Tara Sophia Mohr | Playing Big

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

Drawing

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There’s a book I read to my son almost everyday these days – The Construction Crew.

Okay, let me be more honest: most days I read it to him at least five times. If he sees the book lying somewhere in the room, he is excited to read it, right that moment. And then to read it again.

My son has a lot of books about trucks, but this one has long been his favorite. It’s something about the art.

On the last page of the book is a short dedication from the illustrator, Carrie Eko-Burgess.

It says, “For my father, Charles Eko, who told me when I was little to quit tracing and start drawing.”

The first time I read that, in a 5:30 am up-with-the-little-one haze, my heart exploded a little.

“For my father, who told me when I was little, to quit tracing and start drawing.” 

What a gift to receive that message from a parent.

What a gift we give when we remind someone that they are ready, and they are enough, to quit tracing, and start drawing.

Where in your life are you tracing, when really, something is within you that wants to draw?

And where are we as a society still tracing something – some older picture that is supposed to show us the right way to do things – when in fact, it’s time to draw something new?

Love to you,

Tara

A little postscript. When I wrote to Carrie to get her permission to use the book cover image in this post, she told me how vividly she can still remember the moment when her father said this to her. She told me movingly, that her dad is even pictured in the book, a member of the construction crew. And oddly enough, we also discovered, that the very day she and I had been corresponding, she and my son had serendipitously crossed paths. Of all the places in the world, that day, they both were walking around the very same museum in San Francisco.

 

Growing up

These days I’ve been thinking a lot about how different life was for many of my friends and me, say, five years ago. Even if we’d grown up with difficult things, most of us hadn’t yet seen our adult life be rearranged by them.

Now, when I look at my circle of women?

I see women in the trenches. One is on a plane right now to say goodbye to a dying friend. Another is fighting hard for funding for needed services for her child. Another is finalizing divorce papers. Another working hard to pay the bills for her parents. Another is trying–again–to get her sister to rehab.

Yes, there is a lot of joy and love and so many blessings in each of our lives too. But it feels like someone is whispering in my ear: Tara, what you used to think of difficult crises, extreme circumstances, are in fact, entirely ordinary parts of adulthood. This incarnation is not for the faint of heart.

If any of our hardships take us away from joy – which I’m not sure they do – I know this: they also bring us closer to love.

When I look around my circle now, I see women whose faces have been made soft by tears and tiredness and trying to change things they had to eventually realize they could not change.  Because of all of that, you can see in their faces that they are ready to listen, and empathize, and love. And they do. We are far better to each other because of what we’ve all been through. 

Life carves us into warriors, and life kneads us into softness.

Sending love to you today. With gratitude,

Tara

Becoming More Honest

Becoming More Honest

These days I pray a lot for this: to be more honest. At first I was praying for courage, but then I realized I wanted courage in order to more honest; honesty was the heart of the matter.

It’s not so much that I’m lying. I’m not. (I don’t think I have ever lied to you, even those who have read all 500 posts here.)

But as we all know, there is a difference between lying and just not quite being brave enough to tell the whole truth. For me, the truth I often don’t tell is what I really think about topics like these: love, war, violence, peace, forgiveness, us.

I get afraid my ideas are too radical. I get afraid everyone will call me naive, like they did when I was a kid, when I said things like war was insane.

With my prayer for honesty, I’ve started wondering … what does it actually take, inside of us, to enable us to be honest?

If honesty is the fruit, what is the seed?

Courage is a part of it, yes. That’s what helps us say what we have to say.

But lately I’ve realized there is a second part that’s just as important (if not more important) in enabling honesty, at least for me.

I need time, time spent finding out what it is that I have to say.

A lot of the time, I don’t know what the honest thing is for me. I don’t know what’s real deal, heart-of-the-matter truth for me. I don’t have access to it at first.

I need time to figure out what I really feel. And not just, “leave me alone to sleep on it” time, but time used in a particular way.

