Q&A: Beginner’s Pluck with Liz Bohannon


Hey, so glad to have you here on the “Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast.” I had the opportunity to partner with the Global Leadership Network to interview Liz Bohannon. She spoke this year at the 2019 Global Leadership Summit, and quite honestly, there were a lot of amazing talks, but this one was one, not only one of my favorites, but it was really one of the conference favorites, and she’s got a new book out called “Beginner’s Pluck,” and so I’m excited to share with you, in partnership with the Global Leadership Network, an interview I did recently with Liz Bohannon. (upbeat music) This is the “Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast.” Hey Liz, I am crazy excited to have you on with us today. Thank you so much for taking time to do this interview. Yeah, absolutely. I’m excited as well. A little bit of your background for some people that may not know who you are. Can you tell us a little bit about your story, especially, how’d you go from a journalism student in Missouri to a CEO of a large ethical fashion brand and speaker at the Global Leadership Summit? (chuckles) Well, I’ll tell you that the road wasn’t exactly straight and narrow necessarily, but I started out in journalism, and became increasingly interested in issues that were facing women and girls that were living in extreme poverty and in conflict and post-conflict zones, and so I kinda had this, you know, dream that the New York Times would hire me and send me around the world to write about these really important issues, and graduated from college and it turns out that the New York Times wasn’t super interested in hiring a 22-year-old to be an international correspondent who had never really left the United States of America before, and so I took a corporate job, and I had this moment about three months in where I realized, you know, I say I’m really passionate about this issue of women and girls in global extreme poverty, but I don’t actually have a single friend who’s a girl that grew up in that context. There was kinda this gap between what I said I cared about and my actual life, and so I quit that corporate job, and I bought a one-way plane ticket to Uganda, and I showed up really just with the intention of building relationships and making friends. I had this journalism degree, but I really showed up just to learn as much as I could, and so throughout that process, I ended up meeting an incredible group of young women, academically gifted, top five percent of female students in the country, and they were getting ready to graduate from high school and enter into a nine-month gap between high school and university, and most of them were going back home for their villages, to their villages, looking for jobs. Couldn’t find jobs, and also were losing all the social support that they had gained over the last two years with other really like-minded women, and so the organization was really kind of struggling to think about how to bridge this gap for these young women, and that just happened to be my community at the time. And so I was kind of naturally folded into those conversations and one thing led to another and I started a charity and then realized that we needed to be investing in market place business solutions to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems, and so started a chicken farm and that failed, and then I launched a tiny little sandal company and made a promise to three young women that if they made sandals for the next nine months that they would go to college and then came back home to the U.S. and started selling strappy sandals out of the back of my car, and that’s kinda how it all started. Now if I remember, you’re idea in college was you wanted to make a flip-flop that didn’t do something. You wanted to make a flip-flop that didn’t– A flip-flop that didn’t flop. Naturally, Craig. I mean, I was really pontificating on the really high-level philosophical problems at the time obviously. You know, my whole life I always thought if we could just have one that didn’t flop, that would be amazing. (Liz laughs) And, and so you put some straps on it and created this product that you were selling out of the backseat of your car. Yes, yes sir. Yep, and indeed they were flip-flops that didn’t flop, so mission, mission accomplished there. So one of the things I love about your story is that you had kind of lofty ideas of how you wanted to make a difference in the world, and yet, they were more in your heart, not in your actions, and you kinda closed the gap. In fact, I think that’s really a big part of your story, is taking what’s in your heart and moving it into action. What is it that drove you to actually go and take a risk and move across the world to do something different? Yeah, it was exactly that, Craig. It was that moment in the story when I realized I had all these, like, big ideas and go be, you know, an international correspondent for a really well-known news organization, come up with a corporate philanthropy scheme that involves millions of dollars, that we can pour into initiatives that will help benefit women and girls, but the thing was I wasn’t doing anything about it