Karla Merrell of The Growth Circle On Becoming Free From The Fear Of Failure
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Change your self-talk: We really are what we tell ourselves we are. If I wake up repeating to myself “I am not a runner” I will certainly never become one. The way we talk to ourselves directs the actions we take, which in turn determine if we would reach our goals or not.
The Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Karla Merrell.
Karla is a TEDx speaker and Founder of the Growth Circle, an online community of women over 40 that work weekly on their physical, professional, and personal goals, so they can grow together into their full potential. She is also the Founder of The Growth Circle running group, a movement to get women that “hate running” to celebrate their bodies while challenging their minds through a 5K. Learn more at https://www.karlamerrell.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I am a public speaker and leader of The Growth Circle, an online community for women that are looking to make changes in all areas of their lives (physically, mentally, career and relationships) with accountability and like-minded support. I also founded the Growth Circle running group where women that have never run before or have not run for a long time, take in a 7-week journey to celebrate their bodies while training their minds into completing their first or next 5K race.
I used to be an attorney and over 10 years ago I realized that I could not picture myself being an attorney my whole life. The fact that you are good at something does not mean that it necessarily is what makes you happy. I had a desire to wake up excited about what I “get to do” not what I “have to do” so after losing my job, I decided I was not going to look for another job in my field and instead go for something different that I felt passionate about: meeting and event planning. At the time, I had no formal hospitality education, contacts in the industry, not even a website, but I did it anyway. Armed with a company name and a business card with my name on it, I attended events with the intention to meet people and make my way into the industry. I looked for mentors, I volunteered, and I found community in associations. I became a meeting planner specialized in only serving female coaches, speakers, and thought leaders into creating and executing their conferences, workshops, and retreats. And I loved it. As my business grew, I grew, and my interests grew with me. I wanted to teach other women that it was possible to leave the career/job you thought you wanted and start over in something completely new and make it successful. I started public speaking and even created my own online course. My passion for helping women kept developing and in 2020 when the live events industry shut down, I went into a health and growth journey with the intention to start doing things I did not think were possible for me. I had struggled with my weight my whole life and I wanted to prove myself that I could “do hard things”. Little I knew at the time than to go where I have never been before, I needed to let go of the person that I had been so far. It turned out that by losing 25 pounds and becoming an avid reader, I rediscovered my desire to keep improving myself not only physically but in every area of my life. That led me to launching my own community looking for like-minded women that also wanted to change and improve for good. I was not interested in diets, regimes, or challenges-I was looking for women that wanted to create change that sticks much longer than motivation does.
These same women were the ones to whom I declared my desire to push myself once again to become a runner at age 43-when I have never, ever, run before. In fact, I never played a sport or belonged to a team growing up, so I had zero athletic memory. With determination and commitment, in 8 weeks I was running my first 5K; 3 months later my first 10K and 6 months later I ran my first half marathon. I learned so much about myself and, most importantly, all the excuses I had in the past for not becoming what I could be-an entrepreneur, a runner, a speaker, a volunteer, a missionary-basically anything and everything I would ever want to be.
Within the last year, I have led The Growth Circle online community and founded a faith-based running group of the same name at my church guiding other women to believe that they also can become whatever they put their mind to. I keep challenging myself physically, mentally and in my career. Recently, I was selected to speak at TedxCherryCreekWomen where I will be able to spread my message and my mission to the world.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have learned that when you are on the verge of something important, some pivotal change that could alter the course of your life, your mind will try to protect you against change. Staying the same is 100% more comfortable that implementing a big change in your life. So naturally, your mind will ignite the “fight or flight” mode to try to protect you. This can manifest in many ways with the common purpose of scaring you out from the change you want to implement. For me, this materialized less than a week of launching The Growth Circle Running group. I had about 35 women counting on me and ready to start training. That weekend I participated in a small community 5K in my town to bring more awareness in my community, hoping to enroll some more women into the running group. All the training and experience of just having completed a half marathon did not prepare me for the pothole that I did not see and fell into not even a mile into the race. I sprained my ankle pretty bad and had to be carried off the course and all the way back to the start line in plain view of the same people I was trying to convince to start running with me. It was embarrassing and also concerning as my group was set to start just a few days after. Some of the women reached out assuming that the running group would postpone or cancel. That would have been the easy way out. I decided that nothing was going to get on my way to start this group. I got help and showed up in crutches to the first meeting. I designated some volunteer pacers, gave directions and explanations, and walked as best as I could to the side of the road to cheer my group, offer encouragement, and take pictures. I showed up anyway. What was supposed to take 6 weeks to heal (basically the whole training) took only 3 weeks and before I knew it, I was running along with my group and right next to them as we crossed the 5K finish line just 7 weeks from my injury.
