AMA Transcript: Playing Big with Tara Mohr

AMA Transcript: Playing Big with Tara Mohr

At times, we all feel plagued with self-doubt, held back by fear of criticism, or weighed down by an inner voice that tells us we’re not good enough.

Tara Mohr — an expert on leadership and wellbeing, as well as an author and coach — offers us some valuable practical advice on how to get ourselves unhooked from praise and criticism, how to deal with our inner critic, and how to take bolder action.  

If you need actionable suggestions on how to recognize your calling, make your next big move with ease, create an impact, and influence the world for the better, keep reading, because those are the topics we delved into during our Ask Me Anything with Tara Mohr.

Here is the unabridged transcript of the event:


Q: Question by a community member

C: Comment by a community member


Q: Playing Big is being more loyal to your dreams than to your fears. Can you expand on that and the core concept of Playing Big, because I think a lot of people who aren’t familiar with your work might easily misconstrue it?

Tara Mohr: Yes, for sure. For many people, when they hear Playing Big, they think of doing conventionally "big" things - big promotion, grow a big business, speak to big audiences etc. That's not what we are talking about. We are talking about each individual figuring out what their authentic dreams are, and playing big in going for those.

This means Playing Big looks different to everyone. And only you can know what Playing Big is for you. For some, it's something that looks big to others, for others it's really the opposite.


Q: What I like  about your approach to coaching is that it’s inclusive of women who are pursuing arts or something creative, rather than just focusing on women who want to become CEO or get the corner office. As an aspiring artist myself, I’m curious to know the story behind this approach to coaching, did you choose this approach because creativity is something that has always been important to you?

Tara Mohr: Yes, for me, my own Playing Big is very much about using my creativity, trusting my creative self. And I know this is true for many, many women - and others too. Our creative playing big can actually feel way more scary than an academic or professional playing big - it's more vulnerable.


Q: I’ve noticed that when it comes to interacting with co-workers I’m always walking on eggshells and trying to avoid conflict and overly focusing on not sounding impolite. Can you give me some advice on how to stop fixating on that and to improve the way I communicate?

Tara Mohr: Oh yes! That must stop!!

But it's actually very common. And I say that with a smile - I know many of us can relate. 🙂

I have a bunch of suggestions for you:

  • Look at the chapter on Unhooking from Praise and Criticism and do some work around getting used to people not liking you or your choices all the time - often for women, what fuels the concerns you are talking about is discomfort with the idea they might be disliked.

  • Focus on service/mission/the big picture of what you are trying to accomplish - rather than the small relational stuff. When you are focused on and committed to that big picture, you will sometimes be direct, brave, not-people-pleasing - when it's necessary to get the job done.

You can also look back into your childhood and explore - where did you get early negative messages about impoliteness, conflict, etc. and do some work to compassionately and more consciously understand the conditioning you (and many other women/girls) got around this.


Q: If I’m not mistaken, you’ve been coaching for over 10 years now. In your vast experience of coaching women who want to start their own business, what are some of the most common stumbling blocks or barriers female entrepreneurs run into? Do you think they are mostly internal or external?

Tara Mohr: Self-doubt. Can I do it? What if I fail? What if people don't like what I have to offer.

This often comes from a misunderstanding of women thinking they have to get it right (the product, the team) etc. on Round 1, and failures show they aren't qualified/good enough. The truth is that the entrepreneurial journey is all about discovering the answers through trial and error.

For small business entrepreneurs, a lot of the barriers are internal. But women looking to raise funding run into a lot of external barriers - biases in investors especially.


Q: Being an introvert and a self-effacing person, I have always shied away from praise, and I have realized that this is impacting my career negatively. What's a strategy you’d suggest for a person like me?

Tara Mohr: I believe "feedback never tells you anything about yourself. it just tells you about the person giving the feedback." In this context, that would mean that the praise you receive tells you about the people giving it - what's important to them, what their preferences are. It's just a tool to learn about them!

Hopefully, that can help take the focus off the egoic part of it and allow you to just use praise to better understand and work with others in your life and work.


Q: Is there another book that you’re currently writing after Playing Big? If yes, what can you tell us about it?

Tara Mohr: I am working on another book. If Playing Big was about the individual path of self-actualization, this book is about the "we" of life. How we need each other, how we care for each other, and how we can build a better society based around that. It looks a lot at education, parenting, mentoring.


Q: What are the most significant challenges experienced by women in leadership roles today?

Tara Mohr: I'm curious what you would say they are too, Lisa! And of course, they are different for different women - women of color experiencing the multilayered bias around race and gender, as one primary example.

One of the primary challenges that particularly fascinates and infuriates me is that we still tend to see women as either likable OR competent but not both. A wide body of research shows this. So if a woman is highly competent in her work, we start to view her as unlikable, mean, the ice queen, and so on. This makes it nearly impossible for female leaders to be embraced fully by their teams, or for us to elect female candidates, for that matter. It's changing, but not fast enough.


Q: Is there a shorthand method or strategy we can use that can help us recognize our calling? Also, what's a commonly held belief about finding your calling that you think does more harm than good?

Tara Mohr: To recognize your calling, look for:

  • What ideas or visions of what could be / of something you'd love to see brought into being keep coming into your mind, tugging at you.

  • What aspects of the status quo particularly bother or pain you . With our callings we often also have a sense of "assignment" - just a feeling, which may often seem irrational of "this work is mine to do" or "solving this problem in the world just has something to do with me."

One of the harmful beliefs commonly held is that we each have one calling. That's not what I see in my clients. Our callings begin and end. We get many over a lifetime. And we can have a few simultaneous callings - in work, family, community for example.


Q: As a parent, what's your advice to other parents on how to praise, motivate, and encourage children and also how to hand out constructive criticism where needed?

Tara Mohr: Oh my, this is such a big and important question. And it's a big part of what I am writing about now.

Let me say first that I believe parenting should be done about 50% through what you model by how you live your own life and conduct yourself with others, including with your children. In other words, if you want them to be responsible, don't tell them, just be it yourself. If you want them to share, show them how you truly share in your life. Then the next 40% of parenting is about providing a general atmosphere of unconditional love - with tons of hugs, snuggles, respectful listening, communication, giggles, and permission for your child to have and express all their emotions. Then only the final 10% is about deliberate feedback you might be giving them around anything. So that puts it in context.

The research tells us praise ("you are so good at math! you are an awesome baseball player!") is mostly destructive to kids - decreasing their intrinsic motivation. I believe in focusing on acknowledgement, not praise. Acknowledgement is a way of making a child feel seen. "Wow, I see how hard you worked on this!" "Wow, you played us a whole song on the piano!" "You are just such a silly joker" or whatever it is, rather than praise.

I can't think of a time when I'd try to use "constructive criticism" with a child. If they are doing something harmful to themselves or others, as a parent, I usually just need to think about the why of the root cause and take charge of changing the root cause. I guess I don't feel I've gotten much constructive criticism in my own life, and much of what was meant to be was just super wounding. I think there is a better way.

C: Thank you, that's a beautiful message! ❤️

Tara Mohr: Thank you! ❤️


Q: How did motherhood change your outlook on things, especially in terms of career and pursuing your calling?

Tara Mohr: It's changed it in soooooooo many ways, and most of them I don't even have a coherent sense of yet because I'm too much still in the middle of the all encompassing experience of being transformed by parenting.

But here are a few ways - It's made me take myself less seriously, because I just feel so much more deeply the importance of other humans. It's made me much more open to the idea that there are different phases of our life and some are more about our individual playing big, and some less so. It's given me a new perspective on how women, as caregivers, uniquely understand what actually keeps human beings well and sane - because we do that work all day - and how we need that wisdom more in our political, economic, and social systems. Those are a few to start!


Q: I am curious about the two courses you have created for women. The Playing Big leadership program, and the Playing Big Facilitators Training? What changes have some of your clients noticed after taking the courses?

Tara Mohr: Sure, we also have a ton on the Playing Big Stories page of our website, where you can hear those stories directly in the words of the women sharing about their experience.

