Tara Mohr: On Finding the Courage to Speak Your Voice

By meredith, November 28, 2011 10:18 am

Tara Mohr is a most inspirational writer, blogger, and teacher who helps women find their voices.

A quote from her web site that I love:

‘Most brilliant women don’t see their own brilliance and are “playing small” and they know it: not speaking up, doubting themselves, seeing themselves as “not yet ready” to launch the big idea, the organization, to put themselves at the table. The 10 Rules, and the other work I do with women leaders are about learning how to quiet self-doubt, clarify purpose, and become comfortable with taking bold action in the workplace and in the world. That is what I teach, and I love to teach it because I’m still learning it myself.’


What led you to make the shift from the nonprofit world where you were working in social services for vulnerable populations and women’s leadership to pursue your career in writing and teaching?

In part, I just needed a certain amount of time to get back to myself after college and graduate school. Although I learned a lot, and I developed my mind, I don’t think that those universities were environments where I felt very empowered or at home with myself. My creative life in particular shut down when I was in school because I personally need a very safe environment to be creative.

The schools I went to encouraged and developed critical thinking more than they developed the heart and the spirit. And that just didn’t work for me – in terms of nurturing my voice, helping me be myself, and make good choices.

It took me up until a few years after school to start to have the capacity to really get back to my dreams and back to my passions.

So in part, I just needed time to get back to myself. But the other thing that led to the shift in my career was pain.

I’d love to say it was some source of inspiration or some wonderful moment that led me to feel like I wanted to make that change in my life. It came much more from a place of pain.

What I mean by that is that when we’re not doing what we’re meant to do or when we’re letting fear and a desire for safety run our lives rather than our own fulfillment, that starts to get painful. At some point, for everyone, it starts to not work.

The level of pain of not feeling like myself and seeing time going by and knowing this isn’t what I wanted to do with my life started to grow. That pain started to increase, and at a certain point for all of us, there comes a time when the pain of the known is greater than the scariness of the unknown.

When I reached that point: that was the beginning of starting to make the transition.

It didn’t happen all at once. There was a year and a half when I was still working full time in my old job but I had started to blog about the personal growth and spirituality topics that interested me, and I also started getting trained as a coach. I didn’t know where any of those experiences would lead me precisely, but I had that year and a half to lean into those things and let my coaching practice grow on the side of my job. I needed a year and a half to feel comfortable making that career leap.

I believe it’s really important that people begin a transition like this by finding some way – on the side of their jobs or in whatever hours they can fit it in – to reclaim their passions and start doing things that feel more authentic to them.

What are you most passionate about?

I’m most passionate about people waking up to their own magnificence.

Considering your quote on your web site that ‘most brilliant women don’t see their own brilliance and are ‘playing small’….not speaking up, doubting themselves, seeing themselves as ‘not yet ready’ to launch the big idea, the organization, to put themselves on the table’, what is some nugget of advice would you give to readers in believing in themselves enough to take that initiative?

Don’t believe what you think.

What I mean by that is don’t believe the voices in your head. There are a lot of voices women have in their head that say, I can’t do that because I need another degree, or I’m not ready for that, or who am I to say that, or if I do that I will probably fail, or I need a few more years.

All of that is just complete bullshit. It’s really hard to wrap our minds around how powerful and false our thoughts can be.

To give an example: In October I was on The Today Show. For the entire month before the show, I had all these thoughts running through my head that this experience would be a disaster; that the hosts wouldn’t like what I am saying; that they will probably make fun of it; that this isn’t a good fit for me; and that I’m not going to come across well. I was entirely convinced that this would be a disaster and that afterwards I just wouldn’t show the clip to anyone. I would delete it.

It was an amazing experience for me to come out of the interview (which went great, and which I had a great time doing) and realize that wow, that narrative I had in my head was totally untrue.

I came across fine in that setting. The hosts loved my work. And I’ve had a lot of opportunities come out it.

We have to take ourselves out of our comfort zone and suspend our beliefs because we’re not reliable sources on what we are and aren’t ready for.

I just read your piece on public speaking, called Undermining Our Words, from your latest post at Huffington Post that details some of the words we can avoid in our l language that convey a lack of confidence. By the way, I sent it to a few of my friends, and they absolutely loved it, so thank you for that. Where do you get the inspiration to write a piece like that? Does it just come to you, or do you take notes over time that then became the meat for the article?