because all of those either felt like external factors, right? Like, I have to wait until the New York Times notices me to hire me, to send me somewhere, and they weren’t. Or, it was just too big. Like, it was like, okay I’m 22, like, okay, I might be able to start working on that when I’m 10 years into my career, when I have a different job title, when I have more resources. So it was like a lot of, a lot of waiting. Maybe tomorrow, and it just, the idea of, like, these huge global issues can be so overwhelming, and my thought was, like, well, it’s a huge global issue, so it needs a huge global solution, and it wasn’t until I really made that kind of core thing actually as small as it could possibly go, and say, like, okay, maybe instead of thinking about a million women, I think about one. What would it be like to just be in relationship with and learn from and be friends with one woman, and because that was so relatively small, right? It’s like, I don’t have any excuses for why I can’t go make a single friend. Like, I don’t need a certain degree, I don’t need billions of dollars, I don’t need my boss to say yes, so it was really making it as small as I could possibly go when I was like okay, I don’t have an excuse anymore. Now I had to sit in this moment of like, if you still don’t do anything, then you’re kind of a fraud. And just stop saying you care about this issue, stop saying you’re passionate about it, and go about kind of like building this life. You know, that, that’s pretty strong language, and I kinda wanna highlight it, which is if you say you care and you don’t do anything, you’re a fraud, and I think that’s a little bit about what makes you so authentic, is the willingness to call yourself that, and so I almost wanna just play off that for some leaders listening right now and say, maybe let’s just stop talking and go ahead and do something and let Liz’s story, and I wanna hear more about it, because it really is so inspirational. Let her story inspire you to let your actions line up with the things you say you value, and I wanna pull some more out of this. Liz, you have a book that’s releasing on October the first. Tell us the name of the book? The book is “Beginner’s Pluck: Build Your Life of Purpose, Passion, and Impact Now. You took the phrase “beginner’s luck,” and you tried to shift the mindset. Give us some insight please. Yeah, so I realized several years into my career, that every time I was on the cusp of something interesting, of something good, something really required a lot of risk, I had this nagging insecurity that like hey, if you take this risk and then you bomb, you fail, everybody is gonna see you for this, like, imposter that you really are, and they’re gonna see that anything good that you’ve done up until this point in your career, like, it was all just beginner’s luck. So this was kind of this, like, insecurity that just kept driving me, and I would notice it really flaring up when I was on the edge of taking a really interesting risk or leap, kind of out of my comfort zone, into something new. And so I started just like really thinking about the phrase, and like, why, why is this just like so nagging on me, why is this creating so much fear? And so I was like was there a time in your career where you didn’t feel that specific insecurity, and so I just kinda like delved back into the archives, and I had to go, quite frankly, really far back, all the way to the beginning of my career and to this time when I didn’t have that, that insecurity. And so then I spent a long time thinking about what were the mentalities and the mindsets that I had during those earliest days before that specific insecurity started to arise. And what I realized was my most free, most innovative, most creative time in my career is when I was a beginner. And it was when I was in this stage where I came to the table not with this sense of, like, okay I’m super confident and I’ve got it all figured out, which I think is a lot of the messaging that we give people, especially early on, right? Like, just show up and be confident and fake it ’til you make it, and I think that that advice actually has some unintended side effects, like a lot of the advice that we’re giving people in general right now. Right. So the whole book is actually quite, I think, counterintuitive, so I went through and started, like, realizing all these messages that we’re getting in our culture that I think are creating an unintended consequences on people who are trying to build lives of purpose, passion, and impact, and so I really explore that in the book, and offer some alternate, probably counterintuitive wisdom. Well, that’s exactly what you do, and that is the exact word that I use to describe your talk to everybody, that, you know, I was kinda braggin’ on it with, is that it is counterintuitive and they’re, we have so many sayings that are popular in culture that I think, you’re right, are bringing unintended consequences. You talk about it, a different idea, you really believe we should be curious over critical. Can you unpack that idea for us? Yeah, I think when things get difficult, when you start to feel those feelings of “I’m outta my league, I’m not feeling like