Maya Elhalal- Levavi by Caryl Duenas
I recently had an amazing opportunity to interview Maya Elhalal-Levavi. I was thrilled to get to know her and learn about her life as a mother, as an entrepreneur, how she conquers her fears and just a little bit of her romance; so that I can share her story to our women today.
Maya is a founder and CEO of ESH ( meaning “fire” in Hebrew) Media, a curator and a host. She is also the co-founder and President of EO (Entrepreneurship Organization) Israel.
In 2015, Maya was featured as a futurist in Forbes list of 50 Influential Women in Israel, and TNW’s global list of 100+ women speakers in science and technology. She speaks about trends in futurism, emerging science, breakthrough technologies and the impact on society, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Maya is a graduate of Singularity University, the Zell Entreprenership Program and IDC Computer Science program. From the ESH Media Office in Herzeliya, Israel she leads an international team of master telecommuters who are all native digital speakers, location independent and beautiful minds.
Maya lives with her husband, Noam and their three kids: Agam (4 1/2 yrs. old), Zoe (3 yrs. old) and Nelly (almost 2 yrs. Old).
What is the most rewarding part about being a mother for you?
My older and more experienced friends tell me the most rewarding part about being a mother is when the kids leave the house. For now, I feel very grateful to be a mother when one of the kids surprise me in a spontaneous act that reveals a quality in them that I admire and wish I myself had more of. Nelly my youngest, for example, not even 2 years old yet, expresses great sensitivity and empathy from a very young age. If her brother or sister cry she immediately goes and stands by them and pets their head. And the other day her nanny told me that she was feeling sad and that Nelly must have noticed because she came to her and started petting her and hugging her. She said it felt like she was trying different gestures to console her. Getting the opportunity to observe the development of skills and personality up close is a big privilege, and it feeds my curiosity about human nature. So when the kids do something annoying I like to think of them as kids in general – kids will be kids… But when they do something particularly nice, it’s because they are my kids, But to be honest – they get the kindness genes from their father.
What is the one thing you never had that you want for your kids?
Family traditions and memories of home cooking. They get the latter from their grandma. And Noam and I are getting back this year to a tradition we had till 2 years ago – a family new year video greeting. This year we are shooting it in 360 for Virtual Reality headset.
What is your biggest fear as a mother?
My son Agam was “made” in New York, Zoe in Zanzibar, Nelly in Tel Aviv. I am taking this interview from Thailand. My biggest fear is to “check” Krabi island too. My second biggest fear as a mother has
to do with education. The standard public education systems available to my kids right now teaches how to fit-in and rewards excelling at stuff that has little to do with their happiness, sense of meaning or contribution to the world when the grow up. The curriculum is outdated, on some topics they are taught the common-sense answer, which may not be wise at all. They are tested about the wrong things and in ways that teach them bad learning habits. My biggest fear as a mother is that I may fail at teaching my kids about aspects of life that matter and that school doesn’t teaches, like: managing relationships with people, dealing with emotions (specifically the ones that are harder to deal with like disappointment, sadness, loneliness, fear) and about curiosity and critical thinking.
For working mothers out there, any suggestions on how to keep your life balanced as far as prioritizing work and home and still have a rewarding career and a happy family?
The first and most important suggestion I can offer: get along with your mother in-law. Second, start thinking of sleep as recommendation. Third, remember that the secret to happiness is low expectations. And on a more serious note, this is a question that I ask myself too, because I do feel the conflict and I keep looking for better solutions and balance. One challenge is that the kids’ needs change as they each grow and also the demands of the career that I want to pursue. I don’t think there is one right point of balance but only a point that is right for me at any given time. And most likely, I creatively find rationalizations to why that is good balance. For example, when the kids skip dinner I convince myself that it isn’t healthy to eat after 7 pm, and when they skip a shower I tell myself it is good for their immune system.
To ur questions about work-life-balance, I’m not sure I’m qualified to offer tips, but I can share what works for me. First, what allows me to focus on my work and to travel is the rare mix of a support I get in raising the kids. My husband is amazing and very hands-on with the kids, we have a weekly schedule of “shifts” by the grandparents, and great hired-help too. That allows for the work part. As for the life part, planning and scheduling time with my husband and with the kids and putting it in everyone’s calendar helps make sure it happens.
What keeps you up at night?
The kids. Not because I worry about them, but because 3 under the age of 5 (Agam is 4.8, Zoe 3.3 and Nelly 1.9) I mean they still keep waking us up. But in the rare cases that I do find myself having trouble falling asleep, it’s when there’s some internal turmoil going on, that I am not able to explain to myself the reason for. I think I can best describe it as a sense of in-congruence, or a distance from myself, like something doesn’t feel right and I can’t tell why. One thought exercise that helps me in those moments is rolling the day backwards, from lying in bed till the morning searching for events where my actions were in miss-alignment with my intent or values. If I can’t find it I go back days and sometimes weeks. When I find it, I can go to sleep knowing that in the morning there is something to think about more and to be learned, or to resolve with another person.
