Hope is Not a Strategy

I am not exactly sure where or when I first heard the phrase “hope is not a strategy.” In fact, it is debatable as to who conceived the phrase. I have seen it attributed to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who used the phrase, “Because ‘change’ is not a destination, just as ‘hope’ is not a strategy” at the 2008 Republican National convention; as well as Benjamin Ola Akande, an economist, scholar, and Dean of the Business School at Webster University who in an open letter to President Barack Obama in 2009 used the phrase, “Hope Is Not a Strategy” as the letter’s title; it is also the title of a business book, “Hope is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale” by Rick Page, published in 2001; as well as Director James Cameron who when filming Avatar had tee shirts made with the quote “Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option.”

My defining experience with the saying came in 2010 while creating an annual business plan. My boss commented, “Let’s hope our salesforce takes action on our initiatives.” I was caught off guard and immediately replied “hope is not a strategy and I am not allowing my success be tied to a hope that others do something.”  Hope is never a productive strategy to influence outcomes – i.e. hope I get the job, hope I pass this test, hope he/she likes me, hope this works out well.

‘Hope’ as a verb, may be an action word but it sets a low standard. Instead of using the word ‘hope’ or even the word ‘faith’, I look to use the word ‘trust’ if possible. Think about lending someone $100 dollars.  Do you ‘hope’ they return it; have ‘faith’ they return it or ‘trust’ they return it?

‘Hope’ is never sure of the outcome. The outcome could go either way, good or bad. ‘Faith’ has no negative side to it as faith always believes in the eventual, ultimate outcome of the thing for which we believe. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) ‘Trust’ comes by way of a relationship; it must be built through intentional personal connections. Strong faith is deeply rooted in trust. Without trust, faith is often a thinly disguised hope. Faith is confidence; Trust is commitment. Your faith can waiver, even fail. Consider Peter’s denial of Jesus. Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, the state of being responsible (i.e. Trust Fund, Trustee). “Those trusting in the LORD are like Mount Zion, unshakable, forever enduring.” (Psalm 125:1).

Faith is something we HAVE; Trust is something we DO. Faith says, “I believe”; Trust is executing faith. It is far easier to have faith. It is a lot harder to exercise trust. “I’d trust you with my life”

In an FCA Huddle, we used the story of a tightrope walker to further clarify the concept of faith and trust. In the late 1800’s there was a great tightrope walker, Charles Blondin.  One of his greatest stunts involved walking a tightrope high above the world-famous Niagara Falls. Upon completing one attempt, he asked the crowd if they believed he could do it again. The crowd agreed. Looking to go one better, he asked if they believed he could cross while pushing a wheelbarrow. The crowd had no doubt he could pull this off. Right as he started he asked: “Which of you will ride in the wheelbarrow?” No one responded.  They had faith he could perform the more difficult stunt. Yet, when it came time to act on those beliefs, they did not trust him.

What Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande meant in his letter to President Obama, was that he needed to act. There must be a concentrated effort to solve problems and to increase opportunities. Sitting around thinking or talking about how the current situation could be better would not change anything. He wrote, “Yet, the fact remains that hope will not reduce housing foreclosures. Hope does not stop a recession. Hope cannot create jobs. Hope will not prevent catastrophic failures of banks. Hope is not a strategy.”

Life, like most team sports (football, basketball, hockey), can be fast-moving. A lot happens in seconds with little time to think. Everything that a player has learned in practice needs to come out naturally and automatically. Athletes improve their performances tremendously by learning and playing with trust. Trust is letting go of the mental need to control. When you have trust in your own ability to perform the task in competition, you play in a ‘flow state’ where your full talent manifests. One year coaching an AAU basketball player, my thought was she “has a good shot but doesn’t trust it” and eventually she never really became the player she could have been.  To develop trust, you must first eliminate the main block to it: fear – failure, mistakes, opinion by others, results, injury, etc.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. … This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” That is a quote from Steve Jobs, taken from a college graduation speech he once gave. In short, should you leave your future in the hands of hopefulness or trust? Should you rely on fate or believe in working God’s plan?

I have no issue with ‘hope’ when it is a noun. Webster tells us, that in a noun form, hope is a feeling, and aspiration. When I consider hope as a noun, I start hearing Frank Sinatra singing ‘High Hopes’ in my head and picture an ant moving a rubber tree plant, ‘oops there goes another rubber tree plant.’ I can relate to hope as a noun in Coach Mike Tomlin’s quote, “I don’t live in my fears. I always look at my hopes, whether it’s football or anything else.” Biblical hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.

I have been told I can go a little overboard around the use of the word ‘hope’, but I think that is a good thing. If I evaluate when ‘hope’ is used in my world, I can determine the level of action associated with it. Live in your hopes, but exercise trust in your ability and talents to take action. Don’t just inertly want something to happen, commit yourself to create it.

I don’t hope (verb) for a better future, although I have hope (noun) in a better future. As a person looking at the future, I want to be involved in its creation. That is why I work with young adults, serve as a character coach, and get involved in mentoring activities. It is also why I choose to do this blog and why I witness my trust in God for His plan.

Hope is not my strategy.

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