I was recently asked to define “Hopelessness.”
For me, hopelessness can feel overwhelming — as if you are at the bottom of a pit and all you see are walls around you.
The good news is that with the right support system, hopelessness can be a temporary state. Connecting with people that can provide you with a different perspective can help you emerge from hopelessness with a renewed sense of vigor. There is a great scene from the West Wing that has Leo talking to Josh who in that moment is hopeless.
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on
“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’”
Hopelessness can be caused either by internal or external factors. I have a client who was a minority partner in a design agency. The owner of her firm and her mentor died very soon after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Suddenly, she was THE partner. She faced her own grief, fears about her abilities (severe impostor syndrome) and employees who were lost. The feeling of despair was overwhelming to her. When we first began to work together, I showed her that like Leo’s story above, I would be there for her and I knew the “way out.” Second, I told her to take the time to grieve. Then, once she caught her breath, we tackled the hopelessness. In the meantime, she had permission to be in this place.
Then, we approached her situation in 3 phases. The first two being concurrent: mindset and organizational structure. I reminded her that the bones of what was needed for the kind of success she wanted to achieve were already there. Armed with that knowledge and her ability to trust the process, we could set her company up in a way to leverage that mindset. The third phase was to activate that structure to develop new business and nurture existing client relationships. She did and now 2 years later her year-over-year net income is up 54%.
Hopelessness is real and seeking support can help — whatever that looks like. It is also important for people to recognize when friends, colleagues and relatives need you to jump in. Mental health should be viewed through the same lens as other types of health. If I have the flu, I would like you to bring me chicken soup. If I seem to be hopeless, I would like for you to bring me hope.