06 Nov Define Success – What Does it Mean to You? with Sonia Hunt
Today, we are welcoming back my friend, Sonia Hunt. You maybe remember Sonia from way back in episode 60. Sonia is a digital media entrepreneur who has led a successful career in developing brands for global companies in the food and wine, entertainment, technology, and consumer electronic areas. She runs her own digital agency called, Noie Media. Sonia’s been recognized by Fast Company as one of the most influential people in the internet, and tracker.com has named her as one of the most influential people in the healthy living sector.
Sonia also spends a lot of her time focusing on helping people with severe food restrictions. You may remember from our earlier conversation that she is a foodie, but she also deals with over 30 allergies herself, and that has become a personal passion for helping people in this area. In fact, her mantra is to stay safe, live healthily, and eat well, and her Ted Talk on this subject has over a million views, so go check that out if you haven’t.
- Website: soniahunt.com
Sonia, welcome back to DREAM THINK DO.
Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. I’m always very grateful.
Absolutely. Episode 60, so much has happened since then, holy cow. It’s amazing. It’s been great to see your trajectory You’ve got a book coming out, and I can’t wait to talk about that a little bit, but really I want to get into this subject. I know defining success has been really important for you because I know you’ve wanted to create this life that you want. Has that always been a priority to you? How did this become important, or when did this become important for you?
I would say it’s always been important. There are probably times where I have lost track or sense of it, and kind of gone down the wrong avenue, I would say. I mean, my life I really feel has been just an evolution to get to the person that you see or hear before you today, which I think is really the best version of Sonia Hunt there’s ever been. In the last one to two years has really been the best version, like all the way around, 360.
Having two parents who were immigrants that came here, and their first two kids are daughters. My mom was very adamant about telling us daughters that she wanted us to be educated, and get our own jobs, and make our own money because you need to be able to take care of yourself. There’s always a high bar, you know I come from Asian parents, who, you know it’s all about math and science, and excelling in those areas, because they equate that with monetary freedom. Right?
If you’re a scientist, maybe you’ll be a doctor, and you’ll be super rich, and then you’re awesome, you’re set. Stuff like that. Ironically, my sister became a doctor, and I became an engineer.
How about that? Yeah. It worked out.
It kind of worked out.
It’s interesting – obviously, our history plays a part in who we become. Our parents, obviously are a huge influence on who we become, but it sounds like that was foundational for you, that expectation that you’re going to be successful.
Exactly. The foundation was there. The expectation was set, for my sister and I, and then for my younger brother.
My sister is even more successful than I am, you know, and in her own field, and so we truly took that to heart. But I would say the part that was always missing, I’ll call it the spiritual side of success. I came to Silicon Valley right out of school, this year I can’t even believe it, it’s 20 years for me here in the Valley.
Silicon Valley is definitely a place when at the time when that I came was during the dot com age, and everything was focused on building, and making more money, and making the company more money, and growing in title, and doing that all super rapidly. All of what I call that spiritual side was just lost. Success means you’re rich, you’re moving up the chain, you’re getting to work at the greatest companies, which may have nothing to do with what you want to do.
Right? Here in the Valley, that is truly embedded in you, and until one day, thankfully, as I did, you wake up and ask, “What am I doing?”
Yeah. Back that bus up and say, “Wait a second. What’s going on?”
You’ve gone from being an engineer to a totally different track. You really have defined a different type of success. You’ve been successful on many fronts, obviously, based on just the introduction alone, you can hear that, but it really has been by your own standards. I’ve only known you, we’ve only known each other for the last few years.
How did you start defining success differently than maybe everybody around me?
Exactly 10 years ago was the last time, I should knock on wood right now, I had a severe, severe off to the ER, almost dead on the table food allergy incident.
That was the final wake up call to stop living the life that I was living. I needed to start living the life that I wanted to.
