I’ve never considered myself an optimist, but more of a realist. Hope was reserved for those starry-eyed suckers who see the world as kind and full of possibilities. However, over the last eight months, I’ve discovered that I just might be one of them.
For example, election night held moments of anxiety and the looming potential for loss, regardless of who you voted for. After obsessively checking my phone for hours, willing there to be updated results, my hope began to wane. Disappointment and frustration set in before anything was even close to decided. This time, I chose to hope instead of following the path downward to despair. I made the conscious decision to focus my attention and energy on believing the outcome I wanted was still possible rather than lamenting the potential for that I could be let down.
Over the four days of uncertainty, I found myself cringing at the phrase, “I don’t want to get my hopes up” when it came up in conversation. In a sudden flash of insight, I realized this is our way of avoiding the crushing blow of disappointment. This wasn’t the first time I’d chosen to hope this year, but it was the first time its power penetrated my consciousness. Its lessons are profound and transformative, allowing us to see life through a brighter lens if we’re willing to take the risk of being let down. Here are the three big lessons I’ve learned about hope in 2020.
Hope is a Mindset
Watching the first female Vice President-elect give her speech filled my eyes with tears, and I felt the collective hearts of women around the country swell with hope as she promised, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last.” I found myself wanting to believe her, to believe in the possibility of glass ceilings being shattered around the world.
The next morning, I loaded up our camper van and headed for the beach outside Cambria, California for another solo adventure. I was planning to spend my days at the beach, writing my travel memoir and, hopefully, finding some clarity on what to do next. Every single day I found myself saying, “I hope” followed by my wishes, which included everything from a breathtaking sunset to avoiding critter attacks in the middle of the night. Somewhere along life’s journey, I’d become a hopeful human.
Hope helps us to focus our minds on the possible routes to the outcomes we want, rather than getting bogged down in all the ways things could go awry. It helps us find the motivation to keep moving forward, working toward what we want to create in the world, even if we can’t see how it all comes together. Sitting on the sidelines asking, “What’s the point? It never works out anyway”, is the surest way to make sure you never get where you want to be.
Disappointment Isn't Deadly
One of the biggest reasons we’re afraid to go all-in on hope is the fear of disappointment. It sucks to be let down, so we hedge our bets, exchanging optimism for doubt. Of course, there’s always a chance things won’t turn out the way we want, but there’s always a chance they will. Instead of leaving ourselves wide open to a dream-crushing blow, we build a wall of “just in case” around our hope. Even with all that work to avoid disappointment, don’t we end up feeling it anyway? Somewhere in our secret heart of hearts we still had hope, we just tried to tell ourselves we didn’t.
Disappointment is a trickster. If we’re not careful, it can turn our dreams against us. After a setback, we’re tempted to watch those dreams die rather than risk being knocked down again. I started my first business in 2015 and it went absolutely nowhere. Then I watched covid destroy another business, just as it was getting off the ground. Each disappointment left me feeling like massive disappointment and unsure if I had it in me to try again.
The first time, I quit. I gave up, but the dream didn’t go away. It kept showing up, asking for my attention. Eventually, it started pounding at the back of my brain, no longer willing to be ignored, so I decided to try again. While it doesn’t look anything like I’d mapped out in my mind, I’m closer than I’ve ever been to the life I’ve always wanted. Without the hope of finding my way through the mess, I wouldn’t be. The story would have ended with, “I gave up.” There have been plenty of disappointments still waiting, but I’ve learned they don’t kill me, so I keep going.
We always have a choice. We can choose to settle for less than what we really want or we can take a chance on something better, knowing there will be more misadventures along the way. I couldn’t stomach the reality of a life spent chained to a desk working for someone else’s dream, so I decided to say “yes” to another dance with disappointment. I choose to hope. I choose to hope that if I keep showing up and working toward what I want, I just might get there.
Disappointment can be a dream killer, but if you’re brave enough to look it in the eye and claim your right to pursue a life you love, its power fades.
Hope Cultivates Resilience
When we actively choose hope over the fear of disappointment, we become resilient. We get the wind knocked out of us and, after a minute to recover, continue moving toward our dreams. Hope dies only when we choose to stay down. It might take years to get back up, but we always have the option to try again.
When covid hit, my travel business died. I’m talking dead in the water, both clients and myself canceling trips left and right. I found myself face down in the mud, sucking wind and praying that somehow it was all a bad dream. It wasn’t. I spent the first few weeks sprouting seeds in my living room, staring blankly into the refrigerator, and drinking beer in the backyard. I was totally lost.
I had a choice to make. I could give up and go get a job at the Amazon warehouse or I could reimagine the possibilities for both my life and my business. Reimagining wasn’t easy. It was frustrating and exhilarating at the same time, searching for a new path forward when ,just weeks before, it had seemed so clear. As the cosmic comedy of life would have it, I found a path that feels even more aligned with my purpose than the one I had been walking. Without the setback, I don’t know that I would have found that road. How’s that for ironic?
Every day we’re faced with the choice between going for it, leaving ourselves open to disappointment, or giving up, taking the path that slowly crushes our spirits. I choose my wild, unruly dreams over the cage of my fear because, as Glennon Doyle says in Untamed, I am a goddamn cheetah. I get back up, hoping that if I keep pushing the edges of my cage, eventually I’ll find my way to the freedom I’m meant to have.
You, my friend, are a goddamn cheetah too. Don’t give up. Keep hoping.
What did 2020 teach you? How has hope played a part in your life over the last year?
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