Should I stay or should I go?

By April 25, 2016 23 Comments

There’s something I discovered early on, doing this work supporting women to play big. Frankly, at first, this discovery really surprised me.

It was this: we often leave powerful and prestigious institutions and roles as a part of our playing bigger.

When a woman honestly defines what playing big means to her and has the tools to go for that, not infrequently, one of her next steps is leaving a prestigious role or institution for a more authentic expression of herself and her values.

I didn’t expect this, and a part of me didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because I want to see brilliant, ethical, conscientious women filling the ranks of leadership in our most powerful institutions – so that those women can transform the institutions and wake them up. We’ve got to be in the building to do that.

Or do we?

For some women playing big is going for the bigger role or title or responsibility within her field – because that’s the way to get done what she wants to get done. But for other women, playing big is shedding the shoulds that have kept them somewhere very acceptable, but that isn’t where they most want to be. They leave seeking more autonomy, creativity, meaning, flexibility, or passion for their work. And they often leave with frustration and grief.

This is something I think we need to be talking about more. I don’t have the answer, but I know we are looking for a both/and solution:

How do we support an individual woman in having the career and life she desires, and at the same time infuse our troubled institutions with wise leadership – and diverse leadership – so that they become better for people and the planet?

This is a question we explore in Playing Big – through our journeys and the tools. Let’s talk about it together here, too. I would love to hear: how has this “should I stay or should I go?” question showed up in your journey? What has been true for you about the change you could and couldn’t make inside of large, established, or powerful institutions? And what about outside of them?

Last but not least, registration for my Playing Big course closes in just a couple days – Thursday, April 28th at midnight. A remarkable group of women from all around the world is coming together for this special experience. Stay and go…with us. Learn all about it and get your spot HERE.

3 (1)

Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • This is so interesting, Tara, and I’d love to hear more. Looking forward to the upcoming course!

    My own experience is that I got completely worn out and frustrated by trying to change culture from the inside. It was draining the lifeblood from me!

    So I set up something completely different on my own.

    The Buckminster fuller quote always resonates with me: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

    Can’t we change the prevailing culture by creating our own systems outside of them….that eventually become more important?

  • Pri says:

    All these big organisations were small once and we have to support women in leaving them and their ossified ways. They don’t deservie our best efforts. Women have to reimagine work in the context of their life far more than men do because of culture and biology. The onus on highly educated/successful women is to create work cultures that suit their lives – true power does not mean navigating the corporate labyrinth but defining the rules of engagement – and it isn’t enough to merely innovate on products and services but reimagine how to work on a grander scale not just for themselves but for other women. There is no point railing on the corporate culture – it works well for men because they made it – if we want something different we must be brave and ambitious and create economically viable models that work for women. When I think of which female entrepreneurs were historically creative enough I think of Mary Kay – we need a new model – tech-enabled with women in mind from the beginning and this is just not going to happen with us taking part in the madness.

  • eva says:

    Dear Tara, I am a fan for almost two years and follow your blogs every week. Until today I did not feel to post a comment but this issue you mention resonates with me and I feel the urge to respond and use my voice here.

    I am coaching women since 2014 to create a balanced life to create a soul-centred life and career.

    Something in line with what you do. I see that the issue is not the women leaving a workplace that does not suit them where they could show diverse leadership by showing that themselves. But because many times the values and the purpose is different at that workplace than that of the women.So they feel not aligned and that is why they are pursuing something not in these institutions.

    BUT, the paradox is that these institutions need these women. Like for example me: I was a projectmanager/consultant at a large international consultancy firm and felt that my purpose was not aligned with this company. So i left 6 years ago.

    Now I am coming back as a soul-centered career coach helping employees that are on a sick leave because of burn-out.

    SO I help this organization (and others) to offer the guidance these people need and not only that. I am pointing out the problems and what needs to be changed at the workplace to prevent burn-out in the first place. ( in the netherlands 1 of 8 employees suffers a burn-out)

    Now I can create an impact in that organization i could not do 6 years ago because i lacked the skills and knowledge and autonomy I have now.I was not in the position to do so.

    So this could be one of the possibilities to change the organizations that need soul, purpose and values that work in a positive and healthy way for their employees.

    The biggest shift is the mind-set we need to go through if we want to transform our workplace. We need to feel independant to unhook from criticism and praise (like you mention in your book)amoungst other things.

    Female leadership or diverse leadership is only possible when we feel backed in some way in theo rganization to do so to go out of the male way of doing things.

