The Art of Playing Big: An Interview with Tara Mohr

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by Tracee Sioux

Tara Sophia Mohr, founder of Playing Big, a women’s leadership program, and author of the upcoming book Playing Big, has taught over 1,000 women how to play a bigger game in their lives.

After having individually coached women for several years and written a popular blog about self improvement and leadership, Mohr sent out a survey.

“What is the biggest challenge in your life?” she asked.

She expected women to answer that they had difficulties with balancing work and life, that they struggled with not having enough time, and that they had issues with money and clashed with unsupportive people.

Playing small, was the paradoxically surprising and unsurprising overwhelming response.

“I knew I was surrounded by fabulous women who are playing small. I knew I was playing small,” admitted Mohr. “It’s our biggest challenge and we know it. We don’t like it, we don’t want it, we want to change it. But, we don’t know how. We’re stuck.”

Time after time in her coaching practice Mohr had met exceptionally bright women with enormous potential — they should have been running organizations and sharing their many interesting ideas that could benefit their whole industry -- but they weren’t seeing that in themselves. “They were brilliant women who couldn’t see their own brilliance,” Mohr says.

The concept of playing small resonated deeply with Mohr herself. “I think for many women, playing small looks like playing big. Education was very much valued in my family, I was encouraged to be a really good student and I was. I went to Yale and Stanford Business School. It looked like I was playing big, but that was really where my voice got lost and where playing small happened for me,” Mohr reports. “The highly intellectual, secular and skeptical left-brain culture of those places was very patriarchal. In those places I completely lost touch with any type of creativity, such as theater, dance and creative writing. I was so burdened by my inner critic that I couldn’t do any of those creative things.”

Mohr explains the dangerous conflict between critical thinking and creativity. “When you’re doing critical thinking and nothing else, it strengthens the inner critic. It increases skepticism because you’re constantly pulling things apart to find problems. It’s a negativity-biased assessment,” she explains, “opposed to generating ideas, brainstorming, collaborating and listening. Critical thinking for 60 hours a week in our work is not helpful for us to relate to ourselves and our own dreams that are emerging from us.”

Mohr’s definition of playing big is not founded in traditional patriarchal forms of power -- economic, political, social — rather it is about serving one’s own purpose and pursuing one’s own calling to live a fulfilling and joyful life. This will look different for everyone.

“It looked like I was playing big, but I got off track from what I really wanted to be doing, I was hiding in the safety of the nonprofit sector. I was doing good in the world, but it was definitely a betrayal of my aspirations, which is about creativity that is entrepreneurial and spiritually-based,” Mohr says.

Mohr developed her Playing Big leadership program, a three-month leadership program via phone, video and written materials, to help women overcome their fears, end procrastination and gain clarity about how they want to play big in their lives. She also uses her business background to teach practical skills such as communication, negotiation and garnering media attention for work. One of the primary benefits is that she has created a community of supportive and visionary women who encourage each other to play bigger in their lives.

Unlike many life and business coaches who encourage dramatic leaps off cliffs, Mohr, who worked at her non-profit job for two years while she built her coaching practice, encourages “sane, well-rounded, financially-stable, grounded career changes.”

Like most self-help advisors, Mohr knows that the biggest challenge to playing big is the inner critic. One tool that Mohr finds useful with her clients, is what she calls the “Inner Mentor.”

Mohr encourages her clients to find the wise self within, a vision of one’s self two to 30 years in the future, who has already lived the path of playing big. Through guided visualizations and meditations women find a source of unfailing wisdom and calm within themselves. Her participants make a practice of asking their Inner Mentor what she would do in this situation. “For many women this is the only compass they need,” Mohr reports.

For more information about the Playing Big program visit www.taramohr.com.

Tracee Sioux is a Law of Attraction Coach, helping people manifest magic and attract miracles in business and life. Visit www.traceesioux.com for details about “The Year of YES!,” a year-long experiment in which you do everything your Soul tells you to do. Contact her at <traceesioux@gmail.com>.