Most, if not all, of us grew up being told that negative emotions like jealousy or anger were feelings that Christians should not dwell in. But what if those emotions are actually clues into something that could alter the course of our lives? Liz Forkin Bohannon of Sseko Designs talks about how her passion for the women and children of Uganda stemmed from recognizing that the anger and frustration that she felt made her opinion something she needed to live out.
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.
The next test someone will face as they work towards a dream-turned-destiny is called the passion test. (If you missed last week’s blog, this is the sermon series these tests come from!) Liz, when did you realize that the tug on your heart for the women of Uganda was more than just a passing feeling?
It had been a part of my consciousness for many years by the time I decided to move to Uganda. All through college, this broader concept of privilege, opportunity, and inequality (specifically inequality through the lens of gender) wasn’t something that just occurred to me one day. I had been thinking about it and talking about it and taking classes that aligned with it and working with organizations that were somehow either directly or more tangentially related to that concept. In my life, I perceive the “passion test” as asking if what I’m passionate about is something I thought about randomly in the shower, or is it something that in some way, shape, or form I keep coming back to? For years, going to Uganda had felt like an important thing and was something that made me really angry and really sad.
Everyone obviously likes good emotions, which is why a lot of us will be told to “do what makes you happy; do what makes you come alive.” But I think what we’re missing when we give or get that direction is that our negative emotions are so informative to us. Sometimes it’s hard to be answer the question “What makes you happy?” It just feels like a really loaded question. When it feels like a loaded question, I suggest coming at it from a different angle and asking instead, “What makes you really angry? When’s the last time you cried yourself to sleep and why? What makes you jealous?”
This practice of acknowledging negative emotions is a thought experiment that I’ve had for about a year now. I grew up being told that feeling jealous was a bad thing. If I felt envious or jealous of somebody, then I wanted to get rid of that feeling and just be content with what I had. Even as an adult, if I felt jealous of someone, I would feel really guilty on top of that jealousy. To combat those feelings, I have entered into an engagement with myself over the last year where I have asked myself, “What if jealousy isn’t bad?”
What if my jealousy could actually be an interesting breadcrumb for me? Instead of having a “negative emotion” and immediately telling myself to not think that or do that, I instead tell that emotion to come have a seat at the table and tell me more about what’s maybe actually going on in my life. This practice leads to realizing that your jealousy is just an unmet desire. Now, if you start wishing ill will for someone, or if you can no longer find any joy or contentment in your life because you’re so consumed by your jealousy, then that’s a problem. But just the emotion of jealousy itself, almost like a twinge of saying “I want what that person has” can actually be so informative because it can point to an unmet desire you’re experiencing.
Passion is an emotion, so when we are told to go follow our passion, it can feel really overwhelming. So if you are someone who feels frustrated by those questions, what I would like to offer and invite you into is a backdoor way of countering those frustrations by instead asking questions like, “What are you jealous of? What makes you angry? What makes you sad?” Sometimes, the answers to those questions can actually point us to longings that will direct our lives.
For me, inequality, lack of education, oppression, and extreme poverty for women and girls made me really mad and really, really sad. There was a moment where I was sitting at my desk at that first corporate job and I was watching this video called “The Girl Effect.” It was an animated video the Nike Foundation had put out, and it’s a three minute long video illustrating what happens when you empower a girl in a developing economy and the impact that empowerment can make on her community. Watching this at my desk, I just start like crying and I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t new information to me. I knew all of those statistics. What I realized was that I did care about this empowerment movement, and yet I did not have a single friendship, relationship, or community with anybody that had been impacted by that reality. That was a real “come to Jesus moment” for me where I told myself, “OK, you say you care about this, but then look at your life. Are you actually really impacted by this, or is this just an opinion that you have?”
That was really the moment where I decided to move to Uganda. I was not just going to talk about something and have an opinion but no action. Anybody can have an opinion. It’s real easy to have an opinion on something, and our culture has only gone further in this direction. A lot of people that like to talk about their ideas and their opinions, but what are they actually doing about them? My friend James Pearson has this poem that he wrote that he reposts after election days here in the US. There is a part of the poem that says, “Take back the part of yourself that you lent to the politicians and focus close at hand. Pledge your allegiance to the mother down the street whose kids have grown out of their summer shoes again. And if you’re going to raise a flag, let it be a flag of forgiveness.”
Essentially, this poem is saying, yes, voting is important. But the next day, go be with your neighbor and go love your neighborhood and serve your neighbors and hear someone’s story and enter into that story, because that’s where lives change. Lives don’t change because we get on Facebook and share our opinions. Anyone can have an opinion; there’s no cost to that. But there is a real gift in saying, “I’m going to live that opinion out.” Moving to Uganda was about me having an opinion that the kind of injustices and inequality that women and girls across the globe faced was not right. My choice to move to Uganda was to really try to close that gap between what I thought I cared about and what my actual life, my friends, and my community consisted of. That is the passion that propelled me to make that decision to go to Uganda.
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!