I’m keeping up,” whatever it is, most people turn to criticism. And there’s two forms of criticism. There’s external criticism, so this is when you’re like, they don’t get my idea, they’re not, you know, they’re not taking me up, they’re not taking me seriously, the circumstances aren’t right. It’s you know, the market’s down, whatever it is, and then there’s internal criticism where you start to say, like, I’m not good enough, I’m stupid, I don’t deserve to be here. So you can choose either of those, but you also have the opportunity, I really use my desire, we all, I think, most of us, have a pretty gut reaction to criticize when we’re in a place of fear or feeling incompetent. I think that’s a super natural reaction, or at least natural temptation, right? I think, we don’t need to be down on ourselves for feeling the instinct to criticize, but we do have the choice of what we actually do with that and how we react out of that. And so one of the things in my life, I try to, in the same way that those feelings of, like, nervousness and anxiety, trying to switch those to feelings of excitement, I really try to do the same thing with curiosity and criticism. The moment I have the instinct to criticize, that becomes like the signal to me, this like, you know (trills tongue) to like, oh, get curious. Lean into that, ask the question, there’s actually probably something really interesting in there, and frankly it’s probably something that wouldn’t come to you naturally, so unless you come to the table willing to really ask questions, and here’s the thing about asking questions, they can’t be leading questions, right? I’m the queen of this, like, asking the question but really trying to elicit the answer I want. Yes. So real and true curiosity. In my book, I use the example of being a journalist, and I, you know, I call it being on assignment in your own life, and I think, really good, unbiased journalists, they come to a story assuming that they don’t know where it’s gonna take them, right? That’s what makes a great journalist is they ask a question and then when they find something that’s a little bit different than they anticipated, they have a willingness to follow the lead and to kinda say, like, oh that path that I was following, I think I was wrong. Here’s where the the story’s really taking me and actually go there, and I think if we can apply that principle to our lives, to our personal lives, I mean this applies to when you’re at the gas station and you run into a jerk and instead of having a critical attitude, like, if your first thought is like man, I wonder what happened in his house this morning that’s, like, making him react in that way, and like leaning into that, and I think we can use it in our businesses when our customers aren’t reacting to something like we thought they were, instead of jumping to criticism, getting really really curious and continuing to lean in, that that’s where the really good, the good stories and information lie. That’s so helpful and I wanna highlight that just for our leaders listening right now, and kinda take in what you said, the words I try to tell myself, the point at which I’m most critical is usually an indicator of the place where I have the most to learn. Mmm, that’s good. And so any time you’re studying Liz’s work or you’re lookin’ at a new model in your industry and you find yourself pushing back and saying, “no not in my world, no this isn’t true,” what I’ve found is I often don’t have the context or the experience yet to understand, and that’s really an indicator that I should stop criticizing and really come with an open mindset, and your work is really special. What you’ve done is you’re kinda creating a new market, you’re employing people that otherwise wouldn’t be employed. Can you tell me maybe a story, you’ve got several in your book, but one of your favorites of how curiosity helps spark your social entrepreneurial venture. You know, if we go all the way back to the very beginning, I would say the model itself was born out of curiosity, so I showed up in Uganda, and was like, okay, you know, I grew up in America, and I have heard stories about women in Africa, and so when I showed up and faced this problem of under-resourced young women not having enough money to go to university, I immediately jumped to the conclusion, as I briefed a little bit earlier about like, oh, okay, been here, done that, like, seen this a million times, we have to start a charity. We’ll, like, start a sponsorship program, and we’ll match up women in America with women in Uganda, and I thank God I was still in this, so I was like, this problem had emerged, and I was like kinda trying to solve it, but like I said, this I had this journalism degree, and I think I was, like, kind of playing this persona of, like, being a journalist at the time, and I’m so grateful because before I launched that idea, I was like, I’m just gonna spend weeks setting up coffee meetings, setting up, you know, informational interviews, going on walks, and just digging in and asking the question in a way that really did feel openhanded, like hey, here’s the problem as how I see it, here’s a potential idea for solutions, help me, what are the