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From working on the National Cathedral and Washington Monument to running endless miles in the mountains of Colorado, Sonja Hinish, Senior Associate at BC&E, LLC knows a thing or two about career change; work/life balance; hustle; and most importantly, resilience.
This episode is a little different; it’s not about marketing, sales, or SEPs. It’s about life. And Hinish has a lot of insights to share with Jordan Greaser, RevOps Therapist and CEO of Greaser Consulting.
Her greatest lesson? Enjoy the journey. But there’s a little more to it. What do you do when you’re feeling uncomfortable?
Hi, everyone, this is Jordan, the owner and CEO of Greaser Consulting. In this call, I have my cousin Sonja on the line. And listen, she’s not in tech; this is a different type of call. But wow, Sonja is just a phenomenal individual. She’s run an Ironman. She’s done these ultra marathons: 80-mile, 135-mile races. She, at one point in time, was this like laser-focused: I’m going to be the big-time architect-engineer in DC, and then just had some moments in her life and made some shifts and ended up out in Colorado, living a totally different lifestyle than she anticipated and running all these crazy races and doing just amazing things. So in this call, we’re going to talk about, like, the fear of, of leaving what you know; we’re going to talk about changing careers and the excitement and also the just uncertainty that comes with it. And then at the end, we talk a little bit about some of these races she runs and, and how to build just this resilient mindset that’s just unlike anything else. And I’ll tell you, you know, Sonja, without going into details beyond what was on the podcast, I mean, she’s been through it with some things; she’s lost close loved ones; she’s gone through some difficult things. And I’ve just been really proud of, like, the dynamic individual that she has become, the resilience that has come out of some of these things. And so I encourage you to lean into this podcast; it’s a little different than usual. But I think there’s just so much to gain from this wonderful cousin of mine that couldn’t tell you the first thing about tech. Go ahead and enjoy.
Say you want some clarity in sales and marketing and SEP? Well, we have just the remedy: our podcast, RevOps Therapy. Yeah.
Hi, everyone, this is Jordan. And I have with me today, Sonja. Sonja, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself?
Hi, everybody. My name is Sonja Hinish. And I’m a structural engineer living in Golden, Colorado, and I like to be outdoors.
So when Sonja says she likes to be outdoors, that’s a little bit of an underestimate of what goes on here. Sonja, how many Ironman have you done?
Ironman: one. Ultra marathons, maybe you’re thinking about?
Well, yeah, one Ironman is enough for a lifetime. What is an ultra marathon? And how many of those of you done?
An ultra marathon is any running race distance over the traditional marathon, which is 26.2 miles. And Jordan, I probably, I can’t even count how many I’ve done, to be honest with you.
How far, how far was, like, the latest race that you’ve done?
135 miles. So the reason I bring this up is… fun fact: Sonja is actually, she’s my cousin. I grew up next to Sonja, and I can barely run three miles, and she’s running 130 miles. I flew out to Colorado a few years ago. And you know, listen, I can’t do three miles; she does 130. We did this hike to what was that? It was, I want to say, like, Conniption Hotsprings. What was that called?
Conundrum? Conundrum Hotsprings.
Yeah, Conundrum… not Conniption. But anyways, a conniption for me, because I’m dying and walking up the mountain, and Sonja’s like “what? Like what’s going on? We didn’t even get started yet.” But anyway, that’s a little bit of the dynamic between me and Sonja here. But what we, what we want to talk about today is… I know Sonja is a little bit of a different guest for folks that we typically have on this podcast. But Sonja was running around the DC area for years and was sort of just in this like, career ladder progress. And then now she’s like living this totally different lifestyle out in Colorado. So like, we want to sort of capture the essence of this and what happened along the way because even though it might not be tech, I think there’s a lot of us that have sort of felt some of these same themes. So Sonja, can you tell us what, like, what were you doing in DC? Like what even brought you there? What were you doing there, and what was just like the mindset when you were living down there?
