January 11, 2023

Playing Big by Tara Mohr

One of my goals this year is to read a professional development book ever month - specifically ones written by Women.

I just finished Playing Big by Tara Mohr.  

The most interesting idea I found from this book is that school may be one of the factors holding women back from workplace success.  She discusses how the attributes that make one good at school - hard work, following rules, clearly identified development rubrics, are generally not applicable in work.  

Girls are generally better at all levels of eduction, and have more of it, than men.  But board rooms? CEOs? Those are almost always majority men.  

Very few of the skills which make us good students make us successful in our careers.  Hard work will get you a job, but it will not necessarily move you up the ladder.  Knowing the "right answer" may not be as important as quickly reading a room and providing a desirable answer.  And how many career questions have "right" answers anyways?

Learning to understand one teacher's preferences will get a good grade in a class.  In work, you're constantly balancing the preferences of many leaders - sometimes with contradictory aims.

Tara goes into great detail about this and I see it around me too - new hire women will generally be more educated than men.  We recently hired two graduates - a man with a masters and a woman with a PHD.  They are in the same role.  The woman has already been referred too as a very hard worker, very switched on.  The man has put himself forward for difficult projects without clear answers, and is already being highlighted as a potential leader.  

The woman is approaching it like school and I'm sure receiving nothing but praise, but I can already see that in two years her career will be behind her less educated colleague.  In two years he will have collected ambiguous success and/or failure.  She will have two years of hard work.  For whatever reason, his will be recognized.  

Yes, there are problems with work and society and no, I am not arguing that women need to be mini men to succeed.  But what Tara makes clear is that while lots is stacked against women professionally, we also are not doing the most we can to help ourselves.

I highly recommend this book - certain chapters are much better than others, but my favorite ideas are as follows:

  1. School is not work.  Skills that excelled you in school are not those that will excel you in work
  2. Criticism and praise say nothing about you.  They inform you about the person giving the criticism/praise.  Don't be too happy with praise, don't fixate on criticism, learn from both
  3. Know your audience - you don't need approval from the best or the existing leaders to move forward.  If you have an idea, get approval from the people you are selling to, the people your idea affects.  Don't chase leaders in a field, they have little vested in watching you succeed.
Please feel free to recommend other professional development books for women - I need 11 more...


  1. So interesting! I love these posts; so relevant and insightful. I look forward to more of these book summaries throughout the year.

    I enjoyed Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu.

  2. My husband insists (and I've definitely heard the idea from other sources) that school is not designed for boys to do well. And clearly the workplace is not designed for women to do well. The gendered breakdown or expectation vs. inherent behaviour is always a little chicken and egg for me, and I'm never sure how much of a grain of salt to give it - kind of like studies that show Black kids don't do well in school and Asian kids do.
    I don't know if it's really what you're looking for, but 100 Tricks to Look Smarter in Meetings, made me laugh so hard. Funny because it's true. And a little sad.

  3. I love how you keep highlighting these disparities between men and women in society/work/social settings. This book sounds really intriguing!

  4. I think I marked this book down as to. read but it was never really high up on my list. I need to have a closer look. It does seem to make some interesting points. I like the second bullet point you mentioned. Isn't that true? Yet, not having it personally effect is much harder.