holes, what am I not seeing, when I tell you that, you know, and your perspective is completely different than mine. The headmistress of the girls’ school, the person who kinda works on longer-term finances for the organization, the women that, at the school themselves, like, really getting into, so design thinking is like a school of thought of how we solve problems, and I love, there’s a phrase in design thinking that is like, hey, instead of going for the bird’s eye view, get the worm’s eye view, and I love this. It’s true. I get up as close as possible to the problem that you’re trying to solve and then really lean in and listen and when I did that, I started hearing these, like clues. No one outright said you should start a business. But what they were saying was like, okay, you gotta keep the girls together. They can’t go back home to their villages. There’s a bigger problem in our economy which is that people are graduating from school and then they can’t get work, right? We have this super high youth unemployment rate, and it talks about, you know, larger things that are happening and the economy stagnating, all of these things were like, these, it feels like that’s the real issue, and that’s certainly not gonna be solved by me coming in and matching up, you know, a group of women with a group of women in America who can send them checks, and so it was really this kind of thought process of like, ooh that feels like a clue. Right. Great, thank you so much, now I’m gonna follow this and go in a completely different direction and that kind of rabbit trail of piecing together the clues to create a solution that was very different than the one I originally came to the table with. Right, I think it was step by step, asking questions, being curious, making mistakes that led you to a really amazing story. At the Global Leadership Summit, Liz, I brought three of my kids. I brought Sam who just graduated, Steven who’s 16, and Joy who’s 14, and they loved your talk, but you said something that was really different than what everyone else is telling them. The culture says today, follow your passion, follow your passion, follow your passion, but you have different advice. I do. I, oh man, and I am part of the generation that it is, just like, every time I open Instagram, every time I go to a conference, someone is telling us to, you know like, find your passion and, like, go out there and find it, and I think that that phrase is actually really toxic because this notion that your passion exists, it’s out there, it’s like fully formed and it’s waiting for you, right? It’s waiting for you to make the right decision, to open the right door, to have, you know, the right conversation with the right person that gets you the job, and that’s where you’re, like, gonna find your passion, I think that that’s a really toxic thing because it puts us in that place of passivity, and it also puts us in that place where there is so much pressure, like, I have to open the right door to find this mystical magical passion that everybody’s talking about and then by the way the next message is once you find it, everything else in your life is gonna fall into place, right? So good, yup. And it’s just like, I’m sorry, if you replace that with anything else, like I think in my parents’ generation it was money and it was security, right? That once you achieve that, then the rest of your life is gonna fall into place. I really believe that passion has become my generation’s new idol, right? It’s this beautiful thing, and it’s how God designed us to exist, you know, in communion with him, co-creating the kingdom of God here on earth, but the moment that thing becomes, like, the end-all, be-all, okay, well now we have an idol, right? We’ve just taken a good thing, and we’ve given it too much importance in our life, and so I really believe that the mentality around building your passion, that it’s like this is it, this is your story, it is on you, to go out there, to ask the questions, to be curious, to build, to take, and frankly, to be willing to be surprised by that, like you never in a million years, Craig, could’ve told me that 10 years in I would be running a for-profit international fashion company. Like, I hated fashion, not interested, you know, a lot of these, like influencers have, these like, stories that it’s like, “oh, when I was a little girl, “I was already doing this on the playground,” and it’s like very nice, in like, I think if that’s really your story, that’s awesome, if you’ve always known what you were passionate about, but what that does to the rest of us who don’t have that story, is that makes us feel like we’re broken and that we’re missing something, and it doesn’t help us feel empowered to actually go out and just build it. So we’re going through life looking for this mysterious, elusive something and everything’s a let-down, and people may not take the first step, what I’ve found is, I agree with you completely, when you do dive in to something, you actually can become passionate about things you never even thought you’d be passionate about, and so I think that’s a really really helpful message. You also would say something very different than what I’m gonna