top of page

Transformation Story: Sonal

Last month I put out an invitation connect and share your personal stories of transformation. After sharing what I've been experiencing this year on the blog I have a craving to hear from you.

Today I'm sharing my conversation with Sonal, a freelance designer and illustrator dipping her toes into the world of professional winemaking. You can watch the videos or scroll down to read through our conversation.

Here are my biggest takeaways from my conversation with Sonal:

1) Listen to what you're craving and go find an outlet to explore that craving. Sonal craved working with her hands and she craved being outside which led her to study wine making in Napa.

2) Be open to all ways of working even if it's not part of your plan; Sonal has been a freelance designer for years because she wanted to work on more than one brand/project at a time AND be selective to support brands that were doing good in the world. Recently, she said yes to working full-time in corporate again because she felt inspired by the mission of the company.

3) Define what success means to you and let that guide you - For Sonal that is doing work that's interesting and meaningful to the world. So her career decisions always are in check with her north star of success.

Watch Part 1 (24 minutes):

Watch Part 2 (10 minutes):

(we kept taking after recording and there were some really interesting shares that I wanted to capture)

After watching, would you be willing to share your story? We can only help each other if we know each other? I'd love to hear from you, submit your story concept here or connect with me on Instagram.


Our Conversation

Lizzie: Hi Sonal, welcome! I can’t wait to learn more about this career expansion you’ve been exploring. I was so curious when you told me you were not going to be available in September because you’d be at a winery making wine! Why did you decide to study winemaking and take mini-sabbatical breaks from our UX and design consulting business? Is this an alternate career you’re pursuing? A career shift?

Sonal: I don't know if it is an alternate career, but I was thinking about ways I could enable myself to work with my hands. One of the things that came up when I was doing research was winemaking, and living in California and being so close to wine country also really helped. I found a program at UC Davis that does Continuing Ed, and so I started with some of those classes there because it seemed interesting and like a good way to do more hands-on work and actually get in the field and learn that way, vs behind a screen.. and I enjoy wine.

Lizzie: So there's two parts I get: first you enjoyed drinking wine and second you're close to Napa, but this last part… were you looking for a wine program or did you feel a spark when you saw it listed as an option?

Sonal: No, I wasn't specifically looking for a wine program, I was actually pretty open to exploring different avenues where I would get to be a little bit more hands-on. Be in nature a little bit more. And yeah, this one just seemed to align a little bit more than others with my interests and also just seemed like it had a lot of different career options within it. There are a lot of different ways that you could enter the industry. You can be more hands-on in the fields or do more of the lab work, or even just working as a buyer or something.. So if I did want to pursue it as a job, there seemed to be a lot of options and variety in the work itself.

Lizzie: Do you have an extensive wine collection or are you more “I have a glass of wine and I go out to dinner with my friends” type of person.

Sonal: Yeah, no, no, I'm not very serious about wine at all. I am more like the latter. Just have a glass of wine and I enjoy trying new wines from different areas. I think it's really interesting because every bottle of wine is kind of like a little time capsule of the year on time it was made, I think that's really cool.

Lizzie: What did family and friends, colleagues say when you shared what you were going to explore?

Sonal: My parents are immigrants and expected me to be a little bit more on the straight and narrow career path. So I think they were a little bit concerned, but I think also, at this point, they know me well enough that it takes me a long time to really come to a decision because I over-analyze things. I'm not a very impulsive person, so that helped them trust my judgment and that perhaps this is something that I did want to pursue. They were pretty supportive. My dad is also a chemist, and there's a lot of chemistry involved in wine making, and so I think for him, that was a little bit exciting. My friends were also very supportive about it, I think they thought it was exciting, but really wine making is basically farming. And I think they were excited too because we're all living in cities and we do feel a little bit disconnected from nature, so that craving is understood by many.

Lizzie: Were some friends jealous?

