Let's Talk About Hope

June 29, 2017

I opened my eyes the morning of December 19th and quickly shut them again. I rolled to my back feeling every vertebrae in my body protest this movement. I slowly swung my feet to the ground while investigating the bruises found on my shins, knees, and elbows. It was the morning after my first ski attempt. The combination of my clumsiness, dislike of all things cold, and my need for speed that has earned me my infamous nickname of “Ricky Bobby,” really hindered my skiing abilities the previous day. I searched the dark room to see three of my best friends sleeping peacefully. I knew when they woke up they would be energized and excited knowing we were hitting the slopes yet again today. I swallowed my fear and anxiety and tried not to trip on my swollen ankle on my way to my suitcase. I layered up in every piece of clothing regardless of whether or not it had already been worn. I filed through inspirational quotes stored in my phone trying to find some motivation to help me carry on with the rest of my skiing experience. The one thing I could cling to is that the ski resort closed at 4 pm and it was already 8 am, so that meant the torture could only last eight more hours—tops. What a thought full of hope

The experienced skiers decided that they wanted to try some blues (medium level slopes) that day, so they left me with my friend Michelle, who had not been skiing since early childhood. We stuck with the greens, the easiest level. We were probably ¼ of the way down the mountain when we found ourselves laying in a drift by a sign that had two arrows pointing opposite directions. One arrow was pointing towards a black (the hardest level slopes) path, the other arrow said “Free-Style Course.” While that initially sounds incredibly scary, we decided it had to be easier than the seemingly impossible black slope. The skiers on both sides of us were flying and zooming past us with such expertise and ease we were horrified!

To say we were scared is to lie. In that moment Michelle and I looked at each other with no hope. We had an understanding in one look that this would end badly. We scooted ourselves towards the “Free-Style Course” and found ourselves facing a “Caution” sign. The sign continued to tell us that the path was only to be taken by professionals and that death could likely occur. Something odd happened at this sign. Michelle and I could do nothing but laugh. We found ourselves struggling to stand up and for the first time since we got on the mountain, it wasn’t because of our questionable skiing skills.

The more we laughed, the more hopeful we were. That’s when a ski patrol realized Michelle nor I belonged on either of these slopes and hurried over to us. She informed us that we would have to go down a small black hill to get us back down to a green slope. That’s when the grit came in—we knew that the next obstacle surpassed our skiing skills in a painful way. Hopeful tears filled my eyes. I guess the tears could’ve been from the sight of the “small” black hill. Regardless, we skied, or rolled, (it’s debatable) down the rest of the black where we finally saw a green arrow. We took a deep breath, and laughed our way down the rest of the mountain with a decent amount of ease and a whole lot of fun.

 My mentor, Kayla Schnuelle offers us some perspective on this by writing, “purpose creates the vision but hopeful grit supplies the passion and perseverance to achieve our goals and tackle the barriers.” This is exactly what we experienced on the top of Copper Mountain. The purpose of our adventure was undoubtedly getting down a mountain in one piece. We both envisioned us skiing into the nearest Starbucks for the much needed hot cup of coffee. We knew that this would take both passion (in the form of enjoyment) and perseverance. The barriers are pretty self-explanatory. Kayla’s idea of hopeful grit is the exact presence of why I am convinced hope is something that is not only beneficial in the lives of leaders but essential.  We all have aspirations, goals, and dreams. I encourage everyone to regularly imagine where they want to see themselves in the next year, the next five years, and the next ten years. It creates hope, which in turn gives us emotional fuel and focused energy to take the steps and create a plan that will get us there, God willing.

I also had the opportunity to bounce some ideas about the simple word “hope” off of Dr. Tom Field, the Director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program. He says that hope is recognizing that with hard work, sweat, and grit, and a power bigger and greater than ourselves we will reach our potential and have a journey worthy of our hearts and even our lives. The opposite of hope he says is “despair and doubt, it’s giving up and giving in.” He reminds me that hope is the “precursor,” it is the step before the plan.

Kayla and Dr. Field reminded me of another detail. We can’t talk about hope without talking about faith. This doesn’t have to be a faith in God, but I know this is my strongest case for why hope is not only a nice thing to have but a “must” thing to have. Please relate the following lines to whatever fills your own heart. My favorite prayer goes “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” The counteraction and the struggle against despair, darkness, hatred, injury, and doubt can be summarized in one word and that one word is none other than HOPE. This is not only a Christian principle, but rather, a human principle.

Lastly, I need to give thanks to my new friend, Mr. Shawn Koehler, District Sales Manager at Bayer CropScience. He challenged my thinking during a business and industry visit that was scheduled to network on the topic of Nebraska FFA and current agricultural happenings. He believes that there are more powerful things to pursue than hope, like preparation and the ability to inspire. This is an idealism that I plan on applying to a lot of aspects of my life. Because of our incredibly insightful conversation, everything I had ever incorporated with hope was challenged. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

His ideas on hope and leadership taught me so much about my personal leadership style and ways that I can work towards improvement. Often times, words like “hope,” “faith,” and “belief” are thought of as fluffy and feel-good. Indeed, if these words are used lightly they can be dangerous, deceiving, and ineffective.

Serving as a Nebraska FFA state officer has shown me that the most valuable conversations are ones that challenge you. Every person you meet not only knows something that you don’t but has lived another life that you will never be able to live. The potential in this fact is endless and limitless. Thanks for reminding me of this, Mr. Koehler!

I would love to keep the conversation going, if you have any thoughts, ideas, or arguments on the complex word “hope” email me at engler@unl.edu.  I’ll end with this: love to hope, hope to plan, and plan to serve to the best of your abilities.

Cheyenne Gerlach