We’ve all said, “I don’t want to get my hopes up.” Whenever the possibility of a good opportunity is in sight, or you start dating someone new, or your boss hints at a job promotion, our reaction is often to not get our hopes up. It seems smart, right?
I was the never-getting-my-hopes-up person for a very long time. I made straight As all through college (which means I’m neurotic, not smart), but each semester I convinced myself that a B was going to slip its way into my report card. I didn’t hope for all As.
Instead, I prepared for imperfection.
My reasoning was that if I expected the worst, I wouldn’t be disappointed if that was the turnout. And if that wasn’t the turnout, and I had indeed made all As yet again, I would be pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know this then, but this reasoning of mine was a way to protect myself. I was building shields and walls in order to not have to fully feel disappointment or failure.
Dr. Brene Brown, my life yoda, talks about why we refuse to get our hopes up in one of her Ted Talks. She says, “We sidestep getting excited about something because we’re not sure it’s actually going to happen. Joy becomes foreboding… and then we become compelled to beat vulnerability to the punch. It is much easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointment.”
It is a vulnerable thing to get your hopes up about something.
It is saying, “I want this to happen so badly that I will be crushed if it doesn’t.” I avoided this type of vulnerability in most areas of my life, not just my grade reports. I expected the worst so that the best would surprise me and the worst wouldn’t get me down.
However, this can have an unexpectedly isolating effect on your life. My friends and family didn’t know when to comfort me or rejoice with me in good and bad because I refused to make it clear what I was excited about or what I feared.
Dr. Brown explains in her book The Gifts of Imperfection that if you refuse to get your hopes up, it doesn’t lessen the disappointment if your dream doesn’t happen, but it can lessen the joy.
You are up for a big promotion but keep telling people, “Oh I might not get it, and that’s totally fine because of this, this and this…” Then you do get it and want to shout from the rooftops about how excited you are and to be celebrated by your friends, but it doesn’t happen. Because no one in your life knew you even cared. You protected yourself so fiercely that, sure, it would sting a little less if you didn’t get what you hoped for, but the joy was greatly lessened, too.
Is it worth it to you?
To not feel either emotion?
As Dr. Brown says, “Vulnerability is absolutely at the core of fear and anxiety and shame and very difficult emotions that we all experience, but vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity, of faith.”
I used to pity those who flung around their dreams and told everyone their hopes. They shouldn’t get their hopes up, I thought. But now, I aspire to be like those people.
Instead of building walls around themselves, they have successfully built a community around them who knows when to rejoice with them and when to grieve. Maybe they experience deep disappointment on some days, but they also experience deep, deep joy, and I want to feel alive like that too.