Women in Business Q&A: Sonia Satra, Founder, MOTICISE

06/05/2015 10:11 am ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

Sonia Satra is a certified life coach, fitness instructor, and award-winning motivational speaker who has dedicated her life to helping people reach their full potential through unifying the body and mind. Formerly the president of the National Speakers Association - NYC, she developed a one-of-a-kind Perspectives program; MOTICISE which has brought thousands of people clarity and confidence at times of critical decision-making, and her Women's Empowerment Adventures have pushed women in NYC to discover their potential both physically and mentally. With over 10,000 hours of onscreen and stage acting, the former soap opera star continues to act in both theatre and onscreen, appearing most recently in the Emmy -winning docudrama The Men Who Built America. When she isn't spending time with her family, she enjoys running, yoga, horseback riding, mountain-climbing, and is also an ardent boxing enthusiast. She lives in New York City with her husband Stephen and their two children, Kaya and Ty.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up, I was the youngest of three of a single mom--so I was alone a lot. When I was eleven, I spent the summer in Copenhagen, and I was by myself practically the whole time while my mother worked on her dissertation. That summer was a big turning point for me, as I learned to take care of myself, entertain myself, and spend my time well, because my mom was so busy. It brought me to a new level of independence. I realized I had a choice: I could go sit by myself, or I could go explore and do something. It made me dig deeper, to find and create outlets, to be a leader of my own life.

After that, I often stepped up to leadership roles. I loved the sense of adventure that I discovered in Copenhagen, and I felt something similar whenever I tried something big and new. And because I had this curiosity, and a tendency to say "yes" to things, I ended up in a lot of leadership roles that I didn't feel totally qualified for. So I had to figure each one out as I went along, and each experience built on the next. Taking chances, saying yes, and then succeeding--it makes you realize you can do it again. You can step up and be a leader.

I think all those experiences and lessons brought me where I am now, with Moticise. I stepped into an unknown, took a risk, brought some others with me, and now we're on this exciting new journey.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as a businesswoman and creator of MOTICISE - MOTIVATIONAL EXERCISE?
Most of my employment history has been in the entertainment business. It all started with acting, which gave me a huge boost into the business mindset. Since less than 3% of people who try in the entertainment industry "make it," it's certainly not just about talent or love of the art. It's largely about how you market yourself and how you network.

Once I understood that acting was a business, I approached it with a new mindset. I became more proactive, looking for ways to create opportunities for myself. I think that was the beginning of a more entrepreneurial spirit. That helped me navigate my acting career, and it helped me as I began producing--theatre, shows, even a movie--and it helps me still today. Through this experience, I learned how to sell a product, how to brand myself and my work. I learned client management skills, rapport-building skills, and organizational skills. And all of those are directly applicable to where I am now.

Another huge component of my acting was visualization. I used it both to visualize my character in a role and also to visualize the success of an audition or business situation. In fact, it was such a valuable tool that I created my entire business on it. It helped me create Moticise, and now it's a crucial piece of the business itself. So that's another tool I learned to use as an actress, and I use it constantly in my work today.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as CEO of MOTICISE - MOTIVATIONAL EXERCISE?
There have been so many highlights; all the big things, the firsts--the first Moticise class, shooting the DVD, being on the main stage at an 80,000-person fitness expo. Creating this new, nationwide partnership with Fresh Diet. Some of the biggest highlights have been the success stories- the shifts people have made as a result of doing Moticise. The realizations, the a-ha moments, big and small changes that have impacted their lives, both personal and professional. One woman told me that during a Moticise class, she realized for the first time that she could move on from all the pain and sorrow of the death of her daughter. That was huge. I am so happy for her and even more motivated to try to help others like her.

As for the challenges? Well, everything I don't know has been a challenge. In starting this new business, it seems like every day there's a new unknown, and that's scary. You ask the question "What's right?" "What's the best answer?"--and truthfully, you can't know. You gather the information, tap your resources--but at the end of the day, it all comes down to you. There may not be one right way. So you just have to trust your gut, decide on something and go with it. And that's a huge leap of faith that is hard to do quickly and consistently. I believe it's a skill, which I'm practicing and trying to get better at every day.

Tell us about the new project MOTICISE - MOTIVATIONAL EXERCISE that you are working on.
Moticise is a fitness program that combines physical exercise with coaching techniques like goal-setting, affirmations, and visualizations, so you're actually working on your mindset while you're working out. It's a cardio workout and a life coaching session in one. So you get in great shape, you tone your body and lose weight, while you're focusing your mind and working toward the life you want.

It's the culmination of everything I've ever done. I've always been passionate about both fitness and mindset, the power of exercising and the power of visualizing, so it only made sense to integrate it all into one. I knew from the start that it "works," from personal experience and then, over the past couple years, all this research started coming out showing that exercise is an optimal time to focus and create.