Yeah. And I think you captured it well how I just kind of was taking this path that, you know, society said was the way that I should go. And I think it’s, it all started even when I was pretty young; I was good at math and good at science. And everyone said, “Oh, you’d be a great engineer; it’s a stable job.” So I don’t know how people pick what they really want to do when you’re in high school. But sure enough, I went to Penn State, did architectural engineering graduated, and in 2009, and so that was right after the big recession. And so I took the only job, that happened to be my dream job. And that was in DC. Not technically in DC, it was in Fairfax, Virginia. So I packed up my bags, and I moved to Arlington, Virginia. And I was working on the coolest projects; I got to work on National Cathedral, Washington Monument after the earthquake there. My job was basically, my company basically, investigates building failures or building issues and gives cause of failure, develops, repairs, sees them implemented. So I was working on these really cool projects. And, um, I had this job that I thought, you know, was the job I’d be at forever. And after, I think, the excitement wore off of having a career and moving somewhere new, I just started looking around and started questioning if that was the kind of lifestyle that I really wanted.
So let’s, let’s talk about this a second. Because I remember, I remember seeing pictures of you, correct me if I’m wrong, right? Like you’re, you’re in like rappelling gear; you’ve got your harness on; your ropes, you’re like hanging off the side of these buildings. And I just remember thinking, “wow,” like, you’d send some pictures. I’d think like, “this looks like one of the coolest things on the planet to be doing.” And at that time, you know, you had a good community down there; you were sort of experiencing your own thing. But like, what, what was it? Like, was there a day? Was there a time? Was there like, a season of life? Where like, like, what happened that made you go, “Wait a minute, like, this was my dream job, but turns out, it isn’t my dream?”
Yeah, I just think, you know, part of that job is you’re always on call, and you’re working weird hours or working long hours. But I started looking around at the, you know, this, the superiors in my company, and, and seeing the life, lifestyles that they had. And just thinking like, “I don’t, I don’t want this.” You know, everyone works so hard during the week, that on the weekend, you’re recovering to get ready for the week again. I felt bad that, you know, I, because I didn’t have any kids, and it was just me. And so the weekends, I could actually, like, get out and go running. But I felt like I couldn’t talk about what I was doing on the weekends because there’s just like this culture, where you boast about how much you work. And, you know, you talk about how you don’t have time to do this, that, and the other. And, and it wasn’t just my company; I mean, that’s kind of the mentality of that area. It’s, it’s people work really hard. And it’s, it’s, it’s a rat race. And, you know, when you are in a gathering of new people in DC, and you ask them like, what they do, everyone’s going to talk about their job. Whereas, out here, it’s like when you ask people what they do in a group, it’s “what are your hobbies? What are your interests? What do you like doing? And how do you spend your time?” Um, so that kind of pair, that kind of started it. And then I started, I just had this like lure to Colorado, I think, because I kind of knew, you hear about it. And I kind of knew that, I think I would like this, this kind of setting. And so I started vacationing out here. And then, gosh, by the fifth time I made a trip out here, I got on that flight to come home, and I remember thinking like, “I don’t want to go home, like DC doesn’t feel like home anymore.” And I think your sense of what home is does change. You know, it’s like, where are you like to be, the people you love are there. But I just started getting to that point, and then I didn’t want to go back to DC, and it didn’t feel like home. And so that’s when I decided that I was going to move, and I just started talking about moving for a few years. And then it it took me a while to actually… Oh gosh, I want to say that like I had talked about it for two years. And then I decided “you know what, I just got to set a date. And as soon as there’s any kind opportunity, I’ve got to say that I’m leaving,” because I think I was, it was two years before I left. I was about to do it. And then I got promoted. And then, you know, they pitched a big career opportunity to me, and I was like, “oh, okay, maybe I should stay.” But two years later, I just felt like no… it’s “I gave a time; I tried it out here. And this just isn’t. This isn’t where I want to be.”
What, were those conversations hard? Like, when you were like, did people understand where you were coming from? Or did you feel like you’re almost like the weirdo? You know, like, “I’m here, beating this drum that no one understands”? Or did you find that the community you’re in were like, “hey, Sonja, just go do you. Like I get it. It’s not for me, but you go do it.”
I think my friends and my family totally got it. Because they know me, I think. No, I don’t necessarily think the people at my company, except for maybe my kind of direct project managers, who did know me, got it. And to be honest with you, I thought at the time that I was going to be able to just transfer within my company; like I said, like this company, I thought was like a dream job. So I wanted to transfer to the Denver office and keep that all the same. And well, it turns out, I couldn’t transfer. And so then I was like, “Wow, all right, I’m cutting this thing off.” But in that at that point, I had, I had made up, I had been thinking about this for two years, and I had made up my mind that like, I’m going because they were all like, “oh, you can stay you know; you can stay here.” And I, I decided I was, I was going through with it.
