REGARDING HOPE, by Steve Nootenboom

I consider hopelessness as a form of fear and anxiety, a frame of mind that is unable to see all the options, and it triggers the survival mode in the back of my brain. Conversely, I see hope as a source of calmness and peace running in the front of my mind and activating logic. To quote Bruce Lee, “Calm is a superpower.” If I am calm, I know I’m not just in survival mode.

There are three ways I bring myself back to calmness and hope: looking at others’ successes, reexamining my own history, and manufacturing hope on my own.

First, when I see other people succeed, I say, “Why not me?” If it worked for them, then it could also work for me. It’s like putting together a puzzle. It’s just a matter of time and I can figure it out for myself.

For instance, 40 years ago I was building custom homes for other contractors, and I decided I wanted to get my own contractor’s license. It requires a lot of study and a tricky six-hour test. I found it threatening, but when a friend of mine took the exam and succeeded, it gave me hope. If he could do it, why not me?

I did take the test and I failed. I studied even harder, then went back and took it a second time. Once again I failed. I started researching the best material for studying, then purchased that material and studied even harder. I went back and took the test (three strikes you’re out on this one!) so it was due or die. I passed that six-hour exam in one hour and went on to build custom homes and commercial buildings for many years to come!

Had I not seen other friends passing that test, I don’t think I would’ve had hope. I found out later that several of my friends actually did not pass it. They just said they did. Had I known that I might never have tried.

Second, when I examine my own history, I review situations that seemed hopeless at the time. Some of them were remedied with tenacity—trying to solve the puzzle and succeeding. Others seemed to miraculously solve themselves. I get great hope from looking upon this landscape of the past. Sometimes, the state of hope it creates is enough to carry me through.

For instance, 25 years ago I had a daunting situation with the IRS. My knees were knocking as I entered into negotiations, trying to stay calm through a long, drawn-out review of books and records. Within a year it was behind me and I was a free man. It seemed miraculous in many ways how things unfolded in my favor. I often reflect back on that situation to give myself courage or hope with any present challenge.

Finally, I manufacture hope in several ways. One way may seem perverse, but I make a list of the worst possible outcomes for a situation, then try to embrace them and make peace with every possibility.

Then I take the opposite approach by dreaming. I visualize the best outcomes, looking at every possible silver lining. I make a list of these best scenarios and imagine the joy of what those happy endings would really feel like. Generally, it seems nine out of ten challenges have turned out positive. Maybe one in ten doesn’t go the way I planned, but eventually I end up seeing the positive I can take away from it. If nothing else, it becomes a lesson, which is always a benefit.

I once visualized owning a particular piece of property that I had my eye on for years. The property was not for sale, and the appraisal was far more than I could imagine paying. I proposed a purchase to the owner. Six months later they said, “Make an offer.” I offered them all the money I had which was less than 80% of the appraisal. They did not bat an eye. 30 days later I owned my dream land!

For me, hope is clearly my choice. Unlike many other factors in life, it really is within my control. The term it left me hopeless implies I have no choice in the matter. But it is certainly in my power to keep my chin up or give up.  I have heard it said that 90% of what we worry about never ends up happening anyway. So, mathematically, it’s logical to stay hopeful. If, in the end, things don’t go the way I hoped, at least I can go through any challenge with my body and mind infused with the superpower of calm!

Steve Nootenboom is an artist, filmmaker, builder, rock climber, sailor, and pilot. His artwork, collected worldwide, has been seen on album covers, TV ads, and hanging in the California state capitol. His work as an art director in the film industry spans 46 years, and in 2003 he won a prestigious award for his work on the film “Alliance.” As a builder/designer, he has overseen construction of everything from homes to movie sets to custom off-road machinery. In the climbing world, he made his mark leading an expedition up Mt. Ararat in search of Noah’s Ark, and he helped establish a retreat route down Yosemite’s El Capitan. He started flying hang gliders in 1977, and his family enjoys sailing in their 40-foot catamaran. “I have a great life,” he says, “and that’s mostly because of my family. Without my wife, kids, and grandkids, my life would be reduced by 90% on the fun index.”

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