What role does fear play in your life? Is it something you do everything to avoid? Is it something that you thrive on? Liz Forkin Bohannon of Sseko Designs wraps up her time with the 4word community this month by talking about the major role that fear plays in our lives, especially when we are stepping into the unknown territory of our dreams.
You can listen to this entire conversation with Liz on our podcast, Work, Love, Pray! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.
When you’re able to take a dream and turn it into a reality, there is a certain amount of pride and accomplishment that will come with that achievement. As Sseko’s success grew and you started receiving recognition and accolades for all that you were accomplishing, what did you do to keep yourself humble?
Community is so important! Live life closely enough with folks who will hopefully get the best of you but also see the parts of you that aren’t glamorous and shiny and show you that you’re still loved despite that. I’ve also seen what happens when ego and success goes wrong. When I see someone not handling “fame” well, I often ask, “Who are the seven people they’re surrounding themself with? Are those seven people worshiping them, because those seven people want something out of them? I often come to the conclusion that people who struggle to stay humble and grounded often don’t have any real community, real friends, or real fruitful relationships that they’re engaging in that is calling them back to humility and reconciliation.
I think community and real authentic relationships filled with people you have invited to speak into your life are so humbling and freeing. It’s so much more freeing to be someone who operates out of the mindset that you’re not special, and you’re not God’s gift to humanity. I got invited on this journey and I said yes and took some risks and worked really hard, but at the end of the day, that idea of having been invited into something that you said yes to is so much more fun.
When you don’t have the right mindset and you’re riding high when you’re really successful, your ego, affirmation and worth is tied up in that and it temporarily feels really good because you’re firing on all cylinders and you’re getting all of this affirmation around your success. But what you’re doing is building your own prison. You’re building a very inhospitable place to live that says in order to be loved and feel worthy, you have to show people that you’re successful and brilliant and smart. That is such a sad, sad prison to live in. As humans, what we really want to know if we are still loved and worthy.
I have a prayer that I say with my boys every single night: “I’m not what I have, what I do or what people say; I’m a child of God and no one can take that away.” I wrote that for my kids because I knew that they needed to hear that every single day of their life. Just to be very clear, I’m not like some sort of guru who’s arrived in this! I still feel shame and embarrassment and a desire for approval. But what I have done a really good job of is cultivating a really true, authentic, transparent community where I don’t have pretenses, where I can show up with successes and those people will celebrate with me.
We want people who join us in the joy and who celebrate. We do not want a community where we feel like we have to play small. You want to have people in your life who will tell you, “That’s amazing and we’re super stoked for you and also, we love you the same as we did last Tuesday.” On the flip side of that, also have people in your community that, when you come with your failure, heartbreak, shame, and embarrassment, they will look at you and say, “We’ll hold that with you. That is sad and that’s heartbreaking and that’s really stressful. and We love you the same as we did last Tuesday before that big failure.” I am really, really grateful that I have cultivated that community in my life that constantly pulls me back to that truth of “we’re not what we have, what we do or what other people say; we’re children of God and nothing can take that away.”
What advice would you give to someone to encourage them to start moving toward the destiny of their dream?
In a previous blog, I posed the question of asking yourself “what if” you actually lean in and get curious about your anger, your sadness, and your jealousy. Another negative emotion that I think is super powerful and interesting for us to get curious about is regret and the fear of regret. Oftentimes, we as humans are really not good at weighing risks. I think some people have this misconception that there are fearless people who aren’t afraid of anything. I have been described as someone like that! And honestly, I’m really afraid. I am driven by fear, but I’m more afraid of the regret that I’ll have for not saying yes, for not taking the opportunity for not trying and seeing what’s there. That feels scarier to me than the idea of just playing it safe and not taking any of those risks.
I would really encourage you to not wait until you feel fearless. Fear is a very normal emotion that we all feel, but ask yourself if there is actually something else that you should be afraid of that you’re not, like the fear of having always played it safe, or always placating to other people’s desires for you, or never listening to that still small voice and taking that risk.
Your dream doesn’t have to light other people on fire for it to be meaningful or for it to be something that God is asking you to do. Sometimes God is calling us to something that will give us a deep sense of peace and fulfillment, yet might not look that impressive to other people. And then there might be other seasons where what God is calling you to feels like it would be impressive to others, and that feels really big and scary and is just a reminder that God uses us and calls us to these different seasons and to these different dreams. Your dreams matter and God gave them to you for a reason. I believe it is an act of worship when we say, “I believe God put this desire in my heart and so I’m going to follow it.”
If you could go back and tell “college-graduate Liz” anything, what would you say?
I would just tell her it’s going to work out, it’s not going to be easy, and not everything that you’re going to do is going to be successful. And it’s going to be okay. God really meets us in our times of needs, but I spin my wheels a lot on fear and anxiety and the “what if” worst-case scenarios. God has been so faithful that even when the worst case scenario happens, He reminds me, “I’m going to be there.” So I wouldn’t tell college Liz, “It’s going to be OK, Liz. Everything you do and touch is going to turn into gold.” Instead, I would tell her, “Hey, Liz. We’re going on a big adventure and there’s going to be ‘successes’ and big failures, but God will be with you through it all and that is something that you can anchor on.”
What is one thought or piece of advice that you want our readers to remember most about everything we’ve talked about this month?
God is with you, your dreams matter and you aren’t what you do and you aren’t what other people say. Go forth, have fun, and pursue your dreams. Don’t forget that life is an adventure we’re being invited into, so lean into that spirit of curiosity.
Liz Forkin Bohannon is the founder of Sseko Designs and the author of the book Beginner’s Pluck: Build your life of purpose, passion and impact now.
Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion brand that works to educate and empower women. By providing employment and educational opportunities, Sseko enables women to continue their education and become leaders in their country.
Liz graduated from the University of Missouri with a Master’s degree in Journalism. In 2008, she moved to Uganda where she met an incredible group of talented young women who were struggling to finance their higher education.
After traveling the country by motorcycle to find raw materials and learn how to produce footwear by hand, Liz hired three young women and started Sseko Designs. Since then, Sseko Designs has grown from three women making sandals together under a mango tree, to an international fashion brand that provides employment, educational opportunities and entrepreneurial training to hundreds of women in East Africa and across the globe.
Using her unlikely story of a journalist-gone-shoe-maker, Liz shares her passion for social enterprise, conscious consumerism, social justice, creative leadership and gender-equality.
Liz and the Sseko story has been featured in dozens of publications including: Vogue Magazine, Redbook Magazine, O Magazine, Inc, Fortune and others. Sseko has appeared on national broadcasts including ABC’s Shark Tank and Good Morning America.
Among other notable honors, Liz was recently named a top three Transformation Leader by John Maxwell and Bloomberg Businessweek named Sseko as a top social enterprise. Forbes named Liz one of the top 20 public speakers in the U.S. Liz’s powerful, disarmingly authentic and witty voice captivates and inspires her audience.
She now splits her time between Uganda and Portland, Oregon, where she and her husband Ben run Sseko Designs and raise their two young sons.
Join us for 4word’s 8th annual Gala celebration, presented by Toyota. This year we’ll feature New York Times bestselling author and Founder of it Cosmetics, Jamie Kern Lima. Jamie will be moderated by 4word’s good friend, author, speaker, and founder of Sseko Designs Liz Bohannon. Click here to purchase your tickets today!