Playing Big – The Work of Our Time with Tara Sophia Mohr

This episode’s guest is the formidable Tara Sophia Mohr, an expert on women’s leadership and well-being. Download now to hear Tara and I discuss:

  • Weaving spirituality practice in business
  • How we keep ourselves small and the importance of “Playing Big”
  • How to deal with criticism when stepping out and Playing Big
  • The words: Pahad and Yirah and how they can help us understand our fear
  • The value of mentorship


Tune in to listen to my conversation “Playing Big” with Tara Sophia Mohr.

Subscribe to the Emerging Women podcast on iTunes.


Chantal Pierrat: Well, Tara, welcome, and thank you for being here today.

Tara Mohr: Thank you, thank you so much for having me. 

CP: I’m so excited to have you today—half an hour or 45 minutes all to myself. I think I discovered you about a year ago or a year and a half ago. I’ve been getting your blogs and I read your poetry. And the thing that struck me the most was here was a woman who was diving into business, clearly very, very articulate and wise in the business world, but who was overtly—and I’m putting some emphasis on that because it’s unusual—spiritual. And I’m just so excited because it’s such a rare combination, and I would love to dig in a little bit more about your background and how that came to be and how you came to combine these two worlds that seemingly are very separate. So maybe we could just jump in there.

TM: Yes. I’d love to begin there. That’s certainly been a big part of my journey. I was raised in a fairly unique way, hopefully a way that’s becoming less unique. My mom was very much a spiritual seeker, and had a huge passion for psychology.

So our house was full of books from all different religious traditions, from the mystical side of all different religious traditions, and she was always busy reading them. She was up at 5 a.m. writing about spiritual topics, really just for her own journey. She raised me, every morning, at the breakfast table, asking me what did I dream the night before, and having me diagram my dreams out, the Jungian interpretation, on a yellow pad while I was having my oatmeal or my Cheerios or whatever it was at the time.

And truly, I can remember incidents like being teased on the playground in kindergarten and coming home, getting into the car [when] my mom picked me up and saying, “Mom, so-and-so teased me, and I really hate him.” And she would always say one of two things in that scenario. She would say, “Well, what do you think is going on for that person at home that would make them tease another kid?” Or she would say, “How do you think God looks at that person?”

So this was the milieu I was raised in, and it was particularly remarkable because it wasn’t attached to any organized religion. I grew up with this access to inner life and to spiritual concepts that I think children are ready for and can understand, but we often underestimate how much and how early they can understand [them]. So I would say that was one track that I was on from very early in life.

And yet, at the same time, my parents were [a] middle class, professional, Jewish family who really valued education, and [they] were saying to me, “You’re bright and you have a lot of potential and we expect you to work hard in school and do well in school.” And school was a world that felt like the opposite of all that stuff I was just talking about. Because, of course, at school, nobody was asking what God thought about any of the other kids. [Laughs] Nobody was thinking about what dreams meant.

School felt very hierarchical. I was always aware [of], “Oh, you can get a good grade or a bad grade.” And yet, my mom was saying every child was divine and special. So those things were at odds. In school, we would learn about, “This war happened because this country disagreed with this guy,” and no one was looking at the inner side of anything.

So for much of [my] life, I would say these two different domains felt very distinct, and I felt, often, like an outsider in both. In one I felt too sensitive and too spiritual, and in one I felt like I was sometimes saying, “Come on guys, let’s do a reality check,” or “Let’s bring a little more intellectual rigor to this.” And it’s really only in my adult life that I have begun to find a way to advocate for the message that these worlds do not have to be separate. And [it’s] where I can have the joy of people like you saying, “Hey, this is actually something special about you and wonderful that you combine these two things,” instead of them feeling like two different languages, where I was often trying to interpret or translate but that that was really hard.

CP: Yes, that’s why I put the emphasis on “overt,” because I was surprised to see how much you really do—that’s part of your work, that you’re combining both. And it seems like you have a lot of receptivity in the audience that you work with to this particular mix.

