Sonia Cruz Oro of Travel Awakens: Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life
An Interview With Pirie Jones Grossman
Plan the work and work the plan. In other words, put everything you want to get done in your diary. If it gets scheduled, it gets done. One of the best things of running your own company is that you don’t have a boss — nobody tells you what you have to do. But this is both a blessing and a curse. If you are not careful, you’ll be seeing the hours, days and weeks passing by so quick without getting stuff done. You can find yourself become very interested in sorting out all your laundry, tidying your house or cleaning the kitchen… and your business will suffer. Nobody likes the feeling of an unproductive day/week. I have a post-it on my desk as a constant reminder to stay focused. It says: ‘Is what I am doing this minute moving me measurable closer to my goal?’
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. 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 Sonia Cruz Oro.
Sonia Cruz Oro is a certified travel coach and an organisational psychologist, founder of Travel Awakens. Having experienced her own transformation through travel, Sonia helps individuals, couples and groups to enjoy travel as a means to achieve the experiences, goals and transformation they seek. Travel Awakens provide a comprehensive travel and personal development service by combining the best of travel planning and life coaching. With her background in psychology and executive leadership, Sonia is also the author of How to Create the Life You Desire as well as host of “The Travel Coach” podcast series. She is originally from Spain but she lives in Ireland with her husband.
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?
Thank you for having me! In a nutshell, I was born and raised in Catalonia in a town called Mollerussa, about an hour west of Barcelona. I am the older of two siblings, a responsible child who used to get good grades at school and do what I was told. Although not wealthy, my parents worked hard to make sure we wanted for nothing and, from that upbringing, my brother and I quickly understood the need to have a strong work-ethic to succeed in life.
On the other side, I have always considered myself a sensitive child with a strong sense of intuition. I would easily pick up on the energy around me — either positive and negative. That’s why I love being surrounded by positive people but, to an extent, I can see now how I often found myself chasing positivity through the approval of parents, teachers or friends.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Rumi’s quotes especially resonate with me. I’d probably choose: “Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction”.
We live in a fast-paced world. There is so much noise in our lives, so many distractions, that we can’t listen to our heart. We won’t hear what we really want and feel inside, unless we find a way to quiet our minds.
The problem is that ‘mind’ is overrated in our Western society. We haven’t learn how to listen our deep desires. We might feel exhausted but we don’t give ourselves the permission to rest (the connotations we attach to that decision are too negative: laziness, weakness, etc.), so instead we are trained to override the pain, and keep pushing!
Since childhood, we are programmed to get stuff done, to have good grades, get a good job or be promoted in order to prove that we are good enough. We are encouraged towards ideas of ‘prestige’ and achieving success that can be measured financially. We do all these things to get recognition in our Western world which values mind over heart; doing over being.
And then one day, despite our apparent achievements, the personal satisfaction is not readily heartfelt. It can quickly disappear when the approval wanes and expectations around our next task come into view. If we move to the pace of this treadmill, achieving probably has to become an addiction.
And the above is also a reflection of my personal story. I never gave myself the licence to stop and think deeply about what I wanted — or why I wanted it. I was on auto-pilot; climbing the corporate ladder and taking the next ‘logical’ step in my life.
Don’t get me wrong! I personally love learning and growing, and I love a challenge too. There is nothing at all wrong with goals and working to achieve them, but my goals were not attuned to my authentic self. As Rumi suggested, I needed to follow my heart. If we are true to ourselves and follow our hearts, it will not only point us in the direction of those things that mean more to us, it can also guide how we get there. In this way, the rewards are not only in the destination but in the journey too.
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.
- Tenacity. This quality has helped me to stick to my vision even when things didn’t look good outside. A clear example is the impact that travel has suffered during this global pandemic. If I hadn’t persisted and been determined to move the business forward, I wouldn’t be here today.
- Courage. They say courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to act in spite of it. Well, my biggest fears have always being about being ‘visible’ (hence being potentially judged) and this is what I had to overcome to grow my business. Actually I believe your fear is showing you the way. Think about the step that you are most afraid of taking in your business? The likelihood is that this is exactly what you need to do for your business to take off.
- Optimism. When you expect the best outcome possible, you take action from a place of better energy — hence you increase your probability of getting a positive outcome. Indeed, in both my personal and professional life I stay positive and wear a big smile as much as I can. I actually practice this through mantras and positive affirmations that give me hope and confidence about the future.
