The year I was married, I learned a chilling lesson about hope.
It started in early February of 2009, in Chicago’s charming Old Town neighborhood, which felt much like Zootopia’s Tundra Town that time of year.
I’d lived in Chicago for years. I knew what was ahead: 3 more months of winter, 1 day that felt like spring, then an immediate shift to sweltering, brick-oven summer days of strongly fragranced city heat.
As a not-big-fan-of-the-cold, I’d tried on many winter mindsets since moving to the windy city. There was the winter when I decided to laugh at the cold loudly, whenever I was out in it (that was a fun one). The winter I just screamed like a howler monkey every time I opened the doors. The winter I hibernated and complained (okay, that was more than 1 winter).
But in 2009, I cracked—in a completely anti-reality, Libby kind of way.
Spring was on the horizon in the southern reaches of our country, like the town I now call home. I was thirsty for that burgeoning springtime. I wanted it. So I decided I had a perfect idea: I would pretend that spring had arrived.
I believed this to be a very hopeful solution—a bright and optimistic way to ward off the winter blues. But I wasn’t clear, young thing that I was, about the true meaning of hope (more on that below, including some great resources for exploring the topic). Hence, in the end, it didn’t turn out as I’d, well, hoped.
I took my game of pretend very seriously. Because I worked for myself from home and we had no money or kids yet, I was pretty darn isolated. In my stir crazy, detached state, I attempted to create my own ecosystem within our little condo.
Each morning, when Casey left for work, I cranked the heat up and dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, opting for the bright, beachy colors usually reserved for balmy weather. I played reggae and drank iced tea as I worked. I broke the bank to buy a handful of brightly colored, flowering house plants, and I covered any available surfaces in blooms of yellow, white, and pink.
And while I was skipping around the condo barefoot, singing myself into the land of make believe to the tune of Three Little Birds, the snows of February swirled outside the windows.
For maybe 2 weeks, it was awesome. Then it started to suck.
Because this was the truth: in the world beyond my balcony door (i.e., the real world), it wasn’t springtime at all. It was winter, with more winter to come.
I saw spring in my future, and I wanted that future—fast. But by pretending I was already in that future—by keeping myself immersed in the someday on the horizon—I not only missed the present moment, I also made that future seem a lot slower in arriving.
Spring came. But it was about 9 months later on my body clock. And by then, I wasn’t even excited about it anymore.
If you’ve started your own business—or if you’re thinking about doing just that—then you’re familiar with the challenging balance between the someday, the right now, and the waiting-or-dancing space in between.
(Ahem, mom-preneurs, do we maybe know a whole heckufalot about big-someday-dreams and the louder, sticker demands of right-this-minute?)
Lately, I’ve been studying the topics of hope and waiting, both of which are very familiar to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and dreamers, but neither of which are discussed nearly as often as they’re felt. Too bad, because it’s important to wait and hope well—and to learn how certain breeds of movement can permeate both.
It’s time to share some of the best stuff I’ve come across:
Hope Theory, Business Reality
I admit, when I started down this path, I thought of hope as a lovely, fluffy thing. Yipee! Hope and unicorns! Cue the glitter.
But it turns out, hope is a heavyweight.
Studies point to hope as one of the most powerful leadership tools an entrepreneur can have. One reason: it’s essential for creating and maintaining an environment that supports engagement, productivity, and long-term competitiveness—whether you’re growing a team or rocking a solo gig.
- Goals: provide direction and stand at the finish line of hopeful thinking; goals are like the anchors of Hope Theory
- Pathway thoughts: the one-two punch of (1) the routes we take to achieve goals and (2) our perceived ability to produce said routes
- Agency thoughts: all about motivation—the juice we need in order to hop on those pathway routes and move along them toward our goals
- Barriers: the blocks we encounter; do we give up, or use pathway thoughts to chart a new route?
Our response to that last item—those barriers—is key to why hope is such a powerful force in business (and, I suppose, life in general). It’s also something I come up against all the time in my own work with other people and businesses. I’ve always referred to it as problem orientation vs. solution orientation, but the core is the same:
When a problem hits, how long do we re-state and re-hash the problem? How soon do we start seeking solutions?
It’s no secret that how you answer is going to affect your business in a big way. And according to the studies behind Hope Theory, how you answer depends heavily upon your positivity and hopefulness.
But How to Hope?
If your response to all this, after rolling your eyes, is, “Great, tell me to get ‘hopeful’ and ‘positive’ about problems, super helpful,” then try a few practical approaches to cultivating hopefulness:
- Learn to recognize the 7 powerful forces that get released in difficult times
- Consider adopting Stacy Flowers’s unique take on a gratitude walk (she discusses it around the 22 minute mark)
- Ponder the significance of ancient languages’ words for hope. Note all the unexpected, significant concepts that our culture of ease may have sifted out of the equation—concepts such as tension, confidence, and expectation.
