There are tough times ahead, and what we need is hope. Hope is not random, it can be generated. Experiencing my own tough times has taught me how—and so can you.
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ONE THING you can say about living in South Africa is that we know how to survive through tough and uncertain times. In fact, if you’re alive and breathing in this country, you’ve probably never known a time when things weren’t uncertain. Every day you’ve been alive, the newspaper, or the radio or television news, has delivered a surprise packet of either hope or dread—or sometimes both—largely based on the decisions and actions of our politicians.
Despite all we’ve been through, and despite all our familiarity with the hope-versus-dread cycle, even we Saffers know that we’re in for a bit of a ride. One of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is going to be the closure of many businesses and the loss of many jobs. For some, there will be a family or community support system. For others, not.
To get through it, we’re going to need hope. Our political leaders have not exactly inspired much of that, and so we’re going to have to generate it ourselves—consistently, every day, no matter what’s going on around us. No matter what’s being reported in the news or on social media.
Now hope—real, meaningful hope—is not the same as wishful thinking. It’s also not the result of convincing yourself, and it’s not positive thinking. Real hope is alive. It’s something you feel and experience, and it can be consciously constructed. It arises out of a deliberate set of actions that follow a real, and realistic, plan. I learned this the hard way—through experience.
I learned about hope from my mistakes and failures
As a risk-taking entrepreneur, I’ve found myself in tight spots more than once. At one stage along my journey, I got myself into a tight spot in which the word “spot” wouldn’t quite describe it. It was more like the Valley of the Shadow of Death! It’s easy to joke about it now, but it wasn’t funny.
First, a fixed-term contract that was my main source of income came to an end and was not renewed. I decided to move from Cape Town back to Johannesburg with the hope of being closer to my son, and of being in a bigger market for my coaching business. I was also hoping to raise a second round of funding for an Internet start-up I had co-founded.
Hope is not the same as wishful thinking, and it’s not the result of positive thinking.
Very soon, I found myself high and dry. The angel round of funding ran out and the second round didn’t materialise. Secondly, as far as coaching was concerned, I had been away too long, and my network had moved on. The market had changed, too. When I started out, you did business after one meeting and sealed the deal with a handshake. Now you had to produce a detailed proposal, pass all kinds of procurement conditions, face a selection panel, and then pray that you’d hear back from them within three months.
More often than not, I didn’t hear back. Corporate salary earners have no idea of the impact that their failure to communicate has on a private contractor. Often when I did, it was not good news. Things got tighter and tighter. At one time I couldn’t have my son with me for the weekend, because I couldn’t afford to feed and entertain a growing teenage boy. You can imagine the deep sense of failure and feeling of despair that came with that.
When times are tough, you have to end each day with hope
This didn’t just go on for just a few weeks, nor months. There were periods of relief, but it took at least two years for me to get back to a place of stability and consistency.
One thing’s for sure, I learned to survive. Under that umbrella came many sessions. I learned that you should always negotiate with a creditor, rather than borrow money to pay them. I learned that once you’ve negotiated with a creditor you must stick to what was agreed—they’ll take it very badly if you then miss another payment.
I learned that when times are tough, you have to end each day with hope.
I learned that the sign that the beggar held up at the corner of Sandton Drive and the William Nicol Highway was true. It said: When days are dark, friends are few. I learned what empathy was. I witnessed it emerge in myself when I shed a tear for that man, and for others in his position because I knew, now, how it felt. I learned to give more freely to people like him. I learned that there’s no shame in all of this. It happens.
But perhaps the most valuable thing I learned was that, in order to survive through tough times, you have to end each day with hope.
Generating hope is a skill or competence like any other
That lesson arose when I noticed that some days I finished feeling strong, while others ended in despair. And more often than not, I hadn’t landed a big deal on those good days. So, was it just mood swings, or was there something more? I started paying attention to what was different about those days on which I ended, not only feeling strong, but sometimes even on a high. As I gathered that data, I saw that there were replicable factors and that they were under my conscious control. I learned that generating hope is a skill or competence like any other.
To kick off my explanation, consider this scenario. Let’s say you’re tired, angry, and frustrated at work. You’re dragging yourself through the day. Your fuse is short and you’re shouting at people in the traffic on your drive home. You get home and your spouse has won a trip to the Maldives. It’s all expenses paid, and you’re leaving in two weeks. Suddenly, your burden feels a whole lot lighter. At work the next day, instead of kicking the photocopy machine, you’re all tra-la-la through the day. This goes on, and the day before you leave, you’re smiling at everybody and energised to the point that you can barely sleep.
The future exists as a thought, one that can impact you in the present
Now what’s important about that scenario is that your current circumstances didn’t change, yet you experienced a shift in your whole state of being. You felt elated, but you weren’t in the Maldives. Nothing in your environment had changed. It was the anticipation of the event that impacted you. It impacted your thoughts, your feelings and even your physical state.
Now what if it was someone else who was going, and not you? It wouldn’t have the same impact, right? So for you to be impacted by a future possibility, you have to be involved. You can’t be a spectator, and you can’t just have it as a fantasy or idea. It has to be real. That’s important too.
Finally, that situation was handed to you. It came from outside, it was a gift. Someone came along and rescued the situation. But that doesn’t always happen, does it, especially in tough times? So, what else could you do? Well, what if you woke up one day and, having read an article about it, decided that you wanted to go to the Maldives? OK, so maybe you couldn’t afford the Maldives, so you chose Cape Town instead. Not only that, but you called your best friend and got them to agree to join you! You’d immediately feel the excitement.