Truly I had a wake-up call. For that whole next year, I was actually incredibly sick, physically, and I am the kind of person who is in the gym seven days, I’m the hardest working woman in the gym.
I work out a lot, so not being able to do things that I loved was horrible. I spent a lot of time reflecting, and I went back to things from childhood. One thing my parents have always, always embedded in us is that our lives are truly about service to other people, and all about giving more than receiving. I talk a lot about this in my Humanizing Your Brand keynote, which is about building relationships, and if you’re in a business, it’s a relationship-driven business.
When I went back and thought about life being about service to others, I took an inventory of my life. As I was sick in bed, and had nothing else to do, trying to figure out what service means. I genuinely love helping people. What I saw was that I have been given my entire life so many blessings. Isn’t it really about taking all these gifts that I’ve been given, and helping other people who may not have the same gifts, or who struggle in a certain way, and helping them be the greatest they can be?
I was not at the time living a purposeful life, and therefore I wasn’t really being authentic to who I was, because deep down, and anybody who has known me since childhood will always say, “When you meet her she’s so vibrant and energetic, and she’s so real.”
I just needed that to start coming out now in all facets of life, including work. I used to live my life where I’d go to work, and I’d be 9:00 to 5:00, a certain way, and then at home, I’d be real. I decided I no longer have time to have this Jekyll and Hyde thing going on.
Right. That’s exhausting.
Yeah. I just need to be me, and people will love me once I really figure out who that is, and I have to put it out there. Success to me really became about knowing that my life has purpose, and it has meaning and that I’m able to work on that day, whatever I’m doing, whether it’s the stuff that makes me money, or it’s the stuff that doesn’t, and I’m putting into the world by meeting people, and helping them in some way.
Yeah. Absolutely. I always say, especially when people go through the process of getting clear on what success means to them, I think, to your point, it oftentimes feels more like you’re remembering something as opposed to creating something new. That sounds like it was your case where you were it wasn’t necessarily an epiphany that you’d never thought of before, it was more so remembering something you kind of always known about yourself, maybe something that your parents obviously played a part in, in laying the foundation for, but it was more remembering and getting back to something as opposed to creating something new.
That was truly embedded into our being about what life is about, and how we treat others, and what we do for other people. This event brought it all back to me, and I really feel the universe was saying, all right, here’s your opportunity again, we’re giving it back to you, we’re not going to take you today in the ER but you’ve got another chance to really go out there and do something meaningful.
I feel like it always was who I was, it was just kind of lost somewhere, stuck somewhere. When I came out here as an engineer, I was first coding, and the company I was working for, which is probably the greatest company I’ve ever worked for, it’s a company called, Viant.
We were a startup and the founders of the company, and the executives had moved me into a different position because they saw something in me. “We don’t need her to be sitting behind a computer coding, we’re going to put her in front of clients. She’s got this great personality, and she’s very smart, and technical, and she can help pull out the types of things we want to learn from our clients.” I would say on one hand they sent me down the path of what I do today, for which I’m eternally grateful. but you also kind of see, I allowed people as I went from one company to the next, they would put me into a place that they saw that benefited them, that may not have benefited me. So I might have been successful monetarily, but internally it was a really bad fit.
Then I had to go back to the kind of that old school family stuff that my parents were telling me to really be like, wait a minute, who am I, and what am I here to do. It was really the start, I would say, 10 years ago of this definition of what is success, what does it mean to me, how do I achieve it, and knowing that I already was successful and that no one could take that away from me.
I love that. Now, here’s one thing, because what I love about it is, is that you started to get this clarity around saying, all right, success actually means you’re living a life of purpose, a life of meaning, that you’re serving others, it doesn’t mean that you then sold everything, and gave it all away, and moved to a mountaintop somewhere. Right?
You changed, but it was more kind of on the inside. What was that transition like? Were there major shifts? Did you the next day say, “That’s it. I’m quitting my job, and totally changing,” or was it more of a gradual thing? What was that process like as you got kind of re-clarified, or as you remembered those things? How did you start to make that transition more towards that definition of success?