That makes me think a little bit about my journey. When when I was training at Outreach, the software company I was at, it was good to me. Like there’s nothing… like I can’t sit on here and be like, “all these people are terrible, or I can’t believe blah, blah, blah.” But a couple of things had just shifted in my life. And, like, I knew this chapter was over. And I’m not saying that, like that life that they were living was some terrible, horrible thing, and everyone needs to escape that. But for me, like, I just knew it was time. And so I remember getting on that plane and leaving. And at least for me, like, I felt like this weight that I had been carrying for a very long time was just gone. Yeah. And like, what, at first what it was like hard to move away. All of a sudden, it was like “How fast can I run?” You know? Like, like, it was just like a weird shift. I mean, am I out of my mind here? Is that something similar as you think through your process?
Oh, no, absolutely. Like, I was scared to death to leave this, this comfortable thing that was a really good career. I was scared to death to leave it. And that’s why it took me so long. But I just, I got to the point. I was like, “I just got to. I have to. I don’t… even if it’s this huge risk, I got to do it because I’ll regret if I don’t do it. Maybe it’ll fail, but I’m gonna regret if I don’t know. So…
How long have you been in Colorado now?
About four and a half years. And I was in DC for eight and a half.
Okay, so you’re, you’re like almost like the halfway point, right? Compared to that whole experience, like, it must feel like you’ve lived two totally different lives. Is that right? Like?
Yeah, and I tell people that. Yeah, I say like, it’s, it is hard for me to recognize the person. I mean, all my morals and values are the same, but I’m just a completely different person now than I was in DC as far as my day-to-day and what I’m doing. Yeah.
Have you had any moments since you’ve moved to Colorado where like, if and I understand, you can tell me if I’m wrong, like you still you have a good job… it doesn’t, maybe not have that same ladder, right, but it’s still good job… but have you had any like, “oh crap” moments, like, “Oh, I could have been pursuing this great career, and I kinda like, I kind of missed it? Or is this like, this isn’t even a thought?
It isn’t a thought of mine anymore. I actually uh, yeah, I’m, I got a call while I was still working at the other company because they had heard, someone out here had heard that I was looking on a bicycle ride unless with someone from my former company. So they call me up, and there’s, they want to interview me, and I’m thinking “you know, I didn’t meet… I’ve never seen this company name on anything. It wasn’t any of the firms I was looking up,” and but but it ended up being several former employees from the other company from my other company that kind of went off on their own, started this group out here, and it all clicked, and I, now that’s where I’m at, but it’s uh, you know, there’s, I think there’s about five or six of us, so it’s really small. It’s really different. But the downside is I don’t have… I’m not getting the National Monument out here. You know, I’m never going to do those jobs. But it’s come with this, the balance with my work life that I’ve been looking for.
So you gave up? Okay, go ahead, sorry.
Um, no. And then, you know, now I’m looking, I just look at my, my professional career, as well as my life, is like more of a journey, it’s less of a point to point. And I don’t even know if now this point, I’m not even sure I want to be an engineer forever, you know what I’m saying? So? Yeah, no, um, it was a blessing in disguise not being able to transfer because it’s kind of opened up this whole different world of possibilities.
So that’s an interesting thing: you’re not even sure you want to be an engineer anymore? I talked to somebody. I can’t remember who I was talking to about this. And we were discussing this idea of like, I had these childhood dreams. And then I attained them. And then I realized I have different dreams. Yeah. And so then, like, you know, go out and do some of these things. And then I realized, oh, like, I have different dreams, again, like, what is going on? So on the one hand, it’s like, “oh, did I just radically miss who I thought I was? Or as a part of attaining my dreams, so to speak, that that in and of itself changed me to then think differently about what I want life?” Right? So it’s less of a like a, “I’m not satisfied with life.” But more of a like, “you know, I don’t know, like you learn and change.” And you gotta have room for that. Right?
Yeah. And for me, you know, I told you kind of how I ended up as an engineer without really looking at anything else. And then, you know, I’m an adult now. And I’ve been out in the work world for a while, and, and now I have other interests that I think I could be really good at. And maybe my, my interests and passions have changed a lot since 15 years ago. So yeah, I think I mean, I’m not getting out of engineering tomorrow. But it’s certainly not out of the question, I think for me.
