Fragile Effort: Striving, Failing, and Succeeding in an Unpredictable World 

By: Eva Schmidt, PCC, CEC, NBC-HWC, FNP-BC

The concept of “fragile effort” emerges as a poignant metaphor for the often delicate interplay between intention and vulnerability.  Particularly when we humans dare to endeavor to achieve, or to create, or to make a change. Despite being driven by strong intentions, it’s these endeavors that are inherently susceptible to the complexities of circumstance and emotion. 

At its core, fragile effort refers to the exertion of energy towards goals that are weighed down with uncertainty and risk. It’s about striving in situations where the outcomes are not just uncertain but are also significantly influenced by factors beyond our control. There’s a vulnerability that shows up, that can stem from a variety of sources—emotional, physical, economic, or social.  

On a personal level, fragile effort is deeply intertwined with emotional vulnerability. When we set goals, from career ambitions to personal change, we expose ourselves to the possibility of failure and disappointment. For instance, an artist pouring their soul into a painting, or a writer laboring over a novel, is not guaranteed public acceptance or critical acclaim. This vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, rather it speaks to the courage required to create and put forth one’s work into the world. 

And this is not exclusive to humans, strategic vulnerability affects organizations as well.  

In the business world, companies often face fragile efforts when venturing into new markets or innovating products. These initiatives often require substantial investment and can carry a very real risk of failure. For example, a tech startup developing a revolutionary product has to navigate uncertain technological challenges and market response. So, the effort is fragile not just because of the financial stakes but due to the strategic vulnerabilities inherent in venturing into untested waters. 

Resilience and adaptability are essential qualities for managing and overcoming vulnerability. Social Researcher, Dr Brene Brown has said that “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”  Fragility emerges when we try to move towards our goals, but fail to not only anticipate the inevitable vulnerability, but to call on our inherent resiliency and ability to adapt in the face of change.  

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It’s about bouncing back from failures and setbacks, learning from them, and continuing to move forward. This trait is vital in managing fragile efforts because it helps individuals and organizations sustain their efforts despite challenges. Developing resilience can involve practical steps like setting realistic goals, preparing for setbacks, and maintaining a support network. 

Adaptability refers to the ability to adjust to new conditions. In the context of fragile effort, adaptability is crucial for navigating the unpredictable landscapes of our ambitions or goals. It involves being open to change and being able and ready to pivot when the original plans falter. For individuals, adaptability might mean revising personal goals based on life changes; for businesses, it could entail modifying product features in response to user feedback. 

Engaging in fragile efforts can have profound psychological impacts, affecting our mental health and overall well-being. The pressure to succeed, coupled with the fear of failure, can lead to stress, anxiety, and even burnout. Managing the emotional aspects of these endeavors is as important as strategizing for their success. 

Mindfulness and self-compassion are two critical tools for dealing with the stress of fragile efforts. Being mindful involves staying present and engaged with our experiences without judgment, which can help mitigate the anxiety associated with uncertainty. Self-compassion means treating ourselves with kindness in the face of failure or disappointment. It helps foster a healthier emotional state that in turn helps support continued effort. 

Imagine being able to use resilience to pivot your start up business strategy when your initial business model fails, ultimately leading to a successful venture. Or as an artist, instead of giving up after facing repeated rejections from galleries, you use that feedback to refine your work and adapt, eventually gaining recognition. These are just two examples of how resilience and the adaptability can help us to persevere through vulnerable periods. 

Fragile efforts are at the heart of many of life’s most meaningful pursuits. Whether it’s pushing the boundaries of innovation, pursuing artistic expression, or striving for personal growth, these efforts are marked by a beautiful yet daunting interplay of ambition and vulnerability. By embracing resilience and adaptability, and by addressing the psychological impacts of our endeavors, we can navigate the delicate balances these efforts demand. 

Ultimately, understanding and appreciating the nature of fragile effort not only enriches our personal and professional lives but also connects us more deeply with the universal human experience of striving, failing, and succeeding in an unpredictable world. 

Eva Schmidt is an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC), an NBHWC Certified Health and Wellness Coach, a Certified Executive Coach (CEC), a Certified MentorCoach, and a Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner.  As founder of 3 Springs Coaching, she combines two decades of experience in healthcare and business coaching to serve her clients. Her website is