People of Reflection and Action

Praxis logo_0“The concept of praxis . . . refers to our participation in the shaping of the world in which we live. It is based upon the idea that we are meant to make a difference. We are called to be contributors, people of reflection and action. . . . This is our common human task.”

– Denis Edwards


It starts with an idea, a point of view, a model or framework.

It continues with the thoughtful consideration of how it might be activated in support of our purpose, in support of the employees, customers, and community members we exist to serve.

It flows into action, a living engagement of ideas and people joined together for purposeful impact.

It results in outcomes, maybe good or even great ones, and likely surprising or even disappointing ones as well.

It continues with evaluation, consideration and more thoughtful conversation, this time about what happened, the lessons learned, the possibilities that came to life, the ideas of what might come next, having attempted this thing in this way at this time.

Ideas are revisited, perspectives shared and challenged, new approaches proposed.

A next step is agreed upon. A new effort is made.

This is how we make our contribution. This is how change happens.


Go Do It

This week I have written about industriousness, initiative, reinvention and responsibility. I have written about the way that human beings come alive when they feel free to take meaningful, appropriate, even obvious actions in support of necessary change.

In reflection I understand that these various expressions are all shoots of the same vine; each an attempt to manifest my personal understanding and expression of the truth that meaningful action is a balm to anxiety. 

We can commiserate, complain, kvetch and confer all we want but until we act we will feel frustrated and useless, no different than a damp matchbook is to our hope for a comforting fire. Or, as David Whyte expresses it in his poem Out On the Ocean:

“…always this energy smolders inside
when it remains unlit
the body fills with dense smoke.” 

We’d do well, all of us who are hungry to take meaningful action for change, to revisit and reconsider the words of Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and go do it,
because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

This is the time and place in which you live.

This is the time and place to act.

This is the time and place to express what you are here for.

Go and do.

bonfire surrounded with green grass field

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on


Even the Smallest Act

Lose this day loitering –’twill be the same story
To-morrow–and the next more dilatory;
Each indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest?
Seize this very minute–
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated–
Begin it, and then the work will be completed!   

{Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe}

Meaningful action reduces anxiety.

So many times I have turned an idea over in my mind, how to make it real, how to make it matter, all of the difficulties, the challenges, the naysayers alive and well in my imagination. So many times I have let my imagining be its undoing instead of allowing my doing to begin to make it real.

So many times has that first action, that tiny impulse of movement, served to firehose my anxiety and replace it with a sense of progress disproportionate to the smallness of the act.

Meaningful action is real and an anxious imagination cannot be sustained in the face of what is real.

notebook writing pencil start

Photo by Dom J on

Leap and a Net Will Appear

If you feel “ready,” you’ve waited too long.

That’s my takeaway from volume one of Shelby Foote’s three-part narrative of the Civil War.

It’s oversimplified, to be sure, but the biggest difference I can see between the Union forces in Virginia, commanded by McClellan, Halleck, Pope et al, and the Confederate forces under Lee in the first 18 months of the war is that the Union refused to act until the conditions were “just right” and the Confederates acted when opportunity presented itself.

If you subscribe to the sentiment, “fortune favors the bold” you can understand why this approach kept the Confederacy in the driver’s seat in those early months of the war.

It’s quite discouraging to read about the number of opportunities the Union squandered that would have brought the conflict to an early and victorious end. Even knowing how things turned out I find myself in the thrall of Lincoln’s despair, shaking my head that the war ever ends up moving in the right direction, much less victoriously for the north.

What then of our own resistance to act until the time is just right? How many times have you said some version of, “As soon as THIS happens…” or “If I just had more of THIS or THAT I would be willing to get started?”

And what hangs in the balance for you? What idea or purpose or effort will be delayed or even sacrificed to the dustbin of history if you should continue to forestall the action you want to take, not in spite of but right alongside the reasons not to make a single move?

There will always, always be an excuse to wait. (“Stonewall” Jackson regularly led his troops into battle in the rain, while his Union counterparts regularly refused to do so!) Disaster, catastrophe and total ruin notwithstanding – all terrific inventions of our fertile imaginations on most occasions – you are better to act with enough  information, enough opportunity, and enough support.

If you feel “ready,” you’ve already waited too long.


You Won’t Know Until You Start

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
{Helmuth von Moltke}

I am a self-admitting and self-avowed starter of things. For good and bad, I have always been a catalyst. Once begun, the planning and sustaining need to belong to someone else, if what’s been started is going to survive.

What I know from my natural inclination to begin, and the reason I truly enjoy it, is that doing so informs me about what is actually possible, rather than what I might imagine to be possible.

