Creating More Paths for Success: How Being Hopeful Makes it More Likely That You’re Going to Be Okay (And How You Can Become More Hopeful)

Once you choose hope, anything is possible. ~Christopher Reeve

I dwell in possibility. ~Emily Dickenson

Listen to the must’nts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’t, the impossible, the won’t. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me … Anything can happen, child. Anything can be. ~Shel Silverstein.

Well here we are – the last week in February, and the final week in our series of how to care for ourselves in this pressure cooker of a political climate. We’ve talked about the elusiveness of “self-care,” how to use humor to boost your activism and the importance of developing and nurturing your networks.

I saved the best for last.

It’s time to talk about Hope.

And, as you might imagine, Hope is my favorite.

I’ll get into the clinical here-are-what-the-studies-say-come-follow-me-into-the-weeds stuff in a minute. But here’s the long and the short of it.

Hope is that little pinch of magic, sprinkled on your soul. It’s the secret sauce. The mojo, the Force, the gas pedal, the call to arms – the cry of “Can We Do It?” and the feeling in your heart when the crowd roars back “Yes We Can!”

Hope is versatile – it’s both the ultimate driver of success and the ultimate act of defiance.

Because even though it’s the upswell in your heart, it’s also the perfectly manicured middle fingers of millions of women, politely extended to wanna-be-authoritarian regimes.

Hope thrives by staring down adversity, wiping the sweat away and saying “oh hell yes I can – just watch me.” Hope is seeing the shock-and-awe campaign of lies and horribles of the last two years, and while dodging the bombs of disappointment saying “I’m not stopping. You can’t make me quit. Only I get to decide that.”

Hope is that purest of beliefs that – no matter what happens or what challenges you face – there’s always a way. There’s a door. Or a window. Or a basement, or a side alley. Whatever. There’s an escape hatch somewhere, and you’re going to find it.

Because you’re the heroine in your life story, and the story isn’t over yet.

I love hope.

I live on hope.

But what’s interesting is that I’m not always optimistic. Hope isn’t optimism, even though the words are often used interchangeably. Hope isn’t an attitude, or a mood, or a bet, or a wish that things will be better.

It’s a choice.

It’s a skill and life practice like yoga and mindfulness and eating your broccoli. You can develop and foster it, and cultivate your capacity for it. And you can share it.

And it’s important to build it, because even though hope doesn’t necessarily get you out of a jam, the evidence is pretty clear that more hopeful people have better capacity to get through tough times:

Studies show that highly hopeful people are better able to withstand stress, better able to cope with obstacles, are less lonely, and show higher levels of success. They’re happier and more invested in their own lives and the lives of others. They’re mentally flexible and thorough thinkers; they’re more productive and healthier.

We intuitively know that hope helps us persevere – when people describe the leader they want to have, hope is one of the qualities people ask for time and again. Psychologists even believe that hope may be the most important state we experience. 

And when people lose hope?

Well. You’ve probably heard about learned hopelessness – which is what happens when animals (or people) keep experiencing the same pain trigger over and over, but can’t do anything to avoid it. Eventually, if nothing they’ve tried works and they see no way out … they learn to lose hope.

And then they just stop trying. They resign themselves, sad, and broken. Defeated.

But we have the power to reverse that cycle.

Extreme poverty has been described as the ultimate “learned hopelessness” cycle of despair. But researchers are finding that people living in extreme poverty who are given gifts of livestock or bees – gifts that make them feel like they have options to improve and control their lives – work more, save more, and feel better. Another study showed people who watched an hour-long inspirational video (instead of a comedy show) saved more and spent more on their children’s education, even six months later.

Hope works.

And that’s relevant now, because you’ve probably seen a lot of learned hopelessness lately. There are probably folks around you (maybe even you) who have stopped speaking out, acting out, advocating – because they feel like there’s no use.

I see those people, too. It breaks my heart.

So let’s talk about how you can build your capacity for hope – and how you can boost the hopefulness quotient of your friends and groups while you’re at it.

The Elements of Hope: Goal, Paths, and Will

Beyond the inspirational/visionary aspect that first comes to your mind when you think of hope, hope really has three basic elements.

First, a goal (that’s where the vision comes in). Second, the belief that you can take many paths to that goal (that’s the mental flexibility part) and that you’re capable of traveling those paths (that’s the “agency” part). And third, having the will to actually take the paths – knowing that obstacles will be put before you, but that you have the strength to confront those obstacles or change the path you’re on.

If it seems like “hope” is mainly developing the will to reach a goal and the mental flexibility to see a bunch of different ways to get there … you’re not wrong. In fact, one hope expert says hope is simply “all about options.” Options for paths, and options for goals, and options for self-soothing along the way.

So to start building your capacity for hope, first be clear on your goals – both as to what they are, and why they matter. Is your goal to flip the House? Flip the Senate? Elect more Democrats to your state legislature? Support nominees that align with your ideology? Write them down.

Having a goal is an essential first step; now it’s time to dig into the “why it matters” part to inspire yourself and others. Paint the picture. Create the vision. How are you making the world better? What is the world like when you reach your goal? Why should this matter to other people? Why does it matter – to you?

Now brainstorm ways (paths) to achieve the goal. If it’s electing more Democrats at the state level, maybe one path is GOTV in a certain portion of the district. Another is fundraising. Another is recruiting a candidate…. you get the picture. As you can probably already see, within each of these paths are more paths. For example, our “GOTV in a certain portion of the district” path could include voter registration efforts, yard signs, block captains, and community outreach.