An example. The other day my husband and I were talking about our routine – how we design our daily lives now that we are parents. We both wanted to make some important changes to the way things work now, but different changes, and we’d been at an impasse around creating a plan. In this particular conversation, we talked and talked about our respective points of view. We weren’t getting anywhere.

Then, about 50 minutes in, something remarkable happened. I stumbled on what I really felt about the situation. The words came out, and then the tears. We suddenly both saw what the real issue was, what the real impasse was. It had to do with some barely conscious beliefs I hold about what a “good mother” does.

The amount of time we’d set aside for the conversation was coming to an end, but we both recognized the conversation had really just begun.

That’s not unusual for me, that it might take me quite a while of talking with a friend or loved one about an issue before I stumble upon my real honest opinion or thought or feeling or frustration or hope or desire about it.

One of the things that is rather amusing about this is that in all the blabbing, I’m usually not aware that I haven’t hit upon my truth yet. I think I’m talking all about how I think and feel about the situation, and it’s only when I get to the real truth, I realize all that other stuff wasn’t quite right, or just wasn’t the pertinent part.

You know those times when you are describing how you feel about something but it all feels kinda constrained and clunky and cerebral? It’s such a contrast when we stumble upon and speak our truth. Then, often, there are tears, feelings of vulnerability, but also of sensations of release, freedom. And there is startling clarity.

Why does this matter? And not just for navel-gazing, but for every important conversation we have – individually and collectively – whether about our personal lives or societal and political matters? Because it’s not until we each find our own truths that we can move through them, and it’s not until we speak those truths that we can have any kind of real conversation with others. Everything about the quality of our dialogue depends on our ability to access what is the real deal truth for us. Whether it’s a truth of feeling guilty, or afraid, or a truth of not knowing what to do. Whether it’s the truth of very old pain, or of new pain. Whether it’s a truth of feeling powerless, or angry.

Not everyone uses talking to get to their truth. You might paint your way to it over a few hours in the studio, or hike your way to it, or compose a song to find it. Journaling is another well-worn path there. But whatever your method, remember that we all need time and space, a lot of the time, to get to what is true to us, and we need to be sensitive enough as we move through that time and space to feel the different sensations of the non-truths and the truth.

I am not sure I can think of a better reason to slow down, then to give yourself the time and space to unpeel and dive your way to your truth. Because your truth is your light, your home, and your compass, too. And your truth is a gift to me, too; it will always reveal the light.

Love,

Tara

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reading the news

A word about this post. This is a post about how I’ve been reading the news these past few weeks. I wrote it and published it here before I’d read yesterday’s news about the Charleston shooting. It feels important to me to clarify that this essay wasn’t written about the horrific tragedy that took place this week. I have some other words, and tears, and prayers, for that. And for now, this.

***

“You didn’t give me any warning!” my friend exclaimed to me.

“You’re right.” I replied. “I didn’t. Sorry.”

I had sent her something I’d read in the news – a moving essay by a woman who was writing about a tragedy in her life. I texted my friend the link and said, “You must read this.” And so she did.

Then she spent the afternoon crying about it.

My friend had a good point- I hadn’t told her to read when she could be moved to tears.

I had cried when I read it too.

I also noticed something when I read it. Although it was written by stranger, someone I don’t know at all, by the time I’d finished reading, I felt like I did know her. In fact I felt like I cared about her so much it was almost as if this woman suddenly felt like a sister, or a friend, or a daughter – even though I’ve never met her and in fact don’t know her at all.

For the next few days, when I’d see the headlines about her pop up in the news again, I’d feel that way – that this was, in some way, a friend or sister being talked about.

And then I realized this: it was only because she had particular gifts – that she was a great communicator with the ability and platform to powerfully tell her story – that I had come to feel that sense of sisterhood to her. But she wasn’t my sister any more than any other woman in the news, or any other woman on the planet. And she wasn’t any more my sister than any man on the planet was my brother. She’d just had the ability to tell the story in a way that made me feel that sisterhood.

