Sonya Montague MacKay
Founder: Wild Orange
Sonya is the founder of Wild Orange – a school of wellbeing and conscious leadership. Shorthand: don’t burn out and be nice to people.
Did you know what you wanted to do when you were at school?
No! It was so much later, and even today it has changed from when I was at school. I was raised in a working-class Scottish family and the idea of going to university was insane – my family thought I was really weird. What I wanted to be at school is nothing like what I do today or any of the careers I have had. I am pretty sure it will change again and that’s OK, it’s about what is right for right now and the ability to change and follow your passion.
How did you get started?
I never stopped learning. I’m naturally curious and this has led many on many different paths. I had a job from I was around 13 years old, which was amazing as it taught me so many valuable life skills. I worked all through university and often had multiple jobs.
When I finished school, I went straight to university and did an undergraduate degree in marketing, management and consumer studies. I found it really difficult to get a job, so after a summer of travel (I worked on the boardwalk in California – so fun), I went back to university and did a master’s degree.
I still found it hard to get a job and so with a degree in IT and another in marketing, I found myself in a series of temp jobs as a typist, receptionist, pretty much anything. One of the best skills I learned at school was to learn to type!
My first job after university was actually back at my university, where I was hired in the continuing education department. That job came about through connections.
A big learning from that day was you can never know too many people.
What do you love most about your work?
I don’t think I ever feel powerful at work, but I do feel empowered. I always feel empowered when I know the work I’m doing is making a difference in the world.
Not all of my jobs have made me feel this way, but overall I definitely feel like I’ve made a contribution to the world. I feel good when I have listened to my clients, trusted my intuition and taken another step towards making the world a better place.
Did you make many mistakes?
Oh gosh I have failed so many times! Today I don’t view any of my “failures” as, well, failures. I see them as learnings. I truly have learned more from the things I’ve messed up or that haven’t happened than when things go well.
When I was younger I used to beat myself up. As a self-confessed perfectionist overachiever, I was so hard on myself. It’s one thing I wish I had seen and changed earlier.
I was offered a role with Dell many years ago as I had helped them expand into Scotland. They asked me to join their international relocation team. I turned it down. I made all these excuses but ultimately it was fear and me not feeling good enough. It still kind of haunts me to this day but my path is my path.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far?
I am so proud of so many things in my career so far. I have a lot of career successes having worked with many leading tech companies around the world.
My biggest accomplishment has been recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Only about 3% of people do and it was a mental and physical struggle to recover.
My next biggest accomplishment was leaving my career in government to launch Wild Orange, where I help people to stay well and not burnout. I help businesses to be kind and compassionate, get better results and not stress out their employees!
Who helped you get to where you are today?
My first real mentor was a guy called John Hughes. He saw my potential when I couldn’t. He had hired me in a temporary role (one of those temp jobs) and put me into their graduate program. Mentors are so important as they can see something in you that you don’t always recognise in yourself. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing leaders who have supported and promoted me. I wish I had gotten a coach earlier as that changed my life. My coach Leslie Santos worked miracles helping me unravel years of childhood bullshit (no parents are perfect they try their best). Today it’s my friends, mentors, and coaches. I have learned how to ask for help.
How has technology changed your industry in the last 5-10 years?
My business exists because of technology and not necessarily in a good way. I teach people to breathe, sleep and be mindful and conscious leaders. With the advent of technology, we are always on, we never have any downtime and we’re overloading our system.I love technology it is great and allows me to access people all over the world, but my business is a direct result of technology.
What’s your advice for young girls thinking about a career in your industry?
Intern, talk to people, volunteer. You never really know what an industry is going to be like until you’re in it.
Create the opportunity to get exposure to the industry you want to work in and if you aren’t sure, try different ones on for size to see what lights you up and brings you joy.
One piece of advice – read as much as you can, speak to as many people as you can, volunteer or intern to see if it’s a good fit.
In your wildest dreams, what would you love to do every single day and get paid for it?
What I’m doing now. My business is about making the world a better place for future generations, about making workplaces joyful and meaningful. Supporting people to be present to this moment in time, what a gift to be able to do this work. Now all I need is a dog to take to work!