About two years ago, a client recommended Tara Mohr’s Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead (Avery, 2015). I immediately bought the book and added it to my bottomless to-be-read pile where it resided until last week. I should have retrieved it from the pile sooner, because it’s one of the best self-help books that I’ve read in a long time.
Mohr, a non-profit exec turned leadership coach, defines “playing big” as following our callings and dreams. She argues that gender inequality and powerful social expectations for women have “shaped how we think of ourselves and what we see as possible for our lives and work.” (xvii) Women have developed behavior patterns such as conflict avoidance, self-censoring, and people-pleasing to survive in environments where we have little to no power. Often we are crippled by our inner critic, that voice of self-doubt that lives in all of us.
The best elements of this book are the practical advice on how to let go of the things that hold us back. Of the inner critic, she advises women to learn how to live with that voice of self-doubt without being held back by it or taking direction from it. She offers some guidelines for learning to distinguish self-doubt from realistic thinking and for quieting the inner critic.
Mohr explores the ways that women often get “hooked by praise” and become overly fearful of criticism. Both responses grow out of the ways we are socialized to be focused on relationships, deeply attuned to others’ emotions, our history of surviving through likability, and our “good girl” conditioning. Mohr says, “We don’t know how to deal effectively and easefully with negative feedback, so we curtail our career ambitions to avoid receiving the worst of it.” (93) She lays out a number of helpful strategies for evaluating the feedback we receive so that we can incorporate useful feedback into our behaviors and let the rest go.
Other great advice from this book:
· Learn to challenge authority.
· Learn to improvise.
· Draw on and trust what we already know.
· Make our work visible to others and avoid communicating in ways that diminish our own authority.
· Stop hiding from playing big by saying “I need this much more education” or collecting and curating everyone else’s ideas instead of developing your own.
I recommend Playing Big for any woman who is learning to tame the voice inside her head that is holding her back.