Tara Sophia Mohr | Playing Big

Tara Sophia Mohr, Playing Big. Find Your VOICE, Your MISSION, and Your MESSAGE.

My Playing Big Journey, Part 2

This week, I’m telling the story of my Playing Big journey. If you didn’t catch it earlier, you can read Part 1 here.

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Thanksgiving 2008, I wrote my very first blog post. It was written on a free template site I’d set up in a few minutes. It was a blog that had no readers, no subscribers.

What did I think I was doing at that time?

I knew I had always loved to write.

I knew that in my heart of hearts, if I really got honest about it, I did want to write about personal growth, psychology, spirituality – even as the Ivy League grad and Stanford MBA voice in me thought that sounded at best unconventional and at worst, really flakey and possibly embarrassing.

I also knew that even if I could get past those worries, I’d be rather stuck, because I’d lost my writing muscles.

In the third grade, my best friend Judy and I decided we’d write a poetry book. We got together week after week and wrote poems about lemonade, jump rope, our parents, our pets. We weren’t worried about whether the poems were good or not. That had nothing to do with it.

That was the way writing began for me – imaginative, playful, giddy even. But over the years in school, I learned that there was such a thing as a good writer, or a less good writer. I got A’s on papers. People told me I was a great writer. I won some writing awards.

But then other times things didn’t go that well. Sometimes I entered a writing contest and didn’t make it past the first round. Sometimes a particular teacher didn’t like my writing and gave me a grade that stung. I didn’t have any grown ups in my life who really knew how to explain that part to me.

So I wondered, “Was I okay at this or not? Was I ‘good’? Was what I had to say something people liked, or not?”

You can guess what happened next. Once those questions take center stage, it’s the end of any creative pursuit.

I went off to college where writing workshops involved not only the teacher but all the other students marking up your work with red pen and telling you what they did and didn’t think worked about it – and well – my fragile, little artist self didn’t have the thick skin for it. She went packing.

I lost writing. I took what I call “a seven year sabbatical from writing, sponsored by my inner critic.”

But seven years into it, the frozen feeling started to get really painful. There was that inner voice that began saying to me, “Write, write.”

I said back, “No, I’m taking a coaching training program right now, and I have a full time job. I’m going to focus on those things.”

And it said, quite clearly, “Write, just write.”

I finally listened. I sat down to write.

The words didn’t come.

The white, blank Word document was just very white, and very blank.

I would write a few lines and reread them. I always hated them. They were clunky, stilted.

I struggled like that for weeks, sitting down at the laptop and writing in a slow, plodding, utterly flow-less way. Then I’d read what I’d just written and cringe.

I would imagine other people reading it – the novelist friend or my husband or my old writing seminar professors. I’d hear them saying it was cheesy. I’d hear them saying, “Um, yeah, nice try, dear.”

But one day, I had an entirely new thought. It sounded like this,

“Tara, if you are going to write, you are going to have to write for yourself. You are going to have to set aside this whole thing about what anyone else thinks.

You might even have to set aside what you think about your writing.

You are going to have to write not to produce something ‘good,’ but because you are a woman who loves writing. That’s your reason to write, because it’s you, honey. This is for you.”

That day, I could write, and the words came easier. Topics to write about came easier. That day, I wrote for me. And to this day, that is why I write. Because life gave other people a love for running or singing or working with numbers, and it planted in me a love for this.

Sometimes, playing big is simply taking back who we are and what we love.

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I would love to support you in playing big, also.  My Playing Big course is now open for registration! I hope you’ll join us for this incredible experience that can help you start playing bigger in just the ways you want to. Come learn more about it here.

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My Playing Big Journey, Part 1

About a decade ago, my career looked very different. I worked at a very large charitable foundation. I’d get up in the morning, put on business suit pants and a tweed blazer, hop on the train, and get to my desk. I’d spend the day reading grant proposals and meeting with committees to make decisions about how money would be given away.

I didn’t hate it. I liked working for a good cause. I adored my colleagues, actually, and I found it inspiring to collaborate with donors and volunteers.

And yet.

And yet, there were some other wisps of thoughts I’d hear in my head occasionally, and that I’d started to hear more and more.

What about that desire to work in the world of psychology and personal growth – the things you’ve loved your whole life?

What happened to that artist girl? The creative writing, and dancing, and doing theater?

And honestly, what about the part of you that wanted to be in the media – that grew up watching talk show hosts, thinking, “I want to be up there,” that stood at the bookstore studying the titles and the authors’ names on the spines, thinking, I want to do that?

Then there were these thoughts about all those dreams:

Yeah, but aren’t those just old, immature parts that I’ve found other ways to channel now?

