The night is always darkest before the dawn.
That very well-know saying rings in my ears the word: hope. Hope! What a short, little word that carries on its back, so to speak, so much promise, so many reasons for staying with it, whatever ‘it’ might mean at any particular moment.
For countless times for countless numbers of people, the importance of hope has been incalculable! But first let’s dip into the dictionary as a way of clearly understanding the word.
Hope: as a noun, in part: “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best”; as a verb, in part: “to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence”.
Yes, there are other definitions of the word ‘hope’; both as a noun and an adjective. But I selected the two above because they resonated with me and past experiences. Or more accurately, a past experience. My prelude to another story from my past that seemed an appropriate way of opening this chapter; this chapter on hope.
In 1986 I had the opportunity to take a few years off. Off from the working life, that is. I had started my own company in 1978 after eight years of being a salesman for the Office Products Division of IBM UK. In 1986, the successful sale of my company meant that for a while I could go and play. By chance, I went on a vacation to Larnaca on the Island of Cyprus; Larnaca being on the Greek side of what was a divided island(and still is!) between Greece and Turkey.
Larnaca struck me as a lovely place on a lovely island in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Again, quite by chance, one day during my vacation, when strolling around Larnaca Marina, I noticed a yacht with a For Sale notice on the yacht’s pulpit. The yacht, named Songbird of Kent, was a Tradewind 33, a type that I had heard about previously from reading yachting magazines. I vaguely recalled that the type had been designed in the UK by John Rock, himself an experienced deep-water yachtsman, for the purpose of serious ocean sailing and that many Tradewinds had completed vast ocean crossings.
I was still looking at the yacht, lost in some dream about sailing the seas, when a call from a man who had just come up from the cabin caught my attention. He had spotted me looking at the yacht.
“Hi, my name is Ken and I’m the owner of Songbird. Did you want to come onboard and have a look around?” I couldn’t resist!
It transpired that Ken, and Betty his wife, an English couple, had been living on Songbird for some years, cruising the Mediterranean each Summer, and now wanted to return to England.
It was obvious that Songbird had been cared for in every possible way and that the yacht was offered for sale in a manner that meant she could become my permanent new home with little or no effort on my behalf.
Three hours later Ken and Betty and yours truly had agreed terms for the sale of Songbird of Kent. One of those spur of the moment things that we do in our lives that, so often, make being alive such a reward.
I should explain that as a younger man (I was 42 when I agreed to buy Songbird) I had devoured the books written by such round-the-world solo sailors as Francis Chichester and Joshua Slocum and others and harboured this silly, naive dream of one day doing a solo transatlantic crossing. Later on in life, when living in Wivenhoe in Essex, I bought my first yacht but never achieved anything more than local coastal sailing and a couple of overnight sailings to Holland; all with others I should hasten to add – never solo! However, I knew for sure that if there was one yacht that was perfect for open ocean sailing it was the Tradewind.
Thus it wasn’t long before my home in Great Horkesley, near Colchester, had been sold and I was adjusting to a new life as a ‘live aboard yachtie’ out in Cyprus.
I loved living in Larnaca for a whole bundle of reasons that I won’t go into here. Except one! That was that in my years of living and working near Colchester, which was where my business was based, I had been introduced to gliding and eventually had ended up becoming a gliding instructor. So imagine my delight at finding that there was an active gliding club on a British ex-military airfield thirty minutes away from Larnaca. It was not long before I was fully back to gliding.
One day, I was doing gliding experience flights for some visitors. Early in the afternoon, up came a quietly spoken Englishman who wanted to get an idea of what it was like to fly in a glider. Les, for that was his name, settled himself in, I checked his straps were secure, pointed out the canopy release and jumped into the seat behind him, and within moments we were airborne.
Later on, when back on the ground and sitting to one side of the old runway, Les and I started chatting about our backgrounds and what had brought each of us to Larnaca. I learned that Les was not only Les Powles, the famous solo sailor, but that he was living on board his yacht, Solitaire, right here in Larnaca Marina.
Over the following days, often with a beer or two in our hands, I heard Les’ tales about him having been in his 50s when he built Solitaire, with little prior knowledge of boatbuilding. That he had just eight hours of sailing experience when he decided to sail solo around the world. That remarkably, he had made it across the Atlantic, albeit discovering that his navigation skills didn’t quite match up to his boatbuilding abilities. This translating to his first landfall being the coast of Brazil, a 100 miles south of (and a different hemisphere) the Barbados he had been aiming for!
I listened for hours, in utter rapture of what Les had achieved. This quiet, unpretentious man that had achieved so much. Including how after solo circumnavigation number one, Les ended up completing three solo circumnavigations, all of them full of incidents. Particularly, the last one, with Les being given up for dead when he hadn’t been heard from for over four months. When eventually he sailed up the Lymington River in Hampshire, in a skeletal state, his arrival caused a media frenzy. Lymington Marina subsequently gave him a free berth for life. Les’ boat had been damaged in a storm, he had lost all communications and had virtually run out of food by the time he made it back to England.Oh, and Les was 70 at the time!
It’s OK readers, I haven’t forgotten I was promising you an anecdote on the subject of hope! Stay with me a little longer; it’s coming!
At one point, Les asked me about my own sailing ambitions. I remarked that I had this tired old idea of a solo sailing across the Atlantic.
