Mentoring Hope

Poetry

Hope

by Isabelle Scaffidi

I’m leaving home and go off to college next fall.  Woohoo!  Yippie!  Leave the nest. Fly the coop.

 Launch.  Oh, so glorious.  

At risk of applying a famous, allusive quotation in  an inappropriately trite setting, I think most of my friends and I have long envisioned the crossing of this threshold as a “free at last, free at last, thank god almighty I’m free at last” moment.  Irreverent, right? Sorry about that, but I’m going somewhere with this sarcastic tone.  

Adolescence and a safe home replete with loving parents, warm food, and six televisions should not feel like the oppressive enslavement of the Jews in Egypt nor of black Africans in the American South, yet we spend our childhoods anticipating leaving home as a form of liberation.  The funny thing is, when we get here, the prospect terrifies us.  Ok, I’m sorry to my fellow seniors in the room if you’re worried that I’m giving away a long held secret, but if I’m going to ask people to listen to me, I’ve got to talk straight.  So here it is.  We put on a good show, but most of us really aren’t sure we’re ready.  Ready to harness our future success. Reach our potential.  Follow our passion. That’s what we’re told to do. Right.  Just follow your passion, and abra cadabra, smooth sailing to a totally fulfilling career guaranteed to offer us a life of happiness and success.  

The problem is, when I lay down to try to fall asleep, pondering my performance so far and anticipating the rest of my journey, I worry that the story I’ve been told, isn’t that simple.  And some of us have conditioned ourselves to refrain from hoping for the best.   In his book, The Fearless Mind, Craig Manning, PhD, dispels the myth of “potential, plus training, equals performance,” arguing the real equation is “potential plus training minus interference equals high performance.”  His premise is that the ability to overcome interference offers one of the most crucial skills.   

But what has our culture offered us as a formula to fight against the interference of fear.  The fear we aren’t supposed to admit sits in our stomachs, whispers in our thoughts, and sometimes, keeps us up at night.  We often pretend fear doesn’t exist, and man was Roosevelt right when he said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Good thing, there is a way to subtract the interference of fear from our equation, making room for hope.  

First, we’ll expose the nature of fear, uncovering insights into the way our minds actually talk us out of taking the very risks that will add to our lives.  Second, we’ll examine the nature of courage, the common denominator that will allow us to divide the fractions fear breaks us into, keeping us from being whole and driven by a hope.  And finally, we’ll embrace the idea that in the test of life, there’s not one equation that works universally for every person, to become individually brave enough to accept that the sum of our lives cannot be measured by anyone but ourselves.  

Many young people have gotten to the point where hoping for a positive outcome feels dangerous.  Barbara L Fredrickson Ph.D., in her article “Why Choose Hope,” explains, “Hope is not your typical form of positivity. Most positive emotions arise when we feel safe and satiated. Hope is the exception.”  Yet this emotion is typically misunderstood.  Fredrickson explains, hope “comes into play when our circumstances are dire – things are not going well or at least there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. Hope arises precisely within those moments when fear, hopelessness or despair seem just as likely.”  What happens, however, when interference interrupts our ability to hope?  What happens when I won’t even attempt to hope because I fear that if I hope, I will wind up even more disappointed, hurt, or ashamed of my performance not measuring up.  OH, there I go telling secrets again.  We don’t like to admit it, but we often play it safe, retreating from hope because “if I risk hoping too much, I admit how much I want a certain outcome, and suddenly, that equation equals up to more than I can bare to lose.”  

Let me offer an example.  AP English, Honors math, art, not problem, but AP Physics, oh, yeah, that’s just not my comfort zone. I took the class, and I work hard, but before every test, instead of believing my studying will pay off and hoping for an A, I build a little wall of self protection around myself, tell myself I don’t really care that much, and allow a self-fulfilling prophecy in my mind to leave a loophole where failing doesn’t equate to, well, failing, because it’s not really a failure if you didn’t really care, or try, right? I get so scared of being disappointed, I shut down the hope that welled up in me, a positive response I should have made room for, but didn’t.  And I know i’m not the only one.

Like, when you see that really attractive person, and think, hmm, I’d like to meet him, he looks interesting.  And then, instead of hoping for a chance to meet or, woooh, walking over and saying hello, we create a fear driven inner monologue:  nah, he’d probably never be interested in me, and anyway, he’s probably stupid, mean, smells bad, has a skin disease I could catch by touching him, and you know, you have to be careful of strangers because that really nice looking boy might be an ax murderer disguising himself as a forensics competitor.   Whether we like to admit it or not, this fear induced mental interference affects all of us. We fear too much, so we hope too little.  Then we crack jokes about it, saying things like: “ I literally just bombed that test.” “Yeah, he’s hot, but he’s probably got a jealous girlfriend. Not worth it.” Or worse, we don’t apply to that college because we might not get in.  