Aren’t these just silly ego fantasies?

Okay, but how the heck would I even start working toward any of those? I have no idea.

And then, there was this thought – more a feeling really – that would sometimes show up:

Life doesn’t need to feel this dry, or sad. It can actually feel different. You could feel more free.

I had become the skeptic in relationship to my dreams, instead of the ally. Instead of standing at the side, arm in arm, with that little voice in me who wanted something different than the life and career she had, instead of standing next to her and saying, “Honey, tell me more. Honey, I’ve got your back,” I was saying to her, “Not that not that not that not that not that no.”

One night I was up late, sitting in that discomfort of feeling like I was not living out the life that was inside of me to live. And a phrase popped up in my head, “I’m being more loyal to my fears than to my dreams.”

That night, staring out at the trees through the window, I realized in some sense it would be very easy to do that for the next thirty years – keep advancing in my current career, enjoy some aspects of it, buy more (and nicer) tweed suits.

Except in another way it wouldn’t be easy at all. It would in fact be excrutiatingly painful, and if I took that path I would see even more of what was happening in myself – a certain kind of crankiness and short-temperedness, a sadness and resentment, and a feeling that life was somehow happening in black and white, not in full color. My life would feel safe, but deadeningly so.

I realized I really didn’t want to take that path.

What happened next? Something that looked quite confused and disorganized from the outside – a jumble of steps I took to move toward the territory I wanted to be in: I booked a weekend at a personal growth and wellness center I’d long admired – part of this new field I wanted to work within. I opened up the office closet and pulled out my old favorite books on spirituality and psychology, and started reading them again. And, for the first time, I hired a coach and began working with him to find out a little more about what that voice inside me had to say.

I noticed that my coach was very interested in that voice, and very respectful of it. He was happy to give it time to speak up, and to just listen. And so with this help I did what at the time felt like prying open a long shut, dusty box of dreams.

I got back on my own side. It almost felt like a literal move from standing across from that voice with arms crossed and a disdainful face, to a move closer to that voice, and a leaning over, quietly, to wrap an arm around her and listen intently.

I discovered something: backing myself 100% had nothing to do with knowing how I was going to get what I wanted. I could say to the dreams and longings, “Okay, I have no idea how we are going to get any of these things, but I can commit to this. I’m going to do what I can to help you get them. ”

The part of me that was stepping into the help out was the in-the-world, decision-making, action oriented Tara, a part that had an option to judge or to respect this other voice. And the part of me that was being helped was more innocent, more instinctual perhaps – a part that just longed for what she longed for.

For a long time, I just took one step at a time on a foggy path that I couldn’t see the whole of.

I signed up for a coaching training that I could do alongside my current job, not knowing where it would lead, figuring this was one way to start exploring the personal growth world while continuing to work my current job.

I started to make some small changes to how I dressed that reflected a vision I saw in my head of a freer-spirited woman. I started going to more art shows. I started to make my home more reflective of my real style.

Months later, I accepted that part of what the persistent voice inside was saying was “Write, just write.” I did not know what that meant. I did not necessarily like the message. But I started to sit at the computer and to try to write about the things that mattered to me. At that time, I hadn’t written much – other than emails or white papers – for seven years. My inner critic and fear had taken writing away from me.

Months later on Thanksgiving day in 2008, I wrote my first blog post, about gratitude, to a blog that had no readers, no subscribers, and I wept with the joy I got from writing again. I was, indeed, so grateful.

That is chapter 1 of the journey. The next part of my story is coming later this week, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, I want to invite you to come visit here, to learn about the Playing Big course that’s getting started in just a few weeks. I hope you’ll join us for this incredible experience that can help you start playing bigger in just the ways you want to.

Playing Big

Taking Inventory

I’ve noticed a pattern in my life.

It’s a pattern that occurs around the situations that don’t work out so well.

The things I commit to that end up being a waste of time. The relationships that are in stilted spots. The times I act in ways I am not proud of.

Lately I’ve noticed that most of those situations share a similar backstory. Before the problematic event or the unwanted outcome, I felt subtle feelings of discomfort.

You know when you see something out of the corner of your eye, in your peripheral vision? You see it, but just barely.

The feelings of discomfort that I’m talking about are just like that.

It’s not that they are so mild but more that I just don’t give my attention to them. When they are present, I am sort of aware of them, but just barely. I’m moving fast in other directions, swimming here and there at the surface of the water, as those subtler feelings make the currents below.

That is why – if I don’t want my life to be full of situations not working out so well – I need a space to take inner inventory, to do a scan of what’s present in me. By that I mean both a space in time – time set aside, and an emotional space – either a space of openness to myself, or the listening ears of a friend or coach or therapist. I also mean a physical space – a walk in solitude, or the blank page of a journal, or that friend’s cozy couch.  All three – a space in time, an emotional space, and a physical space – are needed.

In that space, I can become conscious of what’s happening – not just the big events occurring in my life but the things brewing, the things otherwise only in peripheral vision. This is when I can ask the ongoing questions that need asking like, How am I feeling about what’s happening on my work team? Or, what’s up with feelings about my home these days? Or, what’s present in my relationship with my partner right now?

Then I can investigate. What is that low-level stress I am feeling? Or, huh, what’s up with the late night emotional eating of the past few weeks? Or, hmmm, I am really avoiding calling so-and-so back – what’s going on there?

During my regular days there’s lots that grabs center stage: the things on the calendar, the to do list for the week, the conversations of that day. The pureeing and singing while diapering and rescuing the lasagna before it’s entirely eaten by the dog.

The things that aren’t quite right but still unfolding their not-quite-rightness? In my regular life, those things simply won’t win the competition for focus.

I need to give them time and space. I need time and space to tune into the subtle stirrings. I discover lots then, things like: “This dynamic isn’t feeling quite right, and I realize I’m bringing a real sense of scarcity to this situation – what’s that about?” Or, “I said x in this situation, but you know? I left out y, and saying y was important.” Or, “I agreed to this, but the truth that is here right now is that I really want to say no.” Or, “I’m losing motivation around this writing project. Hmm. Interesting.”

If we don’t notice what’s present, we can’t take action based on the wisdom of what our inner compass is telling us. We can’t steer well.

So today I invite you to do a check-in with yourself. Notice the subtle stirrings you are feeling in the major areas of your life. As if you are holding up a soft light, explore what’s there, with compassion for yourself.

Love,

Tara Mohr

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What I’m learning in London…

MY ESCAPE

It’s such a privilege. That’s mostly what I feel, being here in London. I keep thinking about how rare it is to get to travel abroad, as a writer, and talk about one’s work.

It takes a lot to get a family with a one-year old to London. Getting everyone free of colds at the same moment, coordinating two grown up’s work schedules, and checking off a three-page packing list. I’ve learned that traveling with kids requires not only bringing a ton of extra stuff but also bringing a whole lot of flexibility, lightheartedness and creative problem-solving.

Some snapshots of my time here…

  • Standing in a brightly lit school auditorium and talking to a room of parents, teachers, and girls at a girls’ school here, being flooded with memories of my own early experiences at school…
  • Flying up to Edinburgh, Scotland, to speak at the Inspiring Women conference and falling in love with the beauty of the place. Watching the castle and steeples and wind from the hotel ballroom windows. Being moved to tears by the stories of the women entrepreneurs who spoke there…
  • Listening to three young people – in their early twenties – talk politics in the most insightful and witty way for a five hour train ride, and getting quite worried about our education system here in the US…
  • Going to the Women of the World Festival, and talking to the sweetest local chocolatier before heading into my session. Participating in a hilarious and delightful panel about the self-help genre, and then giving a talk to about 300 women about Playing Big. The festival was so woman and mama friendly – there were about half a dozen babies in my session, gurgling and breastfeeding throughout. Loved seeing how a conference could be so inclusive.

I’ve also been working on developing the Playing Big Facilitators Training while I’m here, and I’m so excited about it.

I have a few more events to do in the UK, and then I’ll be making my way home. I think I could stay much longer here…

Whenever I write a blog post, I write with a question in mind: how can this be of service to the reader? What’s the takeaway, the lesson, the point?

So what do I want to say about this trip in that vein? What comes to mind is how I couldn’t have imagined it. And I don’t exactly mean because it’s more wonderful than I could have imagined, but just that I never could have imagined the specifics of it. I couldn’t have imagined the personalities I’ve met – whether the train conductor or the people from my publisher here or the student journalist I spoke with yesterday. I couldn’t have imagined anything like what this street we are staying on looks like. I couldn’t have imagined this particular book, what ideas it would contain. I couldn’t have imagined any of it.

And of course, I could never have imagined the people that surround me now in my life who weren’t a part of it a few years ago – most remarkably the little red-headed boy that is so full of spirit and whose distinctiveness just keeps carving its way more deeply into my heart.

This is one of the mysteries we live with every day and so always forget to be in awe of. That life brings us experiences and relationships in wild specificity and unpredictability. Whatever is happening in your life right now, it is not something you could have imagined. That is something to be made speechless over, I think.

