“If you’re going to die, die with your boots on.” For my fellow metal heads, Iron Maiden did not invent that quote. It is a well-known quote (in various forms) from the days of the Old West, and it basically means a desire to really live your life right up until the end, fight until your last breath, work until the final moment, or be a productive member of society until you leave this plane of existence. It’s a good quote and a commendable goal. At 77 years of age, my father was still working seven days a week when he died. He died with his metaphorical boots on. I’m not quite the workaholic that my father was, but I certainly would like to be living my life to the fullest until my final breath.
That being said, I am more focused on a different goal for my life. I want to die with my hopes up. In reality, what I am saying is that I want to live every moment of my life believing and expecting that good things will happen. This may come as a shock to those who know me and are familiar with my pessimism, my jaded outlook on life, and my general disdain for people (not the people whom I love…just EVERYONE else). Actually, this attitude adjustment has been evolving over several years, and although some may view it as some sort of spiritual awakening, I think it’s actually just logic and reason that have brought me to this epiphany.
FEAR IS ILLOGICAL
I should qualify this statement. There is a need and proper place for fear in the lives of humans. It protects us in countless ways. However, we have taken an emotion that should be utilized less now than in any other era – an emotion that should be nothing more than a gnat at our ear – and we have turned it into a behemoth that takes over our lives. This behemoth is quite extraordinary, though, because it is also part chameleon, and it disguises itself as caution, planning, preparing, circumspection, and managing expectations, among many other positive-sounding qualities.
One of fear’s most significant victories is the simple phrase, “Don’t get your hopes up.” Sometimes people say it sarcastically, but more often than not it is used in one of two ways: (1) a “well-meaning” person, who generally thinks that s/he knows better than you do, is basically trying to tell you that you’ve made the wrong choice and things will not go well; or (2) you say it yourself (“I’m not getting my hopes up” or “I’m trying not to get my hopes up”) because you think that others believe you made the wrong choice, and you want to cut them off at the pass, so to speak, and make sure that they know you are aware that things may go badly. Both of these scenarios allow for the slim possibility of being pleasantly surprised, but both are also deeply rooted in the fear that things will take a turn for the worst.
The perceived wisdom of not getting your hopes up is that the blow of failure or a negative outcome is somehow softened when it is expected. That may be true in circumstances where failure or a negative outcome is a certainty, but that is not the situation that “Don’t get your hopes up” addresses. When someone is standing on a railroad track with a train racing toward him/her, an onlooker does not legitimately yell, “Don’t get your hopes up” if the person refuses to move. Certainly, that scenario would warrant, “You’re going to die!” Conversely, when the warning about getting your hopes up is used, it is intended to cushion the blow of a danger that may never come in a situation that has numerous – sometimes infinite – possible outcomes.
It is not logical to always be on guard of a possible negative outcome in circumstances where a positive outcome is also a possibility.
For example, I have just launched a new full-time freelance writing and editing business. This business will either fail or succeed; it is that simple. I will not know if it has failed or succeeded for quite some time – the general school of thought is at least two years. Surely, there are those who think that it was foolish of me to retire my law license and leave the “security” of working for the government in exchange for the unknown of being an entrepreneur. In fact, when I was informing people of my decision, I found myself saying things like, “I can always go back to practicing law” or “I can also get a full-time job and just freelance on the side if I think it’s necessary.” Those were just fancy ways of saying, “I’m not getting my hopes up.”
If I am stressed, and spend all of my time worrying about whether or not launching my business was the right decision and whether or not my business will fail, if I make sure that I don’t get my hopes up, then all I will have is over 700 days of disappointment, over 700 days of devastation, over 700 days of worrying about what I have to do next or how I can fix this. If, after two years of running this business, it is a success, and I have wasted over 700 days in misery for absolutely no reason, what will have been the point of that?! If, however, after two years of running this business, it is a failure, and I have spent over 700 days enjoying life and excited at the possibility of making my dream come true, all that will happen is that I will have a really bad day – ONE really bad day. If that day comes, I do not believe that expecting it will make it any less devastating, but if that day never comes, I certainly don’t want to have destroyed over 700 days for absolutely no reason.
WE CREATE OUR OWN HELL
I am a huge fan of Lucifer – no, not the actual Lucifer, the television show based on the character created by Neil Gaiman in the Sandman series – and the meme below represents one of my favorite scenes:
In that scene, Lucy is referring to guilt, but the same could certainly be said of fear. We create our own Hell where day after day we tell ourselves not to expect something good, that things probably will not work out, that something good could happen but it probably won’t, and where we convince ourselves that focusing on the negative will somehow create something positive, if only a slightly better feeling when it all falls apart.
Do things go wrong? Of course, they do! However, it has been my experience that the bad things are generally not the things that you expected anyway, and we inevitably end up worrying about things that never happen. I am breaking out of my self-created Hell! I am throwing the doors wide open and doing my best catwalk stomp as I walk toward the light! Let me reassure you, I have no intention of turning into a Pollyanna – my favorite color is still black, and I still have a firm grasp on reality – however, when I examine a situation, and I see at least one possible positive outcome, then I am going to unapologetically hang all of my hopes on that outcome. So, when I say that I want to die with my hopes up, what I am actually saying is that I will LIVE with my hopes up!