role, as that was my first step into focusing on nutrition.

Over the recent years, are there any books, films, or music that have profoundly resonated with or impacted you?

I have a few books always on my desk that I reread periodically. Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God. I feared that book, given my religious upbringing. As a Christian, I harbored much fear that God could become angry and punish me. Whenever I entered a church, I felt afraid, forever guilty. But that was in the past. Two years ago, when I first read it, so many rigid mindsets dissolved, like loosening screwed-in screws.

For instance?

We were often told that too much laughter would bring God’s punishment; you can’t laugh that hard. And frequently, I would worry that if I were enjoying myself to the fullest, something bad would happen next. But in fact, if you expect something bad to occur, you spark that very reaction and start experiencing those emotions. The greatest insight from the book is that we constantly rush after something. We don’t need to figuratively climb Everest, okay, do it if you wish, but don’t miss out on life today. Because tomorrow I’ll climb Everest, yet today I’ll enjoy my breakfast.

"I sincerely wish for people to love themselves first and foremost. Because in loving ourselves, we love the world differently, we start vibrating at a different frequency. Accordingly, completely different opportunities come our way".
Mari Chirinashvili
CELA'11, Georgia
How significantly do your Georgian heritage and upbringing play a role in shaping your life's choices and perspectives?

I grew up with feelings of shame and guilt. For some reason, everything was shameful and ugly. It took tremendous work to free myself from all that.

My mother is Russian, and my father is Georgian. We lived in a small town, and I think the social environment greatly impacted my mother since she was the unwanted Russian daughter-in-law, constantly scrutinized.

Would it be accurate to say she was in a mode of perseverance and survival during that time?

Surviving, yes. And that survival mentality certainly transferred from mother to daughter.

If you were given the opportunity to impart wisdom to your younger self, what message or guidance would you convey?

To my younger self...I would feel tremendous compassion for her. Honestly, I would hug little me tightly, the girl full of fears and difficult beliefs, feed her the most delicious treats, dress her in the prettiest clothes, and let her express herself.

As we draw this conversation close, is there any final reflection or message you'd like to share with our audience?

I sincerely wish for people to love themselves first and foremost. Because in loving ourselves, we love the world differently, we start vibrating at a different frequency. Accordingly, completely different opportunities come our way.