Sending love from London,
Tara

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If you missed my last note about it, click HERE to learn more about my new Playing Big Facilitators Training for Coaches, Therapists, Leadership Development professionals and other practitioners who want to integrate the Playing Big model into their work.

the change in perspective that helps me

What is my soul here to learn-

“What does it mean to you to live a good life?”

Earlier this year, Jonathan Fields posed that question to me. It’s the very last question he asks his guests on his Good Life Project podcast.

I’d forgotten entirely that he would be asking me that question, and I hadn’t given any thought to what my answer would be. So in the moment he asked it, I had to stop and consider, “Hmm, what do I think makes “a good life”?

When I repeated the question back to myself, I heard an answer, fully formed, right away.

But I didn’t want to say it. I knew that the words I’d just heard in my mind weren’t very palatable or understandable.

I wanted my answer to be something like, “A life of loving and being loved,” or “A life of serving others while being true to oneself” — a definition everyone could agree upon and admire, something just mainstream enough yet just countercultural enough to be cool.

I considered giving one of those substitute replies, but of course, I did not.

I said what was in my head.

“A good life is a life in which your soul learns what it came here to learn.”

I know. It’s a bit opaque. It is disturbingly free of words like love or freedom or abundance or fulfillment or pleasure or connection. That’s what’s troubling about it, and what’s radical about it.

A good life is a life in which your soul learns what it came here to learn.

That is the deepest “good life” truth for me; that the real good life goes beyond the personality’s experience of ease and difficulty, wins and losses.

What I want to propose to you today is that there are two rooms in the house of your life, and in each of them a different play goes on.

In one room, there is the play of your ego. In this play there are things you hope for and want, and you celebrate when you get them or worry or complain or try harder when you don’t. There are events you deem positive and events you deem negative, often according to a rather narrow story of what’s supposed to happen, or our collective norms around what good and bad events of life are.

In the other room, it is as if a different set of characters are experiencing the same drama. They experience the same plot events of your life, but these entities experience it through the lens of the soul. In that room, it’s not about things being positive or negative. It’s not about wins or losses. It’s about the lessons being learned. It’s about the core questions being wrestled with. It’s about the polarities (self/other, order/chaos, active/receptive), being danced between, the balancing points between them being sought.

An example from my own life. A few weeks ago, I learned that, for some unpredictable logistical reasons, my carefully crafted childcare plan for the coming months was not going to work out. I was upset. I had my vision of what was supposed to be. I had my plan, people! And of course I had my beliefs about why the plan, as it was, was very important for myself and my family.

From my ego’s perspective, I had a problem.

A few days into worrying and complaining and holding this as a problem, I asked myself, “What if I look at this from the soul perspective?”

The ego experience of worry and “I don’t like this!” didn’t go away, but I could see a second view of the situation: that this particular problem was really forcing me deeper into questions of my mother vs. writer identity, of self vs. other, of consistency vs. change – questions my soul was already grappling with and is clearly here to grapple with this lifetime.

Remarkably, when I considered each other person involved in the situation, I could see how it, for them too, it was providing a kind of intensive curriculum in just the core issues I already knew them to be grappling with in this life time.

And when I think of the greatest tragedy in my life – a painful, ongoing issue  – from the ego perspective, I’m filled with frustration and pain. When I think about it from the soul perspective, I feel all that it is teaching me about compassion, acceptance and the costs of fear.

When we touch into the soul-room of the house and see the drama being played out there, the oddest thing happens.

We experience the difficult in our lives without the feelings of difficulty, even if just for a moment.

There is a gorgeous neutrality that the soul offers, instead of our comfort and discomfort.  That doesn’t make it all easy and smooth. The soul’s territory is one of wrestling, of layering and layering on experience to turn it into wisdom. That is gritty, rough, dense work.

But asking ourselves to see any situation from the soul’s perspective takes us out of the shallow story of life as a series of triumphs and misfortunes. It takes us into the richly dimensioned helix of experience, through which life teaches us the most important lessons our soul is here to learn.

You know you’ve tapped into the soul perspective when:

  • you see the connection between the experience and the big questions you have been grappling with for long time
  • you see the learning and growth purpose of the experience
  • you feel some distance on the pain and pleasure the experience is bringing you
  • you feel a sense of mystery, larger picture, and even the sense of being loved through the experience – even if it’s difficult

How to see the experience from the soul perspective? Start by asking the question, “What does this situation look like from the soul perspective?” or “What does this have to do with what my soul is here to learn?” See what comes.

Click to tweet, “Shift from ego perspective to soul perspective.”

Love,

Tara