Since childhood, Tara Mohr has been asking big questions about the intentions of others and learning as much as she possibly could from the people – and books – around her. She quickly became aware of the lack of women she saw in the news, in her history books and elsewhere. With this realization, Tara set out to make a big change, and she’s actually doing it.
Today, Tara Mohr is an expert on women’s leadership and wellbeing. As the author of “Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead,” (Best Book of the Year by Apple’s iBooks), Tara is at the forefront of women’s equality.
1. You value learned knowledge and intuitive wisdom. Why do you think these are important values for people to uphold?
Yes, you’ll find me referring to the latest research on the brain – and then five minutes later to an ancient Sufi poem. As for our intuitive wisdom, I believe we are all expressions of the divine, and can access a part of us that is ever-calm, loving, compassionate, and knows just what we need to do next. In Playing Big, we called that our “inner mentor” and you can do the visualization to discover your own inner mentor voice right here– I highly recommend this for all women!
As for learned knowledge – as much as I am a spiritual seeker, I also love traditional learning and thinking. Our intellectual mind can be a useful resource, it’s just that the mind should be the servant of the heart’s wisdom.
We should be using our minds to solve the problems – poverty, injustice, human suffering – that our hearts would have us solve. The problem is when the mind becomes king and thinks it holds more wisdom than the heart. It does not. So in my work, we engage both – but heart leads, and our brilliant, critical-thinking minds are there to support us in achieving our heart’s desires in a practical way in the world.
2. What does it mean to play big?
My definition of playing big is this: Playing big is being more loyal to your dreams than to your fears. That’s it. We all are in a tug of war between our dreams and our fears – who is winning in your life right now?
This means playing big looks different for every woman and it can only be determined from the inside out. A woman’s playing big may involve accomplishments that look “big” to others, or it may be about smaller changes, courageous steps, or unconventional moves. It could be asking for a promotion or turning one down, launching a business or reclaiming a creative pursuit, speaking up about an important truth or giving generously to a cause you care about.
3. What led you to write your book, Playing Big? Why do you think other women need to read it?
Since about five years of age, I noticed all the places women’s voices are missing – from the evening news, to the podium up in front of my childhood congregation, to the history books I read in class.
Then, in my early experiences as a young woman in the working world, I saw that I and all my women friends were struggling with feeling ready and able to make our impact in the world. We didn’t believe in ourselves, weren’t taking the professional leaps we wanted to, and were having trouble navigating – and simply making sense of – the discrimination we were facing in our workplaces.
Seeing that, and reconnecting to my own passion for advancing women’s leadership, I got trained as a coach and transitioned into coaching women around their professional goals. I began seeing this phenomenon on an even wider scale – brilliant women, whose voices we desperately need, were playing small.
My coaching practice became a kind of laboratory to try and figure out what tools, changes, and practices truly helped women play bigger. Over time, clear patterns emerged about the key steps along that journey. That became the basis for the Playing Big course, and the Playing Big book, which have now touched thousands of women around the world.
As for the “why” for other women? There are two reasons for women to take that journey to playing bigger: 1) for your own joy and fulfillment and 2) because the world absolutely needs us. We need brilliant, ethical, conscientious women stepping forward fully with their voices.
4. A lot of your values and ambition stems from your childhood. How has motherhood changed that?
There are things I learned from my own childhood and my mother that have not changed with my own mothering – that we can teach our kids about spirituality, psychology and personal growth at a very young age. (My mom started teaching me to analyze my dreams every morning at about age 5, and talking to me about our subconscious and unconscious motivations at a similar age!)
As for what has changed for me with motherhood, my kids are 4 and 2, and I’ve been through the most exhausting, overwhelming, challenging years through this experience. I now appreciate that playing big means different things and different times – there are phases of life when just surviving and doing basic self-care is what’s possible. More on that here.
5. How do you remain focused and calm in today’s face-paced, non-stop climate?
I am a relentless prioritizer, and as a result, I generally am not rushed or busy because I don’t believe I can be creatively alive without open space or protected time. I need time to notice, reflect, explore in my work.
At the beginning of each week, I decide what ONE project I am going to be focused on for the week. I do fit in other appointments and short to-do lists of small tasks around that each week, but all the real work, and the bulk of my time, is focused around one priority.
It could be writing the next couple months’ blog posts, or exploring a new creative idea in depth, or a personal project like cleaning out the garage. I don’t allow my attention to stray.
Just think about it – with focus, in a week you can do a major project. That means in a year you can do 50 real projects! That’s incredible. I definitely can’t do 50 real projects if I try to do a little bit of ten different ones every week. But the productivity isn’t the best part of this – it’s the joy. I find life and work so much more satisfying because I can go in depth with projects and contemplations.
With parenting, my husband and I also have a parenting mission statement that we took a few hours to develop and write together. That makes it very clear what we are trying to accomplish in our parenting, what primary values we want to impart and what experiences we want our kids to have. Seeing that clearly, we are more comfortable with what we are leaving by the wayside. You can’t do everything – but we all need ways to remember that!
6. What advice do you have for young women trying to become entrepreneurs?
First of all, I’m thrilled for you. I think the entrepreneurial life is just about the best thing ever. Advice: difficulties along the way don’t mean this is the wrong path for you (more on that here) – difficulties are a natural part of the process. Talk to customers (or target customers) and learn from them from the beginning. Don’t build a product, or a brand, or ANYTHING based on untested assumptions about what you think your customers want. Don’t get funded by a bunch guys who don’t have a track record of trusting & supporting women entrepreneurs all the way through – look for people who have a history of doing well by women entreprepreneurs. And get to know your inner critic and inner mentor well so you can guide yourself wisely through the ups and downs of the process. And stay in touch so I can support you along the way. I’d love nothing more.
Learn more, and sign up to receive Tara’s free 10 Rules for Brilliant Women Workbook here.