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Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead written by Tara Mohr

Review written by Becky Mollenkamp

What are the key points of the book?

Mohr challenges women to find their authentic voice, achieve their goals, and seek more personal and professional fulfillment. This is very similar to the work I aim to do as a coach, which may explain why I found much of this book to be very helpful. “Playing Big” is divided into 10 chapters, all designed to help the reader stop playing small. Some of the key points are:

● The inner critic is not the same as realistic thinking. The former is black-and-white, repetitive, anxious, negative. The latter is curious, able to see gray areas, calmer, and solution-focused. One of the best ways to fight the inner critic is by tapping into your inner wisdom, which I would define as a deep inner knowing. Mohr offers a guided meditation that can help the reader tap into their inner mentor. After two attempts, I was able to connect with my mentor and I found it incredibly powerful.

● A new way of looking at fear is by tapping into an old Hebrew philosophy. Pachad is projected or imagined fear, and yirah is the fear that overcomes us when we are inhabiting a larger space than we’re used to. Basically, the first is fear we want to ignore/fight and the second is fear we should embrace because it is telling us we are about to play bigger.

● We get “hooked into” praise and criticism because we create stories about what the feedback means. By pausing and stepping back for some perspective, we can get unhooked. Some questions that can help in this process include, “What am I making this mean?” and “What are other ways I could interpret this situation?”

● We hide from our callings (and from playing bigger) in many ways:

○ This before that: Requiring that things happen in a certain order

○ Designing at the whiteboard: Pursuing an endeavor insolation

○ Overcomplicating and endless polishing: Waiting for perfection

○ Curating everyone else’s ideas: Failing to share your own perspective

○ Omitting your own story: Fearing vulnerability

○ I need the degree: Believing you’re not enough as you are

● Women with important messages often diminish themselves through their words without knowing it. Ten of the most common undermining speech habits include: Just, Actually, Kind of/Almost, Sorry, but…, A little bit, Disclaimers, “Does that make sense?”, raising pitch at the end of a statement, rushing, and turning a statement into a question. Changing these patterns can help you more powerfully go after what you want and, in turn, play bigger.


What is the application to life coaching?

Life coaching is designed to help people bridge the gap from where they are and where they want to be. That inherently involves playing bigger. And the reason most people seeking coaching haven’t already made those leaps is because of their fears around playing bigger.

This book is incredibly helpful in helping clients, particularly women as that’s the author’s focus, understand what is keeping them from leaping and gain confidence to play big. It’s full of helpful journaling prompts, which can serve as powerful questions to help clients who are facing these challenges.


What is your favorite passage?

“We all need a fear tool kit, because fear will arise on the journey to playing bigger. Again and again, we’ll be asked to risk failure, criticism, rejection, even ridicule as we share our voices and ideas, as we seek to change the status quo, and as we seek to change ourselves. We’ll be asked to step into greater visibility and vulnerability . We’ll be required to set new boundaries in relationships, to shift power balances, to reclaim space. We’ll be stretched to do things differently than we have before, to walk into the unknown. All these things evoke fear, so we need to understand how to navigate it wisely.” (pgs. 83-84). I love this passage, which is followed by 15 different techniques for managing fear, because it could be used as a marketing message for my coaching business. It gets at the heart of why I do what I do. Ultimately, I want to help women build their fear tool kits so they can more confidently go after what they really want in life.


How will you apply the key messages to coaching?

I love books that offer more than interesting research and deep thoughts. I am a fan of practical exercises and tools that I can put immediately to use in my coaching practice. This book delivers on that desire big time. As an example, there is an incredible chart on pages 84 and 85 that outlines the various ways fear shows up in our lives and a variety of journaling questions that can be helpful in understanding each of these ways. In fact, most chapters include some sort of chart that highlights the key points and provides practical application. I’ve already used some of the many exercises in the inner critic section with clients. I walked one client through personifying her inner critic and imagining its motives. This work helped her go from feeling afraid of quitting her job to feeling completely empowered to do so.

There are probably hundreds of powerful questions in this book. Some of my favorites include:

● What are you avoiding or escaping right now because you’re afraid?

● What might this criticism tell you about the person giving the feedback?

● How would your role model handle receiving this criticism?

● What kinds of improvising do you need to do as you start playing bigger?

● What new relationship to authority is required for you to play bigger?

● How are you hiding in your life or career right now?

● What inner sense of longing or inspiration are you feeling right now?

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