The 36-year-old recently published a book, “Enlightened Awakening: A Practical Guide to Self-Awareness, Hope and Healing.” Sanoja’s reflections on life, inspired by the death of his father, Manny Sanoja Sr., in 2004, fill the pages.
“His death triggered me to reflect on my own life. It was a catalyst, and then life happened,” Sanoja said. “Just navigating my life and career changes, school, work and family and everything else that’s involved in that.”The first-time author said he’d never planned to publish a book or to be an inspirational writer; it just happened.
The fourth of six children, Sanoja said his family is very close and that his father was the glue that held them all together. Before Sanoja Sr.’s death, his family spent every Sunday together and worked together, too. The elder Sanoja founded Manny’s Mexican Grill, which at one point had seven locations in Ventura County. He would put his kids to work behind the counter when they were old enough.
After his father died, his namesake developed a morning routine that incorporated meditation, prayer and writing. He published his thoughts in a blog and on social media and was surprised by the positive feedback he received.
“In reaching out and inspiring others, that kind of reflected back on me and inspired me. I knew that was a new calling in my life to write,” Sanoja said. “People were telling me I should put together a book and publish it. Of course, that didn’t happen for a long time: It took about six years before I finally self-published.”
Growing up, he said, he wrote sporadically. A singer and musician, he wrote poetry and lyrics as a teenager. When he attended USC, he wrote for the school’s newspaper. But he never considered writing as more than a hobby.
Everything changed after his morning routine took hold, and Sanoja continues to put pen to page daily. He said he’s also got over 1,000 notes in his phone, ideas that come to him during the day or further thoughts on his morning’s work.
“At first I would just give examples of different things I’ve discovered in my life,” he said. “For example, discovering self-awareness is how one understands their place in the world, how what they do and say affects others. I would write about how I would be at school and realize I was saying something I wasn’t being aware of, and in reflection realize that I could have done a better job. Things like that.”
He’s gathered enough material for three books. The first he selfpublished in July, and he plans on releasing the second in February. His work is available through Amazon.com, and he’s waiting to hear from Barnes & Noble about getting the book in stores. His big dream is that a major retailer like Target or Costco will show interest and sell his work.
Besides writing, Sanoja works as an associate manager for Prudential Retirement in Westlake Village. The single father of two will start working toward his MBA at Pepperdine University this month. He says it all keeps him pretty busy, but he doesn’t mind.
“My friends will stop me once in a while and ask when I have fun, and I just tell them I enjoy what I do,” Sanoja said. “Everything I do has a purpose behind it. I enjoy it, whether it’s writing or talking to people who need help at my job—whatever it is.
“I’m not in a relationship, so whatever time that would probably be spent on that is now focused on my callings in life that I’m really passionate about and that I love.”