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?
My background is in corporate IT. I started working in a small family business in Spain as a customer service advisor. On weekends, I was busy getting my primary degree in Psychology.
After a few years in my job, I was promoted to managing a small team, which then grew in numbers over time. I soon realised that managing people was a different ball game, I’ve always been great on motivating myself but motivating others was a different challenge. I made the decision to improve my managerial skills, and I went back to university to get my Masters degree in Leadership and Management and also studied NLP.
As the years passed, I felt I needed to do something more with my life. My friends were beginning to start families, which wasn’t on my horizon at that time. My life was mainly focused on work, and my time off work was invested to improve my language skills (I was using my vacations for study programs abroad).
This is when the idea of working in another country came to me. And after a few months, I finally got a job opportunity to move to Ireland. It was the job of my dreams! I love Ireland but, after few years and few promotions, the feeling returned that I needed to do something more meaningful with my life. We can say I was successful on paper, but feeling empty and unfulfilled in the inside.
When the next opportunity for promotion arose, I didn’t feel motivated to go for it. But I didn’t know what else to do either. Climbing the corporate ladder had been my career plan for life; it was what I had always done. And without the status of my managerial role, who would I be? What would I do with my life? I felt completely lost.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I felt I was at the end of an important juncture in my life. I didn’t know what to do but I knew I didn’t want to jump into another corporate role. I wanted to do something meaningful with my life.
This is where the idea of starting my own business came to my mind. I loved the idea, but I had no clue what my business would be. And how would I do it! The idea was both exciting and scary at the same time.
I started looking at my interests and passions. Personal development was the one that I had always invested in it. The other passion I had was travel and — in that moment of reflection — I realised how little I had traveled in my life. It was something that I always had in the back of my mind, I believed that travel would be something that I would do in the future. But it never happened because I had never made my passions my priority.
I decided not to go for that promotion and focus on exploring travel. In the subsequent 12 months, I made 15 trips, visiting 11 different countries. Over that time, I not only created amazing experiences and memories, I met incredible people (including my soulmate) and I realised I could start a business by combining my two passions: Travel Coaching.
In 2020, I left the corporate world completely and became a certified Travel Coach through ‘The Travel Coach Network’ (accredited through the International Coach Federation). I started my own online travel coaching business (yes, in the middle of a global pandemic).
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?
The trigger for me was when I realized that I didn’t want to go for that next promotion. That hesitation around career progression was so alien to me that it stopped me in my tracks. There was nothing ostensibly ‘wrong’ with my life or career, but I was always one who wanted to move forward. When I felt something different for the first time — holding me back from going for that promotion — I knew it was the trigger for something bigger.
I didn’t want to pay the price of arriving to the end of my life with the regret of: ‘What if?’ What made me take the plunge was the realisation that we only live once, and life is too short to spend it doing something that is not aligned with who we are. I feel that was a ‘now or never’ moment for me.
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?
Essentially, I had to face the fear. For nearly two decades, I might have had an inkling that I wasn’t on the right track. But I was making progress and so I stayed on that path. Ultimately, I realised I was looking for something else.
Overcoming the barriers to change was about being willing to take a risk. It was about being confident about the skills I had developed — including many of those I had developed in my corporate career in relation to team management and leadership, and learning what I needed to know. For example, I had become quite proficient in IT because I managed IT engineers and that learning gave me a confidence around building my own website, which took some of the costs out of starting the business and meant that I could work on that platform in my spare time.
The process of developing the website also helped my to define the brand and the offer of Travel Awakens. Often, when people are starting a business, they have a clear idea in their heads about what the business is and why it is a great business. When you have to articulate this, you have to make it really clear how you offer value; value that people will pay for.
These start-up process also showed me where I needed help; that I didn’t know enough about brand, about social media marketing and about packaging services. To overcome these barriers, I sought professional advice. This might sound quite simple looking back but it was messy at the time, because you are trying to find out what you can do for yourself, and where you need help. It’s not linear, but you have to start to find out.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
Many people would say that starting a travel business in the middle of a global pandemic is not the best investment move. But I think it’s good to enter the market when it’s at a point of change.
Initially, it allowed me that space to develop the offer and to up-skill in those key areas (mentioned previously).
At a global level (with organisations like the World Economic Forum) you hear people talking about ‘The Great Reset’. But I expect that has come from the ground up. The global pandemic has dramatically impacted the way people look at travel and the reasons why people want to travel.
