“Thank you. You’ve given me My Hope back today.”

If you look Hope up in the dictionary, it’s defined as ‘the belief that something you want will happen’. Which seems to me to be about anticipation that grows into trusting some positive expectation for the future.

But I frequently meet committed careerists who have adopted the ethos of work-hard-and-hope, only to find themselves confused and disheartened some years later, when their ‘career strategy’ hasn’t taken them from Here to There.

Work Hard & Hope Is Not A Strategy

It never could. Work-hard-and-hope is simply not a strategy! And now they’re stuck in a role, feeling unappreciated and overlooked day after day. Without Hope and stuck, wondering why.

For me, the kind of Hope that fuels positive expectations but then relies on external forces is as misguided as it is divorced from reality. It might as well be called ‘passively waiting to see if my hoped-for future is an illusion.’

I felt unease recently, when a coaching client thanked me for giving his hope back at the end of our session. Our work together had undeniably triggered his commitment to taking action and the feedback was powerful. So why did was the coaching compliment disturbing me?

As I carried on working that day, I started thinking, how was it possible for one person to give another ‘their’ Hope back? Does he really believe that? I feel sure we have sole ownership of our own Hope – or is that just me?

Sh*t Happens. What’s Hope Got To Do With It?

Are we sure Hope is such a good thing anyway? Have you ever wondered why we hold ourselves back from opportunities we need to thrive? Or persevere instead of pivot when we know we’ve lost hope? To hope or not to hope?

Generally I find asking questions is how we arrive at our answers – both within and outside of coaching. So I followed my nagging thoughts into the psychology of Hope.

Cognitive psychologist, Snyder talked about Hope in terms of ‘the willpower (agency) and waypower (pathway) you have for your goals.’  And I far prefer this. It has legs. It’s ownable, actionable and crucially – learnable.

For Snyder, this brand of reasonable hope has firm roots in reality, and becomes an overarching goal, under which smaller steps are taken. Future-focused faith is still in play, but here, Hope falls from trusting our own abilities to be flexible, problem-solve and to make our efforts count.

If the science of hope is learnable, it’s teachable too!

Who’s In Charge Here? You, I Hope!

Here are some psychology-backed ideas about making the connection between the future career you want and your effort, commitment and action today to achieve it. Owning your Hope.

It’s called Hope Theory and in seven steps, you will create your own Hope Map.

1. Goal Setting

Create a clear and exciting vision of your future career. You could capture this goal, and put it onto a vision board, or if you feel this is a private source of inspiration, hop online and use a mind map tool to capture your Hope Map in a digital way.

2. Getting into Action

If we don’t take steps to achieve our goal, we’re in fantasy land. So write down several actions, pathways or micro-steps you will take to pursue your career vision. Capture just one action per box on your Hope Map. Take time here – this is you tying your vision to reality.

3. Identify Obstacles

Capture at least one obstacle that might block each of the paths you have described. Feel free to list as many obstacles as occur to you per box.

4. Now, Navigate Them

Review your pathways, including strategies to overcome to the obstacle identified. This may include developing new pathways or building extra steps to your existing ones. If you do identify new pathways, repeat step three and four to overcome any new obstacles that may block your forwards motion.

5. Write Down Ideas

Around the edge of your Hope Map, write down ideas for staying in positive energy – maintaining motivation while you move towards your career vision. Be especially conscious about situations likely to deplete your willpower (agency). And be sure to come up with ideas to stay on course in the face of threats to your autonomy. This is where we will typically lose Hope.

6. Review your Hope Map

Review your Hope Map a few times. Choose which pathway to move towards your career vision first – confident that you have a range of strategies to employ as you move forwards now.

7. Finally, let yourself Hope – the right way!

Not just imagining what it would feel like to live your career vision – mentally rehearse all the smaller steps you need to take to get there in real life and let that brand of Hope energise you in your efforts.

How To Hope Right

To hope or not to hope? That was the question, and having spent some time with the psychology now, you know I come with a health warning about Hope. But have also shown you how to hope right.

So if you catch yourself talking about your career aspirations couched in terms of, ‘I hope…’, please take a minute, then say, ‘but being fate-focused, I’ll just wait and see’.  Notice all over again how passivity dents your Hope – and strips you of agency. Time to go back to your Hope Mapping until you can see the opportunity, even within the difficult pathways, harness your willpower and waypower and get back into action.

For my part, the next time I am offered thanks for giving someone their Hope back, I’m going to explain how Hope-based illusions undermine ambition. That it’s time to stop being Hope-ful or Hope-less and harness Hope instead.

Because that gives us the best chance of achieving what we want. Where we feel empowered to actively aim for the career elevation or evolution we crave and have thought out how. And where the striving will feel as significant as the career aspiration.

Ready to harness your Hope? Remember, for those who find starting a Hope Map from scratch a bit daunting, just click here to ask for a pre-formatted version and some helpful tips received via email.

I hope it helps you Hope, the right way to get there from here.

Helen Hanison is an executive coach. She helps professionals at a career crossroads to make a plan aligning work that they love with the life they want to lead. Then act on it. If you feel ready to talk first steps, email her here. She can also be found online at on her blog and on Facebook. Discovering your natural strengths (then identifying which matter most to you) are the important first steps to creating synergy between who you are and what you do. Because it doesn’t matter what others think when you can boss yourself to confidence and congruence instead. Grab your free PDF guide here.


Image courtesy of Natalie Grainger.