TM: Yes. And one thing I’ve found—and I know you have a lot of entrepreneurs listening, so this might be particularly interesting to them from the angle of their entrepreneur hat as well—is that what we tend to think of these different audiences—the spiritual audience, the secular audience, the creative, the corporate people. I even came into my business with some of that, and sometimes I would get caught up in, “Well, who am I talking to? Am I talking to the woman who has a holistic massage therapy business? Or am I talking to the woman who is a professor? Am I talking to the woman who works in the corporation?” And I had assumptions for each of those groups and how “spiritual” I could get with the content.

And what I have found is that those are total stereotypes. Every time I talk to my customers—I do a lot of just getting on the phone and doing one-on-one customer interviews on an ongoing basis because I like to stay in touch with who’s really listening. And every time I do that, and every time I read a bio of someone participating in my program, I find that there’s no stereotype that they match up with. There’s no demographic segment or psychographic segment we could even make up that they match up with.

Most women are something we couldn’t predict. I just think about, in the past few weeks, talking to a woman is in my Playing Big program who is an emergency paramedic on an ambulance in a rural area, and [wants] to play bigger in sharing some of what she’s learned from that. That’s not someone I could ever predict that would be in my programs.

Or someone who said, on one of our first calls, “It’s my last day in the military, and tomorrow I’m going to be a civilian. Here’s what I want to play big with as I become a civilian and that’s why I’m here.” All the way from that to the life coaches and the holistic healers and the corporate people and the tech entrepreneurs.

And so many women, especially in our time, are embracing this hybrid where, “I’m a transportation engineer, but I do Native American art every weekend and that’s my passion.” Or, “I’m a college professor and physicist and I do angel card readings and I’d really like to do more of that.” I see so much of that. So I think, unfortunately, in the business world and the publishing world, there’s been an oversimplification of the audience that’s just not true to women today.

CP: I so appreciate that, and I love how you’re really taking a stand and are unapologetic in an area like business that can be considered risky. I’m also curious if you’ve ever had people that said, “Well, I just want your Playing Big”—and we’re going to get into that—“I just want the business side of Playing Big. This other stuff makes me uncomfortable.”

TM: It may be that some of those people just click away from my site, and that is probably happening more than—I don’t hear about it too much. And I think people know, if they come to my site, that they’re not going to get pure secular business tactics.

For me, I don’t get excited about helping women develop those because I feel if we’re just helping people to play more effectively within a patriarchical system, that’s certainly not serving the mission I care about. I want women in touch with what they feel called to do at a soul level and to help them play bigger with that. That’s what’s going to change the world for the better. So I feel like there’s plenty of other experts out there who just help women skill up with a very neutral point of view about whatever their skills [are being used for, and] that’s fine. But I’m coming from a different place.

CP: Tell us more about Playing Big and the essence of the work.

TM: Well, I’ll begin my sharing just how I started to use that term, “playing big,” in my work. I used to do a lot of one-on-one coaching with women. Now I do more large group programs, but when I was starting out and I was doing one-on-one, I was seeing a pattern again and again in the women that were showing up in my practice.

I always think about one of my first clients who worked in the social sector and was pretty young, early in her career, and had such incredible ideas about what needed to happen in her organization and her industry. She was on top of every journal and cutting edge conversation in the field. She was constantly reading and linking and thinking about interesting things. And nobody in her organization knew it, and nobody in her field knew it because she just couldn’t act on and speak for her ideas.

And I was so pained by seeing that, and then I started seeing the same thing in client after client. So many of the women I was seeing, in one way or another, had such brilliance to share, had something really important to share, and they didn’t see themselves as ready to share it. They didn’t see themselves as ready to take on a major leadership role. They didn’t think they were expert enough, they were being held back by their inner critic. And of course, part of the reason I was attracting that particular theme and noticing that theme was because I had certainly grappled with all of those issues myself and was still grappling with them.

So that kind of became a focus of my work. And as I mentioned, I’m always trying to be in touch with my customers. And at a certain point a few years ago, I was doing a survey of my blog readers, and in the survey I asked my readers “What is the biggest challenge you’re facing in your life?” That’s such a good market research question—you want to know what people are grappling with. It was a multiple choice question and I listed all the things that we typically think of as so hard in women’s lives: work/life balance, not enough time, stress, I don’t know what I want, financial constraints, unsupportive people—all this stuff. And I threw in, just on a whim, “I’m playing small” as one of the choices. And when the responses came back, that was the most popular choice.

