Tara Sophia Mohr | Playing Big

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

I still do this. Do you?

I still do this. Do you?

You know that remarkable moment when you recognize yourself – your beliefs, your patterns, your life experience – in something you are reading?

A while back, I was reading about a study on financial literacy around the world.

Here’s what it found:

When researchers gave women and men a short quiz that tested their financial literacy, men did better. Not too shocking, right? Men are exposed to more informal financial education, and they are encouraged to learn about investing and money management. Women often are not.

But there was another part of the research findings that practically knocked me out of my chair.

“When we took away the ‘do not know’ option [from the multiple choice financial tests] women were no less likely to choose the wrong answer. So if forced to pick an answer, women seem to know as much as men,” Professor Annamaria Lusardi, one of the principal researchers, reported.

In other words, the gender gap in the test scores was a result of women choosing “I don’t know” more often than men. When that option was taken away, they performed just as well as their male counterparts.

They knew as much as the men, but they were less likely to trust what they knew. They were less likely to make a guess based on their leanings, their partial knowledge, or their hunches.

That was even true on this test, when (unlike in life) there was absolutely no penalty for making the wrong choice…no risk involved. Yet many women found it more comfortable to choose “I don’t know” than to venture a guess.

Sound familiar?

This is where I recognized myself, and so many women I know. We say, “I don’t know” when we do know. We say “I don’t know” when our knowledge may be partial, but it’s enough to point us in the right direction.

The reasons we do this, of course, are not that we are crazy or deficient in some way, or just not confident enough. The reasons have to do with what we’ve been taught, and what we’ve learned through our life experience.

Boys are taught to cover up anything that could be perceived as weakness or vulnerability; they start getting trained early on to hide uncertainty of all kinds.

At worst, this produces B.S. artists and unwise decisions. At best, it helps competent people lean into what they do know and move forward wisely in the face of uncertainty.

Girls, by contrast, are often socially validated for expressing confusion and uncertainty and turning outward for help and answers. Just think about the size of the “advice to women” industry compared to that of men.

Girls and women are also more likely to be penalized for being wrong. Bias – in women and men – causes women’s mistakes to be seen as more significant indicators of our capabilities than they are in a man. We learn quickly we may be judged harshly for being wrong, and so we become more conservative in speaking up if we aren’t sure about something we’re saying.


But for me, the core reason I choose “I don’t know” is that deeply felt sense that somehow, I am an intruder. I’m a visitor from a foreign land, in professional and intellectual life.

This is the well-documented “imposter syndrome” that women – especially high-achieving women – almost universally feel.

That feeling in us is not born of our individual life experiences, but of our strange and wondrous historical moment. Women are now being permitted to step into professional roles and leadership that we have never seen women take on before – roles that for several thousand years prior, society told us we were entirely unsuited for.

Nothing in our bodies, minds or hearts looks at the image of ourselves leading and says, “Oh yeah, of course, that’s for me. Of course, that’s what I’m meant to be. Of course, I’ll do fine.”

Yet you can run this experiment: What happens if you remove the “do not know” option for a while, just as the researchers removed it from their quiz? What if you push a little harder to see what answer you’d lean into if you had to just pick one?

Bottom line?

You know more than you think you do. And we need you to share it.

Join Me This Fall…

The next session of my Playing Big Course for women is starting soon!

This is my in-depth personal and professional growth class for any woman who is feeling the call to make a greater impact and experience more fulfillment in her life and work. We cover everything you need to play bigger – including working with self-doubt and fear, unhooking from praise and criticism, communication and negotiation skills, and clarifying your calling.

If you are interested in receiving details about the course and getting access to our early bird discount, sign up for our Playing Big Early Information list here.

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Are you feeling the call to play bigger?

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Over the years, I’ve learned this: there comes a time in our lives when the life we’ve been living doesn’t quite fit anymore.

What felt fine before starts to feel constraining, or dull, or gray. We slowly come to realize that one chapter of our lives is ending – or has ended – and it’s going to be up to us to create the next chapter, or to discern what path is calling us.

Although these moments can be uncomfortable, they are incredible opportunities. That part of you that burns for more fulfillment, more authenticity, more impact, and an intensified desire to do what holds meaning for you? In these moments, that part is speaking louder, and you have the opportunity to listen.

If it’s one of those times for you, I want to invite you to join me for the upcoming Playing Big Course and sign up for our Early Information list. This is my pioneering class for women who want to play bigger in their work and in their lives. It happens online and by phone, so you can attend from anywhere around the world.

We are now entering our sixth year of making a global impact in teaching women in business, the social sector, entrepreneurship, academia and the arts to play much bigger.

I’m always honored by what people have to say about their experiences in the course. Here are just a few examples:

I have gained so much more out of Playing Big than I ever expected. I came in hoping that Playing Big would help me tap into my calling and provide some motivation and tools to pursue it. I did not expect the transformational power of this series. Tara’s tools and exercises get at the heart of playing bigger in a way that is sustainable and that I can keep going back to. I feel that I own my voice more confidently, that I’ve accessed the wisest part of myself, and that I’m showing up more authentically throughout my life. I have strongly recommended this course to all of my friends.” – Betty Chen, Director of Family Engagement at Summit Public Schools

“After attending the Playing Big course, I am much better at communicating from a place of strength. I mentor several colleagues. So often now, concepts we discussed in Playing Big jump out when I’m coaching these ladies. I’m glad I can share some ideas to help them play bigger in their careers. I feel much better about my abilities and contribution in the world. But most of all, I am happier about what I am doing.” – Meg, Finance Executive

I now have a vision that propels me forward every day. I know that my voice is needed and that I have a duty to play big in this life, to heal the world in the way I know best, no matter what my inner critic voices are telling me.” – Amanda Vella, Yoga Teacher and Writer

Our next session starts in late September.

If you are interested in receiving details about the course, and having access to our early bird discount, sign up for our Playing Big Early Information list here.

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With love & gratitude,

Tara Mohr

The Playing Big Course is Coming!


Good morning,

I’m thrilled to share with you that the next session of my Playing Big course is coming up!

This is my course for any woman who wants to play bigger in her life and work.

It’s for you if you know you have a message you want to share, a creation you want to bring forward, or a higher level of impact you want to make and … you know you’d really benefit from some support and structure to help you get there.

In this course, you’ll learn the skills and tools that have helped thousands of women play much bigger:

how to determine what playing big looks like for you, in this particular season of your life

how to manage the self-doubt and fear that comes up for all of us as we play bigger

how to unhook from praise and criticism so you can do your best and most high-impact work

how to reliably access your own inner wisdom and discern the right answers for yourself

how to communicate with power and grace

how to negotiate more comfortably and effectively (and recognizing that you are negotiating every day!)

how to approach concerns of not being qualified, expert enough, or “ready” to do what you long to do

how to play big while caregiving

and … much more.

This is an online and webinar-based training, so you can attend from anywhere in the world, and in a way that works with your schedule. I am live with the group every week, so there is lots of time for discussion, Q&A and coaching.

The Playing Big Intensive

This 2016 Fall session is also a special one. Every few years, I offer a Playing Big Intensive session. It is three months long, and we cover all the same material as the regular course, but at a more intensive pace. If you know you like to dive in deep and learn in intensive format, this is a great fit for you. Or if you simply know you really want to get going with your Playing Big this Fall, this is a great fit for you. You will be able to download all the course materials so you have life-long access.

The Playing Big model has been featured in venues ranging from The New York Times to The Today Show and has brought about powerful life and career changes for thousands of women around the world.

Get On The List!

Here’s what to do next. If you would like to know more details about the course and have access to our early bird discount, sign up here.

You’ll be added to our special list for course information, and next week, you’ll start receiving great info from me about what we’ll cover and how to discern if its the right fit for you.

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With love,


On Political Fear, Part II

On Political Fear, Part 2

What is your preferred mode of responding to what’s happening in the U.S. election?

Talking with friends with like-minded views?
Turning away from the horrible headlines and focusing on your family?
Volunteering or using your network to try to rally votes for your candidate?

When humans perceive a threat, we feel fear. Then almost immediately, our bodies go into a fear response. Although fight/flight is the most well-known and well-studied of human fear responses, neuroscience research has in fact found there are six classic human (and mammalian) fear responses:

1. Fight: try to defeat the danger
2. Flight: try to escape
3. Tend: focus on caring for offspring
4. Befriend: reach out to the social group for support and mutual protection
5. Freeze: play dead until the threat has passed, so you won’t be targeted
6. Appease: try to placate or please the predator

Right now, across the political spectrum, most of us are showing up in the world with our responses to our fear.

We see many people in “fight” mode – using words, dollars, and a host of other strategies to defeat the threat they perceive.

We see some people in “flight” mode, avoiding the news or imagining moving to Canada.

We see some people doing “freeze,” like elected officials laying low and quiet until the election cycle ends.

We see some people going in “tend” mode: “I just can’t deal with how horrible this situation is, and I need to focus on my kids right now anyway.”

And many of us find comfort in “befriend” mode, commiserating with like-minded people on Facebook for hours on end, or venting with friends about the latest appalling news.

Fear vs. The Fear Response

These are all ways of spending time in our responses to fear. None of them are bad. What can be problematic about them is that they are often automatic and wholly unconscious.

After all, our hard-wired responses to fear (fight, flight, tend, befriend, freeze or appease) come from the oldest, reptilian part of our brains. Our fear response is designed to be instinctual and immediate because way back when, if a predator suddenly visited, we needed to respond, with action, in that instant. No time for thinking.

So today, if we go with our instincts, our responses to a threat – a political, emotional, or physical threat – will generally come in the absence of any consideration, before there is even a moment for thought. Think reflex, think kneejerk response.

This is why in the fields of mindfulness, personal growth and psychology, we talk so much about being in touch with how we are feeling and slowing down to investigate it and process it, before taking action. That is why we advocate for the importance of spending time in the feeling itself rather than only responding to it. We know about the incredible opportunity presented by that moment – as Vicktor Frankl put it, “between the stimulus and response.”

It’s there that we can process our feelings in a healthy way and make wise choices about what to do next.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” is often understood to be a criticism of fear.

But the words that immediately followed suggest otherwise. Here’s what he in fact said to Americans, as they faced the Great Depression in 1932:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

He is speaking about one kind of fear: fear that hasn’t been named, reasoned through, or understood. And the real threat, he says, is retreat – the way fear can send us into a flight response if we don’t bring consciousness to it.

Maybe we leave out the second part of the quote so often because Americans like the fantasy of “No Fear” more than we like – or even understand – the act of naming fear or reasoning through fear.

It’s our unconsidered responses to fear that do harm. And of course, this is true not just for political fear, but for any fear you feel in your life – the fears that are intelligible and especially those you feel that you cannot yet describe or name.

Let this be your practice for today. Use writing, talking it out, or meditation to do it. Sit with the fear you feel around our political, social, civic situation right now. Investigate it: what is the core, underlying fear? Let it take you to what you most cherish. Breathe into the fear. And then inquire, what truly wise action can I take to respond?

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On Political Fear

On Political Fear, Part-1

Since March, I’ve only slept through the night a few times.

The reason I’m up at 2 or 3 am is the election. Which is to say, the reason I’m up is: I’m afraid.

I feel sheepish telling you that, like it’s risky. “Aren’t I supposed to be brave and strong?” the thought goes. Or, “Wouldn’t it better serve people to only show the strong part, not the afraid part?” another thought says.

But there’s another part of me that knows the first thing to tell you, as I start to write to you more about this upcoming election, is this: I’m scared.