We have a set of outcomes that we measure quantitatively in every session, and so we know that over 80% of our participants experience a host of changes such as less self-doubt, more ease sharing their ideas and voice, more access to their inner wisdom, more success in negotiations, less sensitivity to others' opinions, etc.

On an external level, this translates into writing books, starting businesses, running for office, reclaiming creative passions and more!


Q: It seems like spirituality played a large role in your upbringing - could you tell us a bit more about how you’ve integrated spirituality into your daily life, and the results you’ve noticed?

Tara Mohr: Oh yes. Well, for me writing is a spiritual practice because when I am doing creative writing, that's how I get to connect with something larger than me, with inspiration. There is absolute upliftment in that process for me. I also pray every day - usually in the morning. I surrender the day and ask to be of service, to hear the voice of a greater power guiding me through the day. I could go on and on, but that's some of it!


Q: What is one book that has been really helpful to you as an entrepreneur in growing/scaling your business?

Tara Mohr: Ooh great question. I love Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Finding Your North Star by Martha Beck helped me start the business. And of course, The Lean Startup because I live it every day being married to the author. 🙂


Q: Is there a book written by a female author on leadership and career development that you recommend to all women?

Tara Mohr: Hmm, there isn't really! Different things for different situations. At the moment, what's coming to mind is one book I love for women - for work and personal life - The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.


Q: At what point did you decide to write the book Playing Big? Also, I think you were already coaching for a few years before you wrote the book, so I wanted to know how the success of the book changed things for you, and do most people discover your courses and work through your book now?

Tara Mohr: Yes, my flow went like this:

  1. Get trained as a coach (while working my old day job) and then start a small coaching practice on the side, also started blogging about personal growth topics

  2. Grow the practice and see if I liked coaching/writing

  3. Leave the day job to do that work full time

  4. Start developing a formal model/approach based on the patterns I was seeing in my coaching practice

  5. Hone that model with clients

  6. Start teaching an online course (omg it was by phone then in 2010!) to bring the model to more people. And then, after it was a proven model with several hundred alums with demonstrated outcomes, write the book proposal and do the book (2013 ish).

And yes, now almost 100% of our course participants have read the book by the time they sign up for a course, and they just want a deeper, more interactive experience. It totally changed how people come to the courses, which surprised me!

C: haha! By phone! 😂

Tara Mohr: Yeah, and doing any distance learning was considered so avant-garde at the time.


Q: What influenced you the most to make you decide what you are doing now? Was there a particular moment of realization?

Tara Mohr: Pain and Joy! The joy I feel doing this work and the despondency I was feeling in my prior life/work. When I started getting more weepy all the time, I knew it was time for a change.


Q: Do more talented people struggle more with self-doubt? Is there like a correlation there?

Tara Mohr: Dr. Carol Dweck's research has shown that when you praise kids for excellent work, they don't become more confident - they become afraid of disproving the praise through making mistakes in the future! So there is some connection there.

But I have yet to meet someone who is not experiencing considerable self-doubt in some area of their life.


Q: I’m curious to know how you got so good at public speaking? I know it makes a lot of us nervous, so I wanted to ask if it came naturally to you or if you had to hone it when you decided to become a coach?

Tara Mohr: I grew up doing theater and LOVE being in front of a group, so it's kind of my home zone. It's kind of comical - it feels much more relaxing to me to go in front of a thousand people than to have to let's say, look at some mundane logistical paperwork I've been procrastinating on. I do love it.

But I think people also overestimate the role of public speaking techniques. Most of the authors and speakers I know have found out that basically what matters is authenticity - connecting with yourself around what you are sharing, telling the truth.


Q: What’s next for you and your business? What do you want your legacy to be?

Tara Mohr: Oh my, good questions!

I am slowly and steadily working on this next book, but I have to be really patient with myself because with motherhood and especially pandemic parenting, lots of days turn out to not be writing days. So that's one thing that's next. More writing, and finding ways to reach new people.

Legacy - that I helped many kind, compassionate people have more impact in the world.  ❤️


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