By Dr. Daneen Skube
Q: I keep trying to keep hope alive when things get worse in my workplace, but it keeps getting more hopeless. How can I stay hopeful when my circumstances keep getting harder? How can I find a way to be effective when my hopes for change are dying? A: As Marcus Aurelius — Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher — advised his staff, “Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue.” Many people see hope as the solution, but holding onto hope often means we refuse to take action. In the mythology of Pandora’s Box, the gods give Pandora a box and tell her never to open it. Pandora opens it, and all the world’s ills fly out. The last item to fly out of the box is…hope.
The story of Pandora presents hope as the antidote to suffering. As a counselor and consultant, I have observed that hope may instead be part of the human adversities that flew out of that box. When we hope, we wait. When we wait, we don’t learn, strategize, or innovate. As we wait for our circumstances to change, we suffer. Thus hope often just prolongs suffering rather than motivating us toward change and innovation.
Be aware that hope is not a strategy. Hope can create a vision that motivates us, but it’s up to us to take action. Hope can also create comfort that our circumstances can improve. There are people who think that others are luckier than they are. However, no one is naturally lucky. Luck favors preparation, perseverance, and a perception of the end goal. When we see where we want to end up and daily take the next step, action is the real engine behind success. Those who wait by the side of the career road hoping for their white knight to rescue them just get dusty as they watch others take action. If we chose to sit and hope, we end up bitter and resentful that fortune never smiled upon us.
Try writing on the left side of paper all the hopes you have for the future. On the right side write down every action you’ve taken to make your hope a reality. Do you see any gap between your actions and your hopes? Now go back and make some plans to rescue yourself. Your rescue plans should involve asking for help. In good times, make sure you’re benefiting people you work with and building connections with people you trust. People have said that desperation is the mother of invention. I say that the death of hope is the birthplace of personal power.
Once hope has created a mirage in the distance of what we long for, we have to walk across our own burning deserts to arrive at that shimmering dream. Hope can make us mistrust our resourcefulness, resiliency, and problem solving as hope is passive. If you’re going to bet on anything in this mortal world, it should be your ability to create (eventually) what you want. There are jokes that successful people are often people who aren’t smart enough to give up and there’s much truth to these jokes. If you want proof, start reading bibliographies on people you admire and discover how many hurdles they overcame. Use hope to inspire a direction, then get busy with actions that move you down this road. A Hopi prophecy says, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Become the one you are waiting for and never wait again!
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006) You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.