So you, you gave up career. And that seems like, in a very literal sense, like you still have a good job. But like, you might even be like, that might even be like dying, in a sense. But what would you say through this process you’ve gained?
I think it would be the things outside of my career that I really gained. I live somewhere now I finally feel a sense of community. I couldn’t, I couldn’t have that before. I didn’t have run groups I met up with after work. And you didn’t go to the mountains with your friends on the weekends, you know, so that, for me, the sense of community has been something which now I really value and I didn’t have before. Certainly, I think my physical and mental health are better out here because I spend more time doing…
Well, if you’re running 130 30-mile races, I bet your physical health…
Yeah, I guess it could go to the other extreme. It could be breaking my body apart. But no, it feels pretty good.
Is it, is it, like, even that phrase? Like, “I don’t even know if I want to be an engineer”… Like, is that scary for you?
Kind of, I think about… I think what a lot of people think about right, is that some cost mentality; I’ve put, gosh, how many years would I say now? About almost 15 years of my life into this career, then before that five years of school, then all all the money, so you kind of are like, “I, I need to stay in this just because I, I did all that in the past.” So I’m trying to switch that mentality to use more of a growth mindset. Not stay in somewhere just because it’s comfortable. And I, you know, I think just through behaviors and decisions of the past, right, like, we know that it takes risk and change for growth. And that in itself is fulfilling, even if a failure might cause it, you know, so trying to switch to that mindset, but yeah, it’s still scary. I mean, that’s still why I probably haven’t given it up yet.
So out of curiosity here, as you’ve thought about just different things and different dreams and whatever I mean, what what comes on the radar for you?
Good question Jordan. And it changes, like, pretty frequently. I guess like recently I’ve really gotten into mindset, and how mindset, just how you have the ability to change your mindset and influence your outcome, you know, so I’ve thought about psychology, probably more so related, though, to sports and how I could, like work with athletes on the way they approach races or games and little tools and things I’ve tried to implement into my own training, kind of race prep. So that’s been an interest; I’ve thought about coding, because I thought, “Well, gosh, I’d like to be able to be on the road more and be more remote.” So it’s like, I do change my ideas with my priorities of the time.
But isn’t that, isn’t that kind of fun, though, like, you were in a, in the DC side of things like, this is the Sonja that I knew for so long, right? Like, driven. Like, this is where I’m going; this is how I’m going to get there, here’s where my life is gonna go. And then, you know, here you are, on sort of, I don’t want to say the other side of that, because again, it’s like those wrong things in and of itself. But now, you’re at this place where like, you know, “I can have different interests, I can have different ideas, and I can sort of play with that.”
Yeah. And sometimes when I get asked, like, what’s your five-year plan, I almost freak out a little bit, because I’ve loosely like what things I want to do. But if I looked at the last five years, or the five years before that, right, you can never predict really, where are you? Where are you? Where are you gonna be? And where do you want to be in five years? Um, yeah…
So I gotta, I have to ask this question just because we’ve, we’ve skirted around it a little bit. And you’re talking about sports psychology and how to get people in that mindset. Like, honestly, Sonja, how, how does somebody run 130 miles? And like, what? Like, what’s the motivator? Like? What is it within you that’s like, instead of thinking this is like, for how I would think, blatantly, like this is the worst thing on the planet? Like, how are you? Like, why is this for you this like, “I love this. And this is just fantastic.” Like, what goes on through that thought process?
Good question. Um, well, I guess a big part of it is these things that I thought I couldn’t do. Deciding to do them, and then accomplishing them, and then seeing how that has changed my mindset. You know, with this, the 135-miler was this winter, winter race and really touching on this without going too deep, you know, I got into the sport because I lost a boyfriend at that time, in an accident, who was into the sport, and I love just ultra running, and I love trails. But I never thought that I was going to do minus 20 below zero races in the cold, because I hated the cold. And then, um, through losing him, I decided, “Alright, I’m gonna go out, I’m going to do an 80-mile one; it’s going to be therapeutic for me. It’s going to help me heal.” And I did it. And I just loved it. And I, in preparation for it, I was just like, “you have to change your mindset on this to get through it.” I can’t be saying like, “I hate the cold. I don’t like to be cold.” So I started doing the cold showers and you know, I get in the cold, in the shower, and I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want it.”