Yeah. It actually was that I quit my job.
Did you? That’s awesome.
Yeah. I gradually did it. I was doing all this reflection, and just right prior to this terrible food allergy incident I had run a marathon. I was in Hawaii, and I was starting to already feel like somethings not going right, I found myself in another Silicon Valley company, it was all the bro world, and full of Me Too crap, and all that kind of stuff, and it was just terrible.
I needed to make a change, and so I spent a week on the beach after this marathon and went through a very rigorous process that I probably put clients through of really figuring out what I want to focus on. Things like are you happy? Do you love what you do? Why? What are you great at? Why do you think you’re great at that? Where do you want to grow? I truly went through this process with a notebook sitting on the beach with a margarita.
I could think of worse places to do that kind of exercise. That’s fantastic. Yes.
I had a great time on that marathon, so I was very happy. Then not too long after, in my mind, I came back, and I was like, alright, I’m going to leave this company and do something incredibly creative, because I have this creative thing inside of me that needs to get out, that was being suppressed by the Valley. Then boom I’m on the ER table almost dead.
I took that as the universe saying to me, girl, you better go do this. I actually, after I got healthy, soon thereafter quit, and that was the last time I truly worked for somebody else. I founded my business in 2010, and at the same time in parallel, I put up the soniahunt.com brand. So the brand is a content creation machine. It basically tells people how have I figured out how to stay safe, live healthy, and eat well.
I’m a massive foodie, I come from massively foodie family. We travel globally, I’m not going to stop any of that, so when you have very severe food restrictions how do you just get your life together to do that, and really what I call #liveforliving? I really did, I mean I quit my job, and I went on this path, and I started thinking about the things that are important to me.
I started looking at the material things in my life, as well, and what I was spending, I’ll say, energy on, and if that energy suited me, or not. If it didn’t, I cut it out right there and then. I was living then more of an authentic life, and it doesn’t mean, you know I truly love all kinds of beautiful, I mean, I’d rather spend all of my money on traveling the world is how I look at it than having a huge house. Of course, I’m a girl, so I’m all about the dangling earrings thing.
I mean that is part of, I think, defining success it’s to be able to say, or it’s not just, and you kind of alluded to this earlier too it’s not just with work, it’ everything, it’s life. Right?
It’s just life. It is figuring out what is it that you love to do, and I think to your point I’d much rather travel, and really enjoy travel than to have the huge palatial mansion, or whatever, so you figure out I’m not so much dangling earrings kind of guy, but everybody’s got their thing.
And to be able to say, all right, what is that you enjoy? What do you love? To give yourself that permission to make those things more of a priority.
Yeah. Exactly. Donation really became donation of my time. We’re always like, time is money, and if I’m not filling hours then life isn’t good, but for me, I decided, no. I have to take a certain amount of time every day, not just for myself, but to actually help other people in whatever way. It could be that I am helping mentor startups, and not getting anything besides their satisfaction of seeing them be successful.
Because there are so many people out there that are dreamers like me, and you, and they’re trying to make it. There is no budget in a startup to hire someone like me to come in and put together your entire marketing plan. It really began seeing all those facets of my life, like how I was living my life, what am I spending money on, where am I spending time and energy?
If it wasn’t serving me in a purposeful way, because I’m a very focused person, I cut it out, and then I only focused on the things that meant a lot to me, and that was allowing me to grow as an individual because that also helps people.
Being able to be the leader and step back, and helping get organizations back aligned to what our goals are, and moving forward with the business, it’s such an incredible skill set, and you have to have an incredible amount of patience for that, which somehow I do, thankfully.
Yeah. I do think it’s interesting as far as I know you apply this personally to your life, but that you also apply it to your organization as well. If somebody’s out of alignment on this, a lot of people haven’t taken the time and then been as intentional as you’ve been. So you see somebody walking around they’re often times, you know, if they’re grumpy, if they’re frustrated with the world, all that, a lot of times they’re out of alignment on this front. Right? But they may not even be able to put their finger on what that is. Most people wouldn’t say, “I have really designed my life to be out of alignment with success.” Right?
That doesn’t happen intentionally, that happens by accident. That happens over time, you know, death by a 1,000 cuts. How do you check yourself on this front? How are you making sure that you’re staying in alignment?
Self-care is so incredibly important. Right? I mean, I meditate twice a day. There’s not a day that goes by that, that will not happen.
Can I ask, when you say that, what does that actually equate to? Is that a couple of minutes in the morning, a couple of minutes at night, is that an hour, what does that actually look like for you?
It has evolved over time as well because I was one of those people who started meditating, and I was thinking about the long list of things that I have to do.
It takes time. Right? I’m five years, I think, into it now, so now I actually meditate unlimited, meaning, I don’t put a timer on and say I only have 10 minutes, 20 minutes.
I’ll just sit, and one day could be 37 minutes, one day it could be 13. I took that pressure off myself like I’ve got to get something done in terms of meditating for 10 minutes every morning. You know?
My advice to people when they’re really starting to get into meditation is that it’s just that flow, and you have to be able to go into it. You can’t put a time limit on it. Sometimes I’ll do it if there’s a tough meeting, or tough conversations happening and I might meditate right before, so I go in very peacefully.
Can I ask one more thing about this? Because for me it’s a prayer, and then a little bit of meditation. We could talk about the differences, the similarities, all that stuff, but I know for me to optimize that time I have to do it before really anybody else in the world is awake. I know I’d probably be better if I could do it at any time, but I know for me it’s like doing it when everything’s quiet. Do you find particular times of day are more optimized for you, or better for you to do that, or do you just can kind of drop into it anytime?
You know, my mom will tell you I love to sleep.
I do love my sleep. You know, I meditate in the morning, so it’s always like get up, throw on the sweats, take the dog out, have a cup of tea, meditate. I don’t look at my phone at all.
Good for you.
Once that’s done, I will just quickly kind of scroll through the email as I get ready, and then I go to the gym. That’s my morning thing. While I’m drinking tea I have 10 minutes, 15 minutes of reading. I’m reading some book because I’m reading 10 books at the same time. That’s the morning. Then I won’t start my day until that meditation happens. Then it’s always before I go to bed. I’ve never been somebody who has ever had a hard time sleeping.
But when you meditate before you go to bed, after I’m done meditating I always manifest and visualize what my day is going to be, so kind of manifesting the things that I’m looking to put into the world, and I’m visualizing me doing it.
That’s for the next day.
In the morning, I’ll do that, like this morning I did it, and I knew exactly what was going to happen today, and what I was going to accomplish, and things like that. At night, yeah, I find that when you do that even at night you wake up with this renewed sense that’s hopeful, and you’re kind of jazzed up a little bit about knowing what you’re going to focus on that day. This is a big piece of checking myself. The other big piece of it is truly about having the right mentors who listen and observe because, one, it’s starting off with the base of truly, truly knowing me, like knowing my soul. Right?
I’ve had mentors in the past that I’ve tried that tell you what to do, and I’m like, “Yeah. I don’t really want you to tell me what to do, I can figure that out.” One of my favorite things to do in the world is really just sit down with somebody one on one, and have a glass of wine, or share some food, and talk about life.
These mentors, I kind of check myself with them. I’ve always been a person who likes goals, and objectives, and timelines around it. One of my old bosses who is truly close to my soul, he’s always still saying to me, “Take this timeline off of it. Take this timeline off of it, because you’ve got to believe it’s going to happen,” For my book, I have this timeline, X, Y, and Z must be done by December 31st, and he laughed, and he was like, “Why?”
