Keeping Hope Alive Even When it Hurts
Today’s episode is less about actionable strategies and more about encouragement. I love providing you all with tips you can use right away to *hopefully* improve your life in some small way. But sometimes, I think we just need real talk and encouragement. There’s something affirming about transparency and that little push to keep going when things are hard. So, in this episode, I’d like to share some thoughts on the idea of hope and offer some perspective to keep you going, even during challenging seasons.
Keeping hope alive is really, really hard and recently I’ve been thinking about why. Why does it hurt so much when our hopes are disappointed? How do we keep hoping in a world that seems hell-bent on extinguishing those hopes?
Here’s the thing that I’ve discovered about hope…
To hope is to be vulnerable. It’s the choice to lay our true unbridled feelings bare before the world in full faith that they’ll be handled with care and compassion.
The reality, though, is that our true feelings, as pure and well-intended as they may be, aren’t always reciprocated or affirmed by our desired outcome. Hope is the rawest form of authenticity there is - and that’s why hope is hard.
Personally, my relationship with hope is complicated. When you peel back all the layers, I am relatively optimistic, but years of rejection and dashed hopes caused me to internalize the idea of preparing for the worst from people and from the world in general. My anxiety just compounds these thoughts and makes me feel like Why should I invest energy into these hopes only to feel heartbroken when they don’t come to fruition? I could be pouring that energy into managing my expectations so that maybe I can avoid the pain when my hopes aren’t realized.
This idea that preparing for the worst is best and in the event that something better happens I’ll just be pleasantly surprised has literally been my internal narrative for YEARS. For me, being hopeful is being naïve, and being naïve means that you'll always be disappointed. And I’m not having that.
Can any of you relate? If you’re a classroom teacher, you might be able to relate to starting your teaching career - or even starting every school year - with fresh hopes that eventually feel impossible to keep investing in. At some point, you start to manage expectations by telling yourself and your teacher friends, that it doesn’t matter because nothing will change anyway. And If you’re a former teacher or a teacher whose thinking of exploring the possibilities of a career shift, you also know what it feels like to lose hope when you’re trying to build the confidence and the knowledge to step into an unknown.
For any educator, or person really, optimism can feel pointless, it can feel like you’re pouring money (or energy or time) into an investment that never produces a return. Subconsciously we start to think that maybe that energy is better invested in tempering our expectations so that we can avoid the pain of disappointment. Now, I will say that healthy skepticism does have a purpose. It helps us evaluate risks and avoid potential danger. But the key word is healthy amount. Because here’s the thing, even when you think you're skirting hurt of disappointment, the truth and the hope at your core will find a way to show up just when you least expect or want it to.
Case in point, just a few months ago I had an incident where I saw something that caused some unexpected excitement. Typically I’m very skeptical and it takes a lot for me to let my guard down. In this instance though, my guard dropped almost immediately and without thinking, I let the excitement take over. It was one of those excitements that felt like hope was fulfilled. It felt like proof that maybe the world isn’t so bad...like I could trust in the good.
That lasted for all of about 5 minutes before all of it came crashing down as it dawned on me that I was being duped. None of what I had seen was true and someone had intentionally planned it in such a way to capitalize on the likely emotional responses of people like me who hope for inclusivity and equity and change.
I walked away from that incident feeling really gross and, honestly, stupid. I didn’t have any way of knowing that I was being tricked and my usual skeptical nature hadn’t prepared me for the worst, because in that brief moment, I was believing in the best.
Most of us, learn to temper hopeful feelings if we’ve encountered enough situations where our hopes were deflated. This is because our brains register emotional pain and physical pain in the same way. Ultimately our bodies want to avoid pain, so we develop coping mechanisms to help us avoid situations where hurt is likely. So, if you are risk averse, that aversion is likely your brain’s way of attempting to shield you from situations that have been labeled as painful based on your lived experiences.
It was at this moment I realized that, even when buried under layers of lived experience, we can never completely control the hurt nor do we have the ability to completely stomp it out. It shows up at unexpected, inconvenient times and, in my case, it forced me to think about why we should still have hope even though we know it will come with disappointment.
Now, I’m not a scientist or a therapist. I’m just a 30-something black woman with nothing but my lived experience and a mic to share it on...but here are my two cents.
Why we should still have hope
I believe hope is this raw purity that exists in all of us. It’s the last vestiges of a childlike sense of trust and optimism that has been scuffed by trauma and life experiences.
Hope is important because it’s all we have to believe in for better...for ourselves, our communities, and the world at large. Hope is a kind of generational wealth, it is an enduring legacy that we can pass down to future generations.
My ancestors hoped for freedom and equality for centuries before their hopes were realized, and they never gave in. I am a representation of the cumulative hopes of generations before me. I am my ancestors’ dreams realized. Their commitment to hope and their belief in better is the foundation of resilience that exists in the very fiber of my DNA.
And it is in you too. While your story may not be the same story as mine, a black American female from a middle-class family, you also have folks before you who hoped and dreamed for your success, your joy, and your ability to create a future that would be just a little better than their present. Maybe they weren’t able to pass down any money or physical assets and in all likelihood, their hopes didn’t protect you from struggle, but it did act like this little flicker of light at the end of the tunnel, giving them (and you) something better to strive towards. Even if that hope isn’t realized, at least you’re a little bit closer and you’ve run another leg of the journey towards better. Every step we take toward hope gets us (and even those that will come after us) a little bit closer.
I’m still largely skeptical, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can invite joy alongside my skepticism and stop believing that I can control the hurt and disappointment that often comes when hopes aren’t realized. While I’ve got a long way to go, I’m beginning to recognize that maybe it's better to be hopeful and disappointed than to be doubtful and proven right. When we are hopeful, we’ve at least invited joy into our bodies, even if only for a moment into our lives. When we start with doubt, we immediately eliminate the potential for joy. Life, truly, is too short to intentionally snuff out the potential for joy.
We have to seek it, invite it, and snatch it in anyway that we can.
And that, to me, is enough to let my hope shine just a little bit brighter.
My encouragement to you today is that you invite yourself to hope. Invite yourself to experience the joy that comes with believing that the next second, the next minute, the next hour can be better.
You deserve to relish joy every moment you can.
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