Mara Kazantzaki of Beyond Motherhood: Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life
An Interview With Pirie Jones Grossman
Everyone knows that starting a company involves long hours. However, it matters greatly where you spend those hours. Ask yourself: does this activity move the needle forward? I spent hours upon hours in the beginning researching online platforms, agonizing over names for the company, trying to find the perfect online solution to help me move forward. As soon as I stopped focusing on the details and instead went back to looking at the bigger picture, every single action I’ve taken has moved us forward since.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their lives. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50's.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mara Kazantzaki.
Mara Kazantzaki is The Motherhood Architect, international lifestyle consultant and changemaker for moms around the world. She mentors women to redesign their roles in parenthood and achieve greater balance in their personal and professional lives. Through her company Beyond Motherhood, she is creating amazing experiences and retreats that build a space for mothers to breathe, grow, and redefine their identity.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Athens, where family ties and values are high priorities and extended family is greatly involved in the upbringing of children. I was practically raised by my maternal grandmother, who lived with my grandfather and uncle in the apartment below us.
My grandparents were upper middle class, who lost their fortune twice after a war and a coup. My mother was the rebel of the family who rejected their status and married young (good news, she made me!). Growing up in the antithesis of my mother’s and grandmother’s ideologies was not an easy feat, but it ended up arming me for the future. My grandmother taught me how to present myself in society and my mother taught me to think outside the box, cultivating critical thinking.
You may have noticed that I barely talked about the men in our family. That’s because I come from a long line of ship captains (except for my grandfather who was first and foremost a businessman), who were rarely home. But even if they were, dads at that time weren’t involved in child rearing as much as they are now.
I was always interested in human behaviour as much as I loved music since I was young. You would find me reading modern psychology books as a 10 year old, straight after a novel. I continued to study Psychology and Communications in College, alongside my scholarship at Music School training in Lyrical singing.
That all changed when I came to London for my Master’s degree, fell in love and stayed!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I actually have two — not exactly quotes — but that are related. The first one is something a tutor once said to me “The biggest regret will come from NOT doing something, rather than from doing it”. The second is “You can do hard things” which is something our Montessori teacher would say to our little ones. Both have been encouraging and empowering me to make difficult decisions, but also have a vision and keep working towards it. There will be bumps in the road, some deeper than others, but once you get through them, you come out stronger.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. Positive and resourceful — I’ve always had a positive outlook on life. No matter what life threw at me, even in my darkest moments, I would come up with a new idea to come out on the other side. A perfect example is our Big Family Escape in Thailand when our boys were 2 and 4. After a near nervous breakdown and with our marriage being on the line at the very least, we decided to drop everything and have the break of a lifetime in the “land of smiles”, where it’s always warm, the fruit is tastier, and the rhythm of life is slower. Best decision ever. Don’t be afraid to take big leaps.
2. Genuine — I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve and most people respect and trust that. Of course, it can sometimes backfire and some people might try to take advantage, but having clear boundaries helps keep that at bay.
3. Empathetic — It took me a long time to be able to tame that superpower. Feeling deeply about what people are experiencing can be overwhelming, but once you can control it, then not only can you serve your clients beautifully and personally, but it also enables you to spot the right people to work with, whilst keeping a wonderful, human, relationship, which, trust me, will get you further faster.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I did everything by the book: BA, MA, and then straight into the media Industry, starting at the bottom as a runner at a post-production facility. I worked hard, met a lot of talented people and climbed up the ladder to junior film editor and then editor. Throughout the years, I worked on programmes for the BBC, was involved with big names like Jamie Oliver, for Channel 4, and even got to travel with the Prince of Qatar on his private jet and stay in one of his Palaces, which was huge for a 20-something at the time.
