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Executive Diversions
Business Observer Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 4 months ago

Business owner's 500-mile hike was challenge, life-changing experience

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Eleni Sokos hiked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

EXECUTIVE: Eleni Sokos is chief executive socializer at Sokos Social. Her Lakewood Ranch company helps clients in the hospitality and tourism industries with brand building and digital marketing.

DIVERSION: Sokos hiked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain during summer 2016. Now she regularly makes time to hike on the weekends in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Now 30, she was 28 during the hike. 

Courtesy. A typical view during Eleni Sokos' hike in Spain.

TIME TRAVEL: Sokos says people have been walking the Camino de Santiago for thousands of years. Many people hike it as a religious pilgrimage, but for her, it wasn’t about religion. “I’m a huge art, culture and history person," she says, "and I was inspired to do this after reading the books of Paulo Coelho.” Sokos says she’s read all his books, including “The Alchemist,” and some of his stories outline the spiritual and emotional awakenings that come from going on a journey like this one.

RESET BUTTON: Since she was a teenager, Sokos wanted to hike the Camino de Santiago. She came to a point her life in 2015 when she was somewhat uncertain about what her next steps would be, particularly in her career, and it seemed like a good time to finally take the trip. “I was looking for something to be a big reset button, where I could take time out of everyday life and detach a little,” she says.

“I was looking for something to be a big reset button, where I could take time out of everyday life and detach a little.” — Eleni Sokos, chief executive socializer, Sokos Social 

BE PREPARED: In advance of the trip, Sokos immersed herself in research. “I’m a planner, so I read every single blog that exists about what I should pack and how I should prepare,” she says. She put everything for her trip into a backpack, including just three changes of clothes for six weeks. To prepare for the physical experience, she walked on Anna Maria Island, completing a 15-mile loop twice.

NEW CONFIDENCE: The first day of the hike was the hardest, Sokos says, because it covers the steepest terrain. Plus, she says, “that particular day happened to be soggy, hailing and 30 degrees.” But after she made it up the steepest hill on the coldest day, having all that behind her gave her new confidence. “I thought, ‘I can do anything,'" she says. "'There’s no reason why I can’t finish this.’” During the six-week trip, she was on the trail for five weeks. She hiked 15 to 18 miles a day in what she describes as “the most gorgeous Spanish countryside.”

WORK IT OUT: To be able to go on the trip and leave the business she started two years prior, Sokos hired someone to keep up with production while she was gone. But she wasn’t off the grid when she was away. “It was really easy to check in with work every day,” she says. “Everywhere I went, there was Wi-Fi.”

Courtesy. A vineyard view seen during Eleni Sokos' hike in Spain.

FIND FREEDOM: During the hike, she stayed in a monastery one night and came across a book of Catholic teachings. It resonated with her, particularly words that spoke of work and struggling coming before rewards. The last segment of the hike, Sokos says, is a lush, green area with rolling hills. “That whole area would not have felt as rewarding," says Sokos, "unless you made it through mountains and plains.” Now Sokos incorporates the mantra “effort, peace, freedom” into in her life. It works like this, she says: “I just have to get through this next week, in order to have peace and clarity. Then I will have the freedom to make changes and grow even further.”

QUALITY TIME: The trip also allowed Sokos to take a step back, figure out what she wanted in her career and do some business planning. “I’ve learned that if my mental health and physical health and emotional health are not all in check, there’s no way my business can grow,” she says. The hike also helped her realize she wanted to focus on having deeper relationships with a select group of clients. She changed her business model, she says, to focus on quality over quantity. In doing so she learned a key entrepreneurial lesson: “I had to realize that I couldn’t try to do everything myself — that I needed to learn to delegate and needed to learn to say ‘no’ to things.”

TAKE A HIKE: Today, Sokos hikes about twice a month at state parks and county nature preserves. Her favorite weekends, she says, include hiking 8 to 10 miles. “If I get out for three or four hours on a Sunday, those are my most productive weeks.”

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