Obstacles, setbacks, doubt, and fear are part of the growth process. They are part of implementing long-lasting change and I learned that I must train my brain to look at the challenge at hand and switch my mindset from “I can’t” to “how can I make this happen?”.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Sure! These are my 3 most instrumental leadership traits:
1.Having a growth mindset- I think most people have heard about growth mindset vs fix mindset. However, I find that most people are still stuck with the latter-the believe that you “are what you are” and unable to change. In the past, I was guilty of that as well. I can’t count the times I said “I am not a runner”, “I would never be never be able to manage my own community”, “I am not a volunteer, I am too busy” Yet, today I am all 3: I am a runner, I have my own online community for over a year now, and I joyfully volunteer my time and talents to several causes and organizations including Lasagna Love, Girls on the Run, Turkey Trot Race, my local church, my kid’s school. MOPS International to name a few.
The believe that I can become anything I put my mind to, regardless of my current circumstances, have propelled me to continue challenging myself to fulfill my outmost potential in everything I do. This past few years, from completing the 75hard challenge, running my first half marathon, training with a bikini competitor to starting my own running group and getting my first TEDx stage, every time I set myself to accomplish a new goal, I go at it with the awareness that I will become the person that can accomplish the goal I have set for myself. I don’t need to be “fixed” in the habits and traits of the person I am(the one that would not run, would not apply for TEDx or would not recruit women into her community) because I can grow into the habits of the person I want to be. That mindset is the real foundation of success. To tell myself every day that I am disciplined, that I am consistent, that I am a speaker, that I am worth of accomplishing my goal, or whatever is that I need to be, is definitely a fundamental factor into accomplishing the goal itself. I would even say is the main factor to accomplish the goal. Your thoughts about yourself, who you are, and what can you do, would guide the actions you take (or fail to take) towards that goal.
When I was training, I was well, really bad at the beginning. The first day I went out I could only run 30 seconds before I would feel winded. Thirty seconds. Can you imagine how discouraging that is? To go from 30 seconds to the 35–40 minutes I needed to complete a 5K, I needed to train my mind into thinking “I am a runner. I love to train. Each day I am becoming better and getting more stamina” It took 8 weeks of repeating these phrases to myself so I could go out in the hot Florida sun, put my shoes on and run. Once I completed my first 5K I had tangible evidence that I was a runner. Once you achieve that first milestone the possibilities become endless, so from there I just kept training 10 more weeks for the 10K and 18 more weeks for the half marathon.
With a growth mindset, which takes work, time, and patience, anyone can become, do, and have what they want in life.
2. Having a student attitude- One of the things that make me a great leader is that I never leave the student seat. I believe great leaders have great coaches. For every area of my life that I have improved, I have had someone to support me or show me the path. From people that I have hired to help me working one-on-one or a small group like health coaches, speaker coaches, and business coaches to writing and meditation online courses, to the many books I have read on anything from mindset, to sales and marketing, parenting, habit forming, goal-setting to the Bible; and the many podcasts I listen to while driving or working out (yes, I rarely listen to music-I have my headset on, you bet I am listening to a podcast) I am constantly learning something. Most importantly, I apply everything I learn into my life and pass it on to my community.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers and I am very transparent to my community about what I read, which coaches I have, my setbacks and the things I am working on to improve. I share my wins with my community and most importantly, I share when I struggle and when I fail. It is important to me that they see when I fail-when I get rejected to speak at a stage I was looking forward to or a business deal that does not go as expected for example- because there is always a lesson to be learned on the setback and I want to make sure not only that I learn that lesson but that others can learn too and not make the same mistakes when they find themselves in a similar situation.
I believe and accept that I will work on my self-improvement the rest of my life. I am happy to know that the day I stop learning, it’s the day I start dying. I think having that attitude of wanting to learn more keeps me not only humble but also evolving and changing into better versions of myself. As I grow and change, I can bring the best of me to my family and my community, and I think a great leader would always want to do that. I can also bring new perspectives and blaze the trail for those that are following me. Isn’t that what makes a leader a leader? I think it is.