CP: Oh my. Wow.

TM: [Laughs] And I was fascinated because it was so stunning to me that that was so widespread, but more so that people knew that, that all these women were walking around with the same feeling I was having, like, “I’m not even sure what I mean by that, but I know I’m playing small.”

CP: Right.

TM: So out of that, I knew that I would then package the work I had already been doing with women on these issues under the term “playing big.” And what the work of that is, for me, the approach that I take, it begins with understanding what you feel called to do in your life right now. Because again, what we want to play big with is not our ego’s ambitions or the world’s ideas of success, but our true calling. So there’s a process of identifying what you’re called to now and accepting that, and then learning a variety of new ways of being that each allow you to stop holding back your voice.

So we do a lot of work around mastering our awareness of self-doubt and the inner critic, and beginning to separate that from the other voices within [and] connect more strongly with what I call the inner mentor, which is your older, wiser self. We look at unhooking from praise and criticism, so becoming less sensitive to what other people think. And a number of other tools like that, all of which support women in playing bigger.

And then there’s a little bit of tactical work—where I bring back that left brain side and my MBA side—where after we have that foundation of inner work, there’s some training in things like negotiation and communication and pitching your work to the media. Because those things are great. It’s just that if we only get that tactical training, and we don’t change the inner dynamics of our playing small, we can’t even use the skills we learned because our fears will get in the way.

CP: Right. Tell me a little  bit more—when you say that in playing small, it feels like shrinkage, like we just shrink ourselves. On your website—and I’ve heard you talk about this in some of your television interviews—the language that women tend to use in conversation is one of the most powerful ways that we actually keep ourselves small and keep ourselves in this sort of shrunken, held-back state. Can you talk to us a little bit more about that?

TM: Yes, and this is a great thing for us to talk about today, because it’s so tangible and so actionable. Most women have a number of unconscious speech habits—automatic things we do when we’re talking that undermine what we’re saying. Some examples: We tend to insert the word “just” a lot. “I just think,” “I just am wondering.” Or we insert the word “actually.” “I actually disagree.” Both of those things shrink what we have to say [and] just makes it sound very little and tentative. And “actually” makes it sound like we’re surprised, like, “I actually have a point! How surprising!”

CP: [Laughs] Right!

TM: So there are little things like that. We tend to raise our pitch at the end of a statement, which makes a statement sound like a question. So we do the, “I’m really grateful for this opportunity?” and we go up as if we were asking a question. We tend to speak really quickly and not punctuate, not use short sentences and not pause. There’s some theories that suggest that women learn to do that because we get interrupted more than men and so we develop a coping mechanism of piling on everything we have to say and thinking, “If I just keep talking I won’t get cut off.”

CP: Oh gosh, yes.

TM: Yes. I just heard a new one that I’m excited to add to the list. Yesterday I was in a jewelry store choosing which pair of earring to buy myself, and the saleswoman said to me, “I almost think you should go with these, because,” da-da-da. I thought, “Oh, that’s an interesting new one. I almost think.” So there are a number of these, and because they’re habits, we usually need to work on changing one at a time rather than trying to tackle them all at once. So pick one to focus on for a few days and just work on that. It can also be fun to do it with a buddy where you listen for each other and hear from each other what some of the ones you may be doing without even noticing it.

CP: Well, I’ll definitely be hyper vigilant from now on during this podcast to see if I’m doing any of those things! [Laughs]

TM: We’ve both done it already! I do it even as I’m talking about it because they are so ingrained. But hopefully we can all learn to do it less. And actually, email is another place where I hear from a lot of women, they’re like, “Wow. Once I started deleting all that tentative stuff out of my emails, they were so much shorter and they sounded so different.” Because we tend to do this a lot in writing, too.

CP: Yes, I noticed in writing I use things like “just” and “actually” more in the emails. Email can be harsh, [and] I feel like I go overboard to soften [it]. And yet I notice that men actually don’t. They just sort of say what it is and risk the chance of seeming curt, whereas with women—I’m doing a lot of emailing with women for Emerging Women—and it’s definitely more effusive and there’s a lot more of those words that soften the email. I started getting rid of those and I thought, “Oh my, can I really send this out?” It just feels strong.

