“I felt like there was no way out.”

Image of Felicia Montenegro
From Sommelier to Business Owner

With 'work–life balance' feeling like a pipe dream and her health on a downward spiral, Felicia Montenegro decided to try something radically different. Here's how a new outlook helped her reconnect with her artistic side, and how she's crafted a bespoke work mix that combines her passions.

What work were you doing previously?

I worked in the service industry – most recently in fine dining and wine – working as a sommelier / bartender in various Michelin-Starred restaurants.

What are you doing now?

I started my nature-inspired online craft store, OMA (Organic Minimalist Arts), at the start of the pandemic.

Right now I'm also studying sound design, a new-found passion, and am in the process of launching my second business, Wine Knot.

My new business provides private macrame classes with sommelier-curated wine. I've found it marries my love of crafts and wine, without the downsides of full-on service.

How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?

I felt exhausted, depressed, and like there was no way out.

I didn't have experience in anything else that would yield the same level of income.

I was drinking too much, smoking, and either not sleeping or oversleeping any chance I got.

Work–life balance was something I could only dream of.

Why did you change?

I knew the way my life, and my depression, were going was not sustainable.

Waking up every day and dreading going into work (for so many different reasons) was wearing on me to a point where I thought I was going to snap.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I had just undergone high-dose psilocybin therapy and was given a new outlook on life.

Then, the pandemic hit and everything closed, including my work.

Instead of drinking heavily and being self-destructive, like I was accustomed to, I made the decision right then to use all my new-found time to invest in me.

I knew the only thing keeping me from true happiness in life was myself.

How did you choose your new career?

I looked inside myself for what I'd always loved to do.

Now that I had the time and space to really think and decide, it became clear to me that making art was what I was supposed to be doing.

Are you happy with the change?

I am beyond happy with my change.

I feel like a whole new person now. Happier and healthier.

My artistic side had been shut off for so many years due to physical and mental exhaustion, unhealthy life choices associated with my career, and a lack of self-care.

Now I'm exploring different art forms and mediums, and it's helped me to reconnect with who I am at my core.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss the bonds I had with others in my industry.

We were 'in the trenches' together and built a relationship unlike any other.

What I don't miss is pretty much everything else.

How did you go about making the shift?

I'd done photography in the background for my whole life, so I felt that was where I should start.

I just started taking pictures: flowers, textures, trees – just things outside my apartment.

I had some graphic design experience from college, so I made use of that in combination with my photography. This led to me first selling prints.

Then, as time went on and I was able to explore different niches such as botanical dyes, I branched out and started making and selling more items, such as rose-dyed wood bead garlands and other home decor items.

How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?

Luckily, being anal about organisation and timing is very helpful when starting a business!

These are two traits I take pride in. Keeping things organised allows me to be more able to transition from one project to another.

I took classes at my local community college, online courses, and virtual seminars to better understand how to run a business.

What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?

I don't think I made any wrong turns leaving the industry given the circumstances; however, I made plenty starting up my business.

One thing I've learned is that compulsiveness is not a good thing in running a business. This is something that was completely new to me!

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

Well, I sure saved a lot of money on alcohol!

I cut out a lot of my expenses simply by not leaving the house due to lockdown, then when I was able to go out more, I put any spare money I could towards art supplies and my business.

I also moved out of my apartment and moved in with my partner.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

The change in my life schedule was very hard for me for a while.

For so long, I'd had a routine where I went to bed late when I got home from work, and usually scarfed a 'dinner' down at 10 p.m. It was hard to train my body out of that.

What help did you get?

Financially, I funded the business myself with help from my partner.

In terms of other sources of help, I took courses on how to run a business, and I had therapy.

What resources would you recommend to others?

I would highly recommend taking online courses.

There are plenty of low-cost, do-it-when-you-want courses specialising in things such as setting up an online store, copywriting, Instagram marketing, SEO and so much more.

I didn't know how much I didn't know until I started a business.

What have you learnt in the process?

So much!

I've pushed myself further than I thought possible, only to realise that I have so much further to go.

I've learned a lot about myself in particular – what I truly like and don't like, what I'm capable of, and how strong my urge is to learn.

I've also learned a lot about what doesn't work, and what not to do!

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

You only have one chance to write your story.

Start writing it the way you want it to be written.

To find out more about Felicia's business, visit www.wineknotevents.com.

What lessons could you take from Felicia's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.