I realized (and yes, this is my conviction, certainly not shared by all) that I believe every person on the planet has their true tale of their trying and pain and fear and loss and goodness that would invoke in me that very same feeling of, This person, I feel for. This person I love. 

Sure, many of those people can’t articulate the story of their lives honestly enough and in touch with their own goodness enough to invoke that compassion in me, or in their other readers. In fact most of us can’t articulate our stories that way. We are too defended and too cut off from our own basic goodness, our bare and burning desire to love and be loved. But I believe beneath the layers, that story – the story of our deep goodness and trying and wounding – is there in all of us.

So that day, thinking on all this, I decided I would try to read the news differently for a while. I decided I would try to read any news story about an individual as if that individual was my brother, or my sister, or maybe a dear dear friend.

I don’t mean a metaphoric sister or brother, a spiritual sister or brother. I mean I would read as if so-and-so in the headlines was my actual sister, now being covered in the news. That so and so, my brother, had been the victim. That so and so, my sister, had been convicted of that violent crime.

I would digest the words with that lens. I would feel the story through that lens.

I am reading this way when I read the stories of criminals, survivors of abuse, presidential candidates, celebrities, dictators– everyone. This is my sister who did this… This is my brother who this happened to…

Reading as if each person is someone I know and love – my brother, my sister – I read with a softer heart. I get to feel how much I want the best for each person, for all of us. It makes it much harder to say that anyone is not like me, separate from me, other than me. It also means, because I want to protect my brothers and sisters, that I read with razor sharp eyes and mama bear protective moves, discerning between what kind of journalism is in service of anything whatsoever and what is just – frankly – gossip, shaming, fluff, othering.

Mostly, it means that I read these stories, to the best of my ability, with an attitude of love, which is what I want.

This is my sister. This is my brother. All of them.

Now how do I feel? Now what do I see?

Love,

Tara

Click to tweet: Try this experiment. Read the news as if each person you read about was your brother or your sister. 

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Do You Know This About Yourself?

Laura Vanderkam

Here’s my question for you today: how much do you know, really know, about how you spend your time?

Do you know how much time you spend each day on social media?

On chatting with loved ones?

On the inevitable transitions between activities we rarely account for in our calendars but that take up real time each day?

Today, I’m so excited to share with you some highlights from my recent conversation with Laura Vanderkam. She is the author of a new book, I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.

Over the years, I’ve read countless front page articles about women opting out of their careers because, in a nutshell, they find they just can’t combine work and family. That’s the typical media story, but I know very well from the data that it’s not the story most women are living. Most women are combining both and want to keep doing so.

Journalist and time management expert, Laura Vanderkam, collected some fascinating data for this new book. She had over 100 women – all mothers who are raising children while working in big jobs – closely track how they spent their time for a week – half hour increment by half hour increment. Her research yielded some surprising and important findings that tell a story contrary to the typical gloom and doom, “moms are opting out” narrative.

Check out my recent conversation with Laura below, including her own time management tips. And be sure to check out the super helpful worksheets linked at the end, and do your own time diary experiment!

Tara: Laura, tell us what motivated you to write this book.

Laura: Much like you, I was seeing so many stories in the popular culture about the whole “I don’t know how she does it” image of mothers with big careers. In that story, as a working mom you’re either distressing the pies to make them look homemade for the bake sale, or you’re missing soccer games because of that late flight – what I tend to call this recitation of dark moments.

The conclusion is that life is crazy. When I looked at my own life and looked at those of many of my friends and people I know, I said, “There are crazy moments to be sure, but they are not all crazy.”

Because I write about time management, I’ve looked at the lives of women with big jobs and families, and their lives didn’t look that crazy either. I said, “That is not something I am seeing in the conversation.”

When the lion’s share of the conversation points one way, it scares women into thinking that if they do wish to pursue their professional ambitions and they have a desire for a family as well, they will just be one harried mess for the next 18 years. I don’t think that’s the case.

Tara: I love that you actually collected data here. Tell us about the research that you did for this book.

Laura: I had women keep track of their time in time logs, writing down what they were doing: when they worked, when they slept, when they did housework, when they exercised, read – all these things. I looked at 1,001 days in the lives of women who have big jobs and also had kids at home.

I knew that if I had data, if I showed that most women with big jobs were not working excessive work weeks, if I showed that most women with big jobs and families were getting an adequate amount of sleep and had time for leisure, I thought that that would add a lot to the conversation.

Tara: And you really did discover that! What were some of your surprising findings?

Laura: We assume that people who have big jobs must work around the clock. We also assume that women with big jobs and families are chronically sleep-deprived. I found that wasn’t the case. On average, women in my study worked a little bit north of 40 hours a week, but it wasn’t that much north of 40 hours a week. They slept 54 hours per week on average, which is the equivalent of about 7 hours and 43 minutes per day. They are not working around the clock, and they are sleeping enough to have a good life.

Tara: What did you find about leisure and their opportunity, whether in spending time with friends or pursuing creative hobbies?

Laura: Certainly some women had more than others. I found a rather strong correlation between having younger kids and having less leisure, which makes sense if you think about it. The time that you’d be able to read or exercise is consumed with some of the physical care of your young children. Having kids under the age of two definitely corresponded with having less leisure time.

Tara: You have four kids, including one that’s just a few months old. You are living this! What do you notice makes life manageable for you, and what do you notice brings the most chaos and stress for you?

Laura: I certainly try to look at my weeks ahead of time, and I try to anticipate where there will be trouble spots. Often, this is just about trying to create enough margin in my life that when things take longer than they should, when things are not going as I imagine they would, I can still move forward on other priorities.

I try to not pack things too tightly. I was reading to my son’s second grade class today to celebrate his eighth birthday. I made sure that time was enough before our talk that I wouldn’t be rushed. If I’m rushed, then something is going to wind up happening that’s stressful, and I don’t like that. I don’t like having those stressful moments in my life.

Partly that’s about figuring what should be in my life and what should not be in my life. If you say yes to everything, then it’s not going to work. Then you can’t leave space in your life. If you do leave space in your life, you can often find that a lot still fits.

Tara: That’s pretty fascinating because it seems like a really simple thing: leave buffer. But if you think about it, what’s a simpler way to create a feeling of spaciousness with your time than actually having that?

Your own time diary is in the book. You have a very busy schedule, but I can imagine how if each of those appointments in the day has a lot of buffer in, then that changes the feeling of how you’re moving through it.

Walk us through what that looks like when you’re taking time to look at your week in advance and look for trouble spots. Do you have a set time you do that or a set way that you do that? How do you approach that?

Laura: I tend to do my planning for the next week on Thursday and Friday. Friday I plan the next week. Thursday I try to make sure that the weekend is planned for whatever needs to get accomplished on the weekend. I want to usually have a good sense of that by Thursday, so I can do anything I need to on Friday to prepare for that.

By planning this ahead of time, then I can have a more relaxed, expansive view of what time is available. Once you’re in time, it’s hard to spend it well because you have stuff coming at you. It’s hard to make decisions necessarily right in the moment that are focused on your long-term goals.

By looking on Friday at what I hope to do in the next week – I’m looking at my calendar, I see what’s already in there – and then I say, “What else would I like to accomplish in my career? What would I like to build in, in terms of family priorities? What would I like to accomplish, in terms of my own personal priorities?” If I want to run three times next week, I need to write that in. When is that going to happen? If I want to visit the library because I have some new books I’d like to get, that needs to go in there, too.

By having that space to think about it, I can think about it. It’s highly unlikely to occur to me to go to the library if I suddenly have 45 minutes free on Tuesday afternoon. It just won’t occur to me. Whereas, if I know it’s a priority for the week, it will occur to me during that open space, or I will have already blocked it in for some other bit of time.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Want to become more conscious about how you are spending your time? Download Laura’s handy time diary worksheets HERE.

IKnowHowSheDoesIt

 

And you can order her new book HERE!