My most visceral experience of this came on a cliff edge above the Pacific ocean. Strapped into a harness with my instructor, a large sail dragging on the ground behind us, I blurted out the question I was ill-equipped to answer: “How do we get up there anyway?”

“We have to walk off the edge of the cliff.”


I had paid my money, signed all the forms, been provided with all of the safety instructions and equipment, and was accompanied by a guide. The planning was done and it was time for action.

The thing that mattered most – the relationship between ocean, wind and cliff – could only be harnessed by going out to meet it, by stepping off into the unknown.

Basil King said, “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.”

Of course, make plans. But plan just well enough to inspire a first action. Allow that action to inform you and teach you. Use that learning to revise the plan and as a catalyst for a next action. And then? Repeat, repeat, repeat.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Ordinary Time

I’ve always found these late January days to be tough on my energy and motivation. The holidays are a faint echo and the exuberance of the new year has given way to the disjointedness of human plans put in motion amidst a natural world that paces itself to a slower, hidden metronome.

I feel myself attracted to that more thoughtful tempo, one of deepening and reflecting, even as the human landscape teems with economic, strategic and achievement-focused energy.

I am contemplating how to be faithful to both the work I am committed and expected to deliver and the innermost signals I notice, the ones urging me to replace “just do it” with “just observe” and “just consider,” just a little longer.

Knowing that I cannot dictate the demands or the pace at which they come, I wonder how I might bring that internal desire to the foreground as I meet the expectations before me.

How might I honor both the appeal to act and the call to be still?

How do I hold this tension lightly enough that it will inform new awareness rather than strengthen my resistance?

What is trying to emerge in the space between action and reflection?

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.



It’s a Decision

Do you work within an organization, division, department or team that you would describe as valuing ‘competence’ over ‘connection’ by a wide margin?

This is an environment that you might describe as static, procedural, technical or hierarchical far more than it is dynamic, connective, open and human-centered.

You might even say that it’s an environment fueled by fear rather than by love.

If this sounds familiar to you and you feel limited, stifled, stuck or afraid you have a few options:

#1. Wait for “them” to change it.
#2. Change it yourself.
#3. Leave.

If it’s a truly toxic environment, option three is the best bet for your longterm health and well-being. Yes, it’s risky but it’s a strong job market and there are plenty of good leaders building healthy and meaningful organizations that also perform.

As for number one? You already know what I’m going to say but you’d rather not hear it. A hero is not about to come riding in on a stallion to save the day. Unless the place is about to go under and those with real power demand radical change, the place is going to keep operating as is. This is because human beings are addicted to the status quo, even when it’s the worst thing in the world.

So, on to number two. This is where you come in. And you can, you most definitely can change it yourself. Not the whole thing, and maybe not even a large part of it, but you can change the area that is one, maybe even one and a half concentric circles beyond yourself. It’s just a decision. Here are some ways you might act on that decision:

  1. Get to work early. Be there when your colleagues arrive and greet them warmly to start the day.
  2. Check-in on your teammates. Ask about their work and stuff going on at home. Just listen. No judgments, no advice.
  3. Check-in on your boss. Find a few minutes once a week or so to say hello and ask how things are going.
  4. Offer to help. Where it makes sense and respecting context and boundaries, of course. Small things matter a lot. Be the person who picks up that slack.
  5. Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, read, see friends, hug your family.
  6. Never, ever contribute to negativity. Know and live your personal values. Know and live the values of the organization even if nobody else is doing so.
  7. Do your best work. No one knows what that means but you.

I predict that if you do most or even some of these things, you will feel better about yourself, your work and your workplace. What’s more, others will start to emulate your behavior and your small part of the enterprise will take on an energy that is envied by others. As long as you’re going to be there, why not control what you can control and make it the kind of place you want to be?

In summary:

Option #1 = Fantasy
Option #2 = Possibility
Option #3 = Escape hatch

It always was and always will be your decision.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Get Moving

“I realized that – in spite of all the risks involved – a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity.”

– Olga Tokarczuk, Flights

You don’t have to go anywhere to be in motion. And you can go everywhere and be frozen in place.

What counts, what matters, and what I subject to you for consideration on this first Sunday of autumn, is that you move forward with that which moves you.

Get to work. Make your mark. From your chair, your home, your neighborhood, school or workplace. From the most remote island on the planet. It doesn’t matter where. All that matters is what.

The leaves are going to fall. But that’s an act of living, not of dying.

Whatever it is you’re here to do, get moving…go do it.

In spite of all the risks involved.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.