- Recognize yourself for what you are—one of the few who puts hope and strategy into action. Remind yourself of what this community looks like by reading stories of others who dreamed, fell on their faces, and got up
You can hope your pants off, and you’re not going to hope yourself out of periods of waiting. Whether for professional or personal reasons—or reasons completely beyond your sphere of influence—waiting is a fact of the start-your-own thing life. So much so that I actually laughed out loud when I came across seasoned entrepreneur Chris Myers’s astute correlation:
“Entrepreneurship, like war, is perhaps best described as ‘interminable boredom punctuated my moments of terror.’”Chris Myers
Confession: I’m the least patient person I know. I literally cannot stand to wait. I would rather turn right and circle the block to get to my destination if it means I don’t have to wait in the left-turn lane. Literally, I do this. It’s wasteful, but I’m addicted to movement.
At the same time, I’m very familiar with waiting. Exhibit A: raising a business & 3 kids for the past 10 years, and putting so many big dreams and ideas on hold so I could be home with my babies for the brief season when they were home with me.
It was a choice. One based on vision and priorities. And while I’m passionate about vision and priorities in the life of a start-your-own thing gal or guy, it was hard at times. But I did learn some darn good lessons along the way.
One of the best came just a few short weeks ago, as I prayed my lazy bones out of bed in the morning. I’ve been very focused on a specific hope lately—so much so that without even realizing it, I’ve been living in that hope, much like that newlywed Libby of 12+ years ago, wandering around the condo in her shorts and missing out on the beautiful winter before me.
Before my feet even hit the floor, God simplified what I needed to know: Live in what is.
Of course! I think I literally slapped myself in the forehead when I heard/felt this. I’ve been living in what might be and missing what is.
Working thesis: the dance of the in-between lies in living in what is while we look into what could be.
If you danced your in-between to that song, how would the way you experience or live out your big dream change?
I’d encourage you to stop a second and really think on that. But if you’re not into pausing, no worries; as you now know, I’m not patient either. So moving on to people who are smarter than me:
The Power of Waiting
I love Doris Swift’s thinking on this subject. She teaches that in seasons of wait, we gain the time to build a firm foundation—preparing, becoming more equipped, and learning to understand our tribe. And while our dreams “hibernate,” we’re “not just waiting. We’re learning, growing, becoming.”
Maybe you or your business are becoming something else while you wait. Or maybe you’re growing into the dream. (That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?)
Wired for Pauses
Even on a micro level, we’re not wired for constant go-go-go. (Have you ever wondered why we sleep? I mean, natural-selection wise, it doesn’t make any sense, does it? But we must.) And sleep’s not the only place where we’re designed for pauses.
One thing I love about this: the “smallness” of it makes it feel do-able to try—at least somewhere in your day. Why not give it a go and see what you learn by being intentional about pauses?
As one who has a hard time sitting still, I know it’s not easy to flip the switch into no-go mode. I, for one, think better in a state of movement. (It’s attributes, man. Don’t fault it—rock the who-you-are!)
If you can be still and tap into the health and value of the waiting moments, I applaud you! But if a bit of movement is more your jam, try…
- Thinking Projects: A Tip for Keeping Teams Engaged & Productive during Downtime (hint, it’s just as applicable for individuals as it is for teams)
- Remembering that the wait is okay. On the other side of your not-now reason, it’s not too late.
Addendum from the Texas Tundra:
(You Can’t) Come & Take Our Hope
Anyone heard what’s been going on in Texas the past couple weeks? (Yeah, that was a joke…but if you answered “no,” good for you! I applaud your media fast.)
Allow me a moment of insider’s perspective, because it’s actually on topic:
Among a zillion slow-moving, infuriating, and/or scary things, us Texans have also been doing a whole lotta waiting. For lights, water, gas, food, school, a change in weather, an awakening from the nightmare…
And whether we’ve realized it yet or not, we’ve all learned something—while wrapped in 12 blankets, with dirty hair and bathtubs full of gray snowmelt—about how we wait.
Have we waited well? Terribly? Probably a bit of each. But let’s push into the bright spots: the strangers offering one another rice and water; the neighbors with all-wheel drive picking up those in need of a doctor or trip to their fire station; the families launching giggle-full dance parties to warm up the crew; the local businesses offering water fill-ups to the community; the friends finding gratitude and hope through such challenging circumstances; the prayers and concerns and advice and worry and love shared.
If those stories seem simple to you, they aren’t. They are the most profound and meaningful of stories—human-to-human stories. They’re how the world changes.
So if you’re necessarily in a season of waiting, ask yourself how you can do it well. And how might you incorporate positive movement—even in the in-between? Here’s a tried and true momentum kick-starter, straight from the Texas trenches: help someone.
While you wait, look for someone you can help, and use your strengths to help them. That strength may be knowledge, experience, insight, time, information, expertise, or the muscle you use to bring a can of soup down off a high shelf at the grocery store.
If help seems like a simple a thing, it’s because it is—profoundly simple.
It’s also action. A movement that—unlike my impatient right turns—is smart and useful, on many levels. The spark for momentum. That momentum is the beginning of something—maybe in your life, maybe in someone else’s, probably in both.
And it’s part of the story of how you’re waiting well. Which is an inspiring story of hope.
If you’ve read this far, then you’ve already learned how powerful hope is—that our businesses, families, and dreams all need that healthy tension of belief-filled expectation. Just ask Texas…we’ve been moving in profoundly small ways, and lighting up our world when electric lights weren’t available.
So grab the can of soup, and let’s move.