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The Key to Cultivating Hope

How adversity, challenges and failures are at the center of our ability to feel hopeful about the future.

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Recently, the concept of hope has been present for me. As November starts and we head into the home stretch of a challenging 2020, which brought us global pandemics, rising racial tensions and unprecedented elections, it is difficult in this moment to feel confident, or even hopeful, that 2021 is going to be any different. However, we need to hope. We must believe that the future can be different than today. 

“Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all of the darkness”

Desmond Tutu

Hope is defined as ‘a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen’. Hope speaks directly to the fact that we all want and need to feel hopeful, in life and at work as it is linked to our sense of purpose and meaning and therefore related to an individual’s sense of engagement in the life and work they create. How then, do we cultivate hope when life’s challenges can make our desires feel so distant and perhaps unattainable? What allows us to keep moving forward with purpose?

The research of Brené Brown has found that hope is a function of struggle, We have to regularly face adversity, challenges and failures and come through them in order to develop that sense of hopefulness. Therefore, our past experiences with hardship predict our likelihood for hope in the future. This concept becomes quite relevant for example, in raising children. If parents too readily ‘rescue’ their children from failures or strive to prevent them from experiencing adversity, they rob them of the opportunity to navigate their way through those challenges which in turn develops their sense of hope. It is moving past those struggles that allows them to face future failures with a sense of possibility. I see this same dynamic as a potential pitfall for leaders as well, if their style tends to the micromanaging end of the spectrum and they find themselves overly involved in the work of others in an attempt to mitigate failure. It limits the employee’s development.

The research of C.R. Snyder describes hope as a cognitive emotional process with three elements, goals (knowing where we are going), pathway (knowing how to get there), and agency (the belief that we can do it). There is most certainly a place for parents and leaders to influence this process by collaboratively helping to set realistic goals and by supporting in mapping out a process to meet those goals, but the sense of agency truly only comes when one has navigated and executed that path independently, which they can do if they know that support and encouragement is waiting in the wings. That we are never truly alone on our journeys.

“If there is hope in the future, there is power in the present”

John Maxwell

In order to feel a sense of purpose and hopefulness about the future, we have to cultivate this sense of agency in order for hope to thrive in us. The hope that how things are today is not how they always will be. We need to see greater possibilities for the future. May all of the adversities of 2020 be cultivating in us all a very strong sense of hope for the future.

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