13 Chances That Paid Off Big

Provided by Reebok


Women share the biggest risk they took and how it changed their lives for the better.

The Chance: I quit my job to start a business

The Payoff: I own a super successful makeup company

- Daisy Jing, 27, founder and CEO of Banish, Los Angeles, California

“Like many teen girls, I was obsessed with beauty and made YouTube videos reviewing makeup and skin care products. As my following grew, I began to realize that I knew a ton about skin care and what ingredients work and don’t work. So I decided to quit my day job to start my own beauty company, Banish. The scariest moment was when I presented my ideas to a room full of powerful venture capitalists. They totally rejected me! But instead of getting depressed and quitting, I took their criticisms and used them to make my business better. Now, Banish is a multi-million dollar company.”

The Chance: I went public with my depression

The Payoff: I made a viral online campaign to help people with mental illness

- Sahar Aker, 53, founder of, Kihei, Hawaii

“November 2013 was the darkest time of my life. I was battling severe, debilitating depression, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through the next day, much less the rest of my life. So when my therapist suggested I find one thing of beauty each day to be grateful for, I was pretty skeptical. It may sound like a small thing, but it was huge for me. It would require me to get out of my house and, even harder, out of my own head, even on my worst days. But I agreed to try. To hold myself accountable, I started posting a picture every day of my one beautiful thing and tagging it #ichoosebeauty. I was getting raw and real about my depression in public, and I was terrified of what people would think. But it worked! Within a week I started to feel better. Others quickly joined in posting their own pics. Not only did this help my own healing, but it’d inspired so many people who are struggling too. I only promised to do it through that winter but three years later I’m still going strong—and so is the campaign.”

The Chance: I moved to another country

The Payoff: I learned a foreign language in one year

- Sarah Gore, 31, sportswear buyer, Offenbach am Main, Germany

“Last year, my husband and I packed up everything we owned and moved to Germany. Moving to another country and culture was a huge change. At first, I was terrified. The second we got there, I immersed myself in German, taking classes, reading books, listening and talking to everyone I could. Honestly, the scariest part was speaking. It felt like a huge risk; I didn’t want to sound dumb. But of course I did. I would say things wrong, my grammar would be wrong, and I felt really embarrassed even though everyone was very forgiving. But then I realized I needed to stop taking myself so seriously and learn to laugh at myself. Once I stopped worrying about being perfect, I caught on quickly. A year later, I was fluent in conversational German and often got compliments on how well I spoke. Now, I can say I have friends from 18 different countries who all have really interesting stories that I never would have heard if I hadn’t learned to speak German.”

The Chance: I gambled on a competitive medical program over a ‘sure thing’

The Payoff: I’m working my dream job as a doctor

- Farrah Whey, 28, family medicine resident physician in New Brunswick, New Jersey

“I have a billion interests and a long history of trying to do everything all at the same time. So in college, it was really hard to narrow down what I wanted to do because choosing one thing automatically meant not choosing everything else. And whatever I picked would affect the rest of my life! Finally, after volunteering at a medical clinic, I decided to follow my biggest dream and become a doctor. After finishing my undergraduate degrees (I double majored in biology and music performance, thank you very much), I had to apply to medical school. As part of the application processes we had to choose between two types of programs. The first option was easier to get into. But if I got in, I had to immediately go there; if I wasn’t chosen I could pick a different track. The second program was much harder to get into, and if I wasn’t chosen, I’d be out all-together. But the second program was what I really wanted to do, so I took the chance. And it worked out! I got into my first-choice medical school, graduated, and am now working in my dream job as a doctor.”

The Chance: I gave up alcohol

The Payoff: I lost 155 pounds and kept it off

- Genevieve Jerome, 30, wedding photographer in Sacramento, California

“College was a really stressful time for me and it showed, particularly in my waistline. At first, I tried every fad diet out there. Eventually I realized it was better to do it the right way than the fast way. I cleaned up my diet, started lifting weights, and eventually lost 155 pounds. While it was definitely hard work losing that much weight, the real difficulty was keeping it off. And I knew I’d have to make some drastic changes to accomplish that goal. So I gave up drinking alcohol. I’ve kept the weight off but because I don’t go to bars anymore, I've lost out on a lot of bonding experiences and some friends in the process. You learn who your true friends are when you completely overhaul your life! I'm happy with the choices I've made. Now I have a whole new lease on life and it even gave me the confidence to start my own business as a wedding photographer.”