And here’s where the real danger of this problem starts to emerge.  Despair is dangerous.  Refraining from hope often means hanging back, holding off, sitting out, refraining, refusing, or retreating.  All negative numbers that subtract from our lives.  

Webster can offer us the basic denotation of hope as: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  But psychologists provide much deeper insight as to what hope added to the problem of trying to achieve our vision of success, a sum that often seems elusive. In 1991, the eminent positive psychologist Charles Snyder generated a study among college students in which he developed “Hope Theory.” This theory encompasses the idea that hope is a set of pathways to create our goals, and the necessary will to achieve them. On the other hand, some psychologists define hope as a dynamic cognitive motivational system, which means that emotions follow cognitions. Hope, under this framework, views failures with a growth mindset. It embraces challenges, and finds enjoyment in learning new things, risking new challenges, and hoping despite the possibility of exponential disappointment.

If we refrain from hope we miss opportunities; we miss activating the type of motivation we can only muster when we believe in what we are doing, and we miss learning in small circumstance, the opportunity to learn the very human lesson that life still exists after disappointment.  So this is where we need to solve for X and identify the missing variable that allows us to solve a complex problem.

I would like to argue that we focus past the interference of fear and exhibit courage.

According to the notable psychology author, Dr. F. Emelia Sam, A person who hopes for a positive outcome but does not act courageously in the face of his or her fear is not really hoping

Aristotle, likewise philosophized that people must actually take courageous steps “in order to bring about a good end”  Thus, if the sum of our lives is going to be positive, we must both dare to expect something positive to happen in the future and act in courage, exert effort, despite fear.

    Earlier, I referred to courage as a common denominator.  So let’s define this abstraction.  Emily Dickenson wrote, “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”  Every superhero story, comic, and movie, ever, has portrayed courage as morally just, inspired  behavior displayed by almost godlike characters who rise above the status of mere mortals who need help from those who, despite consequence, do what must be done.  Amir Marvasti, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Altoona, who has conducted extensive studies on the meaning of courage, calls it "a noble quality we all aspire to."  And Professor Andrew Martin, from the University of Sydney who studies academic courage, argues in  School Psychology Quarterly, says, "Courage is defined as perseverance in the face of academic difficulty and fear.”  Making an important distinction, he explains, “Confidence, by contrast, is perseverance without the presence of fear.”

       Confidence is not enough.  Courage is a necessity.  In our academic lives, our home lives, or work lives, and our social lives, fear can break us down, turn us to fractions, keep us from being whole and driven by a hope.  Courage, therefore, must serve as our common denominator.  Courage factors our fear instead of denying or ignoring its presence.  And that’s a formula that meets us in reality.  

     If it’s alright with you, I’d like to offer a personal example of the necessity of the courage to hope. 

    As I conclude my time with your today, let me wrap up with a final assertion that if this life is some sort of test, there’s not one universal equation that works for everyone.  The courage to hope in the face of fear looks different in every life.  We want different things, fear different things, and offer different things to this beautiful world in which we are trying to find our way forward.  Forward is not the same direction for each of us.   

     And that is the solution to our secret temptation to refrain from hope, protecting ourselves from disappointment -- of ourselves and of others.  Finding success, achieving our vision, coming to a place where we feel fulfilled, and I mean deep down fulfillment, the kind that lets you sleep at night, is not always about moving the the direction expected of us.   When an individualized vision drives us, our motivation increases, our work ethic is activated, and our willingness to exhibit courage increases.  When the interference of fear multiplies, the value of our goal has a high enough value to compel us to courage.  So, the math is actually quite simple:  to become individually brave enough to hope, the sum of our lives cannot be measured by anyone but ourselves. 

 

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. Mark Twain


 

PERSONAL TIDBIT: Its funny, actually, to think of where I am now. I’ve been doing public speaking as a hobby for 6 years... But for a large part of my life I was silent. I wouldn’t voice how I felt, participate in class, and I ended up letting a lot of people take advantage of me. I felt alone-- unseen, and unnoticed. Like I didnt matter. This led me into a spiral. I battled depression for years, I resorted to self harm and anorexia to try to deal with the pain and feelings. Why-- why is it that we do this crazy thing where we make ourselves as vulnerable as we can possibly be? We open ourselves up to superficial criticism. For people to judge our makeup, how skinny we are, how well we speak, etc. Well, we know why we do this. We do it because we want to make a difference-- we want to make people feel some emotion. We see a problem and we want to fix it. If we didn”t make ourselves be vulnerable, if we didn’t open ourselves up to the possibilities of failure, how could we ever experience success? None of us just joined forensics because we thought we had a knack for it. We joined knowing damn well we would fail at some point. We joined knowing itd be worth it to make a difference.

 

SOLUTION:

 

CONCLUSION: We cannot experience hope unless we allow ourselves to experience fear-- we have to allow it to consume us for only 5 seconds. And then we must be courageous. See we have to have fear, but we cannot be fearful. We have to open ourselves up to vulnerability, to the idea that we just might not succeed. We cannot hope unless there’s a chance that our hope will not be realized. If we venture into any pursuit with the notion engraved that we will succeed,  that is not hope. That is insurance.


 

I’m leaving home and go off to college next fall.  Woohoo!  Yippie!  Leave the nest. Fly the coop.  Launch.  Oh, so glorious.  

At risk of applying a famous, allusive quotation in  an inappropriately trite setting, I think most of my friends and I have long envisioned the crossing of this threshold as a “free at last, free at last, thank god almighty I’m free at last” moment.  Irreverent, right? Sorry about that, but I’m going somewhere with this sarcastic tone.  

Adolescence and a safe home replete with loving parents, warm food, and six televisions should not feel like the oppressive enslavement of the Jews in Egypt nor of black Africans in the American South, yet we spend our childhoods anticipating leaving home as a form of liberation.  The funny thing is, when we get here, the prospect terrifies us.  Ok, I’m sorry to my fellow seniors in the room if you’re worried that I’m giving away a long held secret, but if I’m going to ask people to listen to me, I’ve got to tell it like it is talk straight.  So here it is.  We put on a good show, but most of us really aren’t sure we’re ready.  Ready to harness our future success. Reach our potential.  Follow our passion. That’s what we’re told to do. Right.  Just follow your passion, and abra cadabra, smooth sailing to a totally fulfilling career guaranteed to offer us a life of happiness and success.  

The problem is, when I lay down to try to fall asleep, pondering my performance so far and anticipating the rest of my journey, I worry that the story I’ve been told, isn’t that simple.  And some of us have conditioned ourselves to refrain from hoping for the best.   In his book, The Fearless Mind, Craig Manning, PhD, dispels the myth of “potential, plus training, equals performance,” arguing the real equation is “potential plus training minus interference equals high performance.”  His premise is that the ability to overcome interference offers one of the most crucial skills.   

But what has our culture offered us as a formula to fight against the interference of fear.  The fear we aren’t supposed to admit sits in our stomachs, whispers in our thoughts, and sometimes, keeps us up at night.  We often pretend fear doesn’t exist, and man was Roosevelt right when he said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Good thing, there is a way to subtract the interference of fear from our equation, making room for hope.  

First, we’ll expose the nature of fear, uncovering insights into the way our minds actually talk us out of taking the very risks that will add to our lives.  Second, we’ll examine the nature of courage, the common denominator that will allow us to divide the fractions fear breaks us into, keeping us from being whole and driven by a hope.  And finally, we’ll embrace the idea that in the test of life, there’s not one equation that works universally for every person, to become individually brave enough to accept that the sum of our lives cannot be measured by anyone but ourselves.  

Many young people have gotten to the point where hoping for a positive outcome feels dangerous.  Barbara L Fredrickson Ph.D., in her article “Why Choose Hope,” explains, “Hope is not your typical form of positivity. Most positive emotions arise when we feel safe and satiated. Hope is the exception.”  Yet this emotion is typically misunderstood.  Fredrickson explains, hope “comes into play when our circumstances are dire – things are not going well or at least there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. Hope arises precisely within those moments when fear, hopelessness or despair seem just as likely.”  What happens, however, when interference interrupts our ability to hope?  What happens when I won’t even attempt to hope because I fear that if I hope, I will wind up even more disappointed, hurt, or ashamed of my performance not measuring up.  OH, there I go telling secrets again.  We don’t like to admit it, but we often play it safe, retreating from hope because “if I risk hoping too much, I admit how much I want a certain outcome, and suddenly, that equation equals up to more than I can bare to lose.”  