Sonal: Most of my friends work full-time jobs, so I think it is a little bit harder for them to take a longer time off and as a freelancer, I was pretty lucky to be able to put my work on pause and pursue this interest. I acknowledge I'm very privileged in that way.

Lizzie: Let's talk about your career path a little bit, where did you go to school, or if you went to school, and then what happened to lead you to the point where you were a freelancer?

Sonal: I went to Carnegie Mellon University and I studied Communication Design there. Then I moved to New York without a job, but I ended up getting a job working in house as a designer. What led me to freelancing is I felt like working in-house or working on a job, I was doing very similar tasks and there's not as much variety in my work. I also wanted to work with organizations that we're doing more... we're doing good things in the world like in the environmental sector, the social justice sector, the education sector. Being able to freelance, I got to work with a lot of those different clients and that felt good to me. Also... in America, a lot of our life and our identities are based on what we do for work, and that's not something that's ever really resonated much with me. As a freelancer, I think I can be a little bit more control of when I'm working and when I'm not... and that feels good to me.

Lizzie: I know for me, there was a point when I was so worried about updating my LinkedIn bio and not having a big brand name and title behind my name. Did you have any of that or you really weren't as attached to those elements of your career?

Sonal: No, it definitely was not easy. Especially because of my peers from Carnegie Mellon who are super high achieving and kind of put that pressure on themselves. When you're in that circle, you are comparing yourself to what everyone else is doing, and you do see people progressing in their career, and so there's always that tension, and I think it's hard even though for me, it's not necessarily something I put a lot of my self-worth in. I still do feel those tensions, but at the end of the day… you have to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. When I'm old what is it that I'm gonna be happy that I did? And I don't know if necessarily climbing the corporate ladder is something that I'm gonna be super proud of doing.

Lizzie: It is such a big question because as an entrepreneur, it's very tempting to go back to what I know and a system that tells you what you need to be and what you need to do to win. And when you're on your own, did you feel like there's a lot more freedom? Or was it harder being a freelancer or was it easy for you? For me, it's been harder to feel successful.

Sonal: I think I also have different measures of success. And so for me, it's like if I'm working on stuff that's interesting to me and I'm in my flow state for as long as I can be, that's a measure of success. Working with companies and organizations that I feel like are doing good work and that I feel like I can actually be involved with their mission and help out with that, that's a measure of success. So no, I think maybe early on in my career, there was more of that where I was comparing myself a lot more to others. It was harder because you have to set those goals for yourself, but I think as I've been progressing in my career and I've been doing it for longer, it's not as hard to feel successful or happy with where I am.

Lizzie: That's great. And you said recently, you returned back to corporate, what was the thinking or planning behind that?

Sonal: It's a smaller startup that I joined. I wasn't particularly looking to go back full-time, but one of the things that drew me to this opportunity was it just seemed like an intersection of a few things that I'm interested in, and also in a sector that I think is interesting. Their mission resonated with me a lot and it’s something that I felt like I wanted to be a part of and that I felt like I could actually have a lot of impact there. And also, one of the things about freelancing is you do kind of miss working with people and having that relationship with people and seeing them every day, so that was something that I was missing as well, so it seemed like a good time to be going back full time.

Lizzie: That's great, I know that is something I definitely missed. And pretty much every coach I speak to misses that, because we're in very solo businesses, even if you're in a community of coaches. So are you going back into the office or is it work from home?

Sonal: It's work from home, so it's interesting to be onboarded to new team remotely, it's like you still don't necessarily have that full connection with people, but we're having an on-site in a couple of weeks and I should finally be able to meet everyone. That's awesome.

Lizzie: So what's going to happen with the wine journey... Are you going to continue that path or what's the long-term plan? If you have one.

Sonal: I don't really have a long term plan, it's like going into it, it was pretty explorational, I didn't go in with a specific goal, it was something that I was looking to see if it did align with my expectations of it, and I did enjoy it. I really do enjoy it and I would love to pursue it, but I'm not sure at the current moment, just because of having a full-time job, at what capacity I can pursue it.

Lizzie: When you were in the wine space, did you have any moments where you felt like, Wow, this is exactly what I was craving. Or the opposite? A contrast?

Sonal: The one thing that I was kind of surprised by is a lot of it is pretty formulaic, and so there's not as much creativity I sort of hoped for, and maybe that is just because I was newer and didn't really understand those sort of nuances with it... And maybe if you are more experienced, there is more of that. It was a lot of hard work, you're actually just working 12-hour days where you're waking up super early in morning and you are working into the evening without much of a break. So that's the other part, I think people don't realize how hard it is on the body.

Lizzie: But what are you doing in those 12-hour days?

Sonal: You're out in the field, actually sampling, picking the grapes, and then on days where you're actually collecting the grapes, you have to process them, and so that's a whole day of processing. It can be quite taxing because you’re sorting them manually, and then they go through the crusher and everything. You're just kind of doing that constantly. The whole day. It’s pretty fascinating that all these flavors of wines, which are all so different, come just from the juice of a grape that’s fermented.

Lizzie: Yeah. Shocking.

Sonal: Yeah, I never really realized it was so pure.

Lizzie: Is it the fun fact you can share about yourself at a your new job?

Sonal: I should have done that!

Lizzie: From what you've learned and how you live your life, what would you share that's working for you, or a mantra or a North Star that you try to keep in mind as you make career decisions?

Sonal: That's a big question. For me, at the end of the day, I don't really want to regret missing out on anything. I don’t want to say I wish I'd done something, I would rather just take that chance and pursue things. I don't think there's any bigger goal than pursuing your curiosities and meeting those needs for you specifically, and I think a lot of other stuff can follow after that. I think pursuing things that you're interested in will make you happy, maybe that's very lofty to say.

Lizzie: Simple. What I talk about is pretty much that alignment is following curiosity, and that leads you towards alignment, right? Being curious and interested in what you're doing. And when you're not changing or being aware of that and shifting you can be out of alignment.

Sonal: I don't know if I've ever been very career-minded, I think for me, it's always just going to be exploring things I'm interested in and making sure the work that I'm doing aligns with my personal values, and at the end of the day, just trying to be happy. That sounds wonderful.

Lizzie: You seem not stressed and happy and aligned, which is so so wonderful. Thank you for sharing your story, and we can't wait to hear more. I'd love to get updates as things progress for you because that calm and simple North Star of following your curiosity is inspiring. Especially for a Capricorn like me. Thank you so much for talking with me.

Sonal: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it, and thank you for asking me to share my story. Hopefully, I can inspire other people.


Lizzie: So we're back, because I stopped recording and as we were chatting and I was like, Oh, we should be recording this! So basically what we were talking about was if I used your North Star as a measure for success, I'd be all sorts of successful. Because I do follow my gut and do what feels good. But I do I feel success from financial gain and from acknowledgement, like public acknowledgement, and I don't love that about myself. It's just the truth. And then you were saying...

Sonal: I was just saying, I've always tended to try to take things apart of why you would feel success from something external like that, and just like for me, that's never done it. But I wonder if people think about those type of things when they are using external measures of success to motivate themselves, like, why would money make me feel more successful? Or happier? Yeah, I don't know, I guess everyone has different end goals.

Lizzie: Yeah, I know it's fascinating too, because so many of the people that I'm around are like that, like everybody was competitive for money and title when I was in corporate. And I recently realized the only reason I have unhappiness in my business is because it's like this Green Dragon of just more and more and more... Even if we're growing, even if we've had a great year, it's just never good enough, because in my mind, you read about all these giant companies, and I'm self-funded. It’s what I’m struggling with. It's just an awareness I've had in the last six months. It's like, Wow. It's really just money actually.

Sonal: Do you tend to set for yourself what you need to feel fulfilled, like you set measures of success and what would make you feel successful and happy, like monetary measures.

Lizzie: Well, no, I don't think I really consciously did, and I think I thought that creating a company in a business that I was passionate about, that I care about, would be enough. It changed my life in such a wonderful way that I thought that would be enough, and I feel grateful, I feel proud, I feel humbled, I feel all those things by the wonderful work we've done and what people say about us working together. Personally, when I look at myself, I think not good enough yet because I have high goals. I have three kids to put through college, I have hobbies. I also don't like being told no, so if I want something, and I can't have it, then I get mad at myself for not making enough money to just have it. I think I have a really big appetite for life and experience, and enjoying myself and sharing abundantly, and when I can't do that, I get kind of bummed out if I'm just like, Oh, I better go make more money then, because there were times in my life where I was making enough money and every need was met. And it's been a while since that, at least is an entrepreneur. Although I'm getting close. So I think that's where that comes from. And I don't know if that's gonna change, to be honest, I'm not really sure. What about you Sonal, you don’t seem to have the same issue. Did your parents teach you that? Was that like a value in your family or is that just kind of who you are?

Sonal : I think it's more who I am because I think immigrant families definitely tend to value financial comfort and also just having a stable job is a really important part for them. I think just because they did come here from a different country and were looking to make a better life, I think that's something that they do really value, but at the same time, it's not like my parents really put all that much pressure on me to do that. I went to art school, but I do think it's a little bit more of who I am than the values instilled in me growing up.

Lizzie: I get so curious, I get curious about astrology and human design and generational differences and, what the world needs. And the whole nature versus nurture. And I end up believing, I'm really convinced, It's like 99% nature, you could definitely F people up, but I think people are who they are to a big extent. And definitely, there's ancestral things you inherit, and potentially, depending on the child, they could be more susceptible to programming from their parents or from society than other types just based on their personality and who they are. That's just so fascinating to me that people are who they are, and that's why I just hope people can be themselves. Although so many people don't even know who they are at all, which is like me five years ago...

Sonal: Yeah, it's hard because I don't think in our society, we’re given a lot of time to kind of explore who we are, we go straight from school to college to a job, and you don't really have any time to slow down and really explore why you're doing this or what drives you or anything like that, a lot of it is external forces just telling you who you should be.

Lizzie: Totally, and the media and the systems of telling you what's approved and what's okay and be that and you'll be safe and liked, and also it's driven a lot by fear. I'm actually coaching someone now who just graduated from college, she’s one of my client’s daughters, and she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do. And just today I was thinking in the car that I think I need to rethink my approach because I have some fear that I'm bringing to the coaching. I'm like, Well, you're going to have a career, just go do that. And it's like, Well, wait a minute, maybe what this individual needs is to fully be in their spirit for a year or two, and that's okay, we don't need to be scared, then after that, they're going to get a job. I'm sure they'll find meaningful work. It's almost the opposite, when we don't have time for spirit, we're gonna find it at some point, so you can either leave a job when you're getting paid $300,000 a year and have a crisis when you have mortgages and children and family, or caretaking or whatever is happening, or you can do it at 22 and figure it out.

Sonal: Yeah, definitely. I think exploring things that are not working for you is great, and then you come to a place where you're like, Oh yeah, I'm here because I tried other things that didn't work for me and I know that this is where I want to be. Rather than like, Alright, I ended up here, maybe it doesn't quite feel right, but maybe it'll start to feel better along the road.

Lizzie: I saw quote on Instagram today that said something like, if it doesn't feel good it’s never going to feel good. The issues will just get bigger and they’re not going anywhere. Thank you again for chatting with me, Sonal.

Sonal: Thank you, I'm glad to be a part of it.



I started Collective Gain out of a desire make work better, where being on a magic team was the norm vs. a rare chance occurrence. Through coaching, I discovered deep self-awareness, new perspectives and ways of working that I am passionate about bringing to you.

The coaching membership.png

Recently on the Blog

Read more about what matters to you

bottom of page