Hang in there

Hang in there. This expression became popular in the 1970s due to a popular poster that bore the phrase. Photographer Victor Baldwin, who owned a portrait studio in Beverly Hills, California turned a photograph of a Siamese cat hanging onto a bamboo pole, into a poster. Since then, many copies featuring different cats were made, but the message was the same: when you are going through a tough time, don’t give up, persevere.

We have entered a particularly tough time on the planet. It is a time of change and uncertainty. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring. This is a turning point, a time of extremes, and in such times we need to become resilient. We need to hang in there.

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity”. The keyword here is ‘adapting’, not ‘hanging on for dear life’. Be prepared to make some changes, and to adapt, and in the meantime hang in there. Resistance to change and stubbornly holding on to how we think things should be, just leads to unnecessary suffering. Our first reaction in the face of adversity should not be resistance but a willingness to adapt. Whilst staying rooted and grounded, we yield and adapt, much like palm trees in a hurricane. They bend, but they do not break. That is resilience.

So how can we become more resilient?

Firstly, “Know Thyself.” Travel the road less travelled. Go within. Become an observer of yourself and, in particular, be aware of your thoughts because, as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” So, mind your mind. If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. Know thyself, because if we know ourselves, we also know that we need not hang onto the bamboo pole for our dear lives, like the cat in the poster. Had that cat done the inner work, it would have known that cats always land on their feet and that they have nine lives anyway.

Secondly, you need to have a personal sense of hope. Two of the first questions usually directed at people who survived the seemingly impossible are, “How did you do it?” And “What kept you from simply giving up?” Often the answer they gave was, “I never lost hope.”

What is hope? Hope is not wishful thinking. These seemingly contradictory notions are the basis of what the author Jim Collins calls “The Stockdale Paradox”. The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. He managed to survive the ordeal of his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973. When asked how he managed to stay sane and strong in the face of such brutal conditions, Admiral Stockdale replied, “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

When asked who didn’t make it out, his answer was quite unexpected. “The optimists,” Stockdale said. “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And then Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Hope doesn’t hurt, but expectations can. Pinning all your hopes on a specific outcome or time frame is a recipe for suffering. True hope is to have faith that you will prevail in the end. True hope is to face your current reality and to deal with it as best you can, whilst holding on to the possibility that tomorrow can be better than today. In the words of Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, be sure to keep going.”

Hang in there.