TM: It’s such a good point. I’m really glad you brought up that aspect, because it’s important to also have some compassion for ourselves and recognize [that] most women are doing these things because we don’t want to seem too authoritative. We want to maintain connection in the communication. We don’t want to offend. And in some ways, those are all really good instincts.

What’s interesting is how we’ve adopted these diminishing habits to accomplish that instead of other paths to conveying that warmth and connection. So I always advocate for women—sometimes it can feel scary: “OK, I’m going to go into a meeting and I’m going let go of all these little things I do that can make people feel more comfortable.” So you want to replace it with more direct expressions of warmth and connection.

So it might mean, instead of being tentative when you present your idea in a meeting, take the extra three minutes to really connect with the person you’re presenting to to talk to them about their weekend, schmooze about your weekend, express how excited you are to share the idea. So do all the “nice woman” stuff through that, not through toning down how you express your ideas.

CP: Yes. Starting now. Starting today. Talk to us a little bit more about, as you’re playing big—there’s something in some of your writings where you talk about when you’re really stepping in to your calling and you might be a little vulnerable because you’re getting your sea legs on and you’re just being authentic, and you might be feeling new about it. But in that playing big, and in that vulnerability, you might be getting criticism not so much from inner criticism—which is a different thing, which we can talk more about, too—but from other people, or feedback from the universe. What is it about stepping into playing big that might attract that, and then what do we do with it?

TM: Right. Well, one of the concepts that have been so helpful for me and that I teach is that when we actually come to do or say anything really of substance, it’s going to attract both praise and criticism. And that sounds like something where we all go, “Oh yes, I already knew that,” but I think most of us don’t really know it. And part of the reason we don’t really know it is because it’s the opposite of the training that we all got in school for 25 years.

So if I were to redesign education in a way that I think would help women play bigger, one of the things I would do is make sure that as a girl was growing up, dozens and dozens of times, she would turn in a paper or an assignment or do the science project or do the book report and have a panel of teachers give her grades, and have them each give their subjective assessment of what she did.

Because what she would quickly learn is that sometimes there’d be a general consensus of how she did, but that a lot of the time, those grades would be all over the map and there would be different opinions. Some people would have got what she was up to more. Some teachers wouldn’t have. Some teachers would have thought she really did a great job. Some teachers would have complained that this thing was missing, another teacher would have complained that that thing was missing.

That’s how the real world is. But our conditioning in the paradigm of school is that there’s such a thing as “good performance, bad performance,” and that there’s an authoritative opinion on how you did. And that if you got the bad grade or the criticism, it means you’re missing something.

So I think we really have a reorientation to do as we start playing bigger to recognize that we’re going to get both praise and criticism. Particularly because I believe that whether a woman sets out to be a change agent or not, if she’s truly playing big and sharing her voice, she’s going to be shaking up the status quo, because we still live in a patriarchal world. So anytime a woman really brings forward her voice, there’s going to be some controversial things about what she’s saying. Which is why, of course, also so many of us are scared to really start saying what we’re thinking.

So that’s a big piece of it. And I recommend to women to actually do this exercise of going on to and looking up some of your favorite authors and thinkers and read a bunch of the five-star reviews and read a bunch of the zero-star reviews to see how this plays out with some of the people that you really admire.

CP: That is a great suggestion.

TM: It’s really fun to do. And then the other thing that’s kind of a different side of this that we talk about a lot in Playing Big is how to interpret feedback and criticism. Because we don’t necessarily want to say, “OK, whatever I do, it’s going to draw criticism from”—[and just] dismissing it, that’s not always useful.

So we talk about feedback as information that tells you not about you, but it tells you about the person giving the feedback. And sometimes, that might be really important. Like if I have sent off a business plan to 10 potential investors, and they all give me negative feedback, if I’m interpreting that as being about me and about my capability to start a business and how well I wrote a business plan, I’m probably going to get really stuck and really wounded. I’m going to put a bunch of verdicts on myself that are going to be hard to get over.

