If you don’t have hope, you can’t cope.
When the Iron Curtain fell, when the Cold War was over, the country of Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. The new country of the Czech Republic took root in the midst of turmoil. But their first president, Vaclav Havel, knew he had to be an inspiring force. He gave the people a four-letter word for their fledgling democracy — the word “hope.” As he said, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”
What about you? Are you filled with hope? Do your hopes outweigh your doubts? And would other people describe you as hope-full? Excuse the pun, but I certainly hope you answered “yes” to each of those questions.
After all, hope is one of the key factors that moves you beyond mere survival to awesome success in every part of your life and career. Indeed, medical doctors are even saying these days it’s very difficult if not impossible to get healthy without hope.
So how do you get hope working for you?
1. Keep on keeping on whether you feel like it or not.
Hope is not some anemic, take-it-easy, laid-back approach to life, where a person thinks “I sure hope it works out,” but doesn’t do anything to ensure the realization of his hope. Hope is more than an emotion; it is also a critical behavior. You have to do something to activate your hope, like keep on keeping on.
As American novelist and non-fiction writer, Anne Lamott says, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch AND work; you don’t give up.”
It’s a key point in my new book, “The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want out of Life and Work.” I recommend you get a copy and then … whatever you do, don’t read it. Devour it.
2. Put things in perspective.
Of course there are bad things in this world, and there are probably some bad things in your life. However, you also activate your hope when you consciously decide that something good can come out of the mess you’re in.
I learned that when I was 18 years of age. I applied for a summer job in Europe that promised big money and lots of adventure. When I arrived at my employer’s location, I learned that my job would be waiting tables in a restaurant, 70 hours a week, 6 1/2 days a week, for $14 a week. I immediately went into my own little pity party, whining about how unfairly I was being treated.
So I wired my father, told him my predicament, and asked for his advice. He wrote back, “You can take anything for a short period of time.” In other words, “Suck it up. You didn’t ask enough questions before you agreed to take the job. So it’s your fault. Don’t blame your boss. You signed the contract. Besides that, something good is going to come out of this. Now do your job. Period!”
I did indeed do my job. I worked my butt off that summer, but it also became one of the most positive and exciting periods of my life. It became a turning point in my life. I made friendships that have lasted for decades and I learned cultures I never would have understood. It turned me into a passionate traveler that has continued to experience the world ever since.
Something good came out of my difficult situation. And when you realize something good can come out of your situation, your hope kicks into gear.
When I was speaking to a group of community educators, delivering my program on “Take This Job and Love It!,” they really got this point and put it to work in their classrooms. As Ruth Reeves, a Minnesota Community Education director, put it, “Alan Zimmerman is a touchstone. His presentation helps us to get back to basics of good, positive thinking and living.”
Take the perspective of William Gaines, the publisher and co-editor of EC Comics. He says, “Most of my major disappointments have turned out to be blessings in disguise. So whenever anything bad does happen to me, I kind of sit back and feel, well, if I give this enough time, it’ll turn out that this was good, so I shan’t worry about it too much.”
3. Cross paths with those who believe in you and your future.
Have you ever noticed that the whiners at work tend to find each other and hang around each other? Have you ever noticed that unhappy people tend to cluster together? And have you ever noticed that people with dysfunctional marriages tend to have friends who also have dysfunctional marriages? Of course you have. It’s not an accident.
Likewise, if you are struggling to keep your hope and energy up, you can’t spend too much time with people who don’t have much hope. They’ll suck what little hope you have right out of you.
By contrast, if you seek out hope-filled people to spend time with, or if you’re lucky enough to have a hopeful person cross your path at a critical moment, it will make all the difference in your world. Such was the case with one Vietnam soldier.
In 1968, a helicopter gunner took a direct hit from a rocket. The 19-year old gunner lay on a stretcher, more dead than alive. The trauma surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Swan, looked at the young man’s injuries and couldn’t hold back his tears.
Nonetheless, the medical team managed to save the soldier’s arms but had to amputate both legs and some fingers. Both of his eyes were beyond repair.
Dr. Swan’s superior later told him, “I think you ought to know, the other surgeons feel you should have let that fellow die last night.” Stiffening, Dr. Swan said, “I was trained to care for the sick and the wounded. God will decide who lives or dies.”
Some years later, Dr. Swan wrote about his experience in the “American Medical News,” and immediately his readers were asking what became of the soldier and whether the doctor still thought he made right decision.
It took Dr. Swan 18 months to find the soldier, Ken McGarity. He learned that Ken was married, had two children, played the piano and trumpet, and was an avid scuba diver. Then, some months later, Dr. Swan visited his former patient and met a determined man in wheelchair who had taken college courses, could change tires, and even fix the roof of his Georgia home.
The soldier’s wife Theresa said, “I always wanted to meet the man who saved Kenneth’s life. I wanted to thank you for these 20 wonderful years we’ve had together and for our two beautiful daughters. The decision you made that night is responsible for my w
hole world and for the life of the man I intend to grow old with.”
That’s the power of hope. Dr. Swan’s hope for Ken’s life not only saved his life but blessed the lives of so many others.
If you want to achieve something great, put hope to work for you.