3. Being intentional and Keeping my word to myself and others- This is so important. I believe it was Oprah who said: “You do not get what you want, you get what you intend”. I keep working on having a clear intention at the start of a new project or challenge. I want to be clear on why I am doing what I am doing.
When I was training for the half marathon, my intention was clear: I wanted to finish, and I wanted to finish running (not walking). I was not focused on my time, my speed, or on winning any medals that would give me a personal satisfaction. I wanted to finish running (and ideally run the whole race, which I did) so I could inspire other women over 40 that have never run before into believing that it was possible to do something that most people perceive as hard-like running a long-distance event.
Additionally, when I set a goal, I tell everyone I know, starting with my family and community. Declaring a goal and why you are doing it has helped become committed to seeing it through completion and to keep my word. This applies to the big things but also to the small things. If I say I am going to the gym at 6 am, I will be there at 6 am. This is true when I tell other people about what I am going to do but also when I just tell myself. Even when other people would not know, I would know.
I believe that keeping your word to yourself is the most important thing you can do to achieve success in anything you do. Moreover, knowing that you can keep your word to yourself will help you beat fear of failure because you already know you are the kind of person who follows through and do what’s required to succeed. When you get into the habit of keeping your word to yourself, if you fail at the first try, you already know that you have what it takes to try again.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit. From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?
I think people are afraid of change. They are afraid of going out of the label that was either imposed to them by others or that they imposed into themselves. Why? Because real change requires a tremendous amount of work and effort. Staying the same is familiar and comfortable and it can even be perceived by many as “easy”.
We are all familiar with the phrase “why change it if it’s not broken?”
“I am not a runner, why starting now?”
“I am not an entrepreneur”
“I am not a reader”
“I am not the adventurous type”
I have heard so many versions of these statements during my time working with women. Reality is, most people have not trained to accomplish any of these things. They might have tried for a day or a week, but they have not really decided about what they must be or do to achieve their desire.
Think about it, would you hesitate about going for something hard if your life (or the life of a loved one, like your children or your parents) depend on it? Would you hesitate then? You probably wouldn’t. You wouldn’t because failing would not be an option.
Implementing something new requires time, patience, effort, and most of all, believe and consistency.
So, I think people are not so much afraid of failing, they are afraid that change is going to require for them to take a good look in the mirror and make a lifetime commitment to do the hard things so they can get the reward.
In a world where high speed is valued, most people want the microwaved outcome when, in reality, success is a dish better served when cooked slowly.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
Living afraid to do the hard work and probably fail a few times so you can get better, means you will never get better. It means not having a vision of who you can be and what you can accomplish because you are trapped in the circumstances of the right now. Failing only means you are step closer of getting it right. The limitations you may have due to your current circumstance will start blurring when you act giving room to the limitless possibilities of who you can be, what you can have, and what can you do. I think the worst part of fear of failure is to realize at the end of your journey in Earth that you have a long list of “what if’s” without a second chance to find out how everything could have been different. I believe regret is far worse than failure. Not evolving is a slow death.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the fear of failure can help improve our lives?
Absolutely. Here are a few ways your life will be better when you free yourself from fear of failure:
- It helps you discover your purpose: When you take risks and are willing to do something new, fail and improve, you might find that the purpose of your life is centered in working to get that project, mission, sport or cause right. While most people are looking for the reason they are on this Earth, their purpose, their why, few understand that going through “trial and error’ is the path to figure out what is for us and what’s not. If we keep doing the same things the same way, we are going to get the same outcomes and that “big purpose” we yearn to discover might never show up. It is on us to attempt things we have never tried before to get outcomes we have never gotten before.
- It opens possibilities that you would never know existed: If I have never taken a chance on myself and stepped out of my front door on April 2020 to run for all 30 seconds, I would have never become a runner, finish a 5K, let alone a half marathon, and go on to become the founder of online and running communities. I would have missed on the chance to change women’s lives. My current habits have become the opportunity of the life of service I never knew I wanted. I was certainly not the fastest, the most skilled runner but there was an opportunity to lead that I wouldn’t had access to if I had stayed stuck and afraid of the fact that I never run before.