What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
Cook. And then maybe I’d start a school that teaches the right things in the right way. Attending some of the best conferences in the world, like TED, organizing 4 TEDx events and many white label and original conferences over the years, I gained a feel for what creates engagement. The goal of ESH Media is to cut down the time between new-found knowledge, the people who need this knowledge to make a real difference, and the impact it can make. So today, I apply what I have learned to adult audiences. But the real challenge is starting earlier and some day I’d like to bring this to high-schools. Or if I really couldn’t fail, even younger.
What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?
Best: studying computer science as major in university with an additional 1-year track of venture creation and entrepreneurship. As for the worst, I must be great at rationalizing bad decisions because as I was thinking about this question I found myself going over many decisions that were bad in retrospect but the internal conversation about it was: “yes it was bad, but if I hadn’t made this lousy decision I wouldn’t have gained this important insight…” But in general, I believe decisions should be tested in the context of the knowledge and abilities I had when I took it, and not mistake a bad outcome with a bad decisions. But if I have to name one: there was one time that I was careless with the feelings of someone that I loved and I have regretted this since. I keep wishing I could take it back. And now, with Adel’s new song playing on the radio all the time, I can’t not think about it.
What are your fears?
My biggest fear is a long vacation with the kids! My second biggest fear is that risk-aversion or comfort or limiting beliefs or fear might get the best of me – and that I will settle for less than what I dream of for myself in life.
How do you push through your worst times?
Ben&Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. If that didn’t work I go for a good cry! Seriously, I think men are missing big time with this one! Then, I go to my diary folder in evernote and I remind myself of times
in the past that seemed hopeless or when a challenge seemed insurmountable and how I was able to overcome it in the end. I also keep a list of kind things that people that I admire have written to me and I go back to this file. There are songs that instantly pick me up, like ‘Tonight’ by Queen (It got me through many hard moments when I was alone in New York giving birth to our first son Agam who came early when Noam was still stuck in Israel) or listen to ‘I Got Life’ by Hair, which always reminds me of a good friend who got sick and my thoughts shift to how grateful I am to still have her around. And if all else fails, I watch any good “pale-blue-dot” perspective movie and it reminds me how little my problems actually are.
What sacrifices have you had to endure to make it to where you are right now?
Over the years, I gave up tempting leisure proposals to study, and in recent years I give up sleep and I miss many social events that I want to go to. I also rarely just go out with friends, and I miss that.
Describe the happiest moments of your life, the saddest moments and how you coped with it?
I don’t know if happiest, but one happy moment was when I got the hang of lucid dreams and could will it to happen. As for sad, I used to get sad very often, that’s why I am on a very strict news diet and curate much of what I read or listen to. I still get sad. My sadness I can take but when someone I love is inconsolable, that’s very hard for me.
Are you a romantic person?
While my ex’s may not all agree, I think of myself as a romantic person. A sunset candle lit dinner on the beach can be romantic but it can also be incredibly sad and lonely when each person is in their own head or if the conversation is boring. But intimacy in conversation, sharing a moment of true vulnerability, humor and openness with someone – that is very romantic to me.
How long have you been married?
What do you think is the secret of a healthy marriage?
Date night, vacations without the kids, and that I am always right! Also, I learned that with both of us
working and traveling, it helps to plan the time together to be special and memorable. Also, frequent check-ups on what we each want and need is important, because it keeps changing. Noam and I are testing a new system of join-accountability on goals starting in 2016 and I’m curious what it will do.
When did you consider yourself a success?
There are things I’m proud of achieving but the distance between where I am and what I consider success seem to remain the same.
What are your success habits?
For things I do more than once I like to write a flow or a “protocol” and keep optimizing it. Over the years this has added up into effective systems and work-flows. One behavior that I wish was a habit is doing what is important before what is urgent.
What would be your legacy to other women in Israel and in the rest of the world?
I want to think that I am too young to think about a legacy.
For your great grand children reading this years from now, Is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
That not knowing how to answer this question is totally ok.
I was thrilled to interview this intelligent and very beautiful woman. And when it was over I was left feeling inspired. Angel Rising Magazine is very pleased and would like to thank Maya for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to talk with me.
Maya Elhalal- Levavi, who is the ceo and founder and co-founder of two major media venture companies, and who has been featured in Forbes and TNW is a female entrepreneur whose mind is amazingly brilliant. She’s a true example of what an inspired women entrepreneur should be in terms of building an empire while finding balance raising a family. She is definitely a restless soul and a dangerous dreamer who loves to create and educate and inspire people all over the world.
When it comes to your career, how did you get your start?
I co-founded 4 Internet ventures from when I graduated with a BA in computer science and for the 7 years that followed. Then at 30 I could afford a break and felt that I had earned to follow a passion project that was not-for-profit. Together with 2 close friends I licenced and curated the first TEDx event in Israel and organized another 3 TEDx event in Israel and New York after that. I loved everything about it and started licensing more international conference brands and developing own event formats. This eventually lead to the founding of ESH Media and to what I do today.