Playing Big – A Book Review

Many of the people who seek the services of a professional coach are looking to discover their purpose and/or access their authentic voice in the world. Executive coach and entrepreneur Tara Mohr has written a book that road maps this and more in her highly accessible book Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message. While written with women in mind, there are many nuggets for the other half as well.

Working from the premise that women are liberated but not necessarily empowered, she lays out a path to greatness. An MBA who also loves poetry, Mohr concludes each chapter with a recap of the main ideas for the more linear and journaling questions for the more introspective. (A most welcome combination, to my way of thinking.)

One of her key messages is learning to listen to your inner mentor (defined as the 20-years-older, wiser, more authentic version of yourself) instead of the often-noisy inner critic. She believes every girl and woman on the planet needs Inner Critic 101 training and believes the cost of self-doubt is enormous – all the ideas unshared, businesses not started, important questions not raised and talents unused. The trick, says Mohr, is not to banish the voice in your head but to acknowledge the voice without taking direction from it.

This advice is relevant for men as well and reminds me of a book from my coach training called Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way. In it, the witty and whimsical Rick Carson talks about not grappling with your gremlins because they always win, and instead suggests practicing the art of “simply noticing” your inner critic. Negative self-talk can be as much as 80% of our thoughts, and this is not unique to women. Just ask any man in your life.

Mohr warns:

“The inner critic is like a guard at the edge of your comfort zone. As long as you don’t venture forth out of that zone, the inner critic can leave you alone – like a guard taking a nap. Yet when you approach the edge of your comfort zone, test old beliefs, contemplate change, or stretch into playing bigger, you wake the sleeping guard.”

She offers what she describes as “a very old new way” of looking at fear and introduces the reader to the Hebrew word yirah. It’s a secondary word for fear in the Hebrew bible and has three different meanings:

  1. It is the feeling that overcomes us when we inhabit a larger space than we are used to.
  2. It is the feeling we experience when we suddenly come into possession of considerably more energy than we had before.
  3. It is what we feel in the presence of the divine.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds incredibly energizing and inspiring (and a nice alternative to the more typical lizard-brain fear). Thankfully she offers 15 practices for quieting that more unwelcome kind of fear (called pachad in Hebrew), and categorizes the practices into heart-based tools, cognitive tools and somatic tools.

Mohr spends a good bit of time educating the reader on the necessity of unhooking from praise and criticism and offers these five principles:

  1. Feedback doesn’t tell you about you; it tells you about the person giving the feedback.
  2. Incorporate feedback that’s strategically useful, and let the rest go.
  3. Women who play big get criticized. Period.
  4. Criticism hurts when it mirrors what we believe about ourselves.
  5. Ask: What’s more important to me than praise?

Other advice includes leaving good-student habits behind, quit hiding, be aware of undermining speech habits, and start leaping (now!).

“A leap has you playing bigger right now, is simple, can be completed in one to two weeks, gets your adrenaline flowing, and puts you in contact with the people/audience/customers/stakeholders you want to reach through your playing bigger,” says Mohr.

She defines calling as a longing to address a particular need or problem in the world, and offers ways to recognize your callings (as we often resist them). Mohr writes, “What defines a calling is not its duration or the domain in which it takes place, but the sense of passion and longing to address a particular need.”

Concluding with an invitation to join what she calls the “transition team,” she tells the reader to expect to become a change agent: “I believe when women play bigger, they change the world for the better, and – more precisely – they bring forward what is missing.”

Questions to ponder:

  • Where in your life are you being under-daring?
  • If there were nothing to lose, what leap would you take this week?
  • What tools do you have in place to manage the gremlins in your head?
  • Which of your unshared ideas still haunt you?
  • If your life’s calling were a 6-word memoir, what would it be?

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