There's a protein that gets released when your heart rate is raised a certain amount, which triggers the growth of new neural pathways, which is incredible to me. And by exercising while you visualize, set goals and strategize, you're putting those things into your body and your brain. You can actually, physically, rewire your brain for success. Moticise is about training your body and mind for the life of your dreams--and then going out and making it happen.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Do it. Get help. Take the chance.

I think a lot of people, men and women, feel as though asking questions puts them in a position of weakness. They don't want to admit they don't know something they think they should know. I've definitely felt that. It's hard and it's intimidating to ask for help, but it's crucial. You are not going to know how to do everything, and that's ok. Reach out. Get that help, and create a strong network of people who can answer those questions.

It's important to find people you can ask questions, freely, so you don't feel like you're asking half a question, because then you might get half an answer--and that won't get you where you want to go. I've done that. I've reached out and said "I was just kind of wondering this one little thing..." but I won't follow through to get the complete answer, because I don't want to be perceived as stupid. So, ask, and get the answers you need.

Bottom line, just do it! Take the chance. I'm a huge believer that we're all capable of so much more than we think we are. And as scary as it is, we all have something powerful and unique to bring to the table, and it's so important for us to acknowledge that, and trust that, and just put it out there.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That's a tough one. The phrase "work/life balance" gets talked about so much, the importance of maintaining it. But I like to think of it as work/life fulfillment. To me, that raises different questions. "Balance" sounds constricting--like a math equation, or like I have to pull back to make everything work. There's something more expansive in "fulfillment" - it opens my mind and heart to more creative solutions and questions, like how do I want to feel? What do I want to happen? And when you ask good questions, you are more likely to find good answers.

Those answers are specific to each person. I think the starting point is to ask yourself: What do I need to achieve at work, and what do I need to feel at home, in order for each to be meaningful and productive? That can inspire a new mindset and open up possibilities for combining, or complementing, the two parts of your life in a way that works best for you and your loved ones.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think it's hard to assign one big issue to all women in the workplace. I do know, though, that a lot of women feel like they're not taken as seriously as their male peers. It can take longer for a woman's input to really be heard and longer for women to be deemed as valuable as their male counterpart.

I also think most women have a natural inclination to want to be liked. And it's hard to find the place of being fully a woman and fully a businessperson. You could overcompensate, and become very hard-edged, adopting the masculine in its aggressive form. Or you could shy away from the challenging points due to some insecurities that a lot of us share and find yourself settling, rather than rising to your potential. It's a challenge to maintain poise and focus in a feminine way, while keeping up with our male coworkers. But if anyone can do's us women.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Having someone you trust, someone you can be completely honest with and ask those questions--and get complete answers--is invaluable. Someone who has insight into what you're doing, who you are, and how you want to do it. I'm lucky enough to have a mentor who has an understanding not only of the field, but also my personal needs and values. Way back at the beginning of Moticise, he laid out a plan, and I asked the timeline, and he brought up my work/life situation. He said, well, you could do it in THIS period of time, if it's all you did, or you could do it in THIS period of time, if you still want to live your life. So I was able to see the possibilities, and choose accordingly.

Having a mentor takes the overwhelm away. It helps create a plan. It helps give you those steps. Everything is a series of steps and milestones along the way to the bigger goals.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are many women in the spotlight I admire, but when it comes down to day-to-day life, I typically look to the women in my life for guidance.

One of my sisters, for her financial business skills and her ability to take intelligent, calculated risks. My other sister for her tenacity, bravery and self-awareness--she made the difficult decision to change paths midway through medical school. She had the courage and patience to choose the path that was right for her, even though it meant going back and starting over.

I think it's important to look to many different people as leaders and models. You can learn the best from the best, and that doesn't have to be a single person. Look for the person in your life who has the specific skill you need, and emulate that. It may not be the same person every time.

For example, I admire one friend in particular for her organizational skills, and another, for her problem-solving skills. And another, for her ability to rally people. Depending on what I'm working on at the time, what I need, I look to someone I know who has that expertise or talent.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
I'd like to take the next steps toward opening a Moticise space in 2016--a studio where we'll offer classes.

I'm writing a book about the life and business lessons I've learned through adventure.
I'm looking into creating a variety of workshops, Moti-Adventures and retreats in new, maybe exotic locations.

I look forward to partnering with Fresh Diet for some upcoming events, to bring people a more holistic approach to nutrition, exercise and mindset.

As for personally, both my kids are starting new schools, and we've just bought a house--the first house I've ever owned or lived in, actually! I'm going to Cannes with my husband this spring. And I'm always on the lookout for my next new adventure.