The thought must be linked to an action that involves you
The first thing to see here is that committing yourself to a future possibility—one which is real and which involves you and matters to you—produces a whole new set of thoughts and emotions, right here and now. It’s like you’ve created a virtual Russian doll by virtue of the commitment, and opened it, and inside are all these new, related thoughts and feelings, one after the other. In fact, the moment of commitment even impacts your body—your heart might race, you might get sweaty palms just thinking about it. You feel energised and can’t sleep.
If you want to feel hopeful at the end of each day, then you have to create a possibility that inspires hope.
So hopefully—pun intended—you can see where this is going. Perhaps you’ve jumped to your own conclusion already. Yes, indeed, it’s this: If you want to feel hopeful at the end of each day, then you have to create a possibility for yourself that inspires hope. For it to be real and not a fantasy, you have to take an action that inspires hope. Remember, if you’re not involved, not committed, or not taking action, it won’t impact you.
Of course, you want to have a bigger goal, or purpose, that you’re working towards, but sometimes that’s not enough when times are tough. It can seem too out of reach. In such times, you need something closer, more tangible. You need to create a new possibility every week, even every day. And since in tough times it’s less likely that something’s going to fall out of the sky, or someone’s going to come along and rescue you—after all, that’s the very definition of tough times—you have to do it yourself.
Here are some examples from my experience, and a guide for practical application of these points, along with a summary at the end.
Set up your daily boost of hope
Naturally, during tough times, you’re trying to secure business. So the committed action you’re most likely looking for is a prospect meeting. When you secure a meeting, what does that do to your state of being, immediately? It inspires hope! So, you spend your day trying to secure that meeting. In some businesses you can get meetings quite easily, it’s trying to secure the sale that’s the challenge. Still, as long as you have prospects, you have hope.
In my business, I didn’t manage to secure a meeting that easily. It could take days, even weeks, to secure a meaningful meeting. Even then, that meeting could be in three weeks’ time and the business that might flow out of it could be six months away—on the other side of those lengthy processes and selection panels. Therefore, securing a meeting could lift the base level of hope, but often that was not enough to give me the lift I needed when five o’clock came and there was little more I could do until the next day, and another dark night lay ahead, with a meeting only in three weeks’ time.
Ask yourself, or your people: What have you set up for yourself to look forward to, tomorrow?
After all, there were all those meetings I’d already had, and submitted proposals for. I hadn’t heard back from them for three weeks. That, too, can destroy hope. In the beginning, I would tend to focus on those ones, wondering what it meant that they hadn’t replied. Trying to calculate—or guess—whether I should follow up or wait. Asking myself—and the universe, God, whatever was out there—whether there was any hope.
That last point gave me the clue. There was no hope in focusing on what was already way in the past, and not happening. There was also little hope being generated from those distant appointments, which could easily go the same way. But here’s what I noticed. I felt strong and full of hope at the end of a day when I sent out a new meeting request, or a new proposal, especially if I did that towards the end of the day. The action was energising in itself, plus I didn’t have reason, when I reached those dark hours of the morning, to interpret what it meant that they hadn’t replied yet! Those little actions gave me the short-term boosts I needed.
Hope will get you through the night
So I developed that as a little trick I played on myself. I made sure I sent a strong email to a new prospect as often as possible—every day, if I could—and, when I could, towards the end of a day. Of course, I got plenty of negative replies, or absent replies to previous emails during each day, but those mattered less. I was busy in some way or another, and I had my day’s email still to send—a new idea or prospect I could focus on.
Hope doesn’t happen by itself. You have to generate it. Hope itself has to be your commitment.
I also extrapolated this principle to posting on my blog and social media accounts. The right post can also give you a sense of hope. You never know what might come from it. The problem with social media is you start to check for responses, and that can destroy hope. So I turned off all notifications, except for SMS’s and WhatsApp messages. For my email and social media apps, I also turned off those little red app icon badges that show how many unread messages you have. If I wanted that information, I’d have to open the app. Then I’d post towards the end of the day and, as far as possible, I’d only check for views and likes and comments the next day. In that way, I could carry that little bit of hope with me through the night. It’s amazing what just a tiny bit of hope can do for you in those dark hours when regret and despair threaten. I focused my attention on those small possibilities (years of meditation helped), and that was most often enough to get me back to sleep.
Naturally, this same principle of generating hope can apply if you’re looking for a job, or trying to get a book published, or even in the personal space, like when you’re looking for a relationship partner, or help with a particular problem.
Limit exposure to news, and check in with reality
The other thing I learned to do was to not pay too much attention to the news. I’m a news junkie, so I was not about to stop reading the news, but I cut down to a few checks a day. In addition, each time I checked, and especially when the stories inspired dread (in South Africa, there’s almost always one of those), I’d step outside and see if the sun was still in the sky.
I can report that without fail, the sun was always right where it was supposed to be, as was the sky itself. It had not fallen. As were all the trees and buildings. Then I’d check to see if people were still walking and driving around. Honestly, I did this. It’s an actual technique that I now teach. I can report that without fail, life carried on. In fact, if you looked at the activity out there on the street, you’d swear there was no news. It helped me to see that no matter what was reported, and no matter whether it inspired hope or dread, everybody continued to get up and do their best. I always felt reassured that we—people in general, and South Africans in particular—would find our way through anything, no matter what.
In this way, I took it one day at a time, and eventually things came together. Today, I feel confident that I can generate hope whenever I need to. Now, hopefully, you can too.
In the next post in this series, you can read the 10 Guidelines for Generating Meaningful Hope.