But if I look at that feedback as telling me about the people giving the feedback—so if I look at that feedback as telling me about investors and what they’re looking for, now I can become a little more emotionally neutral in actually hearing the feedback and [strategy]. Are these the investors I need to influence? If so, then yes, I need to see what this feedback tells me about them and tailor what I’m doing accordingly.

CP: So taking the feedback and having it tell you what it says about your audience, rather than using the feedback to try and gain insights about our own selves or the value that we’re offering.

TM: Yes. And our own measuring up, our own performance, right? All that.

CP: Right. Are we good enough. Right. And what about fear? I’m kind of going down the shadow lane here with you, but these are some of the things, as we’re stepping out—and it’s a big deal to step into leadership or start a company and decide you’re going to be an entrepreneur and you get criticism from other people. “OK, [I’m] playing big, I’m going get criticized by other people, I’m dealing with fear.” You have to have the stomach for it. So fear is a big one. I’ve been dealing with that myself as I’m sort of shifting over and committing to Emerging Women. I’ve been dealing with fear and found your insights very helpful.

TM: I really believe we all need a fear toolkit. All women, of course, who want to play big, but [also] all of humanity. If there’s one thing we could do to create a more sane and peaceful world, it would be for each human being to have their tools for quieting and managing fear. Because everything destructive and self-destructive that we do at some level comes out of fear.

There are lots of practices that can just help us, moment to moment, reduce fear. Some are more somatic-based: it can just be activating the parasympathetic nervous system through breathing exercises or different kinds of movement. Some of them are more cognitive. It can be as simple as giving a color to your fear and then picking an opposite color that has a really different vibe for you and connecting into that color. These are kind of tricks, because ultimately fear is a physiological response, and it doesn’t always need to be so hard to change that up in the moment. I think everybody should have their little toolkit of ways that they work with their own fear.

And then another thing that, Chantal, I’m thinking maybe that you’re referring to is one of my favorite teachings on fear, which we shared in the Kick-Ass Practices. [It] actually comes from the Old Testament, from the Hebrew Bible and an insight from a contemporary rabbi named Alan Lew, who unfortunately is deceased. He wrote about how there are two different words for fear that are used in the Hebrew Bible. One of them, the word is pahad, and that means our over-reactive and irrational fear, so what’s typically spoken about [today] as “lizard brain fear.” Sometimes people might talk about it as our ego-based fears. This very over-reactive, hyper, catastrophizing kind of fear we’re all very familiar with.

But then, very interestingly, he explores a second word that’s used in the Old Testament, and that word is yirah. And that word is defined in a very interesting way. It’s defined as the fear-like feeling that overcomes us when we’re inhabiting a larger space than we’re used to, or when we’re suddenly in possession of more energy than we’re used to having. Or, [the] third part of the definition, when we’re standing on holy ground.

So [it’s] a very interesting trio. Inhabiting a larger space—you could take that literally or metaphorically—than we’re used to; in possession of more energy than we’re used to; and standing on holy ground. So when Moses is at the burning bush, this is the word that’s used to describe how he’s feeling. And it’s a fear-like feeling. It has a quality of awe to it. It’s very different, actually, than that pahad, lizard brain fear.

And I find that when any of us are stepping into our real voices, our true aspirations for our life, our true playing big with what we want to say and what we want to do here, we feel yirah. And it can feel a bit uncomfortable because it is that tingling, high-energy, out-of-our-comfort-zone sensation. But if we can say, “Wait, this isn’t just ‘I’m scared.’” We don’t have to label it “I’m scared” and go into that panic. We can say, “This is actually this sacred thing, yirah, that is happening because I’m touching my holy ground,  my playing big. I’m stepping into a larger space and I’m going to savor this and make friends with it.” Then we can start to live with that and welcome it in our lives in a very different way.

CP: I just love it. Every time something like this comes up—and for those listening, if you haven’t heard the Kick-Ass Practice that Tara offers on our website, you should definitely download it, because it’s fabulous. Especially if you’re taking risks in your business. Because as soon as I just say the word yirah, it just feels like, “OK, that’s really the type of fear that I’m dealing with.” As long as I’m focused on playing big, and really coming in from that source—the foundation and the connection, from that deeper level, my inner wisdom—then the only fear that exists is yirah. So I just say the word—[laughs] it’s such a great word to say! It sounds like “hurrah.”

TM: Yes! Well, it’s interesting. It is a very breathy, open word, especially compared to the counterpart, pahad, which has a real harshness to it.

CP: Right.

TM: It’s a real exhalation kind of word, and I’m really glad that’s been useful for you. It has been for me, too. And I love the point that you’re making, that, yes, when we’re in tune, that is the main kind of fear we’re dealing with. And isn’t it interesting how it brings such a feeling of aliveness, on the one hand? But also, most of us, as we get older, we’re like, “We kind of want to feel alive, but we kind of just like our little numbed out comfort zone, too.” Sometimes it doesn’t feel so comfortable to be in the yirah a lot of the time.

CP: Right. True. It’s such a great way to feel comfortable, just to know that it exists. That was big for me because I couldn’t even name it. It came in forms of overwhelm or self-doubt and the inner criticism. There’s something about when you’re playing big, too, when you finally feel like, “OK, this is my soul’s calling,” as you say. You don’t want to let it down. You don’t want to let your calling down by not living up to the expectation, in a way. And for me, that was the big fear.

TM: Yes. And actually, I believe one of the telltale signs of a calling is that we feel we do not have what we need to do it—resources, skills, so on. And secondly, we do not feel we are who we need to be to do it. And typically, when we’re first getting a calling, there is that kind of, “Who, me?” feeling, like, “I’m not the one qualified for that. That must be somebody else’s job, [somebody] with a PhD in that specific subject [who has] practiced doing something similar three times over. I’m not up for that.”

I believe that that feeling always comes with the beginning of a calling. It’s not a reason not to do it—it’s actually one more, “ding ding ding,” that’s you’re calling indicator! And the cool part is that the calling is there to grow you into that person. I don’t think it’s just an inner critic narrative. I think we are not who we need to be at the outset of our callings to do them. We’re looking at the calling, and we’re like, “But I know that would take more courage, more patience—whatever’s on the list for us—than I currently have.” And in some sense, that’s always true, because the calling is there to grow you into that person. And you will get there on the journey, but you will only get there on the journey. Not before you start.

CP: Yes. Another great reminder. Last time, when we were in San Francisco, we were having dinner, and there was a little something that came up around mentorship. I don’t think we ever fully fleshed it out, but your reaction was interesting. And on our Facebook page—on the Emerging Women Facebook page—there’s a little discussion going on about the value of mentorship. I’m curious to see if we could have that discussion now and hear your views on whether or not you think it’s necessary or beneficial to have a personal and/or professional mentor in this process of filling into your bigness and learning to play big and following your soul’s calling.

TM: Yes. Probably you said something about it and I [laughs] rolled my eyes at the topic, because I often do that.

CP: Yes! It was juicy! And I said, “We’re going to have to circle back,” because there were so many juicy things. So I’m circling back because I know that there [are] some nuggets there, and I’m just curious to hear your perspective.

TM: Well, as you can imagine, in my travels and in my work—I’m at a lot of conferences and panels and all this stuff about women in leadership, women in business, women in the workforce. And what I was finding, again and again, was that these really big, complex issues around women in leadership were often getting funneled down into this conversation where somebody would just say, “You know, we really need more mentors. That’s the problem. Women need mentors.” Sometimes it would be, “They need more women mentoring them,” sometimes it would be, “They need more men mentoring them, they need better mentors.” Or the younger women would be saying, “We need mentors.”

Then this thing would happen where everyone in the room would kind of be like, “Yes, that’s true.” And then there would be nowhere to go from there, because most women find [that] the reality is they have a lot of trouble finding the kind of mentorship they’re looking for. They often find that senior women don’t have time to mentor. Or many women have experiences of real betrayal by mentors, where their mentors come to feel threatened by them as they were playing bigger. Their mentors don’t get what they’re even doing when they start doing their most innovative, provocative stuff. And mentoring is always talking about with this kind of glow around it that I felt was missing. [And there is] also this dark side of what was actually happening in many women’s so-called mentoring relationships, which was very wounding and very unexplored on both sides.