You said you sound like? Yeah. What is that Wim Hof, who like he, he lost his wife, and then his thing was he was going to embrace the cold. Like that was like for, like for some like that was like a connection for him. Right?
Yeah. And that’s like, I wanted to do that. I wanted to, like, change the way I responded to the cold, and honestly, when I would get in the shower, and it was time to turn it to the all cold, as soon as I cringed and didn’t want to do it, I was like, “No, this is when you have to do it.” So I just started, like, using that little trick a lot. Like when I started to get that feeling that something was uncomfortable, I’d be like, “Okay, no, this is when you got to do that uncomfortable thing.” And that just spiraled into change of mindset and change of outlook on a lot of different things. So, but to further that, yeah, I think also doing these race experiences just during that race, because it’s so long… ultra marathons like, hmm, sometimes you go through, you know, six months during those 24 hours, or whatever it is, you know, you go through all the highs; you go through all the lows. The people that are good at these races aren’t necessarily the fastest or the strongest. They are really solid mentally. And in a race of that distance, it’s a given that you’re going to encounter some kind of issue. So it’s like, how, how are you going to respond to that? There’s always going to be a problem-solving piece, and you don’t know what it’s going to be going into it. But yeah, I think you hear a lot about when you hear about ultra-distance races, like how much do you think it’s mental versus how much do you think it’s physical? And yes, you have to prepare physically, somewhat, but I think you can go into some of these races severely undertrained. And as long as, as your mind is strong, you can get through it. So yeah, for me, I guess the end of the day, mentally, I love the challenge of a long race. But I love the training too, like, and this kind of, if I were to tie it into the career piece, it would be like I do look at training and racing as kind of this journey, right? Like, you got to enjoy the journey. And the race is really just this call nation, like this celebration of all your training, but it’s really it’s just like this little treat at the end of it all. Like, I love the training because for me, it’s, it’s time in the mountains, and I don’t even really call it training. Because it’s my, it’s what I would prefer to do would be take a weekend and go camp and wake up and run and spend as much time outside as I can.
Well Sonja, when I listened to you the, like the word that just keeps coming to my mind over and over and over again, for, for a lot of reasons is just this idea of resilient. Right? Like it takes resilience to like career shift; it takes resilience to branch out on your own, right, go to Colorado by yourself? It takes resilience to you know, you talk about, you know, you lost a loved one and, like, to overcome, it takes resilience to run 135 miles, right? It takes takes resilience. You say you get that little twitch of like, the cold shower, and you’re like, we’re gonna do it, right? Like all of that builds resilience, right? And at the end of the day, you know, whether, whether you’re like, you’re in DC or you’re in Colorado, or you know, you’re climbing the ladder or you’re running crazy races, like you know, all of these things kind of build resilience, but especially when you step out on the edge of fear, right? Like, step out on the edge of fear. It’s like when life begins right and like resilience starts to get built. So I know I’m soap-boxing on you here, but that’s just, as I listened to you like this is like the thought that goes around in my mind. Hey Sonja, we’re coming right up on time. Is there anything, like any, someone’s listening to this and they want to run? Like, they want to run five miles or 50 miles or 100 miles? Like, can people get ahold of you if people want to know like, career shift? Or they have questions, like, is it alright, if they reach out to you? Is that? What’s the best way? Just just LinkedIn message?
Probably LinkedIn message or, um, I’m not super active on social media, but they’d be able to find me on Instagram. I’m just @running happy.
@running happy. Alright, so any final takeaways before we split ways with everybody today? Any last words of wisdom?
Jordan? Um, no, I guess maybe just enjoy the journey. And know that with, with uncomfortability and risk and change comes, comes comes a lot of growth. And it’s never too late. Again, I feel like a lot of people just keep doing what they’re doing because they think their time has passed but I don’t think that’s the case.
Alright, Sonja, thanks for coming today, and for everybody that listened in I hope you enjoyed the call. And we look forward to you tuning in next time. See ya.
Hot dog. That was a great episode. Thanks for listening. If you want to learn more about Greaser Consulting or any information you heard on today’s episode, visit us online at www.greaserconsulting.com. Be sure to click the Follow button and the bell icon to be notified on the latest here at RevOps Therapy. Thanks and see you real soon.