Hope, one of the most powerful and evocative words in the English language. It conjures images of holding on and persisting through adversity, clinging to the thought of a better tomorrow. It represents our greatest virtues as humans. We name children with this sentiment. We plaster it on political campaign posters. Jyn Erso says it about a hundred times in Rogue One. It’s the promise of a better tomorrow, whether we’re hoping something does happen, or if it doesn’t.
Now what if I told you that all of this ‘hope’ was impeding you from reaching that positive outcome?
Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here
That statement sounds awfully nihilistic, doesn’t it? Maybe I’ve been watching too much Rick and Morty. It probably sounds contradictory to my advocacy of optimism in a previous post. There is a key difference here: proactive optimism is the belief that life can be better, while hope holds that things will be better (or at least not get worse). We spend so much time hoping for things. We hope we will get that raise at work. We hope we will find a romantic partner who’s just right for us. We hope we won’t be slapped with unexpected expenses. We hope that spiritual successors to retro video games we backed on Kickstarter won’t suck.
All of this hoping that things will be better creates a noxious cloud of depression, anxiety, or both. We either make ourselves feel helpless as we resign our fate to circumstances beyond our control, or poison our minds with anxiety as we dwell on images of calamities we wish to avoid. Disappointments and setbacks happen, we don’t need to add to the stress fire.
Instead, we need to take action to make those hopes and dreams happen.
Work for the Best
Even the most hardcore cynics hope, or at least yearn for, the best in our lives. We want to fulfill whatever level is next on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, whether that be security, belonging, self esteem, or self actualization. We hope for careers that allow us to live comfortably or life situations that allow us to live interesting and fulfilling lives. We hope for friends and loved ones to feel like we belong with.
In the rambling chaos theory that is our lives, we discover friendships and circumstances we never planned for, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to create our own opportunities as well. You may have stumbled onto your job through a weird web of happenings, but if you decide you want a better one, you shouldn’t sit around and wait for the opportunity fairy to visit again.
If you want a relationship, you need to take steps to actually get out and meet people. We all love a good story of finding a boyfriend/girlfriend in an adorable meet cute story, but great partners could pass you by if you’re sitting around waiting for the red string of fate to pull you towards them.
Don’t sit around hoping and wishing for the things you want. Go out and get them.
Prepare for the Worst
Now we must look at the other side of the coin: hoping something doesn’t happen. You may have a job you like, be in a relationship, or whatever else…and fear losing those things. Fear of loss can grip your mind in a way more powerful than yearning for something new can. Once again we hearken back to Maslow’s Hierarchy: humans value safety and comfort. Possible circumstances that threaten that security, no matter how unlikely or outlandish, frighten us in ways that lame remakes of horror franchises wish they could.
Taking precautions is, of course, the proactive thing to do. Identify potential things that could cause the situation you dread, and figure out things that could either prevent or lessen the impact. Say that you worry for your future health because of ailments that run in your family. Research things to do to lessen risk, such as maintaining healthy diet and exercising if your family has high risk of obesity or diabetes. Some simple proactive measures can deflect the things we fear, but sometimes…the worst truly is inevitable, and you must prepare for it.
Address the worst case scenario head on: Sit down and determine what will happen if the calamity you fear comes to pass. What will happen if you lose your job? What happens if you get evicted from your apartment? What happens if you don’t finish that super cool and ambitious cosplay in time for the con? Circumstances may be out of your control, but your reaction to it isn’t. Make backup plans for this worst case scenario. Reclaim your power and agency. Defang that boogeyman. You may even discover in the process that the things you fear happening may not be that bad after all, and that’s even better.
Sitting around hoping that something will or won’t happen accomplishes nothing. Sure, circumstances may work out in your favor, but the true way ton conquer our obstacles and ailments in life is to face them head on. Don’t be subject to the whims of fate, take action. Stop wishing and take control of your own destiny. I’ll let Sisko close this out, because he says it better than I ever could: