After a series of unexpected changes, difficult circumstances, and repeated disappointments, it is tempting to pack your hope in a box in the attic of your mind and think that the worst that could happen might be the best that will happen. You start sounding like the Peanuts character Snoopy as he bemoaned, “Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope of advancement.”
In 1936, Václav Havel was born into one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Prague. His grandfather was a leader in the arts, and his uncle’s work laid the foundation for the Czech film industry. Following the 1948 communist coup, Havel’s family lost most of its wealth. A gifted author and playwright, Havel was a banned writer after his condemnation of the Warsaw Pact invasion. In 1977, he was charged with trying to subvert the state, and in 1979, sentenced to four years in jail. Ten years later, he was again incarcerated, this time for standing in the street. During long nights in prison, Havel could not have imagined that he would one day emerge as the central figure of the Velvet Revolution and become the first president of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
Repeatedly slammed by discouragement, defeat, and the brusque unfairness of life, Havel continued to pursue his dream of a better future for himself and his nation. He learned to see beyond his current circumstances, refusing to allow the realities of the present to dim his convictions about the future. While speaking at the Hiroshima Memorial in 1995, Havel shared a message that articulated the beliefs that kept him pressing forward after hitting wall after wall of opposition.
“Many times in my life and not just when I was in prison, I found myself in a situation in which everything seemed to conspire against me, when nothing I wished for or worked for seemed likely to succeed … Whenever I found myself immersed in such melancholy thoughts I would ask myself a very simple question over and over again, ‘Why don’t you just give up on everything?’ … Each time, I would eventually realize that hope, in the deepest sense of the word, does not come from the outside, that hope is not something to be found in external indications simply when a course of action may turn out well, nor is it something I have no reason to feel when it is obvious that nothing will turn out well … hope is a state of mind, and we either have it, or we don’t, quite independently of the state of affairs immediately around us … Indeed, only the infinite and the eternal, recognized or surmised, can explain the no less mysterious phenomenon of hope … I do not know of a single case in which there is a genuine acceptance of some bitter personal fate … which can be explained by anything other than humankind’s sense of something that transcends earthly gratification.”
Attitude is not dictated by circumstances. Wherever you are in life and whatever you may encounter during the journey, it is valuable to remember that your attitude isn’t imposed on you — you choose it.
Difficulties in life are not dispersed through a merit system. Unexpected events often bring unwanted adjustments. Doing what is right can make a situation more difficult than when it started. Choose to look at life through a lens of hope.
As a leader, one of the valuable roles you play in the lives of the people you lead is demonstrating genuine hope — a hope you choose, that tomorrow will be better than today. Take advantage of every communication to provide a realistic and hope-filled assessment of the present and the future.
From Sharpen Your Life, Copyright © 2016, Joseph M. Jordan/Jordan Development, Inc. All rights reserved internationally.
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