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How to be Hopeful (Podcast)

Season 1, Episode 9: How to be Hopeful

This morning, I want to talk a little bit about hope and hopefulness. This may be a somewhat somber episode. I'm sitting here in my office, recording this on the morning of November the fourth. We are currently waiting to get some official election results. Donald Trump has already tried to call the election for himself, but that is to steal his own words, fake news, because we just don't know yet. Votes are still being counted. Early votes are still being processed. Mail-in votes are still being processed.

And it's just, it's not clear right now who the next president is going to be. For a lot of people. It's a very tense, stressful morning-- myself included. For most of us who come from families that tend to lean more conservative, but who are either queer or part of a minority community or passionate about climate change or social progress more generally, it's really intimidating to  be a human right now. We don't really know what's going to happen and what the next four years may hold. And because of that, it's really hard to feel hopeful and optimistic.

I certainly have found myself this morning feeling quite pessimistic and cynical. I do a weekly startup breakfast with local entrepreneurs and startup enthusiast. It's hosted over zoom right now because you know, we are in the middle of a pandemic, which adds to the stress of everything I've already mentioned. But this morning at Startup Breakfast, we were talking about tech, monopolies and corporate ethics, which is a topic that I really enjoyed discussing and that I typically have a lot to say about, but this morning I found myself taking an "everything is fucked" approach.

At one point we even discussed Apple's plans to launch their own search engine and whether or not that would help to de-monopolize Google's position in the search market.

And on the one hand, I think that it will, on the other hand, I think it's kind of like sending Mothra to fight Godzilla. As they are battling each other, sure, there might be some kind of distribution of power, but the rest of us are still running a pretty high risk of being squashed.

Replacing one monster with another, or just having two monsters. Doesn't seem like a great outcome to me. And as I reflected and realized that that's the mind frame that I'm in this morning and the way that my current outlook is, is kind of grim and shaded by the sense of uncertainty that we have with the election results.

It really gave me pause and made me take a step back to think a bit about hope. And hopefulness. And what does it look like to be hopeful right now? And I want to preface this to say that I fully recognize that I'm coming into this conversation as a cis-gendered white man with a comfortable job that's fairly resilient to  political thrash.

When I'm talking about hope, I want to be very clear that I completely recognize that the position I am in is very different from so many people this morning. There are so many people  in our trans community and communities of color and queer communities and working class communities that are thinking about hope in a very different way. And so. I just really want that to preface everything that I'm about to discuss and say that I'm not going to tell you to  lift your chin up and be optimistic and be happy. It is okay to feel distraught. It's okay to be worried. It's okay to be scared.

Those are human feelings. There's nothing deficient or inept about you to have those feelings. And you need to take time to process those feelings. With negative emotions, one of the most damaging things we can do is pretend that they don't exist. We have to process negative emotions. It's hard. It's not at all pleasant most of the time.

But it's necessary and it's healing to give yourself room to process. With all of that in mind. I will actually start the conversation on hope by talking a bit about how we can process these negative emotions, and what it looks like to do that in a healthful way.

As you may know, my personal background is really rooted in studies of masculinity. So I want to take a quick step into saying for people who are on the masc spectrum, who are living as, as men, when we confront negative emotions, there's often a tendency for men to internalize those negative emotions and try and suppress them, but then let them leak out in the form of anger and aggression.

And I know that's certainly true  for myself this morning. As I'm looking at people who are willing to overlook blatant racism and discrimination and disinformation, and sexism, and give that a free pass for whatever reason, my instinctual response is to be angry.

It's too get into that mindset of "all right, we're gonna fuck some shit up. Let's go punch a Nazi." Which I should say is not a bad idea. Punch Nazis. That's something I do endorse.

But, I wanted to give this quick caveat to say that for men in this position, be cognizant, of the tendency within our culture for masculinity to portray and present negative emotions in acts of aggression. Because if you're not cognizant of that, in the day to day, it's going to be very easy to let that bleed into your friendships, your family life, your work life.  You don't want the wrong people to be subject to that aggression. And you definitely don't want that aggression to turn into a place of violence.

So please be mindful of how you are experiencing negative emotions and what that looks like for you. And move to a place of being able to process those emotions. In order to process emotions for men, women, everybody in between and outside of that dichotomy, there are two things, two processes, that I highly endorse and recommend.

First and foremost is what I'm going to bundle as occupation. We often think of the word preoccupied when it comes to stress and anxiety, we become preoccupied with the situation as it is. Preoccupied has that root word occupied. Occupation is something that's really significant when it comes to processing negative emotions.

One of the worst things you can do when you are experiencing negative emotions and wanting to process that is to sit and dwell on things like dread and worst case scenarios, which is really, really common in situations like this. When you do that, you create a negative feedback cycle for yourself. You end up spiraling further and further into the territory of those negative emotions, and you actually make it harder for yourself to process them and to overcome them.

Instead, what I would recommend doing is focus on creating mental occupation for yourself in a way that is more productive. I will always advocate for journaling and I think that, especially in times like this, sitting down with a pen and paper and writing out what you're feeling-- and trying to make sense of these really nebulous, dark emotions-- is one of the best starting places that you can go.

On top of that, doing activities that will engage your mind and create a bit of space-- so not deflecting, not avoiding, not, completely ignoring these negative emotions-- but rather bringing in other experiences and other. Reflections and emotions into that process is also really helpful.  Doing things like going for a walk, getting some exercise, reading a good book, or something like that where you're not going to be in the echo chamber of social media. Please; if you are feeling hopeless, stay off social media for a little while.

But doing something that gets you moving, gets you thinking, and allows you to pull in other experiences and emotions into what you're currently feeling is really helpful. The reason it's really helpful is because it breaks up that negative feedback cycle that I was talking about, and it helps us to gain some perspective where we can say, "yes, things absolutely suck right now, but not everything sucks. There are still good things. Good people, good moments that we can celebrate and enjoy." And that's super, super, super important for breaking that feedback cycle and giving ourselves some mental occupation that's not negative preoccupation. Okay.

So let's start there, give yourself some occupation. That's going to help you remember that there is still good and that there are still reasons to be hopeful, even amidst the broader suckiness of life.

The second thing that I want to advocate for for processing these types of emotions is community.

And in particular, again, I'm not talking social media communities. I know that for many people, having a social community online is necessary, especially for,  for example, queer people who may still live with their family and can't be openly, visibly queer. Sometimes having that online community is absolutely necessary.

I'm talking in the broader sense outside of some of these special cases. Outside of these special cases, avoid relying solely on your online communities and really lean into your IRL networks, so to speak, and the people who you can comfortably associate with.

Try to come together as a community about the things that you still have hope in, or that still present some promise and opportunity. I have several friends in the grassroots political movement who are understandably stressed about where we currently stand with the election and with politics as they are more broadly. But at the same time, they've been saying--  long before the 2016 election, long before the 2020 election-- they've been saying  regardless of what happens at the federal level, we really affect change locally and with collective local effort, that's completely nonpartisan, completely independent of federal policy and progress.

And that's really where we're seeing growth. That's where we're seeing communities come together. And that's where we're seeing lives be changed for the better. And within these communities and having these conversations, they often are more resilient to these national political changes that we see. And they're also more optimistic about the future.

And I think that that's something we can learn from them and pull into our own day-to-day interactions: when we have a community with a collective common goal, and we focus on the ways that we can help people and empower people and create change in our immediate environment rather than the macro level that we barely have any control over. I'm hesitant to say that-- it oftentimes feels like we don't have any control over what happens at the macro level and at the federal level.

When we focus locally and focus on our direct impact and direct room to have these opportunities and really be a force of change in our smaller circles, it empowers us to recognize that we are not helpless. We are not isolated. And in doing so that creates a sense of hope.

I genuinely believe that when we focus on allowing ourselves to process our negative emotions and stress, and then shift our focus to the areas of opportunity where we can drive impact as individuals, we are going to have an easier time breaking out of this stressful cycle. Of the zero sum game of federal politics. This really messy, nasty situation that we are at a national level politically. We can get away from that. It doesn't have to dictate how we live our lives in the day-to-day. It influences it, of course. And like I mentioned, for many people, especially in minority communities, it's a hugely impactful, influential force that can really be detrimental or productive in our personal lives.

But it's not a system of total control. It still leaves us with opportunities to drive change and to drive impact on the individual level. I think we've seen a little bit of that in the last couple of years as local leaders have risen up in prominence and been more visible within their communities and the change that they can drive.

Thinking locally, I think of someone like Charles Booker, who I knew of before this current election cycle, because he's a state representative out of Louisville and I used to live in Louisville. I knew that he always had a positive reputation amongst his constituents, but within the last couple of years, and with him being a contender in the democratic primary in Kentuckies--

In Kentuckies? That's not a plural--

In Kentucky, he was in the primaries against Amy McGrath to see who had run against Mitch McConnell .

He really embodied this idea of driving impact, where you are and being hopeful in the midst of less optimistic scenarios. When I look at Charles Booker's campaign and I look at the organization that has sprung up out of it-- even though he didn't win the primaries, he still has a movement around him and his organization Hood to the Holler is consistently growing and its impact and influence here in Kentucky for the better.

Things like that give me hope.

Situations where people are stepping up to the challenge to focus on creating change and driving impact for those around them, regardless of what's happening at the federal level, gives me hope.

Growing up as a queer person in the Bible belt, I learned at a very young age, you can't rely on the federal government to do anything good. For every one good thing that happens at the federal level, it seems like five bad things happen.  I know that sounds pessimistic. I know that shaded by the current tension of waiting on election results, but it is what it is. It's pretty. Accurate as well.

We can't rely on these macro systems to consistently be productive or beneficial for folks. It's just not going to happen. When we have created systems that support these macros systems that don't favor common wellbeing, and the benefit of the general public--  they benefit a very small selection of the public-- we just hope that they have some like downstream impacts on the rest of us. Right? When we look locally, look at our immediate circle of influence, that's where we have control. That's where we can influence outcomes and situations.

So,  I would say if today, you're feeling a little bit hopeless, give yourself some space. Be lenient with yourself. It's okay. You can process that. But also, take that hopelessness and ask yourself, "okay, if I feel this way right now, what is causing that? What is the underlying concern or worry that I have about this feeling?  And then what can I do within my immediate circle of influence to affect change in that area?

Really lean on that and use that as a way to give yourself hope and then understand that, especially when it comes to politics and political situations,  you want to be able to have a foundation of hopefulness, but you also need to be adamant about pursuing change and putting in the work to make things happen.

It's not easy, but it's possible. Whether that's collaborating with a nonprofit or an NGO or your local, your local government collaborating, there, being active in city council meetings, whatever it may look like... put action behind that concern.

Don't let yourself feel hopeless and worried, and then do nothing about it. When you feel that way, use that as a sign to motivate you to affect change. And since I know that a lot of my audience is involved in the entrepreneurial community and the startup world, let me also say that this is a really strong call to action that I want to give to entrepreneurs and to those within the startup field. Our national politics-- and again, I'm speaking about the US-- our national politics are very, very, very heavily influenced by the business world. The business world has as much influence, if not more--I would say more-- than the popular electorate.

If you are in an entrepreneurial and startup position, you not only have an opportunity, but I'm willing to say you have an obligation, to do right by those within your circle of influence. For those in the business world, that means your employees. That means your suppliers. That means your customers.

It doesn't just mean your board. It doesn't just mean investors. For the entire chain of business, you have an obligation to do right and to drive impact for the better, and a huge opportunity to do so. And so, please hear that call to action. If you are in this field, if you are in one of these positions, think about what it means to be a productive and positive global citizen. Divest that from partisan politics and focus only on, what do you have control over? And how can you make others' lives better?

That is something that I want all of us to keep in mind during times where we may not feel all that hopeful. Even when things are hopeless--and I know I am repeating myself, it is intentional-- I really want to drill this in: even when things feel hopeless at the macro level, within our own control there are still ways that we can drive impact, influence those around us, and work to make the world a better place.

It's something I probably should have talked about more in Big Picture Living is this idea of community and collaborating within communities to influence positive change and the way that, that feeds back into your own personal fulfillment, but, I'm saying it now. If you want to create a meaningful legacy, whether it's in entrepreneurship, or in publishing your own book, or whatever field it may be, you will find much greater fulfillment in building up those around you than focusing solely on your own gain.

And I know that sounds like sub hippie, left-wing bullshit. If you want to write it off as that, go ahead. If you are open to living a fulfilled and productive life, I would encourage you to do some research on the benefits and the impact of community building, community service, and public wellbeing.  Life is not a zero sum game. We don't have to have one subset of winners and another subset of losers. We can win together. We can help each other. And we can create meaningful change together.

So I know that this episode is not going to be published right now while we're still in the interim of election results, but I think that regardless of what happens with the election results and by the time this podcast episode comes out, we're still going to be in a situation where some people need to embrace feelings of hope.

And because life is the cycle that it is, I know that this is, unfortunately some evergreen content. Feeling hopeless at times is not, it's not a phenomenon that's going to go away. So please know that I am here with you. I support you. We can have hope together. And we can, and we will progress towards making the world a better place.

So get back to your day. As much as possible, look for reasons to put a smile on your face. I'm going to chug a bit more coffee and get back to work. You may have heard a Slack notification a few moments ago. It's because I'm supposed to be working right now, but instead, I'm recording a podcast about hope because that is what gives me hope.

Have a great day, everybody. 


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