So I have all of those concerns about it, but even more so, I would say there’s something in that conversation that I think is in line with a pattern of having women look outside themselves for answers and look to somebody else to tell them what the track should look like, instead of developing their capacity to look inside. And most of the things that I think women of our time need to do have not been done before. They’re about innovating, they’re about shaking up the status quo, they’re about making different kinds of choices. And I don’t think that mentors, as advice-givers—which is what most mentors think they’re supposed to do—can help women bring forth what’s really inside of them.

CP: Right.

TM: So I’m not against it. I’m just skeptical of it as a big part of the solution. I think what we need [instead] is to really develop women’s capacity to listen to their own voices, understand what kind of input they want to incorporate and what to kind of leave aside, develop strong peer relationships—all of those things, instead of this, “Mentor, come save me” thing that we can fall into.

CP: It’s almost as if the peer support—if you’re working with people who are also dealing with fear and dealing with their inner critic and dealing with outside feedback, that they, at a peer level, would be more supportive in helping us stay on track with playing big and being innovative, because we’re all innovating at the same time, rather than dealing with a mentor who’s already done the innovation, who’s already accomplished. They’re on a different part of the path and may not be as in tune with those nuances that happen earlier on as we’re growing or scaling or even starting from scratch.

TM: Yes! Because to mentor well, you have to have checked all your baggage at the door. You have to know—maybe I’ve already started and grown my successful business, and so-and-so who is just starting hers is coming in. And the likelihood that she’s going to try and do something that’s going to trigger me, or that’s going to make me feel like, “Well, I tried that and that didn’t work for me,” or “I need to tell her what did work for me.” All that stuff—which I would consider poor mentoring, because it’s not helping that woman develop her capacities. It’s just passing on your story—and I say “story” in a negative light—about what worked and didn’t work for you. I think that’s not good.

I’m not big on advice in general. So for example, in the Playing Big program, we have hundreds of women in there and it’s a supportive community, but one of our ground rules is there is no advice-giving between women in the course. And one of the first things we do is talk about what are other ways that you can give support besides giving advice.

How do you celebrate someone? How do you express empathy and feel for them when they’re going through something tough? And most important, how do you ask great questions that will help a woman get in touch with her answers, instead of giving your opinion? And it is awesome to watch women develop those skills and see the kind of support that blossoms when we’re not shooting each other advice across the landscape.

CP: Yes. I love that. And it’s so tempting to do, especially if you’ve dealt with something recently that’s in that genre, you want to just provide solutions.

TM: Right, yes! And Parker Palmer talked beautifully about how often we give advice, because it allows us to abandon people. Even if our intention [is] to help, to fix, sometimes we want to help and fix because we’re uncomfortable that they’re uncomfortable. And we feel like once we’ve given our suggested solution, we can go on our merry way. So there’s a way in which it can be turning away from being with people.

CP: Right. I can relate to that, being uncomfortable with someone else’s [discomfort].

TM: Right. And I know we can all relate to, many times, when somebody spewed advice on us and we were left feeling like, “Why did that feel so bad? I guess that really wasn’t what I wanted. It didn’t feel like I was being heard or being supported, or that that person was there for me. It felt like a bunch of stuff just came at me that wasn’t really what I was looking for and didn’t really resonate.”

CP: Well, it’s almost like trying to short-circuit our inner wisdom process.

TM: Right, right. So if, in the Playing Big discussing groups, a woman says something like, “I got this job offer and here are my concerns and I’m not sure whether to take it,” the easy thing for people to do is to start having opinions. The harder thing, which women in the course learn to do, is ask great questions, like, “What role is your inner critic playing in this decision? What does your inner mentor say? If you really weren’t afraid, what decision would you make?” Great questions that are helping her access her answers.

CP: Right. Lovely. So powerful, all of these. I feel like we’re walking away from this with, as you say, a toolkit.

TM: Good! That’s good.

CP: I so appreciate your time today, and we’re all really looking forward to having you at the main event!

TM: Me too, I can’t wait! And I so appreciate what you’re creating and stitching together and manifesting in the world so beautifully. It’s very exciting to watch.

CP: Well, thanks for sharing that with me.

TM: Thanks, Chantal.

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Chantal Pierrat

Founder & CEO
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