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Interview: Tara Mohr

Cristina Spencer

Dear Friends,

Please enjoy this interview with Tara Mohr from June 2013.  

Meet Tara Sophia Mohr.  Tara is an expert on women's leadership and well-being. She is the founder of the Playing Big women's leadership program and author of 10 Rules for Brilliant Women.  A few weeks ago, I participated in her Grandmother Power blogging campaign, and I was delighted that she agreed to answer a few questions about courage, the most recent theme of my blog.  Doing this interview was incredibly fun and inspiring.  Read on to find out Tara's secret to making braver decisions!  

Q: You strike me as a courageous person.  Have you always been that way?  Are there things you do in your day to day that strengthen your courage?  Is there anything you’ve found you needed to stop doing, in order to live more courageously?

Early in my career, my fears were running the show. I chose a career path that was “safe” in that it didn’t involve much emotional risk, because I wasn’t really going for my dreams.

Over time, the pain of not following my dreams got intense enough that I started to make change. I find that’s often the case. I don’t suddenly get an injection of courage. The safe route becomes so uncomfortable that I had to find the courage to go for what I really long for.            

Two practices help give me courage:

  • In the mornings, taking a few moments to read some spiritual literature and remember the big-picture change I’m trying to bring about -- a world where we hear more women’s voices. When I’m really connected to that purpose, my fears don’t get in the way as much. I’m thinking about who I want to serve, not about my own ego!

  • Second, as I move through my day, and particularly when I get stuck, I identify my inner critic’s voice, and separate it from the voice of my own best thinking. I believe the goal is not to mature beyond our insecurities—because that’s impossible. The goal is to be able to have all the self-doubts but not let them stop us from going for our dreams.

Q: What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

When I write something and I feel like it’s radical, or very vulnerable, or likely to bring criticism or ridicule, but I hit the publish button anyway, I feel brave.

When I apologize for something that I’ve done, even though I find it excruciating to face the person and the situation, I feel brave too.

Q: What are your personal strengths or internal resources that empowered you to take that courageous action?  Were there any external conditions or circumstances that spurred you on?

Holding empowering ideas helps me make braver decisions. For example, the idea that I don’t have to get it all right in my writing, or please everyone, but instead that I just need to tell my slice of the truth. The idea that I don’t need to be a fully cooked “expert” but that I can teach as I learn and that I can teach what I most need to learn. These ideas lead to brave actions.  

Q: You teach a course for women called Playing Big.  What does courage have to do with Playing Big?  What has teaching this course taught you about women and courage?

There’s an old-school, masculine definition of “Playing Big” that involves making a lot of money, achieving your every ambition, doing high status things. We start my course by setting aside that definition and redefining Playing Big as self-actualizing: becoming who you really are. Going for our real dreams feels vulnerable: it puts us at risk of failure. It demands that we “leave the herd” in some way.

To be brave in the face of all that, you need some knowledge and some tools. In Playing Big, we learn how to deal with fear, how to manage the inner critic, how to tap into a wiser voice within us, how to deal with criticism and tough feedback. When you start applying those tools and understanding, what you get is some gloriously brave actions and leaps: giving talks at major conferences, speaking up to a boss, asking for more money, starting new businesses, and so on.

Q: Your work encompasses many different kinds of projects, not just teaching the Playing Big course.  It seems to me, it would take courage to decide which projects to commit your time to and which projects to let go of.  Can you talk a bit about how you make these kinds of decisions?

The first criteria is that the project authentically resonates with me and excites me. Otherwise, what’s the point!? But no entrepreneur gets to pursue every project that excites them, because the second criteria is what your audience wants. I usually test out the projects that most excite me most with a small subset of my audience. If sufficient demand is there, I begin offering them to my whole audience.

Q: The theme of my blog this month is Celebrate :: Courage.  In your life, do you do anything to mark or observe courageous actions or accomplishments?  What role does self-care play for you as a way of acknowledging or observing your own courage in action?

I’m a big fan of celebrations. With some friends, I just started a practice of throwing parties for a guest of honor with no particular reason – not a birthday or a milestone – but just to celebrate that individual and shower him or her with love.

When something happens that feels significant in my life, I’ll often celebrate. I tune in and ask myself, “How do I want to celebrate this?” and then listen for the real answer. Sometimes I want to do something with cheerleaders and witnesses (meaning, with friends). Sometimes I want to do something on my own. Sometimes I might want to do something that is totally joyful for me but that no one else would  “get” (like, for me, taking an afternoon to get my very-processed-so-almost-never-have-it latte drink in the Starbucks in Target and wander the isles in a daze looking at everything. LOVE that.). And sometimes I just celebrate inside, silently, honoring what I’ve done as I go about my normal routine. I think what’s most important is that we 1) do celebrate and 2) celebrate in the ways we truly long for. For women, looking inward to find out how we want to celebrate and then doing it (or asking others for it) is a big thing – a skill a lot of us still need to develop.