Why You Shouldn’t Hope for the Best

“Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune.”

– Seneca

Have you ever noticed how we’re taught that our wants and desires have everything to do with our suffering, yet we’re also taught to “live in hope”? Have you ever stopped to consider how these messages might muddy the waters?

You see it all over the blogosphere, of course. “Don’t give up,” “Hang in there,” “Never lose hope”… 

But what, exactly, are we supposed to never lose hope for? A perfect body? A million dollars? For becoming a celebrity so we may be adored forever? For politicians to do as they promised – to do what’s right for our children?!


So many talk as if hope is the panacea to life’s problems. As if hope will set us free. I wonder how many people have stopped to ask themselves whether hoping is the problem? That maybe it’s because they’re hoping that they’re suffering? I wonder how many people miss their own lives because they’re constantly hoping for something different? 

I’m guessing it’s a lot.

What if you shouldn’t be hoping for something different? What if, when your survival isn’t at stake – when, at this moment, there is nothing wrong – what if hoping is the last thing you should be doing? 

What if accepting life as it stands is more important than hoping?

We cannot hope the pandemic will disappear tomorrow after all, or that evil will vanquish without a fight. Of course, we must believe in our ability to prevail, but to hope for things out of our control? 

Well, hello, psychological torture my old friend!

Maybe we can work towards improving our lives without feeling it needs to be? Maybe we can work in recognition that we already have everything we need? Maybe our work can be dedicated to helping others for that reason? For those who really do need to “live in hope” because their survival depends on it?

What Hope Is For

This is where I believe we need to be clear: Hope isn’t for external reality, it’s for your ability to deal with it. It’s for survivalIt’s designed to lift you from the brink of destruction. When your back is against the wall and you ingest birds in both of your engines, hope gives you the fortitude to land that fucker in the Hudson.

Talking of which, when Sully Sullenberger ingested a flock of geese in both engines, the most remarkable thing about that day wasn’t that he successfully managed to ditch an aeroplane on the Hudson. (Although that was pretty damn remarkable.) 

No, the most remarkable thing was his ability to rapidly come to terms with his predicament. The most remarkable thing was his ability to take stock of his situation and find the clarity needed to do his job under the most extreme circumstances. 

In a TV interview where he describes the events of that day, he said he remembers the first three conscious thoughts he had vividly. The first was, “This can’t be happening.” Followed by, “This doesn’t happen to me.” Then, he said, this was followed by a dawning realisation that this flight, unlike any other flight during his 40 + career in aviation, wouldn’t end on a runway with the aircraft undamaged. He said, “I was ok with that, as long as I could solve the problem.”

Talk about radical acceptance! I don’t know about you, but it takes me more time to accept life when the alarm goes off in the morning.

A Counterintuitive Approach

Here’s the funny thing about acceptance – it provides a counterintuitive approach to hope. If you have the fortitude to do so, it prevents you from hoping for something different. To be saved by some knight in shining armour. 

It means you’re left hoping for one thing and one thing alone: yourself. Your ability to deal with life as it stands. Even if that’s means you’ve just ingested birds in both of your engines!

Of course, that’s scary. Having to come to terms with the brutal facts of your reality. To understand that you and you alone are responsible for it. 

That’s why most people don’t. They’re too scared to own that level of responsibility. So they distract themselves through addiction and false hope, convincing themselves that their life circumstances are not their fault and, therefore, not their responsibility. 

Of course, that’s wrong. We are always responsible for things that aren’t our fault. In fact, that’s life. Life isn’t your fault, but here you are anyway. What do you want to do about it? Hope for something else?

Preparing for the Worst

Bruce Lee once said, “Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

Of course, building the strength to deal with adversity when it happens is something you can control. Whether you have an easy life or not isn’t. What hand the universe deals you is beyond your control. What he’s really saying is you should hope for your best, not the best. 

How do you that?

By actively preparing yourself for the worst. By challenging yourself. By putting yourself in the dragon’s den and proving that you can. By defining yourself by your pain. There’s a reason why the proverbial kitchen sink is thrown at pilots every 3 months in the simulator. We are thrown in at the deep end and told to sink or swim. Deal with it or have your license invalidated.

In that same TV interview, Sully said that although they had never practiced a water landing in the simulator before, “Because I had learned my craft so well and because I knew my plane and my profession so intimately, I could set clear priorities. And so I chose to do only the highest priority items, and then I had the discipline to ignore everything I did not have time to do.”

What a legend.

I’ll finish with one more thought.

Acting in hope for your survival and those you love is easy. It’s necessary, so it’s easy. When you have no other choice but to act against all odds, of course, you act. It might not be easy to do, but the decision is. 