I’m the daughter of a refugee and Holocaust survivor. I grew up surrounded by the stories of how fast a civilized society unraveled. I’m not naive about the possibilities.

Sure, my fear has lessened a bit in the past few weeks, as more people speak out and the polls move in a direction that comforts me. But I know that a lot can happen in 90 days, and a lot can happen on a single election day, especially regarding turnout. I’m not sleeping through the night yet.

I’ve somehow absorbed the very American idea that heroic equals hopeful and that expressing fear is weak and morally questionable – that’s not what good, strong people do.

I’m not alone in this. No one I know has mentioned to me that they’re also awake in the middle of the night. But when I tell them I’m up, and why, a number of my friends have said right away, “Me, too. Can’t sleep. I’m so scared about what’s happening.”

And did you notice how at the Democratic convention, it was acceptable for the leaders at the podium to talk about the grave danger of an uninformed, vindictive, emotionally out of control candidate? But nobody talked about feeling afraid of that danger.

Look in the Op-Ed pages of most of the major newspapers and you’ll find the same – impassioned, articulate pieces about the risks of a Trump presidency. But nobody talks about being afraid of it. That’s crossing an American taboo.

We don’t want to show fear, perhaps because we still see leadership as a patriarchal act – in the most literal way – and just like a family patriarch would likely hide his fear from his young children, our leaders think they should hide theirs.

I can’t help but feel how it also has something to do with the stereotypes: the brave male hero showing no fear, the frightened female waiting to be rescued. Most of our cultural stories tell us that to express fear is to be womanly, and to be womanly is not leader-ly.

I feel just the opposite – that right now, in the context of this election, feeling afraid and talking about it is for the good. I am afraid because I am awake to what I’m seeing. I’m afraid because the mother spirit in me is fierce, and she is always alert to the dangers on the horizon that threaten those she loves. So I’m going to do something very taboo: I’m going to be proudly afraid.

Fear Takes Us To What We Love

In True Refuge, psychologist Tara Brach writes about her experience slowing down to inquire into and feel her political fear. She writes,

In the weeks before the [Iraq] invasion, I read the newspapers with an increasing sense of agitation… So I decided to start a newspaper meditation… Almost every day, as I’d open to anger and feel its full force, it would unfold into fear—for our world. As I stayed in direct contact with the fear, it would unfold into grief—for all the suffering and loss. And the grief would unfold into caring about all those beings who were bound to suffer from our warlike actions….

Sitting with the feelings that arose in my newspaper meditation left me raw and tender. It reminded me that under my anger and fear was caring about life. And it motivated me to act, not from an anger that focused on an enemy, but from caring.”

Like Tara Brach, I know I can’t feel my fear for long before I start talking, tenderly, about what I hold dear: Peace and safety for all human beings. Leaders who know how to de-escalate. People who believe we are all children of the divine, worthy of kindness, compassion and opportunity.

We can only use fear in this positive way if we understand how to make an important shift from living in our fear response – usually fight or flight – to pausing and feeling what comes before that response, and what lies underneath it: the fear itself. Our fear response will often take us into defensiveness, attack, denial, or avoidance. Leaning into the fear itself – feeling it, speaking about it, investigating it – is something very different.

Let’s Start Here

If we paused right now and felt our fear, looking right into one another’s eyes as we did, that would take us all to the place of caring. It would get us talking about, and feeling, what we collectively cherish. It would give rise to a deeper motivation and passion to protect what we love.

So let’s start with a damn good fear party. I don’t know exactly what a damn good fear party is because I’ve never held or been to one before, but I have an inkling that it has to do with pausing to feel our fear – together – long enough for it to take us to a tearful conversation about what we love and want to protect. Then that leads to passion, creative solutions, and the opportunity for a wise – not kneejerk – response.

Can’t our fear – healthy, conscious, fierce mother spirit fear – lead us into fiery passion for what we cherish? Can’t it give us energy and commitment to take wise action?

I think it can.

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