    So in one way or the other i can say that i am an example of going for my purpose and creating an impact in the organizations where they lost the purpose and soul.

  • Amy Simpkins says:

    WOW this really spoke to me. I’m an MIT-educated aerospace engineer who left engineering to pursue coaching and entrepreneurship. This puts words to something I’ve felt for a long time. Thank you!

  • Very interesting post. My passion is helping individuals and organizations maximize connection and purpose for all stakeholders leading to happier people and successful, sustainable businesses. It’s a real challenge for companies because that freedom of being outside the corporate constraints is SO attractive to the best of the best. And you want everyone to follow their hearts! This is one of the minitrends that is making the trend to conscious businesses that have strong purposes so important. The pull of having a larger impact through working with a larger organization can be very attractive if it resonates with you.

  • Jill says:

    It’s about listening and remaining open to your own personal trajectory, your own compass. We all have it, but it has been collectively subdued and subverted so long that we’ve ended up frequently in not the right places for us.

    There is no one answer, no should.

    We support each other by continuing dialogues like these, and asking each other to remain connected to our inner compasses.

  • Lindsey says:

    This is SO SALIENT for me right now, for lots of reasons. Hard for me personally to play big within the frame of an established organization. And yet I share your question about how to foster environments within those organization that do allow the kind of playing big … if we also leave them. I don’t have an answer, but it’s heartening to hear you have seen other women need to depart those kinds of organizations to get where they wanted/needed to go. xox

  • H says:

    This blog post discusses an important topic. Up until recently I’d always followed the path of “conventional success” – a good degree, a stint in a corporate job and then an attempt at a PhD. Unfortunately I’ve found that neither the corporate world nor academia allow me to make full use of my talents and ideas – at least, not in the roles I had. I’m still at a bit of a loss as to what to do next, but it will almost certainly involve me trying to carve out a role for myself rather than looking for the “dream job” to apply for. Perhaps then I’ll be able to lead by example rather than climbing up the rungs of an organisation whose values I don’t agree with.

  • Claire says:

    Hello Tara,
    I am Claire from Greece.
    This article touched me profoundly as this is exactly my case. I was running a french cosmetics subsidiary in Greece for the past 6 years: a very demanding GM and VP position in a turbulent country, a quite prestigious work for high end cosmetics, a true challenge in terms of management, team leadership, results, politics etc.
    I gave myself on this. I ve had a strong vision, ethics, heartfelt management practices, amazing results until I ve realised I was alone and empty. I couldnt relate to other women easily, I was feeling exhausted and with no focus on real life, I started hating numbers and politics. Last but not least, I ended up hating to represent and sell high-end cosmetics that were full of chemistry and marketing. But I couldnt leave my team easily-I was feeling responsible. It took me 2 years to be able to finally say ‘I quit’ and with limited regrets.
    My decision on the “Should I stay or should I go” was “to go”, for various reasons.
    I ve played big in management and results and vision and salary and image and team building- but it felt empty in my heart. And we women need a heart and self love/self respect. That is what drives us the most I think.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Claire – thanks for sharing your story – it’s so interesting to hear. I would love to know what you are charting (or thinking about) for your next chapter.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Yes, you are not alone Lindsey. Far from it.

  • Suppinder says:

    A very real paradox. The desire to lead and change for the better large relevant institutions and choosing to leave the very place the game is being played. However its all a matter of the right time for some of us. Personally left that what I know I am meant to change….but only left when I knew my ability to impact had reached a standstill. I have used this time to develop myself, increase my capacity, affirm my journey so that I am ready to return to do more of what is needed. Turning out close to perfect, being rewarded for my courage.

  • Thanks Tara. I did exactly that. I left a well paid, stable job as the Head of Campus (vice-Principal) of a well known school to step into the unwieldy world of forging my way ahead in what I feel is most need in education today – peace education and global citizenship / global responsibility.
    It has been a remarkable journey that has taken me into schools in my home town in Melbourne, across India and recently into Pakistan – as a peace educator through my social enterprise, The Gandhi Experiment. In terms of a ‘job’ it has not been easy; in terms of Life – it has been a Godsend.
    It is as you say, a more authentic expression of myself and my values.
    With cheery blessings, Margaret

  • Jane says:

    Hi Tara
    My journey so far has been interesting. After three University degrees (including MSc, PhD) I joined a large ($11 billion turnover) global blue-chip bioscience companies and rose to a senior R&D leadership role with international responsibility. After 14 years, when our children were 4 and 3, I quit, which everyone thought was reckless but I just couldn’t stay – my heart was calling me elsewhere and my body was screaming at me. I had no idea what to do next. Long story short, after a period of rest and recovery, I went back to University and learnt about nutrition, set up my own business, and also got a couple of part-time (each 4 days per month) non-executive director roles on the boards of health and social care organisations. After 13 years, just as I was beginning to take my own business online, there was a corporate crisis in one of the companies I worked for as a part-time NED. The board asked if I’d be willing to step in as interim Lead Executive Director. Three months later I found myself as CEO of an £80m turnover social care company. This wasn’t on my vision board at all and a year later I’m still bemused by this particular twist in my tale. But it is amazing to be at the helm of a company with 4500 employees, mostly women. I really can make a difference and am loving it. So I left a large male-dominated corporation, set up my own small business, and am now somewhat accidentally back in a large female-dominated corporation. Who knows what will happen next. Am really enjoying listening to your book – many thanks.
    Jane x

  • Karen says:

    Hi Tara,

    I was very struck by your post. For me the “institution” I may need to leave in order to fully live out my Playing Big journey is my marriage. Having a partner who is either incapable, unwilling, or both of supporting my ongoing transformation is indeed something to grieve. But I also know that staying where I am will mean growing progressively smaller and more diminished over time. I am certain I’m not alone in this epiphany. Playing Big starts at home. How can we possibly rise to the pinnacle of our ability in the workplace, when we do not feel supported by the foundation in our most vulnerable sanctuary? Although taking this step will be one of the hardest things I have ever done, I also know that choosing to be unapologetically myself will open new doors.

  • Shanna says:

    This topic was extremely timely! I have been working for a big company doing hard/fast-past labor for over 9 years. I took the job because I was a single mom of a 3 month old and they provide full benefits to part-time employees. Well, 9 years later I’m suffering major burn out.I actually took today off of work because I have been so exhausted. I’ve dealt with a very hostile work environment, sexual harassment and the abuse the job puts on my body is becoming more noticeable. It is a very male driven company so I have zero support. Last year I was finally up to take a full time position (part-time just doesn’t pay the bill) but with these full time positions they run you absolutely ragged and I just don’t believe in the values of the company. So I didn’t take it. I did go to school for Nutritional Therapy a year and a half ago but I have yet to take the leap due partially to lack of funds and mostly to lack of self-esteem and support.

  • Katy Farber says:

    This is so powerful for me right now. This sentence especially: “leaving a prestigious role or institution for a more authentic expression of herself and her values.” I am feeling this acutely– especially the frustration and guilt. Thank you for sharing this and yes, wen need to be talking about this issue more.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Thank you for sharing, Katy. The frustration and guilt are real, for sure. Wishing you clarity and compassion for yourself as you discern your next step.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Shanna – so sorry to hear about your difficult road and what sounds like a very draining work place, and thank you for sharing about your experience here. Sending you wishes for a more sustaining and fulfilling work life – may it come your way soon. Hugs, Tara

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Karen – thank you for sharing. I’m wishing you wisdom and a spirit of love as you navigate your next chapter. Love, Tara

  • Tara Mohr says:

    “This wasn’t on my vision board…” – thanks for the chuckle. 🙂 Sounds like an amazing story and like leadership keeps claiming you if not the other way around! Glad you are getting to make such a tremendous impact. Hugs, Tara

  • Tara Mohr says:

    How beautiful, Margaret – thank you for sharing. And I love your distinction between how something is as a job, and how it is for our lives, and our soul’s learning – they can be two very different things!

  • Louise says:

    Incredible how all of these stories have the same theme of the huge challenge of trying to survive and excel in a major corporation or institution, formed by men and controlled by men.
    I feel so much better knowing others have had experiences similar to my own. I worked for over 20 years in senior management positions with major corporations, and consistently experienced a pattern of behavior from males in the organization of a sexism and bias against women. I worked very hard to assure that I received excellent performance reviews, but that did not protect me from the effort of men in the company to undermine my reputation, or to take credit for my work, and exclude me from being in their old boys network, which is where decision are made about ones future in a organization. My doctor ordered that I take a month sick leave for exhaustion and burn-out. I returned to work for a few months, then finally resigned and took a year off to decide my future, and never did return to the corporate world. Although the salaries and benefits offered at major corporations are very appealing, in my view, women are much better off establishing their own business, and being their own woman, than being subjected to a stressful and no-win work environment.

We are on a mission to help you realize your playing big dream.
Dive into our resources here: