Tara Sophia Mohr | Playing Big

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

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.



And you can order her new book HERE!

On Fearlessness

Today I want to talk with you about the idea – the ideal, really – of fearlessness.

Is fearlessness possible? And if it’s not possible, should we at least strive to be more fearless in our lives or work?

Right now, in my field, lots of people use the term: Fearless Living, Fearless You, Your Fearless Year, and so on.

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve felt uncomfortable with these titles, because I believe fear is part of us, and a part of life. I’ve always thought the goal shouldn’t be fearlessness, but rather, skillfully responding to fear when it arises.

But then something happened to me that made me think about fearlessness quite differently.

I was offered an amazing creative and professional opportunity, something I’d always dreamed of. It was high stakes, highly visible–the kind of thing you’d think would have evoked fears of failing, or screwing it up somehow.

When I got the email about it, I was stunned, but I was not at all afraid. When I was planning for the first phone call about it, I was not at all afraid. As each stage of the process proceeded, I kept looking for the normal fears of failure or of making a mistake that I would have expected to be there, but not finding them. I had a happy hum in my heart about the whole thing, and a kind of thrilled excitement, but no fear.

I was honestly surprised by that, especially because over the past several months I’ve felt nervous and insecure about much less significant professional opportunities.

Why was this one different, I wondered.

I realized: with this opportunity, I felt a deep sense of home, of “this is just where I’m meant to be.” This opportunity was truly aligned with where my soul wanted to go and who she felt she already was. I knew I had nothing to prove.

I also felt this opportunity so sacred enough to my soul, so important to my personal journey, that I wanted to approach it with total authenticity and joy – none of the toxic calculating that fear might lead me into.

And that got me thinking about this: what if fearlessness is important not as a goal to work toward, but as an indicator of what your soul longs for?

Fearlessness is not something to achieve. It’s something to pay attention to, when we are graced by it.




It’s not about the ideal of fearlessness; it’s about seeing what your moments of fearlessness reveal about where your soul feels most at home.

I felt so good walking into this major opportunity without any fear or inner critic narratives, that my mind naturally started thinking, “Should everything in my work feel like this? Should I only take opportunities that feel like “home” in this way, that give me that blissed-out sense of rightness?”

I don’t know, but I do know this paradoxical truth: that amazing experience of fearlessness came because of many things I’ve done when I felt afraid.

I often felt afraid to send my book out into the world. I’ve felt afraid so many times to do this or that speaking event, to publish my work in that widely-read publication – but moving forward in spite of fear with did contribute – it seems – to this graced experience of fearlessness.

There is some mysterious way in which doing things that we are afraid of is part of the journey to the places that allow us to be free of fear.

Maybe it’s this: that there are lots of steps on the way to home that require us to change, to risk, to be exposed – and so they evoke fear.  But home itself is different. When we touch home, we touch fearlessness.

My invitation to you is this: not to try to achieve fearlessness, but to notice when you receive the visitation of it – especially in the moments when you’d expect to feel fear.

Pay attention to what brings it. What relationships, kinds of work, creative pursuits, environments, bring you into contact with that gorgeous state of fearlessness? And what does it tell you about the direction your soul longs to go?

Click to tweet: Fearlessness isn’t something to strive for. It’s a visitation to pay attention to, when it comes.

Share this post with your friends on FB by clicking here.




a question to ask yourself today

Often, when I’m working with women to help them manage their inner critics, they’ll say back to me: “But that mean voice is not my inner critic. That’s just me. That’s just how I sound as I’m thinking thoughts in my head. I’m a very critical, hard-on-myself person. I don’t think I can change that.”

I firmly believe that we are not our inner critics, that the inner critic voice is one strand of us, a fear-based strand that is not the core of who we are.

One way to think of it is this: most of us hear our inner critic thoughts in this form, “You aren’t good at that” or “You aren’t ready” or “If you do that, people will realize you don’t know what you are talking about.”

In all those statements, notice that there is a speaker and then a “you” that the speaker is addressing.

So here’s the question: who is the “you” that is listening to that critical voice? Who is the critic talking to?

If you were your critic, there would be no separate you for the critic to address its remarks to.

When the inner critic arises, there’s a speaker in us, and a listener. There’s a voice proclaiming the judgements and a voice listening to them and reacting to them – usually shrinking or getting nervous in response.