see if I open up the normal Instagram page today when everybody says “think big, dream big, conquer the world, make a difference “all over the world,” you would say there’s actually probably even a more helpful message as well. Tell me about it. I would, you know, here’s the thing. We hear about dreaming big all the time, and I am genuinely a big fan of dreaming big. If dreaming, if you are in a place in your life where you’re dreaming big, and you’re actually taking action, like, that’s amazing, keep going, keep doing it. Who I’m talking to, though, are the people that feel pretty paralyzed and overwhelmed by that message of like, dream big, and we start to ask ourselves, we have these beautiful dreams, we have these visions, and then the first thing that we do, instead of the first question being like, awesome, what’s my action step? What am I doing tomorrow to help this come to life? The first question starts to become, like, is this big enough? Like am I doing, is this big enough, should I, I should probably wait, I should probably wait and I should probably make it a little bit bigger and I should ask for more people’s opinions, and I should make it sound more impressive and then maybe someday, I’ll just like emerge onto this scene with this huge dream, and I think that that’s, that makes me really, really, really sad when I see people doing that, because I know that the likelihood that that dream ever actually turns into something is actually really, really small, and so I really just wanna give people the freedom to say like, “hey, it’s big enough.” Now just go do it, and frankly, I think it’s so much healthier to have a, like, relatively small dream and actually do something and then you get put in this place where then like, okay, now your next small dream might be a little bit bigger, but that’s gonna lead you to the next thing, into the next thing. That’s how we build lives of purpose and passion and impact. It doesn’t happen sitting in a room pontificating and dreaming and researching and coming up with this big super impressive plan that then we need to be successful right out of the gate, right? Because if you spend all this time on the big dream what that actually does is it can keep you from being curious and from iterating and evolving because you become really attached to the big dream. It’s like, oh my, well this has to work, this has to be the thing. If you dream small, you’re actually a lot more willing to get into it and go, like, okay, I did this small dream. Wow, that wasn’t exactly what I expected, okay so next time I’m gonna try this, and I’m gonna tweak this a little bit, or like, wow, that actually is what caught my attention, and you get to follow that lead, and I really believe that that’s a more healthy way to think about it. Liz, I love this. I hope that there’s someone listening right now that, kind of like you said earlier, you know, they’re thinking making some big difference, starting a big company, creating a big brand, making a big difference, a big ministry or whatever, and have been thinking for a long time, and this just gives them the courage to start right now, right where they are, do something, take a really small step, take a risk, set up an appointment, start, write down step number one. I love the idea that sometimes we don’t, we can’t see step number seven, so we don’t take step number one. Yes. You’ll never hit step number seven unless you take step number one, and even if step number one is really really small, let’s just take it today. Take that step. Yep. I wanna hit one other idea that you drive home, and Liz, you say that we should get hooked on making and keeping promises. Tell us why that’s so important to you? So we live in a generation, in a world, in a society that I think is filled with a lot of B.S. And by B.S. I mean busy and should. There’s a lot of busy and should’s getting thrown around of we’re all, like, so busy and we’re so important, and we all also live in this life where we’re constantly thinking, like, I should do this, I should be here, I should be this type of person, and in the book I explore this concept of being a person that makes and keeps promises and specifically your VIPs, your Very Important Promises. I really think that in order to build a life of purpose and passion and impact, you have to do the hard work of knowing what the absolute priorities in your life is, and there’s, there, just frankly, can’t be very many of them, and I call those your Very Important Promises, and getting really crystal clear on, like, this is my promise, and this is what that means, so one of my very important promise areas is parenting and motherhood. I have a three-year-old and I have a one-year-old and being a present parent who is stewarding the lives of her children is really important, but a good promise is not like, so I’m gonna be a good mom because what that does is that opens me up, that opens me up to everybody else’s definition of what is a good mom, right? And then I start having this thing of like, well I should be doing this, I should be this, our house should look like this and someone else is putting their kids in this class so I should think about that, and instead, do the