We had the good fortune of connecting with Stefanie Brendl and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stefanie, how do you think about risk?
Risk-taking has been ever-present in my life and career choices. I have tried to push the envelope in every aspect of my life because I always look for something that is new, that is challenging and that will make a difference. And making comfortable, safe choices does not go along with breaking new ground. What people perceive as risky is subjective, and many of my choices may seem riskier to others than they do to myself. The difference is experience and awareness, whether that is in sports, exploration, or life choices. In my case, people perceive interacting with sharks as risk, but in reality, it is not because of the many years and opportunities I have had to help me build up good judgment and an awareness that helps me stay safe.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
For the last ten years, I have been dedicating all my time and attention to conservation projects, either through Shark Allies or in collaboration with other groups and foundations. My work is mostly focused on shark conservation, not because I prefer sharks over other causes, but because that seems to be the place where I can make the biggest impact, based on the projects I have been involved in the past three decades.
Over the years, I never mapped out a career path for myself. My mission was and still is, to be involved in work that is meaningful and that I can pursue with all my passion. What has helped me stick to that motto was my willingness to forego the security of a permanent job or location and to be open to opportunities. That has given me some incredible experiences and adventures.
The biggest lessons I have learned along the way have been to be careful who you listen to for advice and to hang on to your own vision and dreams. Know who you are and what’s at your core. It is easy to take on the pressures and expectations that others have for you and think those should be your values, but in the end, it is not what will make you happy. You are most powerful when you do exactly what you feel you are most passionate about, whether that makes any sense to anyone else or not. And when you have a purpose, you can overcome so many obstacles, because you will have the desire to fight. None of that happens when you feel half-hearted about your task or feel out-of-place. I constantly remind myself to think back to who I was when I was a little independent person of 4, 6 or 8 year old, before I cared what anyone thought I should be. And then look at the next 15-20 years as an experiment on how to grow and make mistakes. The important thing is to come back to who you are every time you realize you are heading down the wrong path.
I also think it is important to pay attention to your own evolution as a person. My conservation-oriented passion developed over many years. At first, I really wanted to do nothing more than have experiences and maximum outdoor, travel, adventure, and FUN. But what I am most proud of is that I knew when it was time to level up. I did not stay in that comfortable, happy fun-mode. I realized there was more to my journey and that I could contribute more to this planet and to nature than to explore it for my own selfish reasons. And not only did that give me new challenges, but it also provided me with more pressure to grow and to learn. I also started to see that all my experiences had led me into a perfect position to help one of the most undervalued, least appreciated, and dismissed animals in the ocean – sharks. And along with that, I have had to learn how to inspire others to come along on that journey, because advocacy work is never just about one person. To make a difference, it takes a massive team of co-conspirators, helpers, and supporters.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Since I am such a vagabond, my interests are always connected to experiencing wilderness. Roadtrips in Southern California are endless fun. I think it is important to get out of the city to truly see California. I am not much of a foodie and never plan my adventures around restaurants, wineries, or other connoisseur destinations. Food happens on the run. The more spontaneous the better. Whatever the locals have. Whenever I have people visiting, I show them hikes that take us to the best viewpoints. There are many in the LA area. I don’t know the San Diego area so well but have been on some great adventures in the desert to see railroad tressels, old mines, and wild canyons. I would also tell people to get in the water to see the kelp forest, visit the Channel islands or drive to the mountains. My personal favorite city locations are probably not the massively famous tourist locations, but the small hole in the wall restaurants, the rooftop or hidden speakeasy bars, and fun places for people watching on beach boardwalks.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
In each aspect of my life, I have been inspired by individuals that were extremely capable, courageous, smart, and fearless about what they were doing. And I tried to absorb their methods, their way of thinking, and their strategies. There isn’t one person, book, or organization that I can single out, but the common denominator has been that they were always better or more experienced than me, and I had to push to reach their level. The other part of the credit goes to nature and animals. My awareness and passion were created by being out in nature, diving, sailing, flying, riding horses. The power of nature humbled and fascinated me and I wanted to be the best possible participant, blending into nature rather than dominating it. That is how I approach almost everything in my life. It also teaches you to keep fears in perspective and to deal with things that are not under your control.
All credits @SharkAllies