Then, my culturally conditioned “biological clock” hit, demanding that I should be procreating at 30, and everything changed. Yes, I did want my babies. And yes, it was my decision to quit my beloved job, which was a 12–14 hour day. But that didn’t mean I would be content with staying at home indefinitely, raising children and being in charge of the household. Motherhood hit me hard.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I call it my “awakening.” In Thailand, we didn’t just “escape” from the mundane. I mean, the mundane follows you everywhere when you have children. It was everything: the smells, the sounds of the jungle and the sea (which surrounded our villa), the smiles and kindness of the locals, but also yoga every day with a Thai Buddhist teacher (with lessons beyond the physical body), the massage spas on every corner.
It was the first time I could finally pause, breathe, and reconnect with my true self. That self had been buried under the strains of parenthood. I remember clearly the moment I knew exactly what to do next. It was during meditation practice and I saw the vision of the future clearly. Joy filled me and every step I’ve taken since has led me to this day.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
We had just moved from London to Brighton, a beautiful, open-minded, English seaside town, thinking it would be great for the children to grow up by the sea, closer to nature. But that came with a cost. We had to leave my support network behind, and on top of that, my husband had to commute to London, which meant we saw him less. A few months in and things were dark…I think that was the time that I cried the most in my life.
On the verge of a nervous breakdown, we visited my dad in Crete, got a breather and some love from my family, and my husband and I got talking. What if this could be our everyday? Time to reconnect as a family and what better place to do it than in a country we’ve never been to but knew was good with children? We researched Montessori schools in the South of Thailand, picked our favourites to visit, and the rest is history.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
Before having children, I was outgoing but lacked confidence. Motherhood turned me into a lioness and nothing could stop me from defending and protecting our little family. In fact, something incredible happens every time a woman goes through pregnancy. Her brain goes through something called “synaptic pruning” which is the brain’s process of eliminating unnecessary connections between the neurons,allowing it to work more efficiently. This happens to everyone during adolescence, but interestingly this also happens to a woman’s brain with each pregnancy, as researchers are discovering more and more.
Being aware of that alone is a huge boost and a warm pat on the back, that nope, I didn’t have “mummy brain” (or forgetful, absent-minded, brain fog, etc) when the boys were little, and I didn’t damage my intelligence by having children…I was just chronically exhausted!
I have to say the art of Yoga (meditative movement with breath, meditation, breath-work, and Philosophy) absolutely helped in going deep into myself and bringing that authentic self out. Then, nothing could stop me. Getting in touch with your core self is an extraordinary superpower in itself.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
My passion and drive to support mothers got me talking to other women about their experiences of motherhood. And the pattern emerges; all these stories have the same underlying loss of self and perpetuating false guilt. Things that dads would find trivial, mums would agonise over. As mothers, we take up a lot, and not just the rearing of the children. We usually take the mental and emotional load for the whole family on our shoulders and hearts.
I was on a walk with a good friend, who was nearly in tears worrying about her little one’s birthday party and how she couldn’t invite a child who was torturing hers, but would that be unkind to the other child, and what would their mum feel? It took a few words to release her guilt and then go with her gut instinct to put her child and herself first. This wasn’t planned, of course — she’s my friend and we just talked, but it is a good example of the constant guilt mums carry around, weighing them back, and sometimes we need someone else to help release it.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Undoubtedly my husband, Arun. He saw me even before I could see myself. He has always been supportive throughout the years, during all our life changes. But the biggest thing he ever did was during the first lockdown of the pandemic. As most of us know, during the pandemic, most of the parenting and household work fell onto mums (which shows how far we still have to go in our society to bridge the parental equality gap). This also happened to us, and at a time when no hired help could come to the home. However, it wasn’t long before Arun stepped up and took over half the parenting and household duties (for instance, no more dinner planning and cooking for me!). It was a revelation and helped solidify the Beyond Motherhood revolution.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Throughout my mentoring, I’ve helped mums to see clearly and then take action towards joy and meaning in their lives beyond motherhood. But the opposite can happen as well. Sometimes, because of the years of societal conditioning pressure women have on themselves, that can be overwhelming and lead to disconnection with the family as a whole.