work to say what is being a really good mom look like for you, and get like crazy granular with it and say these are the things that I believe in and I’m gonna make a promise to myself and to my family that I do these things, and that means that when something comes up, when Jilly, Joey is doing this thing with her kids and that that strikes this insecurity in me of like, I should be doing that with mine, I have this thing that I can go back to and go, did you write that down? Right. Was that a promise that you made to your family? And when I look at my list, and I say, like, no, like, that thing that Jilly’s doing down the street, like, never even occurred to you as being a part of, you know being a good mom, so let it go, like, kick the should, kick the should out of it, if you will. We don’t take our promises seriously enough. We throw it around, and if we can just do the really, the really difficult work of saying what matters to me, what are the things that are gonna help me build my life of purpose, passion, and impact, and then take those crazy seriously, and let those be, kind of, the guide for how we spend our time and our energy, that we’re much more likely in the long run to build something that matters. So, Liz, can you bring it home for us. I actually am thinking about doing something, and I’ve been putting it off, and I know that there are some other people out there that have an idea, could be for a business, it could be to be innovative in their church, it could be for a ministry or such. Talk to us about how to channel our inner beginner to start this cycle of innovation and to do something special. I think the first step is to tell yourself and to really try to believe it, that there is no shame in your beginner’s game. I think that shame is the thing that keeps us from learning, and I think when we find ourselves in this place where we’re like, I don’t wanna embarrass myself. I don’t people to look at me and fail, well also here’s a tidbit, no one’s thinking about you as much as you think they’re thinking about you. I’m gonna propose that it might not be insecurity. It might actually be an inflated sense of ego because what’s happening is you’re actually thinking that people are sitting around waiting for your next move, going to evaluate you, like, I’m sorry, actually no. Like, no one is thinking about you that much, and I think that that sounds really harsh, but I think, at least for me, when I’m like, oh, I’m just feeling insecure, I don’t really have a path out of that. When I’m like, girl, you got an ego problem, I feel very empowered and inclined to deal with that, and to say, like, okay you need to step back and think, put yourself, like, in your right place. I feel much more motivated, and so I think that that’s what I would encourage is the first step is like, no one’s thinking about you as much as you think they are, so you have the freedom, like, go out, take risks, make a couple wrong calls, turn in the other direction and build something awesome. So at the same time I feel like your hurt my feelings, telling me no one’s thinking about me as much as I think, (Liz laughs) and I feel inspired to go and do something, so thank you for that, and– I think that might be a pretty good summary of the book itself. I felt pretty offended, but then somehow encouraged and inspired. At least that’s my hope. Somehow, it’s offended in a good way and inspired in a great way, sand o Liz, thanks so much for being on the “Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast.” I love your heart, I love your passion, I love your message. I’m so excited about “Beginner’s Pluck.” For everybody’s who’s listening, you’ll wanna grab that book and a special thank you for your contribution at the Global Leadership Summit this past year. You were a real highlight, and so I celebrate you and congratulate you on a new book, and I pray that impacts a lot of lives, I know it will. Thanks, Craig, and thanks everybody listening. So thanks again for being a part of our leadership community. As always, if you’re new with us, I’d encourage you just to hit the subscribe button and that way you’ll get new content. We drop a new teaching on the first Thursday of every month. Also, thank you for rating this content or writing a review. If it adds value to your life and you could do that for me, that would mean a lot. Let’s take Liz’s advice, go out and do something small today. Don’t worry about it, don’t feel pressure to get it all right because we say it every time, people would rather follow a leader who’s always real, than one who’s always right. Thank you for joining us at the “Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast.” If you wanna go even deeper into this episode, and get the leadership guide or show notes, you can go to life.church/leadershippodcast. You can also sign up to have that information delivered straight to your inbox every month. In the meantime, you can subscribe to this podcast, rate and review it on iTunes, and share with your friends on social media. Once again, thank you for joining us at the “Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast.” (upbeat music)

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