Let me offer an example.  AP English, Honors math, art, not problem, but AP Physics, oh, yeah, that’s just not my comfort zone. I took the class, and I work hard, but before every test, instead of believing my studying will pay off and hoping for an A, I build a little wall of self protection around myself, tell myself I don’t really care that much, and allow a self-fulfilling prophecy in my mind to leave a loophole where failing doesn’t equate to, well, failing, because it’s not really a failure if you didn’t really care, or try, right? I get so scared of being disappointed, I shut down the hope that welled up in me, a positive response I should have made room for, but didn’t.  And I know i’m not the only one.

Like, when you see that really attractive person, and think, hmm, I’d like to meet him, he looks interesting.  And then, instead of hoping for a chance to meet or, woooh, walking over and saying hello, we create a fear driven inner monologue:  nah, he’d probably never be interested in me, and anyway, he’s probably stupid, mean, smells bad, has a skin disease I could catch by touching him, and you know, you have to be careful of strangers because that really nice looking boy might be an ax murderer disguising himself as a forensics competitor.   Whether we like to admit it or not, this fear induced mental interference affects all of us. We fear too much, so we hope too little.  Then we crack jokes about it, saying things like: “ I literally just bombed that test.” “Yeah, he’s hot, but he’s probably got a jealous girlfriend. Not worth it.” Or worse, we don’t apply to that college because we might not get in.  

And here’s where the real danger of this problem starts to emerge.  Despair is dangerous.  Refraining from hope often means hanging back, holding off, sitting out, refraining, refusing, or retreating.  All negative numbers that subtract from our lives.  

Webster can offer us the basic denotation of hope as: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  But psychologists provide much deeper insight as to what hope added to the problem of trying to achieve our vision of success, a sum that often seems elusive. In 1991, the eminent positive psychologist Charles Snyder generated a study among college students in which he developed “Hope Theory.” This theory encompasses the idea that hope is a set of pathways to create our goals, and the necessary will to achieve them. On the other hand, some psychologists define hope as a dynamic cognitive motivational system, which means that emotions follow cognitions. Hope, under this framework, views failures with a growth mindset. It embraces challenges, and finds enjoyment in learning new things, risking new challenges, and hoping despite the possibility of exponential disappointment.

If we refrain from hope we miss opportunities; we miss activating the type of motivation we can only muster when we believe in what we are doing, and we miss learning in small circumstance, the opportunity to learn the very human lesson that life still exists after disappointment.  So this is where we need to solve for X and identify the missing variable that allows us to solve a complex problem.

I would like to argue that we focus past the interference of fear and exhibit courage.

According to the notable psychology author, Dr. F. Emelia Sam, A person who hopes for a positive outcome but does not act courageously in the face of his or her fear is not really hoping

Aristotle, likewise philosophized that people must actually take courageous steps “in order to bring about a good end”  Thus, if the sum of our lives is going to be positive, we must both dare to expect something positive to happen in the future and act in courage, exert effort, despite fear.

    Earlier, I referred to courage as a common denominator.  So let’s define this abstraction.  Emily Dickenson wrote, “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”  Every superhero story, comic, and movie, ever, has portrayed courage as morally just, inspired  behavior displayed by almost godlike characters who rise above the status of mere mortals who need help from those who, despite consequence, do what must be done.  Amir Marvasti, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Altoona, who has conducted extensive studies on the meaning of courage, calls it "a noble quality we all aspire to."  And Professor Andrew Martin, from the University of Sydney who studies academic courage, argues in  School Psychology Quarterly, says, "Courage is defined as perseverance in the face of academic difficulty and fear.”  Making an important distinction, he explains, “Confidence, by contrast, is perseverance without the presence of fear.”

       Confidence is not enough.  Courage is a necessity.  In our academic lives, our home lives, or work lives, and our social lives, fear can break us down, turn us to fractions, keep us from being whole and driven by a hope.  Courage, therefore, must serve as our common denominator.  Courage factors our fear instead of denying or ignoring its presence.  And that’s a formula that meets us in reality.  

     If it’s alright with you, I’d like to offer a personal example of the necessity of the courage to hope. INSERT STORY HERE

    As I conclude my time with your today, let me wrap up with a final assertion that if this life is some sort of test, there’s not one universal equation that works for everyone.  The courage to hope in the face of fear looks different in every life.  We want different things, fear different things, and offer different things to this beautiful world in which we are trying to find our way forward.  Forward is not the same direction for each of us.   

     And that is the solution to our secret .  Finding success, achieving our vision, coming to a place where we feel fulfilled, and I mean deep down fulfillment, the kind that lets you sleep at night, is not always about moving the the direction expected of us.   

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