Sophia Parra was nineteen years old the first time she set off to pursue her passion. After spending the previous eighteen years of adolescence in Southeast Asia, she ventured West, and not unlike most aspiring actors and actresses, she took a chance on New York City. Sophia had a relatively soft landing in the cutthroat acting world of New York, securing an agent within two days of graduating from the acting conservatory she attended, and she received several auditions right off the bat. It wasn’t the jump that was tough; it was every day after that.
In order to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world and pursue a career in acting, Sophia had to take odd jobs doing almost everything but acting. For five years she put every single ounce of herself into this pursuit, sometimes working seven jobs at a time just to stay afloat in the city that never sleeps. Eventually the effects of this lifestyle were hard to ignore. She was exhausted, drained of all creative energy, falling apart moment by moment. But this was her passion. She couldn’t turn back now. The path had been laid; pivoting was not an option.
And then a guardian angel appeared in her life. Its name? Social media.
“I initially used social media as a means to showcase the projects I was working on in acting. I would find myself getting so excited about my next post, how I would frame the message, which words would work best, which image would speak the loudest to my audience. I was marketing myself without even realizing it. It’s why I love acting—I love storytelling. Social media allowed me to connect storytelling with my career as a actress.”
Sophia began receiving messages from friends asking for advice on social media content and how best to create a storytelling platform like the one she had created for herself. All of a sudden she was happy again, she was creating again, and most importantly she was having fun again.
And then tragedy raised its ugly head.
“I was on the way to do some film voiceover work for a role I had playing a Russian assassin on Blindspot when I got a phone call from my mom. She told me to sit down because it wasn’t good news: my father had Stage 4 oral cancer, and he was given three months to live.”
Sophia’s father was living in Kenya at the time, and she faced the harsh reality of an aspiring actress’s empty bank account and an immediate need to buy a plane ticket to say goodbye to her father. Most people would lose their minds with anger and grief or melt into the darkness of a well-deserved emotional breakdown; Sophia built a business. In two days.
“I realized I had been following my passion to become an actress, but something was missing. And I needed income immediately. As far as I could see, social media was it: my ticket to my dad so I could be with him while he was sick. I found an online course designed to help entrepreneurs build online businesses. With no money in the bank, I had to apply for their scholarship, and I was fortunate enough to win it. I finished the online course within two days and set up a website to start my own social media business.”
The coach Sophia was assigned during the online entrepreneur course was so impressed by her work ethic and, for lack of a better word, speed, that she immediately hired Sophia to help run the social media arm of her own company. From that first client came referral after referral after referral, and Sophia became the owner of Coach Social, a thriving social media agency.
“My side hustle introduced me to a passion I didn’t even know I had. I loved everything about acting, but the rest of my life was crap. Now my tiny life had purpose again all of a sudden. I found a new direction, a new mission, and a new passion.”
When Sophia needed motivation to produce more income and bring in new clients, she didn’t have to search far; she thought of a very special person in Kenya who needed his daughter. After several trips to be with her dad during treatment, Sophia used her social media skills to raise over $60,000 to help pay for treatment at a facility in Germany, a treatment that ensured her dad is still alive today.
“Sometimes it feels like my coach helped save my life—or at least my sanity. Around this time I was dealt another heartbreak when my mother was also diagnosed with cancer. My coach gave me both the emotional tools to help me cope with both of these tragedies in my life, and she also gave me the tools to build my business. I thought, if I can be a part of people finding coaches like her, I would feel so much better about my life. If I can help just one person do that, that’s something I can be proud of.”
Sophia began to realize the pivot she never thought was possible had already happened. Her passion had changed, and so had her life. For the better. So she put her acting career on hold and shifted full time to social media, helping coaches, like the one who helped her, support as many people as possible using social media.
“It’s okay to have more than one passion. It’s okay if your side hustle becomes your main passion. Your side hustle is a solid clue that there is something about yourself that you haven’t fully explored yet. Evolution is a part of life. Let it happen. Things change, and that’s okay. I was under the impression that I had to always be what I had decided to be when I was eighteen years old. My mission is different now, and I’m making room for that. Allow yourself to grow. Give yourself permission to change.”
While the stage has changed quite a bit, Sophia’s mission is still the same as it was after she received the phone call from her mom that changed her life.
“I still focus on helping one person, empowering one person. That’s all it’s ever been about: one person. If I happen to help two or three in the process, well then that’s just a bonus.”
Sophia in Ten
- Globe Trotter: Sophia moved to Pakistan as a baby with her family, and from there they moved to the Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Indonesia, where she finished high school. She then moved to Washington, DC, but quickly relocated to New York City to accept a scholarship at an acting conservatory. She still calls New York City home.
- Melting Pot: Sophia’s mom is a native Iowan, living in North Carolina. Her dad is a native Mexican living in Kenya. And her husband is a native Brit living in New York City.
- Pets: Two schnauzers, Chloe and Alfie. “I call them the odd couple. One is grumpy and one is loving.”
- 3 Years: The longest she’s lived anywhere (more specifically, her current apartment in New York).
- College Education: None. “I used to carry shame around not having a college degree, but now I’m proud of it.”
- Exercise: Boxing.
- Resume: She has never had an office or desk job. Ever. “The extent of my knowledge of office life is from the TV show, The Office.” Hello, goals.
- Juggling Skills: While pursuing acting, her odd jobs included tutoring, nannying, walking dogs, and ghost writing.
- Deja Vu: You may recognize her as the woman on a bench who reminds Claire Underwood of herself in Season 1 Episode 11 of the Netflix Original series, House of Cards. Claire takes a picture of her (Sophia!), prints a copy, and turns it into an origami swan.
- PRESENTS!: Here is a link to download a free version of Sophia’s Social Media Survival Guide, just because she loves Side Hustle that much.
Feature photo by Laura Rose Photography
Photos below by Renaldy Smith