Hope is a Bag of Sh*t


About a year ago, a member of my Leadership Team was recounting her attempt at infusing hope into her team. My response, “hope is a bag of sh*t” surprised her as it has others subsequently. The use of hope can create fear when reality fails to meet what was prophesied. Our nation now suffers because the 2008 promise of hope has been, at least temporarily, displaced by economic, environmental and social fear (and I’m a fervent Obama supporter).

Vaclav Havel, famous dissenter and Czech President, once said,

“Hope is a dimension of the soul – an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizon. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

It’s that last part that fascinates me.

If you have had bad luck with relationships inside or outside the workplace, there was likely a certain amount of hopefulness and, as a result, fear emerged as a potential consequence. We hope our relationships will be successful so we must also fear they might not be on some level.  We hope we’ll get along with our new boss yet we fear what the consequences might be if that hope is not realized.

However, it just doesn’t seem natural to avoid hope in our lives. Most religions are built around having hope and faith. In fact, religious extremists will blow themselves up in the hope that they will have a better life after death. However, hope in everyday modern society is a catalyst for action. How could that be a problem? Leaders are taught to be visionaries by creating hope amongst their teams and then implementing a plan that has a high likelihood of success. How difficult would it be for you to walk into your job every day if you didn’t have hope that you could make a difference somehow?

One of the best articles on the subject of mindful leadership, Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion: A Leader’s Road Map to Renewal by McKee, Johnston and Massililian (2006) included hope as a “key element” that is “absolutely essential if a leader is to sustain resonance”. However, the authors note that hope “affects the perceptions of the events around us, so that we tend to see things more positively.”

The HR-mantra of “you just need to have a positive attitude” is in the same bag as hope.

They both are mental manipulations of the present by leaders who would simply alter the perception of the future rather than address the reality of now.

My issue with hope is that its motivation is offset by the emotions experienced when failure is the result. Failing is depressing and it’s tough not to feel like life isn’t fair when we fail. Because hope and fear become different sides of the same coin, hope becomes an albatross worth avoiding. With apologies to Portia Nelson, I don’t choose to continue straight down the street and hope that the hole in front of me won’t swallow me up.

So what replaces hope (and fear)? Surprisingly, it’s insecurity. I admit getting satisfaction in my accomplishments and having plans for the future but, ironically, I get greater joy from natural curiosity and process. It’s the proverbial journey vs. the destination conversation.

I find myself much more engaged when I’m trying to solve a problem than actually answering it.

I even have a tattoo that means “impermanence” in Sanskrit and it reminds me that inevitable change is the rule and embracing the insecurity of it is energizing to me.

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I have literally survived the last couple of years knowing that clinging to hope would betray me. I have seen “friends” abandon me when their selfish agendas weren’t advanced and have observed the staggering compromise of values that suddenly was no longer perceived as necessary.

Had I invested hope in these people and ideas, my disappointment would have been much greater.

It is more comforting to try not to put a stake in any ground other than this moment, which will inevitably change before you finish reading this sentence. There is no hope (and therefore, no fear) right now. It only exists in the past and future thought.

Calling our minds back to the present moment is challenging and takes practice but it keeps our minds clearer and reduces our fear of the “what ifs” that result naturally from advancing thoughts of hope.


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