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I'm A CEO, Army Veteran, Book Author And Divorced Mom—And Here's What I've Learned About Success So Far

Dr. Sonja Stribling, 21-year Army Retired Major, author of The Divorce That Saved My Life, career coach, and keynote speaker, has one core belief: “Don’t wait for others to invite you to the table, create your own!

We asked her how job seekers can stand out in a crowd, maintain a work-life balance, and move into a new career.

In a post-pandemic world, how can a professional maintain a work-life balance, especially working from home?

It’s important to know when to say no. There is immense power in that word, and even more power when you know when to use it. Self-care is always top of mind with my clients, and yet, sometimes they bite off more than they can chew. Know when to say no, know how to say no, and in turn, work-life balance will follow. Schedule time daily ‘me time’ to step away from the computer, take a walk, read a book, etc. Do something that makes you happy, and do it every single day. Consistency is key to work-life balance.

What is the one thing job seekers need to do to stand out in today’s tough job market? 

The key ingredient is authenticity. Be unapologetically you. The moment you lose sight of your mission or passion and self-doubt creeps in, others will see right through you. Stay strong with your messaging, stand firm in who you are, and be confident. 

What’s something that most people do wrong in their career?

Most people are terrified of change. It’s a human tendency to stay in our comfort zone, avoiding new environments and new chapters of life. By doing this, we limit ourselves and our potential. We stagnate. If a door opens that may seem uncomfortable or daunting, go for it. Don’t hold yourself back from new experiences simply because it may feel weird or like a wrong choice. We have the opportunity to write the next chapter of our lives with our decisions and I encourage everyone to take a leap of faith. You never know what may be waiting for you on the other side. Be brave and embrace change.

What motivated you to become a career coach for women? 

After 21 years in the military, I found myself faced with a divorce when I retired as an Army Major. The made me a single mother of 3 and left me emotionally and financially bankrupt. I knew I had two options — make a change, or continue to live my life in emotional pain. I took to social media to share my journey and life story, and it was then that I found myself receiving multiple messages from people all over the world thanking me for my vulnerability and expressing how they could relate.

By reading their messages and resonating with their stories, I knew my bigger calling in life was mentorship. 

Tell us about your approach as a career coach. 

I always put the person before the business. I believe it’s imperative to incorporate a “self-care first” mentality in every client. Once that is in place, business and success come naturally. By prioritizing your mental health, it is easier to figure out who you are and what your message is.

Why are most people unable to make a career change?

The unknown can be daunting. People stay in a career or field of work that is unsuitable out of the fear of disappointing themselves and others… The hardest thing to do is acknowledge when something isn’t working, and the second hardest is admitting it to yourself. Some may think “it’s too late to make a change” or “I’m too old to move on,” but it’s NEVER too late. The sooner you build up the confidence within yourself to recognize that, the sooner you’ll discover there are many more glass ceilings you can crash through.

What are the three biggest misconceptions coaching clients have about your job? 

First, you have to have your life fully planned out before you dare to approach a coach. Second, many clients assume that coaches are only for those who feel lost or lack guidance. Finally, coaches only work on business or on life aspects, never in tandem. The reality is that coaching can be for anyone and everyone. It’s all about finding the right person who will challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and fully realize the opportunities in front of you.

When is the right time for a person to consult a career coach?

If you’re feeling stuck in your position, frustrated with your current job or career, or lack confidence, a career coach can help you redefine what matters most to YOU.

The key is to be able to spot when your confidence meter is running low. It’s never too late to ask for help, but the first step is to acknowledge that you need help. When you begin to notice an interruption in your work performance due to self-doubt or confidence, it’s a sure sign that you could benefit from coaching.

How can people of color get ahead in today’s ‘inclusive on paper, not as much in practice’ workplaces?

You can’t wait for someone else to act. To get ahead, you have to be the change. If you feel strongly about something, don’t assume that people know how you feel. Don’t hope and wish that someone else will step up to help fix the system.

You have to use your voice to start the necessary conversations, no matter how hard they are, to make a difference. So if a company is talking the talk, but not walking the walk, speak up. Find mentors that are out there to help. It’s not who you know, but it’s who knows you. Find mentors that are ahead of where you are and where you want to go, and can shed light on the pathway in which you need to go. Lean on them to help guide inclusivity — ask them difficult questions, ask them for support.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever got?

The best advice I’ve ever received is to put your oxygen mask on before helping anyone else. It’s imperative to prioritize your well-being before tending to others. I’ve lived by this every day, and it’s an incredible reminder to make sure you check in with yourself daily and prioritize your mental health.

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