- It makes you more resourceful and creative: When you are not afraid of failing because you have the believe that you will eventually succeed, you will not be satisfied with trying just once. That means that the more you try, the more you keep trying. You will find a way to make it work, to make it better every single time because you would know that there is a lesson in every failure and an opportunity to get it right the next time using what you learned.
We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?
During my running journey, I discovered my enthusiasm for helping other people get the satisfaction to achieve a goal they can be proud of. I knew first-hand the mental health benefits of running and I wanted more women to experience it. I have a 9-year-old daughter and I kept wondering how much farther I would be in my journey if I had discovered this earlier in life. That’s how I got involved and connected with a non-profit organization that helps girls create life skills through running and completing a 5K while learning about self-worth and self-care. I was immediately hooked and signed up to become a volunteer running coach. I was so pumped to start changing the lives of young girls. The problem was that program was unknown in my county and at my daughter’s school. My expectation was that it was going to be easy to get it started. It wasn’t. It was an uphill battle. It became a full-time job for me, and I was encountered with roadblock after roadblock. It seemed that every time I overcame a challenge another one presented itself as I navigated the intricacies of the Public-School protocols. I spent 12 weeks working on it, making calls, reaching out for help. It cost me time, energy, and money and at the end I ran out of time to start the program so it would fit into the school year. It was time to pull the plug.
I honestly felt hopeless and defeated. I was mostly disappointed that it would be so hard to try to do something good and selfless for others. I could not believe that most people would not understand how good and impactful this program was.
I could have just quit, and no one would blame it for it. After all, what was in it for me other than helping people?
Instead, I decided that I had not come this far to only come this far. I have told so many people about this project that I knew I had at least some supporters. The word was already out so if I could not help girls, I was resolute on still helping someone any way I could.
That’s how the idea of the Growth Circle running group came about: Since my main issue was location and the liability of working with children, I decided to bring the idea of a running group to my church and create the first faith-based running group for women in my community. And this time, it was easy. This time I got a location, a schedule and over 30 women to sign up in one week.
Only a month later, the Growth Circle running group launched and 7 weeks after that I ran along 25 other women over the finish line of a 5K. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I was not only proud of all the women that participated and what they have accomplished physically, mentally, and spiritually but I was also proud of myself for not giving up on my mission. Sometimes the outcome looks a little different from what we envisioned and sometimes with a little perseverance it turns out better that we could possibly imagine.
I understood that this mission was meant to be created this way: out of the failure of my first effort. After experiencing defeat and disappointment, nothing was going to be on my way to see this second attempt through success. I learned to use my failure as fuel for my next venture.
How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?
There is a lesson to be learned from every failure. Even people that looked like they have “made it” had a ton of failure that you have never hear about. The key is not to give up after the failure but take on to find the lesson and use it on the next attempt.
As a speaker, one thing I learned is to reach out to organizers after every rejection for feedback. The feedback provided on some of my failed applications has helped me become the speaker I am today. Just this year I landed my first TEDx stage-on my sixth attempt! The feedback I got from previous applications has a lot to do with the success of this one: I feel like every time I applied, I became better, and it finally paid off.
In the story I just shared, I immediately acted and went on to ask myself: “If I can’t do this, what else can I do?”. Rather than throwing away months of work, sweat, and tears, I was able to look for a different outlet for the outcome I wanted. I feel that it made the victory even sweeter because I was not going to take no for answer this time. I am proud of what we built with the Growth Circle out of the ashes of my first failed attempt. I have over 30 women and counting signed up for the second cohort of the Growth Circle running group starting on the Fall of 2022 and have plans to expand my mission beyond my hometown in Florida and even organizing my own women-only race one day.
So, my advice is, be open to feedback and embrace the learning experience and soon enough what you perceived as failure you will be able to perceive as a steppingstone in your journey. I once heard from Tony Robbins that the first time you do something, it will be the worse version of it, so hurry up and get that first time done so you can learn from it and move on to the second time which is bound to be much better. My story is proof of the accuracy of that statement.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Here are 5 steps:
1.Change your self-talk: We really are what we tell ourselves we are. If I wake up repeating to myself “I am not a runner” I will certainly never become one. The way we talk to ourselves directs the actions we take, which in turn determine if we would reach our goals or not.