This has been a moment where we’ve pressed the reset button — and not only because of the restrictions that came into place but because of our resilience; how we adapted to new ways of working that helped a lot of people to realise that we have more choices now, not less.
Travel sales have not been strong. That surge has yet to happen, although we can see clear growth. But the coaching side has really kicked in; where people want to start thinking beyond COVID and want to think about what’s important in their lives, valuing human connection and the small things in life. Travel creates the space for this. When I speak with clients now, there is a realisation that people were taking travel for granted. It was almost a form of easy consumption. They travelled somewhere because they heard it was nice. They didn’t ask ‘why?’ or ‘what do I want from this trip?’. COVID has made them realise that the choices are ours but we have to use them wisely. And if we can travel with purpose (and that purpose can still be time out or relaxation) we can use travel as part of enjoying life — as an instrument in our ongoing fulfilment — rather than as a ‘break from life’.
A good example of this was the discussion I recently had with my client Silvia. She literally told me that she didn’t want to repeat the kind of travel that she has previously sought. She wants to experience more authentic places that are less touristed but will give her the best life experience and help her to reconnect with herself in a more meaningful and spiritual level.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Many people helped me in this journey, I couldn’t have done this alone for sure. My family, my friends, my coaches and mentors, and especially my husband. I feel so grateful for being fully supported by my man from the very beginning. Having the most important person for me beside me, believing in me and knowing that he is there for anything I need gives me strength, peace and reassurance. And I will be forever grateful to him for that.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I could write a book with all the adventures and stories that have happened to me in this last year, but there is one that I find really interesting to share here.
And it happened a few months ago, when I joined an international networking group to expand my connections and open my business to external referrals (which is key to growing this kind of business by the way)
While having a 1:1 chat with one of the members, he made me realised how I was kind of waiting for Covid to finish before going “all in” with my business. I was unaware of this until he pointed it out to me in that conversation, and actually made me see how I had been approaching things.
It’s only human to take our foot off the gas during periods of uncertainty, we are unsure and we aim for stability before making decisions. But the truth is that things might not never go back to “normal” after a crisis like this one, and waiting for that normal to return could mean waiting forever. I saw that I had to do something different; find different niches, different needs to which I could speak.
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?
Yes, I believe everyone struggles, in bigger or smaller measure, with believing in ourselves at some point of our lives. It’s normal and very human. What really worked for me was to surround myself with positive and supportive people.
I heard about the importance of your environment before, but I was not aware of how powerful it is. In my case I always struggled with stage fright in relation to public speaking. But when I started my business I had to do something to overcome it and act in spite of it.
It didn’t matter all the courses I took, the theories I learnt… the only thing that helped me to get over it was to find a community of people who believed in me. This made it safer to experiment.
When your find a supportive community, your self-esteem and self-confidence will shoot through the roof. It’s a game changer when know that failing at something is OK as long as you’re committed to getting better at it.
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?
That’s a great advice Pirie. Definitely, we are not meant to do this alone. We are all intelligent and independent, and yet, we can’t expect to know everything, right?
The problem is that we live in a society where asking for help is seeing as weak, when is actually the opposite. Asking for help takes courage, requires humility, vulnerability and trust in other human beings. We are here to collaborate and to help each other to achieve our dreams in life. We just need to allow this help and realise that we are worth of investing in ourselves.
Personally, I always work with coaches and mentors. I have a different one for each main area of my life! And I don’t plan to stop working with them because I see the benefits and results showing up in my life daily.
In the end, I found out that finding the right support you need, it’s all about overcoming the fear of investing (financially) in yourself and your business. Realising that you deserve the best support and that it will pay all the investment back to you medium-long term.
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?
That’s right. Since I was new in business, every step was new and outside my comfort zone. Starting with marketing and sharing my message on social media, until it became essential to my business, I was only using social media for personal use and sharing pictures. I didn’t want the visibility and, in fact, I was afraid of it. But I realised that people that love you will continue to appreciate you, and the people who will judge you, well they will judge you anyway, so why should you go and try to please them?
But this experience also taught me that we need to be constantly pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. That’s the only way to grow, so it’s about being comfortable in the uncomfortable.