In all situations, listeners have power. They have power to believe what they hear, or question it. They have power to listen attentively, or not. They have power to listen with compassion or with defensiveness. The same is true when we are listening to the voice of the inner critic.

When we hear the voice of self-doubt, we can listen to the voice without believing it to be speaking the truth. We can even – in some moments – listen to the voice of self-doubt with great compassion for its panicky underlying fears.

Today,any time you hear a little rumble of self-criticism, whether about that email you are trying to write or your mothering or the size and shape of your upper arms, I invite you to ask yourself: Who is the “me” that is listening to the voice of self-doubt?

It’s not a question we can answer in words, at least not in my experience. But it is a question that helps us step out of the spinning. And sometimes, it takes us right into a rich silence – an opening into something much more.

Who is the “me” that is listening to the voice of self-doubt?




Last Day to Register + What You’ll Learn

Playing Big

Good morning!

Today is the last day that registration will be open for my Playing Big course. I want to dive in and share in more detail what you’ll learn in the program.

Quieting the Inner Critic

You’ll understand how the inner critic skillfully functions in your life (whether in the domains of career, body image, parenting, romantic relationships, finances, or your creative life). Most important, you’ll learn what to do in the moment when self-doubt arises, to ensure that it doesn’t hold you back. Just imagine for a moment – really imagine – what you’d be doing if that voice of “I’m not ready yet,” or “I need to get a PhD in that topic before I can do that,” or “I don’t really know what I’m talking about here,” wasn’t present anymore?

Unhooking from Praise and Criticism

After this module, you’ll be a lot less dependent on praise, and a lot more comfortable with criticism and potential criticism. This frees us to speak up, share our ideas, be controversial when it’s needed, and in doing all that, make positive change. You’ll also come away with a new and liberating approach to giving and receiving feedback. On a day to day level, this means being able to take the feedback that comes all the time (from colleagues, bosses, clients, customers) in stride, and not as an emotional roller coaster.

Your Callings

This is one of my favorite modules to teach, because we have so many misunderstandings around the concept of callings. And yet, with some simple ideas and tools, women can start experiencing the huge joy and fulfillment that our true callings bring us. If you aren’t sure what your callings are, this module will give you a very specific way to figure that out, with coaching from me to help if you get stuck. If you feel like you already know what your current callings are, this module will provide you with tools to fulfill them in even more satisfying and bold ways.

The End of Hiding

In my work with women, I started to see some very clear patterns in the ways brilliant women were hiding and stalling on our playing bigger. These hiding strategies weren’t obvious. In fact they often looked, from a distance, like really great career moves. In this module, you’ll discover some of the unconscious ways you are hiding and understand how to start stepping forward instead.

Leaping: The Art of Imperfect Action

Most women I know hold some false assumptions like these: that the more they prepare for something important, the better that something will go. That the more polished their work is, the more favorably it will be received. The thing is, many of these assumptions are misleading, and are connected to how women and girls are conditioned to act – in ways that don’t serve us. In this module, we’ll take a rigorous look at our default good-girl, good-student ways of working and discover a bolder, quicker, more experimental way of working called leaping. Leaping gets us playing much bigger right away.

Navigating Negotiations and Difficult Conversations

Do you dread negotiation conversations, feel like you aren’t a great negotiator, or simply know you could be a much better one? In this module, I share a powerful framework that can help you love and thrive in negotiations and difficult conversations. (It really is possible.) A negotiation is not just the kind of conversation that happens once a year over your salary, or your rent. In playing big, we explore negotiations as any conversation in which the parties have differing goals and interests. Negotiation is a skill we all need for our careers – and lives -every day, but because of stereotypes and cultural norms, negotiating is tricky territory for women. In Playing Big, you’ll learn a positive, collaborative, step-by-step framework for negotiations and have the opportunity to apply it to an important situation in your life, with coaching and support from me and from our guest expert on women & negotiation.

Communicating with Power

In this module, you’ll learn how you can come across as more competent, compelling and confident in your written and spoken communications. You’ll learn about important new research on gender and communication in the workplace, and what it means for you. We cover what speech and writing habits to let go of, and what new language you can use instead.  I’ll also support you in a day-by-day habit change process, so that your communication is truly more powerful by the time this module comes to a close.

Playing Big while Caregiving

I’m the mother of an active toddler, and am also involved caring for my aging parents. The past few years have been a deep dive for me into the dance of pursuing my aspirations, while at the same time, showing up in the ways I want to for those I love. In this module, we’ll look closely (and realistically!) at how you can weave together caregiving and playing big.

Let It Be Easy

We’ve all been there: we tried to accomplish something simply out of willpower and self-discipline, failed to do so, and then ended up disappointed in ourselves. This module is about alternatives to self-discipline. I’ll take you through setting up a “success architecture” of supports and routines that allows you to achieve any goal in a sustainable, kind-to-yourself-way.

Those are just some of our modules (you can review the full curriculum HERE), but I hope this gives you a sense of some of the ways your work and life will be different after Playing Big.

Registration closes at midnight tonight! Come on over here to learn more, hear what grads have to say, and get your spot!



Can You Picture It?

Playing Big

Good morning!

Hope this finds you well. I’ve been feeling so energized these past couple weeks as I work on creating a fabulous experience for the women from around the world who are signing up to be a part of my upcoming Playing Big course.

For the next few days, I’ll be sharing more about the Playing Big program. If you know it’s not a fit for you at this time, please tune back in to the newsletter late next week, when I’ll be publishing my regular blog articles again.

But if you are exploring whether the Playing Big program is a fit for you, please check out what I share below, and in Monday’s email – both will be packed with information to help you discern if Playing Big is right for you at this time.

On that note, today I’d like to share with you a bit about how the Playing Big course works. Sometimes women find it hard to envision how an experience like the Playing Big course actually works, day to day – especially if you haven’t been part of an online course before.

Here are the guiding principles I had in mind when I designed the format of the program:

Community.  When I was taking major steps toward my own playing bigger, being connected to other women who were also on that path – discovering or following their callings, speaking up more – really helped me. I realized that, dear as my friends and family were to me, I needed a slightly different community than what I already had. I designed playing big as a group program because I see again and again that women start playing bigger with the greatest ease, speed and momentum when they are connected to other women on parallel journeys.

Practical & Experiential.  This program is practical, and the curriculum keeps you regularly applying the new concepts and tools. I designed this as a longer experience so that you’d have time to implement what you learn. For example, you won’t just learn information about how you can communicate more powerfully. You’ll get structured guidance from me for day-to-day practices for developing new communication habits over the two-week period that we are diving into that topic. That’s how change really happens – supported, repeated, small but meaningful actions.

Flexible.  Playing Big is flexible, so you can fit it into your busy schedule, whether that means listening on a commute or doing a quick practice while waiting in the school parking lot. Though there is a logical order to the modules, if you need to skip a module during a busy time, you can absolutely jump in with us in the next module and return to what you missed much later when you have time.

Only the most powerful and effective tools. I’ve spent so much time working with women around their playing bigger. Over the years, I’ve seen what doesn’t really work, what only works for some women, or what usually gets so-so results. Everything in the Playing Big program is there because it consistently brings about remarkable results for diverse women. You are getting the most powerful and effective material only.

With that context, here are the nuts and bolts of how the program works:

  • We have a lovely course website for participants only, where you can access all the materials.
  • Every two weeks, we start a new module on a rich topic like “Discovering Your Inner Mentor,” “Unhooking from Praise and Criticism” or “Getting Wise About Fear.”
  • We have a 90-minute call together (as in, you pick up the phone and dial in) with teaching from me, Q&A, and exercises that get you living the learning right away. You can attend our calls LIVE, or you can listen to an audio recording. Each year, tons of women do each option and both groups are super satisfied with the course.
  • In addition to the call, there are readings, worksheets, and other supplementary materials for each topic.
  • If you want a smaller group experience, you can join an optional small group with a few other women in the course. I provide small group meeting agendas that help you go deeper with each topic.
  • We have an online discussion forum where women share about successes and learnings, and where we all keep the conversation going together between our calls.

I love what Jodi had to say about how it all fits together…

“This Playing Big thing is amazing! … and unsettling, too! Here’s the thing, I listen to the calls, do the handouts, and listen to the recordings (many times!) — I think I’m getting it, I feel like I’m getting it. So I go about my day. And then I have a moment in my day when I {know} I’m getting it. And I realize that I am that girl that I have been trying to be. I am leaning into the better part of myself. O. M. G.” 

~ Jodi Riddick, Playing Big Alumna

Registration is open for just a few more days, so if you think Playing Big might be a good fit for you, come on over and visit here to learn more and get your spot!