Hope… it’s such a crystalline word, isn’t it? It seems so fragile and so easily destroyed. Looking back over my life, I can see times when hope seemed so far away as to be nonexistent, and times when I burned brightly with it. I’ve been wondering what makes the difference between hope and hopelessness, and I think I finally have the answer.
Motivation Leads to Action Leads to Hope
In looking back, I remember times of great hopelessness. I was so stuck in the darkness that I couldn’t see a way out. –And therein lies the rub, as the saying goes. Hopelessness often comes from other feelings, like uselessness or feeling crushed under the life you’re currently leading. You look around knowing something needs to change, but what?
Often, we can be paralyzed:
- With indecision. There’s so much that could be changed; what will make the most difference?
- With fear. What if I make this change and it goes badly, making my life worse?
- With lack of inspiration. How do I start changing things?
- With feelings of powerlessness. There’s nothing I can change that will make a difference.
The key, I think, is motivation. Each time I’ve climbed out of hopelessness, something pushed me to act. Right or wrong, come what may, I had to do something. The sneaky thing I’ve noticed about hope is that you can’t act without your actions growing into hope.
Hope motivates you to continue trying –to grow, change, overcome, reach the upper limits of whatever you define as success. But what motivates the hope? It’s certainly not expectation of failure. For instance, you don’t build a house without hoping it will stand do you? Of course not. Nor do you build a business without some hope it’ll succeed, or get a job without hoping for, or expecting, compensation.
Behind building a home, building a business or gaining employment, there is a great motivator: a roof over your head, ways to make money, security, comfort, and so on. I’m convinced that you have to find your motivator: whatever it is at the time that forces you to act. Motivation leads to action; action leads to hope; hope leads to the idea that things can get better (i.e. a brighter outlook on life).
Digging Out of the Dark
Years ago, my motivation was survival, pure and simple. A stubborn, bull-headed part of me snubbed its nose at the world and said, “Bring it on.” I had no plan; I had no purpose but to survive however I could. My actions were reckless, uncaring and… well, stupid. I was an angry bull in the china shop of life; many people, including my children and me, were hurt in the process.
You know… after so many years of banging your head against the same wall night and day without busting through, you start to get the idea that maybe you’d better choose a less unbreakable wall.
This is where I was in May of 2000, when I showed up at my parents’ house with two babies in tow. I’d banged my head so often and so hard my brains had gone soft. I was stuck in the darkness with (seemingly) no way out.
But… my dad needed this concrete retaining wall built and, at the time, was physically unable to do it. I had nothing better to do. My motivation was simply to move. I grabbed a pickaxe and a shovel, and started digging the footer: two feet deep, one-foot wide, through gravel, mud and solid clay.
I couldn’t focus on anything in my life, but that ground was so real – so physical. I could watch the progress day by day. When I stuck the shovel in and pulled out a clod of dirt, a hole was left behind. Look at that – immediate results!
Lessons In Hope, Motivation and Life
Eventually, my dad was able to come out and we worked on the retaining wall together… for three years. Along the way, I learned some big lessons:
Sometimes, the best action is to simply do.
When you can’t figure out what to change in your life – when you’re stuck in inaction -, it can increase the feelings of hopelessness. However, by doing something extremely physical, whether it’s digging a trench, doing a few pushups or walking up and down the street, you can combat those feelings. Do something that produces immediate results (a hole in the ground, pain in your arms, throbbing in your legs, etc).
Digging yourself out may take digging down, first.
Physically speaking, it really doesn’t matter what you do, but it seems that the more mindless it is the better. Digging that footer didn’t take a lot of thought once I’d plotted it out, so my mind was free to roam. Often, we’re so caught up in what’s going on in our lives that we seldom have time to actually think about our lives. If you can’t think, you can’t focus; if you can’t focus, you can’t plan; if you can’t plan, you can’t act. While acting physically, take the time to think about the situation you’re in; let the thoughts flow. Dig down deep, because the answer is usually somewhere near the bottom.
Doing breeds hope.
It took three years to build that retaining wall. It was hard, intense work but, as the wall grew, so did my outlook on the future. Even on the days I could think no further than that wall, I could see it growing, and looked forward to the day it was finished. I knew, as long as I kept working on that thing (and sometimes, it was referred to as “that stupid wall”), that it would one day be finished. It would one day stand tall and fulfill its purpose of holding back the soil.
The actions we take in life are much like the actions I took in building that wall.
You’ll have to backtrack. We had a bunch of rain one year that turned the half-dug trench into a soggy, muddy mess. The straight sides turned into mudslides. It took at least a week of hard work to get back to the point where we could work on it.
With life, you’ll find that not every action provides the best results. Some results may feel like they put you back at square one. Rethink, try and figure out what went wrong, and start moving forward again.
You’ll have to be patient. You can’t imagine, until you’ve done it, exactly how long it takes concrete to set. Especially in big batches. Especially when it’s raining. Especially when you accidentally get the mix too wet.
Life is like that; you have to wait for it to set. You can’t mess with it. You can’t hurry it. You have to be patient.
You’ll have to keep moving. There were times when my muscles hurt so much I cried – slinging that heavy pickaxe, throwing piles of dirt over my shoulder, dragging 80 pound bags of concrete with tears leaving clean tracks through the dirt on my face. Yet, I knew if I quit, I might never start back up again; that was unacceptable to me. That stupid wall wouldn’t get done. For the rest of my life, it’d stare at me, half-finished and accusing.
If there were a single, most important thing about breeding hope, it’s this. You can’t quit. You can’t quit trying because, as long as you’re trying, there’s hope you’ll succeed. It’s only when you quit trying – quit moving – that you’ve really given up, and given in, to hopelessness.
A New World, A New Hope, A New Future
It’s been eight years since we built that wall. Since then, I’ve had days when hope burned bright, and days when the light dimmed a little. On the days when hope dims, I find a very short-term goal – any goal. Something I can do quickly that produces immediate results. When I’m finished, I find another short-term goal, and so on, and so forth, until hope is once again burning brightly.
Of course, that’s just part of the story. The conclusion has yet to be written. –But, the part that’s being written now is a little different. It’s less physical and more spiritual. In my life, at least, the final answer to keeping hope burning is always go to the highest power possible. Once you’ve gone to God, you really have done all you can do.
Today, I live in a new world where hopelessness is unacceptable. Too many people rely on me to keep my head above water. Inactivity and indecisiveness are not options.
Today, I have a new source of hope – one that never falters and never runs empty. My faith and my hope, as Peter said, are in God.
Today, I have a new future – one that is brighter than it ever has been before. I know that no matter how my life is going, my purpose is greater than the physical. My purpose for being is to grow spiritually, no matter what wall I’m building or trench I’m digging, and that purpose will always be there.
It’s my motivation. It leads to action. And it breeds continual hope.