How to Be Brave

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On the dance floor, followers frequently accept invitations from strangers, and willingly make themselves physically vulnerable in the arms of their leader. The acceptance of a dance is also acceptance of a certain degree of physical risk. An inattentive leader may twist, squeeze, or manipulate the follower’s body to cause discomfort and even injury. A distracted leader may collide with other couples, occasionally causing bodily harm. Most of the time things go well, but minor bumps and bruises are not uncommon. Dancers accept this risk, and with experience become very familiar with, and increasingly able to tolerate, their own feelings of vulnerability. This tolerance is what builds bravery, the willingness to move confidently into territory before you can see it.

Most corporate or institutional jobs do not involve physical risk, but a new challenge or a change of any kind can feel emotionally risky. In today’s dynamic economy, such challenges and changes are commonplace, and so feelings of vulnerability are, too. When we discover new data that contradicts the old, realize we’re in over our heads, or receive an unfamiliar assignment, the fast majority of us will have some kind of emotional stress response. In those moments, we have two choices: shrink back or step out. There is no neutral. The more you learn to tolerate and understand your own feelings of vulnerability, the more capable you will be to serve the best interests of your team, company, or community, and the faster you will grow professionally.

Like following itself, vulnerability has been cast as a weak and undesirable position. And like following, in reality the very opposite is true. Brené Brown writes: “I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. To be human is to be vulnerable.” Her research illustrates how vulnerability is, indeed, the only path to courage and bravery. If we want to be brave, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. This is as true in the work place as it is on the dance floor.

It is because we know we are vulnerable that we can be strong. It is because we know there is risk that we can take action. Denying our intrinsic vulnerability only prevents us from experiencing our own bravery. The exercise below will help you clarify your own purpose in your work so that the next time you begin to feel vulnerable, you’ll be more likely to lean toward bravery rather than shrink back toward the familiar. Answer each question three to five times and notice what stands out to you.

1.

My work matters to me because ______________________________________________

My work matters to me because ______________________________________________

My work matters to me because ______________________________________________

My work matters to me because ______________________________________________

My work matters to me because ______________________________________________

 

2.

My work matters to my team/company because ___________________________________

My work matters to my team/company because ___________________________________

My work matters to my team/company because ___________________________________

My work matters to my team/company because ___________________________________

My work matters to my team/company because ___________________________________

 

3.

It’s worth it to perform small acts of bravery because _______________________________

It’s worth it to perform small acts of bravery because _______________________________

It’s worth it to perform small acts of bravery because _______________________________

It’s worth it to perform small acts of bravery because _______________________________

It’s worth it to perform small acts of bravery because _______________________________

When’s the last time you acted courageously at work? What was at stake for you, and what happened as a result of your actions? Please share your stories in the comments.