The Chance: I ran a 5K

The Payoff: I’m a multiple marathoner

- Mindy Nienhouse, 33, medical school program coordinator in Grand Rapids, Michigan

“I was always someone with the attitude of “I'll run only if I'm being chased,” but I’d recently lost 60 pounds and was looking for a new challenge so I signed up for a 5K race on a whim. It turned out to be much harder than I ever imagined, but crossing the finish line was an amazing feeling, and I couldn’t wait to do more. I started dreaming of doing marathons and even triathlons. I hadn’t thought I could finish a 5K, but when I crossed the finish line of a marathon several years later, I found myself crying — partly because the race was done but mostly because of how far I've come.”

The Chance: I paid $1000 for a race I wasn’t even sure I could finish

The Payoff: I’m an Ironman

- Hannah Higgins, 39, landscape architect in Chicago, Illinois

“Swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and then running 26.2 miles all in one day sounds crazy, right? Yet as long as I can remember, I’d always looked up to Ironman finishers with awe and respect — and I secretly wanted to be one. Finally, my CrossFit coach convinced me I could do it, and I signed up. Pressing the “confirm” button on the Ironman order screen was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done; I probably sat and stared at it for an hour first. And the hesitation wasn’t just because I was nervous about finishing. An Ironman is not cheap (just the entry fee is around $800), not to mention the thousands you can spend on equipment, travel, and gear. I also knew I was committing myself to a year of lonely hours-long training sessions. Another problem was the time requirements. I'm not super fast so I risked not even qualifying for the race. But I decided to go for my dream and after countless hours of grueling work, I’m proud to say I’m now an official Ironman. The only thing that felt better than crossing that finish line was seeing the reactions of all my friends and family who supported me the whole way.“

The Chance: I went back to school

The Payoff: I finally got an advanced college degree

- Nadine Bonnet, 38, physical therapist assistant in Denver, Colorado

“At 38-years-old and a mother of three daughters, I assumed my chance to get a college degree had passed. After all, shouldn’t I be focusing all my time and energy on my kids and their schooling? But I was unhappy with my current job, and I longed to finish what I’d started in college so many years ago. So I took a leap and registered for classes and a local university. It was incredibly hard. I’m not a naturally organized person, but I had to get it together fast so I could balance my life and still keep doing my duties as a mom. I picked an accelerated program that required more work but allowed me to finish faster to minimize my time away. The last thing I wanted was for my daughters to feel like they weren’t a priority for me. But every day in school confirmed to me I’d made the right choice, and I felt like I’d truly found my calling in life. And it even made me a better mother. When my kids saw me sitting at the table doing my homework, they would join me, and we’d work together. I even ended up taking anatomy at the same time as my oldest daughter. I graduated this month and they couldn’t be prouder of me. Now they know how important a college education is!“

The Chance: I turned my restaurant into a space for teens

The Payoff: Hundreds of at-risk youth now have a safe place to go

- Catrina Vargas-Cormell, 47, founder of Wayside Teen Center in El Paso, Texas

“My husband and I have always loved food, so shortly after we got married, we opened a small restaurant together, across the street from the local high school. But as much as we loved food, we realized that we loved all the kids coming in through our doors more. Many of them came after school and would stay late into the night because they had no other place to go. So we decided the best thing to do would be to turn our restaurant into a safe space for teens to come hang out, relax, do homework, and talk. People thought we were crazy. We were giving up a good business to start a non-profit charity? My husband and I never wavered; we knew how necessary it was. It was scary and really difficult at first. We don’t know the first thing about running a non-profit, and we still had to find day jobs to pay our own bills. But we’re now in our 18th year, still going strong. We may not have a fat bank account or nice house but seeing how our young people have turned their lives around—many are all grown up now with families—doing well and making good decisions, is worth any sacrifice. We are so proud of them. They are our family.”

