I’ve been really into women’s empowerment books lately.
As a 20-something looking to figure myself out, I can’t seem to get enough of the wisdom that established women writers have been putting into print. Among my favorites so far are Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Playing Big by Tara Mohr.
Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big, is a passionate advocate for women’s leadership and well-being. Her book, leadership program, and facilitator’s training all aim to empower women to share their ideas both at home and in the workplace.
Mohr argues that one of the most common problems for women in both social and professional realms is the tendency to dream big, but play small.
Playing small happens when women have ideas to change current systems for the better, but pump the brakes when they approach their dreams. The reasons and strategies women use to play small are numerous, but they all involve some form of self doubt.
Mohr says that this self doubt comes from personal and cultural influences. She points to the long history of women whose ideas were repressed, ignored, and often mocked. She cites examples of high-profile women who have battled harsh and often unnecessarily personal attacks in response to speaking out about a host of different subjects.
The result is millions of women who have the know-how and the work ethic to make big moves in their fields, but crippling self-doubt and subconscious fear about putting their ideas to the test.
That message hit home with me.
Despite holding a bachelor’s degree in an interdisciplinary field that excites me, and having work experience that dates back to my freshman year of high school, I have felt hopelessly stuck. Bouncing from one low-wage, unfulfilling job to another, I’ve nearly given up hope for something better.
After tapping in to Mohr’s message, I can see that my hopelessness is the work of self-doubt.
Self-doubt can be a tiny voice or a loud one. It can be subtle or commanding. It plays on all the deep-seeded insecurities within each of us. In Playing Big, Mohr calls self-doubt the “inner critic”, and describes how it is truly a manifestation of fear.
Fear and self-doubt kill creativity and risk-taking. They kick and scream to keep us in the safe zone, forever stuck and stable.
This is what she calls “playing small;” Letting our fears of the unknown, and the potential fallout of our actions, hold us back.
Mohr outlines the many ways fear works into our minds; how we subconsciously hold ourselves back by telling ourselves we are not ready, we are not experienced, we are not yet secure enough to make big changes. Her observations strike as painfully obvious once they’re spelled out on paper, and it’s easy to see how quickly we shut our ideas and creativity down.
Fortunately, Mohr also shares strategies for working through fear and self-doubt. She advocates for trusting intuition, thinking creatively to try and get things moving, and trusting that playing big won’t be nearly as catastrophic as we imagine it to be.
Perhaps most importantly, she also cautions the reader that the journey of playing big never truly ends.
“The day of unfailing, gorgeous confidence isn’t coming,” she writes. “Self-doubt will always be a part of what we each work with as we take steps to playing bigger.”
In this way Mohr reminds us that women will never truly escape those nagging voices of self doubt, but that isn’t the expectation. Self-doubt will always follow our decisions, especially the groundbreaking ones. However, the key is not to let it take the wheel; keep it in the backseat, and keep moving.