“Have you done any solo sailing?”, Les asked.
I replied, “At the start of most Summers, I sail alone from Larnaca across to the Turkish coast to meet up with family and friends who want to cruise along with me.”
Continuing, “Generally I head for Alanya or a little further along the Turkish coast; to Antalya. It takes me two or three days to get there non-stop, most often with me going west-about Cyprus, and then straight up to Turkey. But I am embarrassed to admit that I hate both that trip, and the return solo trip at the end of the Summer. Detest would be a better word than hate.”
Pausing before adding a moment later, “If I can’t stomach solo sailing for three days then there’s no chance, no chance at all, that I could sail solo across the Atlantic ocean.”
It was then that Les said something both profound and deeply inspiring.
“Paul, guess what! The first three days of being alone are just as terrible for me, too. Indeed, I have never met a solo sailor who doesn’t say the same. Those early days of adjusting to your new world, your new world of being alone out on the ocean, are the worst. But never lose hope that from some point around the third or fourth day, you will have worked through that transition and found an unbelievable state of mind; a freedom of mind that has no equal.”
Years later, with Les’ words still ringing in my ears, I set out from Gibraltar for the Westward crossing of the Atlantic and lived the truth of Les’ prediction.
Sorry if that turned into a longer trip down memory lane than you were anticipating. However, I knew of no better way of telling you about how I learned the real meaning of hope, courtesy of dear Les.
Now a purely anecdotal tale on gaining the meaning of hope would be no way to end this chapter. We need to seek a professional view as well.
Scott Barry Kaufman is the Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. (See footnote)
Back in December of 2011 he was the author of an essay published in the journal Psychology Today. The essay was called: The Will and Ways of Hope, with the subheading: Hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there.
Talent, skill, ability — whatever you want to call it — will not get you there. Sure, it helps. But a wealth of psychological research over the past few decades shows loud and clear that it’s the psychological vehicles that really get you there. You can have the best engine in the world, but if you can’t be bothered to drive it, you won’t get anywhere.
Psychologists have proposed lots of different vehicles over the years. Grit, Conscientiousness, self-efficacy, optimism, passion, inspiration, etc. They are all important. One vehicle, however, is particularly undervalued and underappreciated in psychology and society. That’s hope.
Professor Kaufman went on to say that, “Put simply: hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there.” It struck me that those words seemed to resonate strongly with the multi-stage process of change that was covered in the previous chapter: The process of change.
The good Professor then adding:
Why is hope important? Well, life is difficult. There are many obstacles. Having goals is not enough. One has to keep getting closer to those goals, amidst all the inevitable twists and turns of life. Hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable to success, thereby increasing the chances they will actually accomplish their goals.
Thus what Professor Kaufman seemed to be saying, well to my ears anyway, was that hope was not some wishy-washy emotion, some vaguely defined way of giving oneself a good talking to but “a dynamic cognitive motivational system” to use his words. That people who have clear goals in their lives, especially goals that demand learning, that in themselves are related positively to success, whatever success means specifically to an individual, that those goals are critically dependent on hope.
More from Kaufman:
Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track.
While reading Professor Kaufman’s essay, I found myself quietly wondering about where hope fitted in with other psychological attitudes, such as optimism and self-confidence. I didn’t have to wonder for much longer because, towards the end of the Professor’s essay, he specifically addresses my wonderings:
Hope can be distinguished from other psychological vehicles, such as self-efficacy and optimism. Self-efficacy refers to your belief that you can master a domain. Optimism refers to a general expectation that it’ll all just ‘be alright’. Hope, self-efficacy, and optimism are all incredibly important expectancies and contribute to the attainment of goals. Even though they all involve expectations about the future, they are subtly, and importantly, different from each other. People with self-efficacy expect that they will master a domain. Optimism involves a positive expectancy for future outcomes without regard for one’s personal control over the outcome. In contrast to both self-efficacy and optimism, people with hope have both the will and the pathways and strategies necessary to achieve their goals.
For the first time in many decades of reflection and introspection into aspects of success, motivation and achievement, I saw the sense of seeing hope in a two-dimensional manner: the will and the ways! Fascinating!
Reinforced so clearly in Professor Kaufman’s closing words:
We like to think that current ability is the best predictor of future success. We’ve built up the importance of existing ability because the testing and gating mechanisms are so well established to suit this belief. Important psychological studies show that ability is important, but it’s the vehicles that actually get people where they want to go. Oftentimes, the vehicles even help you build up that ability you never thought you had. And hope — with its will and ways — is one of the most important vehicles of them all.
Is there a connection between learning the “first three days are the worst’ from dear Les Powles and the academic eminence of Professor Scott Barry Kaufman?
I think so. For one could interpret Les’ advice about working through that initial three days at sea as containing both the Will – I am determined to keep going through those transitional days – and the Way – one can only achieve the peace of mind of being alone at sea by sailing onwards for three or four days.
I cannot close this better than by quoting Aristotle, “Hope is a waking dream.”
2,361 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover
Footnote: Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Kaufman investigates the development and measurement of imagination, and the many paths to greatness. He has six books, including Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and The Philosophy of Creativity(with Elliot Samuel Paul). Kaufman is also co-founder of The Creativity Post. Kaufman completed his doctorate in cognitive psychology from Yale University in 2009 and received his masters degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University in 2005, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.