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- Hire a Coach. I wish someone told me this earlier so I would have saved valuable time wondering what to do and how to it. I used to believe that I could figure out all by myself — I have a good degree and a masters degree in leadership, many years of experience in business, and lots of motivation. What can go wrong? So, I start doing my research online and read all the ‘free’ stuff out there. And yes, there is good content for free online but the secret sauce is the implementation. You won’t get results from theory, you need to implement, and implementation is not easy if you’ve never done it before. Sometimes we need to be willing to accept help from people who have already been where we want to be. They can help us to arrive faster to our destination, but your investment also helps you to identify and fully commit to achieving your goals. Change is not easy, and you won’t change unless you are invested. Choose coaches/mentors who have what you want and invest in the best advice your budget can allow to ensure accountability, results and quality.
2- Plan the work and work the plan. In other words, put everything you want to get done in your diary. If it gets scheduled, it gets done. One of the best things of running your own company is that you don’t have a boss — nobody tells you what you have to do. But this is both a blessing and a curse. If you are not careful, you’ll be seeing the hours, days and weeks passing by so quick without getting stuff done. You can find yourself become very interested in sorting out all your laundry, tidying your house or cleaning the kitchen… and your business will suffer. Nobody likes the feeling of an unproductive day/week. I have a post-it on my desk as a constant reminder to stay focused. It says: ‘Is what I am doing this minute moving me measurable closer to my goal?’
3- Positive Mindset. Running a business is not all only about having a great strategy and following it, but there is also very important to have the right mindset. You can have the best tools and work hard on them but must be aware that you won’t see the results straight away, it will take time. You need to stay committed to your goals and have faith, otherwise you can spiral, get frustrated and give up. Some of the tools that have worked really well for me to keep my mindset on track are visualisation, positive affirmations, meditation and self-care. In business, like in life, balance is important. If you spend all day working and doing, you’ll end up stressed. Make sure you add time in your busy diary to get our of your mind and enter this space of gratitude and connection with your body and the present moment.
4- Start with the end in mind. Set up a goal, think about a specific outcome you want to achieve, and when do you want it by. Imagine you have already achieved it work backwards to map out the steps to arrive there. Building a business is like a marathon. If you treat it as a sprint it will overwhelm you and increase the probability that you will quit. It’s not about doing everything in the first year, it’s all about knowing where you want to get to so that you can say ‘yes’ to the places where you need to lean in or the opportunities you need to grasp.
5- Find a supportive Community. They say we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So it’s important we are careful in choosing the people we surround ourselves with. Our environment has more influence in our lives that we think. The world around us can sometimes tell you everything is great, or interfere (they try to protect you) or sometimes people project their own fears, which can be undermining. But what you need to learn are ‘specifics’ that help you business. This is one of the reason I believe in professional advice (see ‘Hire a Coach’!)
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?
The importance of living life in the present moment. I dream with the day when this skill is taught to children in schools — as well as at home of course. We spend too much time in our minds, thinking about the past or about what we are going to do next. We are not using our minds, the mind uses us. When was the last time you paid attention to the flavour of the food or the movement of your jaw when having lunch? Do you feel the warm temperature of the water and the texture of the soap when you wash your hands? We are not experiencing life, we are just tip toe-ing through it because we are much more in our minds that in our bodies. We are more in our thoughts than in our feelings and these imbalances are harmful to our health. For instance, living too much in the past can steer us towards depression and living in imagined futures can lead us towards anxiety. Both situations cause stress which weakens our immune systems. If we all could master the skill of being consciously present, we would not only live our lives to the fullest, but our health and the quality of our lives would also increase dramatically. In the end it’s a habit, and the earlier we learn to consistently implement it the better.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment reading 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. :-)
Absolutely! There are a few people that come to my mind, coaches, mentors and thought leaders in the field of travel and in the personal development space that have made a big impact on me along this journey. However, if I have to choose one I have it clear. Because I know that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I wouldn’t practise daily meditation. Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have see myself meditating, but the destiny wanted that a friend of mine gave me for my birthday a book from a New York Times Best Selling author that was explaining meditation from a scientific point of view. And that was so fascinating to learn — and especially implement- that I’ve never look back since then. His name is Dr. Joe Dispenza and I’d love to have the opportunity to have a private chat with him to talk about so many things and especially thank him for how his work has changed my life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me on social media: Sonia Cruz Oro. I am on Instagram Facebook LinkedIn as well as on my website TravelAwakens.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!