During my journey when felt doubtful, unmotivated, or scared about the goal I was trying to reach, I would make a habit of repeating to myself (in my mind or out loud) what I need to become in order to achieve such goal. Phrases like “I am runner”,“ I am a TEDx speaker”, “I am a leader” carried me through tough times. With consistency and believe, these phrases start making sense in your mind until they become a reality. Today, I am all those things that I once told myself I was.
2.Decide that you are going to train not try: I have embraced the concept of training (rather than trying) in everything I do. In my opinion, every time we say we will “try” to do something, it immediately implies defeat. It is easy to get off the hook with just trying something once, quitting and saying “I tried”. Training in the other hand, implies that you will fail, get up, get better, and train some more until you get it right. No one expects an athlete to train just one time. Training is long-term, progressive effort with the expectation of improvement, so for all my goals I set myself to train.
3. Keep your word: Your word to yourself is gold. If you say you will do something, do it. Get rid of the excuses that keep you stuck. When keeping your word to yourself becomes a non-negotiable habit, not keeping your word is the failure. So if you keep your word to yourself one day at a time, there is no room for fear.
4.Join a community of like-minded individuals for accountability and support: When you surround yourself with people that are also looking to improve, grow, work towards a goal, their energy becomes infectious. Accountability and support are huge motivators to keep moving forward. In the other hand, when you surround yourself with people that want to keep you small because it makes them feel better about themselves, their fear will feed your fear and you will make the journey exponentially harder for yourself.
5.Visualize the gain not the gap: Getting into the habit of visualizing yourself conquering your fear and achieving your goal will trick your mind to think that you are already there. If you involve all your senses into not only seeing yourself succeeding but also going deeper into how it feels to have that success you want, it will make your brain, (which governs your thoughts and in turn your emotions) get used to the idea of pursuing that feeling you will have when you succeed. Just like the self-talk habit, I have found this practice extremely helpful when training for a race. Right when it starts getting tough and I am tired, I always picture myself on the day of the race: what I am wearing, the expression on my face, who would be there cheering me on and, most importantly, how I would feel. Crossing the finish line of a race is one of the most exhilarating feelings ever. It’s euphoria and pride and overwhelming joy all wrapped in a few second’s time. Visualizing that moment and that feeling is the fuel that keeps me placing one foot in front of the other. You can’t be happy and scared at the same time, so visualization helps recreate that joyful feeling of victory that leaves no room for fear.
The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.” Based on your experience, have you found this quote to be true? What do you think Aristotle really meant?
In my own experience and from working with other women, I believe he was right. I think what this quote means is that we fail in so many ways in our head before we take a single step towards our desire or goal. We fail over and over just contemplating the reasons why we can fail:
“I don’t have enough time”
“I am not smart enough to do it”
“No one would care about what I have to say”
“I will run out of money”
“It will never work”
These are just a few examples of the many ways we fail before we even try. In the other hand, there is only one way to succeed and that is taking the first step. Taking continuous action. In my own running journey, I always tell people “you don’t learn how to run by watching other people run, you put your shoes on, go outside, and run” The same is true for anything in life, you can only succeed one way and that is by doing the thing you want to do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
With The Growth Circle, I am on a mission to get women that have never run or that think they “hate running” to set a goal for themselves, get rid of their own stories, train and complete their first 5K. This community is more than just running. It is about training your mind to believe that change is possible, set a plan and see it through completion in only a few weeks. My intention is that when women see themselves accomplishing something they never thought possible for themselves, that they would get motivated to keep exploring what else they can accomplish and really start using what they learned during training to propel and act on their own desires. Inside the Growth Circle we work every week not only in our physical goals but in becoming better wives, mothers, professionals, communicators, givers, and overall making our families and communities a better place with 1% improvement at a time. I can’t wait to reach more women and becoming part of the change they want for themselves.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Rachel Hollis. I have followed her for years, but especially post-divorce when she has gone all out to live authentically for who she really is and not what was expected of her. She has moved away from the “formula” for success that social media has taught us at the risk of losing what took her years to build. That is believe. That is faith in yourself and the purpose you are created for. I really admire her pursuit for self-actualization and would like to meet her and bounce ideas to bring this Growth Circle concept to more women that need it.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit my website www.karlamerrell.com/growthcircle
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.