I will never forget a mum I met on a plane with her family. She was having a hard time with her toddler, and after a few hours with them (I couldn’t help but step in and help), she now tells everyone that “they met an angel on the plane”. Her relationship with her little one has changed dramatically and they are all so much happier overall now. It brings tears to my eyes every time I talk about this story.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Absolutely. Moving forward, step by step is the easy part. But when a goal is so close that you can smell and nearly touch it, is when the limited beliefs creep in to stop you from moving forward. The greatest “limiting belief eliminator” is no other than the thought that “this is bigger than me”. If I don’t make this happen, nobody else will. It is my passion to support mothers the way I would have liked to have been supported, to spread the Beyond Motherhood movement: that drives me and knocks all these limiting beliefs down.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
First and foremost was the support from my husband and lifelong partner, Arun. If you don’t have the full emotional support first from your partner, you can’t really move forward, not truly. Arun has been my personal cheerleader, but also my critical soundboard. He has been able to be encouraging and bring in questions, a different point of view, paramount to creating something exquisite.
Support starts at home. So, having the emotional support from my partner, then everything else is easy. The practical things, such as childcare, hired help, community, etc, are just a matter of organising and setting it up.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
Gosh, yes! So, when I started my journey, on the road to help mothers awaken, the same way I did, I actually used my internet nickname publicly online! It was a tool to help me move forward or I would have never created that first website. But when everyone then started calling me by my internet nickname in person, it felt odd and I had to rebrand. It definitely served its purpose; it was a tool to help me move forward.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Everyone knows that starting a company involves long hours. However, it matters greatly where you spend those hours. Ask yourself: does this activity move the needle forward? I spent hours upon hours in the beginning researching online platforms, agonizing over names for the company, trying to find the perfect online solution to help me move forward. As soon as I stopped focusing on the details and instead went back to looking at the bigger picture, every single action I’ve taken has moved us forward since.
2. Rest is as important as focused work is. I used to work at all hours, trying to please external people, taking one too many meetings on a daily basis. This is not sustainable and is definitely not helping as much as you think it is, I was exhausted by the end of it. A coach friend once told me that she actually adds rest on her calendar under a real human name, so then she has no choice but to rest at those allocated times. I don’t have a “Linda” on my calendar, but I do honour my periods of rest.
3. You don’t have to work a “9–5” schedule! Expanding on the above, find your workflow, the way your body and mind tend to be more focused and plan your day (or night, if you are a night owl) accordingly. I promise you, you will get more things done this way, PLUS you will go through your days with more joy. I follow my natural rhythm and spend my mornings reading, answering emails and messages, completing admin tasks (work or household); basically, anything that doesn’t require me to speak! I reserve my meetings and creative tasks for the afternoons. It’s not a coincidence that most of my team is US-based.
4. Community is not reserved for parenthood. Owning a business comes with all kinds of hurdles, and knowing you are not alone and having the support of fellow entrepreneurs is hugely valuable. As I started actively networking for the business last year, I realised what I needed most was the connection with people that are going through the same thing. I’ve made some wonderful friends in the process, and that on its own brought more opportunities my way, naturally and organically.
5. Everyone needs a mentor; even mentors themselves, the same way a therapist has their own therapist, and a coach needs a coach. I am lucky to have met some incredible powerhouse women, who always have a thing or two to pass on. This also ties beautifully with “the art of asking for help”. In the same way, mothers shouldn’t be afraid or feel guilty for asking for help, entrepreneurs should also be bold and ask for support when needed. We all want to help people who are just starting out, don’t be afraid to seek advice from a mentor who has been in your shoes and loves to help.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
This is exactly what my plan is! I wish for support for all mothers (not just the ones who can afford it) and I wish for parental equality. I dream of a time when it doesn’t matter if you are a mum or dad; when there are no expectations, conditioning, or false guilt attached to either of the roles and therefore, the parents are happy and the children are happy.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
I would love to share a meal with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. She’s an amazing mother, who has been through a lot, and I hugely admire her determination and all the steps she has taken to protect her family and her values.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow us all social media; Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn: @marabeyond and on our website: beyondmotherhood.co
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!