Don’t skimp on this step – the most hopeful people generate the most options. In fact, it’s not uncommon for really hopeful people to have five or six things going on all at the same time. Then, when something derails them in one direction, they chalk it up to experience (seeing it as a positive educational moment, not a personal or movement failure) and go down a different path.

Next, think – in advance – of some of the potential roadblocks you’ll encounter. For example, in a movement powered by women, how will summer impact your/your group’s commitment? Does spring break derail you? Will yard signs cost money? How can you remove (or go through, or use) those obstacles? If you’re in a group, talk about possible problems with group members. Figuring out how to tackle them together will improve everyone’s mental flexibility, and will improve your group’s cohesion at the same time.

Then, when unforeseen obstacles come up – and they will come up – you’ll already have practiced skills that help you and your group change direction without feeling unmotivated.

What’s My Reason?

And finally – ask yourself: what is my life’s mission? Contemplate your purpose – your reason for being on earth and what you want to do with your time here.

You can call it a “mission statement” for your life, if business jargon works for you. Or you can think of it as a letter to your future self answering the question – why does what I’m doing matter? At the end of the movie about my life, what do I want people to learn? What is my story all about?

The point is – you can refer to your mission statement (or your letter) in the future, when the going gets tough or you are confused about direction.

Talk to that future self in your mission/letter. Tell her why she matters. Tell her why what she’s doing makes a difference.

Give your future self … some hope.

Now … Pass It On

And when you’re feeling more hopeful, share your surplus. Help those around you create options, find their purpose, and be their best selves.

You’ll be making the world better, one drop of hope at a time.

You know, being hopeful doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be okay.

But it makes it much more likely that it will.

Let’s get to work.


Tuesday: The Emergency Is In the White House

Today at noon, the House will take up and vote on H.J.Resolution 46, which simply terminates the national emergency Trump ordered on February 15. (The whole things is one paragraph – you can see it HERE. Proof positive that when they want to, politicians can be both brief and clear…)

If you’re reading this before 12:00 eastern, get on the horn and call your Congresscritter to tell them to vote in favor of the resolution. I’ll wait here.

If it’s past noon, that’s okay! Now call your two Senators and tell them that you expect them to vote in favor of the resolution terminating the national emergency declaration. If the resolution passes the House (which it’s expected to) the Senate is required to vote on the resolution within 18 days.

I believe we can pressure these Senators into protecting their constitutional power. So join me in calling both Senators:

Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m very concerned about the national emergency declaration and the precedent it sets. I don’t believe any President should be able to make an end run around Congress if he doesn’t get something he wants. Is Senator ___ going to vote for or against the House Resolution that was voted on today?

Wednesday: Get Out Those Markers!

Once again, Postcards to Voters is powering up. This time it’s for a Supreme Court Justice seat in Wisconsin (hello, Wisconsin friends!).

Sounds like the opponent is a real peach: “The Republican judge running for this Supreme Court seat helped create and serves on the board of a private school that prohibits anyone working there from being in a same-sex relationship and could expel students who are LGBTQ.”

Uh. Wow.

This is a statewide vote, so there’s a HUGE list to write to – and there’s not as much enthusiasm as there was for midterms so PTV needs help. So head over to Postcards to Voters and pitch in!

Thursday: Raising Social Security Income Cap

As I’m sure you know (or will soon be reminded come tax time) we all pay into Social Security. And you may also know that there’s a “cap” above which people don’t pay into Social Security. In 2019, that cap is $132,900.

So if you make $133,000, the first $132,900 is subject to Social Security payroll taxes, but not that last $100.

This has been a complete windfall to high earners, who basically get a pay raise at some point during the year when they’ve hit their cap.

There are estimates that Donald Trump hit the cap 40 MINUTES into the new year.

If you think this is nuts, you’re not alone.

Particularly when the GOP has been saying that cuts to Social Security are necessary to keep the program solvent. But eliminating the cap and taxing all income would – as one would expect – significantly reduce the deficit.

Who says so? Our government says so. You can read the paper on this topic that was created by the Congressional Research Service and updated in October 2018 by CLICKING HERE.

So today, share that article with your social network. Post it on social media – let’s let people know that there is a solution staring our government right in the face.

Then get on the phone and ask your Congresscritter to create or co-sponsor legislation that would remove the income cap!

Friday: Are You Represented by a Climate Denier?

With the Trump administration nominating a woman to represent the United States at the United Nations who claims climate science has “two sides” (uh, no it doesn’t) and an entire GOP with its collective head in the ever-warming sands, it’s pretty important to know where our own Congresscritters stand.

Honestly, I was pretty shocked when I looked at this interactive map and saw just how many climate change deniers are representing us in Congress. Altogether there are a whopping 150 Congresscritters (all GOP, but including both House and Senate) who fall into the “climate denier” category.

For scale, this Congress includes 127 women (there are 102 serving in the House, and 25 in the Senate).

There are 23 more climate change deniers than women in Congress.

This is completely, utterly, unbelievably unacceptable. A strong majority of Americans – including 64% of republicans – recognize that climate change is happening.

So check out the map and see if you are represented by a climate change denier. CLICK HERE to go to the map. If you are, keep calling and keep pressuring them to reverse their stance on climate change.

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S: Yes! Some of you have asked if I write for a living, and the answer is “I sure do!” Visit to learn more.

P.P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at or via paypal at
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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