It’s rare that a book resonates with you on so many levels, especially one that’s not aimed at you! One of Protagion’s coaches recommended Tara Mohr’s work to us, and while on the surface it’s aimed at women, it has practical insights for all of us looking to step up into our unique purpose. It will take many articles to pay homage to her amazing work, so over the coming months I’ll try by diving deeper into some of the topics I touch on in this article.
...I listened to them talk, in awe of their intelligence, their ideas and their character – their honest concern for others and their commitment to doing the right thing. I kept thinking, these are the kind of people I wish were in charge: hardworking, wise, ethical women and men who care a great deal about people.”
A number of times in Playing Big, I felt echoes of Brene Brown’s insights on courage and vulnerability. Two examples: (i) when Tara refers to taking back authority of her own work and not being triggered by praise or criticism, and (ii) when she describes sharing our own stories to support change: “Even when our work is informed by research and professional expertise… it gains power and resonance when we remove the mask and imbue it with a vulnerable sharing about why it matters to us”.
Read more to uncover uplifting insights from Playing Big, including what drove Tara to create the programme, where her material comes from, and how the book’s structure shifts from our inner thoughts to taking and sustaining positive action. The article ends with Tara’s vision for our future world, one shaped by our individual and collective actions to dream, play, and leap bigger.
Why Play Big? What drove Tara
There is so much that is uplifting in Tara’s book, and it is itself infused with a sense of purpose: that of supporting her global ideal of “an environment more equally shaped by women and men”. She also writes about wanting integration between the tangible external world and our inner lives: “the internal reality that shaped external events”.
As she sought to weave together these two worlds, Tara moved between what she now calls times of playing big and playing small. “During some periods, I could remember what I truly loved – writing, the arts, spirituality, entrepreneurship, creativity, women's empowerment, and being part of a community – and I could build a life that was about those things. But during many years, I was lost from all that. My education helped me develop my intellect, but the artist in me became lost along the way and I neglected my spiritual life. I became a bit cynical about personal growth work, taking my cues from the academic culture around me rather than listening inward to what I knew to be true. Worst of all, I developed some fabulous ‘critical thinking’ skills but then applied them to my own dreams for my future, playing the sceptic instead of being an ally to myself. In my early thirties, I started to feel a disconnect from self that felt too painful to ignore, and I entered a process of significantly changing my life so that it reflected my real aspirations, both for my life and for my work. I also began to look closely at my own self-doubt and find my path to a more confident way of moving through the world. Many of the tools that helped me became tools I later used [in the Playing Big programme].”
Where her material comes from
Tara explains that her techniques and tools are a hybrid. Some from her business school training. Some from twenty years of learning about psychology and personal growth. Some from the wisdom of the spiritual texts she grew up reading. Some from her personal lessons. And, much from real-life experiences of helping women play bigger i.e. “together with the client, producing the change that the client is seeking”.
This diversity of input is one of the things that makes her work so special, with the wonderful blend of right and left brain a key element in this. As she says: “What often felt like a disjointed split in my childhood between heart and mind, intuition and education, right brain and left brain, has become a unique blend that I bring to my work. There’s the MBA in me and the spiritual seeker. The part of me that loves intellectual rigour and the part that loves poetry.”
She also writes how she found that conventional advice for stepping up falls short: “...More confidence, good mentors, some accountability around the steps toward their goals. I quickly learned by working with clients that none of those things helped much. Tactics and topics – how to write a resume, interview, negotiate, speak in front of a group – didn’t do the job, because women couldn’t use all that new knowledge if the inner foundation for taking risks, overcoming fears, and dealing with self-doubt wasn’t in place... Without the tools to trust their own thinking and be discerning about mentors’ advice, they’d get lost in others’ opinions and depart from the course that was truly right for them. The conventional supports didn’t go deep enough; they didn’t get to what was holding women back or what they needed to move forward. What did help women play bigger was a set of concepts and practices that changed how they thought about themselves and the kind of action they took. It was a set of movements – away from listening to the voice of self-doubt within and instead listening to a voice of calm and wisdom; away from perfectionism and overplanning and toward a new way of taking quick action; away from worrying about what other people thought and toward a focus on their own fulfilment; away from self-discipline and toward self-care. All these pieces worked together to create an inner infrastructure that supported women to go for their dreams boldly, to both overcome internal blocks and better deal with external challenges.”
Playing Big is about bridging the gap between what we see in you and what you know about yourself. It’s a practical guide to moving past self-doubt and creating what you most want to create... It’s about you living with a greater sense of freedom to express your voice and pursue your aspirations... This playing big is not about climbing the ladder within broken systems. It’s about learning how to use your voice to change those systems. It’s not about “opting in” or “opting out” according to our society’s current thinking about what women should and shouldn’t be doing. It’s about turning away from those narrow labels, refocusing your attention on your longings and dreams, and playing big in going for them.”
What the book covers
Playing Big* covers a lot of ground... Each chapter ends with exercises and journalling questions to apply the ideas in practice. Below, I summarise each section, with some notes where relevant – I wholeheartedly recommend reading the full book for the complete experience. Over the coming months, I'll write more on topics that specifically resonated with me. Please do let us know if this is useful.
...To not just succeed within systems as they are but transform them to be better – more humane, just, safe, and supportive for human beings.”
Playing bigger always includes, in some way, coming forward to tell our own tales; voice our own questions; and share our bare, simple truths. This is how our work finds its spark and gains the power not just to inform minds but also to change hearts.”
Whenever I try to make a shift in my life, I think about these two factors: Have I chosen that right goal, a goal that truly resonates with and inspires me, one that comes from a spirit of self-care and not of perfectionism or self-criticism? If yes, then how can I truly set myself up for success in achieving that goal, with resources and aids that make it easy for me to take action consistently?”
Championing Positive Change
Playing Big ends on another uplifting note with a call to action. It inspires us to become change agents and improvement champions in alignment with our callings. In Tara’s words: “Yes, I want you to play bigger because it will bring you more joy and fulfilment. But, more than that I want you to play bigger because of what I believe it will do for our world.”
She summarises the flow of the book by saying: “Being a change agent requires the kind of playing big you’ve learned about here: trusting the voice of your inner mentor, not your inner critic; moving forward despite your fears; letting go of attachment to praise and criticism; taking leaps; getting out of good-student mode and into a mode of leadership. It requires communicating without diminishing yourself, respecting and pursuing your callings, and supporting your aims wisely and through self-care.”
In the afterword, she shares her vision for her newborn son, encapsulating her mission: “I want him to work in an environment where collaboration, not competition, rules, where everyone’s good ideas are respected, and where people are kind. I don’t want him to get caught up in a race among alpha males or work in a cold culture where men are measured by their outward success and earning power. I don’t want him to be seduced into doing work that strangles his soul and hurts people or the planet. I believe that future will be realised only when leadership is shared equally by men and women, when women shape our world as much as men do. I believe that when more women are playing big, they will, together with men, create the world I want for my son and for all of us.” What a fitting way to end!
How have Tara’s insights, experiences and techniques helped you? Which of them resonate most in your life? Please do share your “subjective, partial view[s]… coloured by [your] personalities and life experiences” - we love to hear them.
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