Adaptive Action as Reflective Practice

ThinkingIn her book Daring Greatly , Brené Brown defines vulnerability as risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure. Through her research on the topic and examination of her own struggles, she provides provocative and promising stories on why understanding and working with vulnerability can remove constraints and lead to great personal transformation.

Brown’s description of the naming of her latest book relates directly to action:

The phrase  Daring Greatly is from Theodore Roosevelt's speech,  Citizenship in a Republic. This is the passage that made the speech famous:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while  daring greatly  . . .”

Clearly, daring is not just thinking about, considering – it is about action. Using the framework of the questions  what? ,  so what? , and  now what?  can be of tremendous help in examining your own vulnerabilities – the risk, uncertainty, feelings of exposure. Most importantly, using these questions give you ways to move with courage into taking strong action, despite the risks and uncertainties.


Brown provides in-depth professional and personal looks at what it means to feel vulnerable – I highly recommend reading her books, blog or viewing her engaging videos. Feeling vulnerable is a pathway to growth. Examining your own vulnerabilities takes courage, and opens up the possibility of doing something differently. Use the what? question to slow down and tune in to what is causing you to feel vulnerable. For me, being aware that I am feeling vulnerable can help expose stories I may tell myself that I believe to be true - and these stories can keep me frozen in inaction:

  • I’m not ready
  • I don’t know how
  • I will look foolish
  • I don’t know where this is going
  • Someone else can do it better
  • I feel exposed for not knowing, not looking like an expert

So what?

If I can be honest with myself about my current truths - and even look at where these stories originated, I can look for the larger truths – and make new meaning of the data:

  • I am more ready than I have ever been
  • I haven’t done this before, but that was also the case before I knew how to walk, ride a bike, etc…
  • I may look foolish in the attempt, but not trying is worse
  • Trying may teach me something that will be very useful in my next attempt
  • The only way to be seen as capable is to gain the experience of doing
  • I’ve been scared before, but it was temporary…it doesn’t have to be debilitating.

I was fortunate to learn from a wonderful teacher, Edie Seashore, who had a great way of staying in inquiry with the world. If she saw that you were stuck in a state of “I don’t know how” she would respond with the question “what would you do if you did know?” That shift towards action, and away from stuckness and uncertainty exposes unexamined possibilities.

Now what?

Once I expand my stories - away from the stuck state and into a more open state with emergent possibilities, knowing and acknowledging the risk, uncertainty, and the emotional component – I can choose my best next step. Not necessarily the final step, just the next step, which takes me to a new cycle of what, so what, now what...on my way to daring to do...

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