The Chance: I gave up my high-powered job in the city

The Payoff: I have the happy, calm life I’ve always wanted

- Liz Sedgwick, 38, co-owner of Sedgwick Custom Jewelry, Logan, Utah

“In January of 2015 I was working as a nurse manager at a level one trauma hospital, and my husband Jared was the head jeweler of a very large award-winning jewelry company. But even though we both had great careers, we were so busy we barely saw each other and weren’t happy with our hectic lives. Every time we went home to visit Logan, Utah, a small town in the Rocky Mountains, we would talk about how we wished we could stay forever. So one day, on an impulse, we decided we just needed to make it happen. We quit our jobs (scary!) and moved our family to the mountains. To pay the bills, we started our own custom jewelry business from home. Jared makes the jewelry and I became the default accountant, marketer, and CAD designer. At first we were totally overwhelmed. We had so much to learn, not to mention a 2- and 4- year old to take care of. But it’s all been worth it. We are in total control of our lives. We don’t wake up to an alarm clock, or ask for days off when we want to take a vacation. But really, the best part is that we are living in a beautiful and peaceful valley, within walking distance of some of our closest friends and just a short drive to our families.”

The Chance: I quit smoking

The Payoff: My lungs are strong enough to run 100-mile ultra-marathons

- Sue Gury, 43, Perry Hall, Maryland

“Smoking isn’t great your health—everyone knows that, even smokers. Yet despite the risks I continued my daily habit for 23 years. Quitting cigarettes (I used a hypnosis program) was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, and I knew that to stay away from them, I needed to find that rush from something positive. I decided that exercise would be that thing for me and started walking daily. Then, I saw an ad for “Trail Snails,” a local running group, and decided it was time to take it to the next level. That group coached me through my first half marathon a year later. Since then, I’ve run more marathons than I can count and graduated to ultra marathons, 50-mile and 100-mile races. There’s no way I would have been able to run even one mile as a smoker! And to anyone who’s worried that quitting smoking will cause weight gain, I lost some. I’m healthier and happier than I’ve ever been, inside and out.“

The Chance: I traded pain meds for exercise to manage my chronic illness

The Payoff: I’m healthier and happier than ever

- Ellen Slater, 20, full-time student at the University of Chicago

“I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue and makes it looser than normal. That may not sound too bad but given that your whole body has a lot of connective tissue, it can be terribly debilitating. In addition to having digestive and heart issues, I’m in a lot of pain—about 7 or 8 on a scale of 10. Because of this, many EDS patients end up on major painkillers, like opiates, and a lot of us end up in wheelchairs. From the start I knew this was not the path for me. I didn’t like the way the drugs made me feel, and I didn’t want to lose my ability to walk. So I took matters into my own hands. I learned that I feel best when I’m active; sitting still too long makes my body tighten up painfully. Even though I wake up in pain most days, I know that getting up and going for a walk or heading to the gym will make me feel better. Movement is my primary form of medicine now, and it’s working. I recently enrolled in a prestigious college in another state, am training to be a yoga teacher, and am even running a half-marathon. I’ve learned that what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another and that I have to advocate for my own health, even if that goes against what the doctors say. My life will only be what I make it, and I’m not about to let the pain stand in the way of my goals.”

The Chance: I gave up being a stay-at-home mom

The Payoff: I’m a better mother now

- Sarah Waninger, 31, mom, group fitness instructor and owner of Creating a Better Tomorrow in Indianapolis, Indiana

“Eight months after my twins were born, I woke up in the middle of the night filled with fear and dread for the next day. I loved my babies, but I realized I wasn’t in love with motherhood. I hated that I felt that way—aren’t women supposed to automatically take to being a mom?—but I knew I needed something more than bottles and burp cloths every day. I wanted something just for me. So I made the decision to pursue my passion to become a fitness instructor, eventually starting my own online training program and business. Honestly, the hardest part about reaching my dream was me. I had to learn to let go of the mom guilt and stop worrying what others would think of me as a woman and mother. But now I have more confidence and my kids are thriving because of it. I finally feel like I have found the balance of pursuing my passions while still being a great mom.” 

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