When I first decided on this month’s question, I had no idea it would generate such profound answers. My intention was to explore a turning point in someone’s life — a risk taken — that had steered them in a new and positive direction. The honesty, kindness and guts displayed by the people below are awe-inspiring.
Like all of you, I’ve made a few “risky” moves. One of my “biggest risks” was my decision to move from a small town in Sweden to San Francisco after my first year of college. At the time, it felt far from a risk. It was an adventure! Little did I know it would change the course of my life in such a joyful and unexpected way.
If we don’t take risks once in a while, we’ll never know what wonderful things are in store for us. I know you’ll be inspired by the courage of GG Benitez, Sam Godfrey and Brenna Britton. Learning from each other is what connects us and gives us the courage to pave our own path.
GG Benitez: “When I was 22 years old, I decided to take my two-year-old daughter and leave a marriage set up by my traditional Middle Eastern parents. My father is Jordanian, my mother is Chaldean (Christian-Iraqi minority) and divorce was unacceptable in my family and culture. I knew if I left my husband, I would be disowned. But I’ll never forget the feeling of waking up alone that first morning after moving out, my daughter laying beside me. Even though we only had a mattress to sleep on, and we were literally broke, I had never felt so free in my life. I could finally live my life and make my own decisions. And I knew this was the best decision I’d ever made. Within a year and a half, and with a degree from the University of California San Diego, I became one of the youngest employees hired by a pharmaceutical company. It changed our financial situation and helped us create a new life where we could travel and leave our sheltered life behind. I also remarried and now have two more children. My family has come around to accept and love me, and accept and love the husband I chose for myself. And probably because I know what it feels like to have no money and to be alone in the world, I’ve never lost my hunger for success. I’ve worked hard, not only to create financial freedom but also to create personal freedom. I want to make sure each moment counts. I feel so grateful for my life and my family, and for being able to choose my own destiny.”
GG Benitez is the owner and founder of GG Benitez & Associates Public Relations, a leading independent public relations firm. Her clients include BabbaCo, Carousel Designs, Funkins, GYFT, Helen Moon (Elton John’s nanny), The Krazy Coupon Lady, Mabel’s Labels, Net Nanny, Posh Mommy and Zulily.
Sam Godfrey: “Growing up as a poor black boy in the ghetto, I was always the little kid with the wrong thing in my lunch box. It was fine as long as I was in my own neighborhood surrounded by people eating the same thing I did. But when I started school with people of other races, it turned into such a big thing for me. When you’re ethnic and poor, you don’t get the cute Oscar Mayer sandwiches the other kids get. You have the leftovers! So instead of eating my little sandwich and fruit bowl, I had to pull out the oxtail my grandmother had made for dinner the night before. The other kids were always absolutely repulsed by what was in my lunch box! So what used to be something I loved to eat turned into something I felt very ashamed of. I became so ashamed of the food my wonderful grandmother cooked for me that the feeling remained for years. So when I started my own cake business, I didn’t bake the delicious red velvet cake or the peach cobbler or the sweet potato pie or all the layer cakes that my grandmother had taught me how to make. I associated the shame I had felt with all the things we used to make. I thought, ‘Oh, people will think that’s a black thing and they won’t like it.’ It took me almost a decade before I had the courage to introduce them. And lo and behold, once I did they were the thing that propelled my business. They were the cakes and pies that became the favorites of personal heroes of mine like Oprah, Julia Child and Eva Longoria. Who knew? It took me real courage to get past those memories, but I’m so grateful I finally did.”
Sam Godfrey is the founder of Perfect Endings, one of the top wedding and special occasion cake companies in the world. He is proud to have baked birthday cakes for Oprah Winfrey, Julia Child, Ellen DeGeneres, Sting, Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones and Dr. Maya Angelou. His celebrity wedding clients include Eva Longoria (who flew his wedding cake to Paris), Christina Aguilera, Adam Sandler, Jessica Simpson, Christy Turlington and Ed Burns, Fergie and Josh Duhamel, Heidi Klum and Seal and many more.
Brenna Britton: “I’ve always had a life list, not a bucket list. When I turned 39, I decided to check two things off my list: to complete the Ironman Triathlon and my dream to have a child.
I decided to prepare to have a child first. I know you’re probably wondering if I’m married. The answer is no. I made choices in my life not to get married and not to have children until later. No regrets, just choices. And since I wasn’t prepared to have a child on my own, I decided to freeze my eggs. So the last months before I turned 40, this is what I did. At first, I hid it from so many people because I didn’t want all the questions. I didn’t tell people at work. I thought I could muster through. Of course, the day I was supposed to freeze my eggs, the publicist for Bradley Cooper decided it was the perfect day for his photo shoot for our Sexiest Man Alive issue. Bradley was, of course, charming and handsome. But I felt decidedly un-sexy as I kept pulling down my sweater to hide my bloated belly! Since then, I’ve told people what I went through. Nothing is learned from keeping secrets, and that’s a lesson I would want my future child to know.
Then it was time to start training for the Ironman. I was already an athlete, so I wasn’t starting entirely from scratch, but it was definitely like looking at a forest. Where do I even begin? My couch always looks like a better starting point than a run in 30-degree weather. But the thing about the forest is that once you approach the first tree and take a step inside, you’re in. And thus the journey began. Walking became running. Wobbly wheels turned steady. And a pretty sweet doggy paddle became a streamline freestyle. Once you remove the “Little Mermaid” floaties, you really start cooking!
I’ve never been an “Eat, Pray, Love” kind of girl. I couldn’t relate. But training for the Ironman was something I understood. I became a “Swim, Bike, Run” kind of girl. And it taught me so many things about life. Swimming reminded me of how sometimes I feel like I’m drowning. Biking made me realize how often I feel I’m on a hamster wheel. Running made me think of how I always tend to choose running as the pace I live my life at, even though sometimes a stroll could be in order.
Squeezing in 4 to 6 hours a day of training on top of my full-time job at People magazine — where I’m producing cover shoots like the Sexiest Man Alive and the World’s Most Beautiful — wasn’t easy. But being so focused on a goal was life changing. I became a better version of myself. Sure, I dropped sizes. But I also watched my confidence soar. I surprised myself at what I was capable of doing. I didn’t know a 10-mile run was possible. And I was floored by the hundreds of my friends who came out of the woodwork, no pun intended, to cheer me on.
I still feel like I’m drowning at times, but I’ve learned to take another breath. I can still feel I’m on a hamster wheel, but I’ve learned to jump off before I get burnt out. I still catch myself running through my life, but I’m more aware of it now and know when to slow down. Most importantly, I’ve learned that you have to stop at every aid station along the way and refuel your heart and mind. It’s the only thing that will keep you going in this race of life.
Brenna Britton is the Deputy Entertainment Photo Editor at People magazine in New York. She travels the world to produce photo shoots for the magazine, including the Sexiest Man Alive and the World’s Most Beautiful issues. She did the Ironman Triathlon in 2013, completing a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile run in 14 hours and 40 minutes. She dedicated her race to her friend Chad, who at the time was battling leukemia. He passed away last fall.
Top photograph by Ulrica Wihlborg ©2013. Photograph of the Perfect Endings wedding cake by Meg Smith ©2013. Opening photograph of Brenna Britton by Art Streiber, taken at the Hotel du Cap at the Cannes Film Festival shortly before a shoot with Heidi Klum.