And I said, “Because I’m sick of it, you know? I’ve been doing this forever. I need this project off my plate,” but he was like, “But your goal, your intention is that you want this to be a really amazing story, and content, so that could happen in a month, or it could happen in six months. Why do you put this pressure on yourself?” It’s these types of beings and these types of conversations, and these types of mentors who help me see these perspectives, and keep me true to it. These are the people that I can reach out to for a little reset.
I do also expect then my closest of friends to speak up if they find me doing something that’s out of alignment.
Absolutely. That’s huge. I want to go back to your mentor thing, though. Obviously, it sounds like you cultivated these mentor relationships for quite some time. How have you found those people, and how have you cultivated that continued relationship? Because I think a lot of people want that, but they’re like, “How do I get that?”
I’ve kind of been on this, I’ll say, spiritual journey. Right? Let’s say for even 10 years now. I think when you’re starting to elevate that quest for yourself, you’re attracting these similar types of folk into your life.
We kind of build this deep relationship of getting to know each other, a friendship, and maybe they’ve gone through the same path that I am on, and just like I am about service to others, so they lend that hand and say, “Let me be of service to you, now.” It’s been truly amazing.
That’s what I love, and it sounds like with your relationships, especially the mentors we’ve been talking about, one, it sounds like you were very intentional like you set your intention around finding those folks, and then developing those relationships, and that does take time. That’s not an overnight thing. That’s not a quick thing. That’s a thing over time, but it also sounds like these mentors aren’t necessarily sitting you down and saying, “Sonia, this is what you need to do. Here are the three steps you need to take,” it’s more so giving you space. Right? Allowing you to talk, reflect, and it sounds like often times more so asking you questions as opposed to necessarily just telling you the answers.
Absolutely. Then that’s the way that I mentor, as well. Because if you’re asking me questions, you’re asking my opinions then. Right?
And I may or may not have even all of the context, or the facts. I’m getting it through you, that’s just like one data point.
Yes. I love it. All right. Man, we could talk for hours about this subject. I have one last area that I want to go after, and that is as you’ve gotten clearer on this, as you’ve gotten more clear, and as you’ve walked that out, as you’ve been truer to how you define success, my guess is there’re times where people have bumped up against that. Right?
One of the things I wanted to talk to you about is how you have communicated this over the years. Is there ever a time where you had to take a stand for it, or actually speak to it within a relationship, or within a friendship, or even a business interaction, where you had to stand up for, or take a stand for your definition of success?
Yeah. For sure. I mean, I think that this is something when you figure out what it really means to you, you’re communicating this, you know the three C’s I call it, consistently, continuously, and consciously.
Consciously from a spiritual perspective, and consciously is the fact that not everybody else believes the same crap that you believe.
And that’s okay. Back at that first startup that brought me in, they were really about this word called alignment, and again years later it made sense to me. Meaning, you know, we’re not going to all agree on every single thing, but we’re trying to get everybody aligned on the greater purpose, the greater mission. Right? Maybe many times I didn’t agree, but I’m going to say, “Great. Let’s try it that way, and see how we go.” Right?
I’ve been forced to do this in terms of speaking up about it my entire life, because kind of coming back to the food allergy side, I literally cannot eat on a daily basis if I don’t ask questions. If I’m making dinner, lunch, or whatever, if I’m cooking, I’m still reading and making a decision. But if I’m out there at a restaurant, or at a friends house, or whatever, you know I actually need to speak up for myself and work with them.
So I ask questions. “Should I bring a snack pack, or can I eat, how are we going to do this together?” For many years, even into adult life, I just didn’t stand up for myself, and it didn’t serve me, and it comes back to I allowed people to put me into positions that they wanted, because there was some benefit, I allowed them to define what success was, what my success was. Right?