The real measure of a person is how they respond to events outside of their control. When they cannot act, despite their hopes. The real measure of a person is in their ability to accept. To accept the reality of their past – to accept and embrace the demons in their closet. To accept, ultimately, their own mortality. And that of those who they love most dearly. That is true courage. That is true strength.

And it isn’t hope that will bring you peace – although it may save you. It’s acceptance that does that. That’s why, I suggest you start with radical acceptance for what is long before you start hoping. Then, and only then, if you still have the audacity to hope, you better be prepared to take action.


You can find AP2’s personal blog here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com

You can also find him on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

49 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Hope for the Best

    1. Thank you. It took me a long time to figure that acceptance should come first in the order of things. I’m glad it makes sense. 🙏

    1. You may. I agree. I believe acceptance is something you have to practise. A way of coming back to your present reality and seeing it for what it is. Thank you Sue 🙏

  1. Hey, AP2, you’re becoming a Buddhist, a Stoic, an Existentialist. (Or maybe you’ve always been these things?) Excellent piece of writing. Your essay makes me think of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided, a book in which she critiques the whole movement toward positive thinking being a panacea. Her argument is that “bright-sided” thinking sets people up for a jarring fall. It’s amazing how many people believe that sheer optimism can make anything possible.

    1. The Power of Positive Thinking folks irritate me to no end. Massive amounts of unjustified optimism. And then the people who buy into it are the ones who tell me, “If you would only just…” Thinking positive won’t get me into the NBA or turn me into an astronaut or even fix my Asperger’s.

      The people who push this drug are dealers and the audience is looking for their fix. Or maybe they are priests and their audience is the faithful.

      Not that I have a problem with someone trying to keep a positive attitude. That’s entirely different. A positive attitude accepts reality as it is and looks for the good in it. You can be a pessimist and still have a positive attitude.

    2. Thanks Troy. It’s been a process becoming the person I am. I didn’t always think this way. I was led to believe that Hope and positivity were the be all and end all. I think people have in their heads they are either optimists or pessimists. But I think there is a much better middle ground to shoot for – that of a realist. I haven’t read that book but I’ll look it up.

  2. Hope is useless without correct and disciplined action. It’s like trying to milk a cow only to find out that you’ve been yanking at a bull. Not a pretty picture and you’re not going to get any milk. People have this perception, I may have had it to, that hoping for something unrealistic and out of one’s league is the essence of hope. Unfortunately, it’s not.
    Hope is the internal strength that drives a person to deal with the life they have and the improvement they can bring about with the resources accessible to them. It doesn’t mean one can’t dream for change and prosperity, but without proper thought and action, this dream is just a dream.
    You’ve written this with so much thought, wisdom, and conviction. Bravo!
    Wish you well. Have a great weekend. 🙂

    1. Never a good idea to yank at a bull 😂. Aspirations are important but any hopes of achieving them must be tied to action. Hope is a double edged sword that cuts just as deep the other way. Be careful where you place it. Hope will punish you if you’re not first prepared to confront the facts of your current reality. Thank you Terveen. Have a great week too! 🙂

  3. Brilliantly said. I love hope but only because it drives me to try. I find hope without trying to be inane! But I hadn’t thought of hope and acceptance acting together so you’ve given me some good food for thought!

    1. Thank you. Here’s the simple way of looking at it. Most people hope for something else because they refuse to accept what currently is. I believe if you first accept what is, where you should place your hope becomes clear – namely the things you can control. 🙏

  4. Sorry, can’t agree. Hope and acceptance aren’t mutually exclusive. One can accept reality but also know that everything is temporary and subject to change and hope is what propels us to move head, based on wise action. It’s not an abstract mooning around. It’s the reason why people continue to live despite facing major tragedies. A clear example is what is happening in Afghanistan now. The people are trying to escape because they have hopes of surviving and building a better life in unknown countries and that’s because they have accepted, the terror the Taliban will unleash on them. So this hope is based on acceptance of reality of their life in the country and the desire to change their own reality.

    1. I don’t think people are fleeing Afghanistan because they accept the Taliban. I believe they are fleeing because they don’t. They are using Hope of a better life elsewhere to drive their actions, as they should! The post wasn’t anti Hope. It was merely making a point that there is a big difference between hoping for *the* best versus *your* best. Hoping for the best would say, I hope someone comes to save me and my family from the Taliban. Hoping for your best is believing in your ability to escape/survive and taking action to make it so. Sometimes we shouldn’t accept realty and we must take action. But for most people, for the vast majority of their lives, when the stakes aren’t so high, I’m not sure one should spend their time hoping for something else. Acceptance is a much better place to live. That’s not to say hope and acceptance are always mutually exclusive, just that they usually are. Many people hope for something different because they’re incapable of accepting reality. They use Hope to distract themselves. I believe that’s a dangerous game to play. Especially if one isn’t prepared to take action. I hope (ha) that makes sense. Anyway thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. Wishing you well Diti Sen 🙏

      1. Acceptance in the sense that Afghanis have accepted that the Taliban is an inhuman regime Android therefore the hope, that by leaving the country they can survive like humans elsewhere. Hope isn’t escapism from reality. It’s usually based on a solid philosophy and I believe, too,a natural human thought process. Also, it’s always good to encourage rather than look for the worst. Anyway. It’s always good to hear opposite points of view! Wishing you well too, all the best.

      2. I think we’re splitting hairs over the definition of acceptance here. I’m talking about acceptance internally. Not a denial of facts externally. In my eyes you don’t accept Taliban rule in this sense. You accept the situation and use Hope for survival, but your not accepting Taliban rule. In this example Hope isn’t a form escapism, but that doesn’t mean it never is. For example, I could wish for the pandemic to end and my life to return to normality. That’s an example of me not accepting my present reality. It’s also something I have no control over. Hanging onto that kind of hope will make me miserable. Acceptance on the other hand acknowledges this and instead uses Hope to make the most of the situation, in whatever way I can. Acceptance is about seeing the positives. It’s very different to resignation which is a form of giving up hope. Instead of holding out for events over which you have no control you place Hope where it belongs. My argument is that acceptance does that by keeping m Hope grounded in reality. Like I said, the post isn’t anti Hope. I just believe there is a dark side to hope that one should be aware of. That’s why I said you shouldn’t simply hoe for the best. I hope (ha) that clears up thinking. Thank you again for taking the time to engage me on this topic. 🙏

  5. Radical acceptance at its finest.

    The conflict between hope and acceptance. Desire for that which for which you have no control over is the cause of all pain.

    We’re getting into Buddhism. We’re flirting with Stoicism and dancing with both Thomas Aquinas and Albert Camus, all at the same time. It is the fundamental underpinning of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

    There’s a prayer about it. Serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

    Kipling talks about it in his poem “If…”

    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;

    Doris Day even sang about it. Que sera sera!

    We’re still cave people. Our instinctive responses are still those of a paleolithic human. Most people never get beyond instinct in a crisis, even though they are not backed into a corner by a pack of predators. At least in the developed world, it is almost NEVER about survival. It’s about accepting life on different terms than we had “hoped” for.

    I’m not going to completely dis hope. It was the only good thing to come out of Pandora’s box. Since there is no certainty in any human endeavour, nothing speculative would ever be undertaken without some degree of hope. After you have done everything you can with what you have, hope remains. But that hope has to be matched with the acceptance of any subsequent loss.

    Hope alone ought not to be your primary motivator in anything. Even as Sully’s plane went down from that flock of geese, his actions were driven by cold hard acceptance of reality and an understanding of what was and was not possible. Doing what he could and accepting what he could not.

    My own formulation is: Work towards a realistic hope. The work itself will make you happy. But also be prepared to accept the worst. Even to anticipate it. The dice are beyond your control.

      1. I’m quite familiar with The Allegory of the Cave by Plato.

        A valuable lesson but I don’t see the relation to Radical Acceptance as a psychological therapy or a philosophy. The folks still in the cave are not very accepting of knowledge that upsets their world.

  6. There’s so much good and true in this piece. Tears came to my eyes at the truth and beauty of some of your writing. However, as a Christ-follower (I’m temporarily staying away from the word “Christian” for, sadly, obvious reasons, my ultimate “hope” and “belief” is that this current existence is not our end. But you’re absolutely right about acceptance of your reality. The difference between what you want and what you have is what breeds most of our anger and discontent. I’ve found, living with an extreme disability, huge contentment, hope (yes, I still hope but not unrealistically), and joy in my current life. I make personal decisions every day about how best to proceed, after a lot of talking and listening to God. I have to be happy with doing the tiny things now, because those are all I’m able to do.
    Bravo on your post! We cannot be useful in this life at all as long as we’re living in an unrealistic “hope” in something that probably can’t happen. But I agree with the earlier writer that “Hope” can be a beautiful and necessary thing. Just like fire can warm us, cook our food, but also destroy us if not handled right. I see Hope as a similar thing.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Realistic hope – exactly. Keeping those hopes grounded in reality is what matters. Otherwise we run the danger of our hopes turning to despair. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Wishing you well 🙏

  7. I can’t agree with everything you are saying, because my experience was different from yours and so my perspective is different.

    I went through severe mental abuse before entering a fundamental church, then my already low sense of self worth was crushed to the point I felt I didn’t deserve breathing the air or walking on the earth. Thankfully the universe intervened and I met someone who helped me to leave.