Both. Sometimes I’ll be sitting or walking around and an idea comes in a flash, like, “Oh yeah that’s it.”

The idea of “ten rules for brilliant women” came quickly for me, all of a sudden, like that.

But the content of that article was really years in the making. It was a cumulative process of seeing those patterns in my friends, myself, my colleagues, and then seeing them in my coaching clients.

I wrote that article, 10 Rules for Brilliant Women, one day after a woman left a coaching session. I was thinking about how this woman is so incredible and wondering why can’t she see that about herself and go for it – to really be the leader and revolutionary she could be in her field. There was this list of things I wanted her to know and women like her to know. That’s how the inspiration for that article came.

Are there any other nuggets of wisdom that you would share with a younger version of yourself, say, ten years ago, who is trying to make her place in her community and in this world?

Every step of my journey is part of what has made it my own journey, and I wouldn’t want to change anything.

To me, this period of my life where I feel like I’m living authentically is all the more meaningful because I have experienced the contrast of not living my creative life, and not going for my soul’s desires. And that journey away from authenticity provided so much I can now bring to other people, and it’s meaningful to share with other people. Some of the things that at the time seemed the worst experiences to have to go through have been really the greatest gifts to my work.

What was one of the greatest challenges you’ve faced along the way, in some aspect of your career or personal development, and how did you overcome that period of doubt?

Well, there is one great challenge from along the way that is also still very much alive.

The world is totally insane. I feel that war is insane; violence is insane; the fact that we (myself included) are buying fancy shoes while other people don’t have enough to eat is insane; the fact that we think that imprisoning people will prevent them from committing crimes again is insane.The way in which the world operates in many ways makes no sense to me

Here’s another example: I think it’s insane that we have an insanity defense for violent criminals – under certain circumstances. In what circumstance is using violence to try and achieve your ends not insane? I think it violence is fundamentally insane.

One of my challenges is being willing to say that and  being willing to say things like that, that I know other people may call naïve.

It is scary for me to really share what I think because it’s so different from the assumptions that are taken for granted. But I’m getting better at it.

I recently wrote a Huffington Post article about importance of beauty and how I think that we could have a society where beauty was understood to be as important as, let’s say, politics, where you might have an article about design along side one about world news on the front page of the New York Times. We live in society where anything associated with beauty gets pushed to the frivolous – but I think it’s actually vitally important.

I’m getting better at saying things kind of thing publicly but I do still hold back so I’m continuously working on that.

This is a huge part of what I get excited about in my work. There’s a movement of women with radical things to say about the environment, our economic system, and education. Just like I want to empower myself, I want to help empower these women to share their point of view to change our world: to bring it back into balance.

What are some of the skills and characteristics that you think make a good coach?

Someone who’s a great listener.

Someone who can set aside their own opinions and agenda.

Someone who is highly intuitive so they can use their intuition to ask you good questions and perceive what’s really going on.

What would you say to someone out there that has a great business idea but doesn’t know where to start or whether or not to get it started or says they’re not ready yet?

If it’s a matter of saying ‘I’m not ready yet’, question that. Ask yourself if that is sincere or if it is coming from an inner critic.

In terms of not knowing how to get started in a practical kind of way, just to reach out to people who are doing what you want to do and learn from them.

If you feel like you have no idea even what square one is, and then listen to your intuition about square one.

And in all of those scenarios: picture that woman you want to become; picture the woman twenty years out running this business that is successful and thriving. In your mind imagine sitting down with her, and ask her how she thinks you should start. She’ll always have a good answer.

You’re so courageous, and you do these things that you are afraid of. Do you have a ritual or something you do or practice in order to access that courage?

I think it helps to remember the big picture and connect back to a sense of purpose: What am I trying to achieve? What’s going to matter a hundred years from now? I also try and remember the things I’ve done in the past that I felt really terrified to do and how they worked out, which was usually fine. And just to remember that the fear-thrill feeling, that sense of woah I’m really going out of my comfort zone here, is just an indicator of the really good things that are happening. We can take that feeling as an important sign to go ahead.

Check out Tara’s latest writing by reading any of her 26  poems in Your Other Names: Poems for Wise Living.

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