I allowed them to bully me with my allergies, and call me high maintenance, and stuff like that until I finally stopped, and I said, “Look, wholeheartedly, this is who I am, this is what I’m about, this is why I exist, this is what I’m going to put out into the world,” so how do I do that, and it really is about communicating that, again, like continuously, and consistently, and consciously knowing that there are people out there that might not get it, or might not be in agreement, and it’s totally okay. Right?
I’ve had to do this on a daily basis since I was just about four years old. One of my favorite movies of all time, Gladiator, when Proximo told Maximus, “Win the crowd.” That’s kind of what’s always on my mind is I’m trying to win the crowd here, and have them help me. Right?
From a food perspective, while in order to win the crowd, I have to be showing them value, and give something back to them, as well. I always have to do it in a fun, and smiley way, and always with a lot of gratitude, and all that kind of stuff consciously has to ooze out of me.
When it does, people want to work with you. They want to hear what you have to say. They want to come and see your keynote. They want to hire you to run their marketing, or whatever it is.
Isn’t it interesting that it also is a culmination of I know that there were some real challenges as a kid, because food allergies were certainly not as understood, and also there’s always going to be bullies around, but especially when you have food allergies it seems like you’ve even got a bigger target on your back. The things you had to learn to stand up for yourself on in regards to food allergies, alone, are also many of the things that now help you to be stronger to stand up in these areas, as well. Isn’t it the great irony that some of the things that were the biggest challenges also help to shape us, especially if we’re intentional about it, and help to shape us to take the stand that we need to take as we really make these definitions. I love it. Two last things, quick. One, how do people find out, what’s the best way to find out more about Sonia Hunt?
Well, you can connect to me all over social, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. My personal website is easy, soniahunt.com, or LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn, as well, and like to have nice discussions on LinkedIn about how do we kind of make the workplace better, and so forth. Yeah. I’m definitely out there.
That’s awesome. What’s one last little bit of encouragement, especially if maybe someone is a little tired, and a little beat up, a little worried that it may not work? What’s one last little bit of encouragement you might offer that person that’s on the fence?
Yeah. I mean, this is really an exercise, I think first and foremost it’s investing in yourself.
Don’t wait for or rely on anyone else to invest in you. It all starts with you. I really, really live a life that’s aligning body, mind, spirit, and emotions that lead to daily growth and living a life with intent and purpose.
So figure out what your intentions are, even when it comes to the stuff that you spend eight, nine, 10 hours doing every day. What kind of environment do you want it to be? At the end of the day, I always question, what’s the purpose of all of it? I spent years working at companies that made a lot of money, and they had products just without purpose, they weren’t helping anybody. That is what I was looking for. In starting my own business I said, I only want to work with brands that are purposeful, that are putting something out there in the world, and I’ll tell you the millennial generation is forcing you to figure that out.
I’ve been seeing a lot of this thing on Instagram that’s like, “You can’t do everything, but you can do anything.” I think what it’s trying to say is when you’re really focused on the thing that you love, you truly can achieve the highest of the highs in that area.
Yeah. That’s what I really wish for everybody is they can kind of live for living, and get out of the meaningless crap that is just meaningless crap.
I love it. All right. Sonia, thank you for bringing your awesome back to DREAM THINK DO. Let’s not wait so long until the next one.
Yes. I’m so grateful. Thank you so much. This is always really awesome. Yeah. Next time, we’ll be talking about a book.
All right. What did you guys think?
I love Sonia’s story. I love what she’s up to, and I think there’s so much power in defining what success means. I think the world wants to tell you what success means, but I think it’s such an important question to ask ourselves, ask those around us, ask our team, ask our families.
Then to be able to get clarity on that, and communicate that to others. Find ways to remind yourself, as well, and find ways to really keep centered, going back to that. That’s powerful.
I loved some of the things that Sonia shared about how she approaches her day with intentionality. I know for me, prayer is one of the ways that I start the day with intentionality.
I’d love to hear from YOU.
What’s something that you do that helps to set up your day, to help you stay focused on what success means to you? Leave a comment and let me know.