    My healing journey took years to not only build a sense of self worth, but also to learn to stop speaking harshly and unkindly to myself. During the years prior to that, I struggled with anxiety and depression, exacerbated by the negative things I said to myself, which were merely the negativity I had internalized from my abuse.

    During those years, I struggled to hold onto any shred of hope that I was worthy, that I could handle my problems, that anything I attempted to do to improve my life would or could work, because I truly believed I was a loser and was unworthy of being allowed to live a peaceful life. These are the gut wrenching thoughts many of us struggle with when we try to “hold onto hope”.

    Holding onto any shred of hope that I could or would in fact be able to overcome was what kept me from putting any suicide plan into motion.

    A large part of my healing consisted of teaching myself to like myself through gentle positive affirmations, which then helped me to develop a fledgling sense of self worth.

    As I started to heal and become stronger, and my sense of self worth improved, my need to grasp onto shreds of hope was replaced by a sense of confidence. It wasn’t that I had accepted the difficulties I lived through or that I accepted the inner damage I had sustained, nor even that I accepted the negative things which were said to me and which I repeated to myself, No, I learned to suspend judgement of myself. I learned to not accept the unhealthy patterns of thinking, but worked hard to rewire my brain by creating a whole new highway of Neural Pathways to live life without the crippling negativity.

    Hope serves a life and death purpose when we have our back to the wall or feel we are being crushed. Hope serves to help us dig deeper in order to find a little more strength when we feel we have given it our all. Hope serves a purpose, but when we are no longer in crisis mode, hope is replaced with a sense of assurance, a belief in ourselves and in the universe.

    Blessings to you!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share such a heartfelt response. I also suffered with severe depression and anxiety stemming from low self esteem although not to the extent you describe. Suicide has never been on my radar.

      But what you describe as not judging yourself is what I call acceptance. Acceptance isn’t giving up hope, it simply acknowledges what is true in the present. I firmly believe we are meant to embrace our demons -acknowledge our pain – however difficult. It’s by embracing and accepting those demons that they start to soften. First you accept then you can change. It’s refusing to accept – resisting – our demons that makes everything worse. It’s not accepting them that gives them strength.

      To be clear when I talk about acceptance I’m not talking about resignation. Resignation is giving up any hope that you can change. Resignation is another form of denial. Acceptance says I have severe depression but I can do something about it. Acceptance is coming back to the truth.

      My feeling is simply that acceptance should come first. This keeps ones hopes grounded in reality. If I only hope for the best, when the best doesn’t happen, this, paradoxically, leaves the door open for despair.

      And don’t get me wrong. We absolutely need hope for survival. I just don’t believe we need to live in Hope all the time – when our survival isn’t at stake. We shouldn’t Hope for the best but because the best is a fantasy. We should however always hope for our best not matter how trying the circumstances.

      I hope that clears up my thinking. Wishing you well Tamara 🙏

      1. Yes, that does clear things up! I see once more that different words can mean slightly different things to each of us. I see that we are actually much closer in our interpretations than I originally thought!

        I totally agree that we need to focus on what we CAN do, even if all we can do is take baby steps!

  8. The comments here are interesting, and like some of the other commenters, I felt different degrees of agreement and disagreement. While a born pessimist, nevertheless I believe in hope. At the same time, I do believe in recognizing the facts of a difficult situation and being prepared to act. I think we’re all talking past each other, because “hope” is not just wishful thinking which is why some of the commenters took issue with the post a little bit. And at the same time, I don’t think the poster would intend to imply that he thought hope were only wishful thinking.

    1. Yes, I believe my argument was misconstrued by some. I certainly don’t think hope is merely wishful thinking, although I believe it can be. Hope will torture you if its tied to something out of your control (whether my sports team wins or loses, or the election result goes the way I want or not, etc…). My argument is that acceptance keeps ones hopes firmly grounded in reality, where they need to be. The post was never intended to be anti hope, merely to challenge the idea that one should simply “hope for the best” or “live in hope” all the time. Hopes and expectations are synonymous. Is it good to always have high expectations? I really don’t think so. Thank you Hetty Eliot. I appreciate your thoughts 🙏

      1. Nothing wrong with being a moderate pessimist. As Twain once said, “The optimist is continually being disappointed while the pessimist is often pleasantly surprised.

        Reality is often difficult to discern. Being a true realist is not often within human ability. When it comes to important decisions, I want a slight pessimistic bias. I don’t want my pilot to be optimistic about whether the plane has enough fuel.

        When I think of acceptance, it is usually in the context of those things that we cannot change. I’m not going to “accept” a low fuel tank before taking a long trip. I’ll either gas up or I won’t go. But if I were short or old or naturally clumsy I would accept that I’ll never play in the NBA and move on from there. When I entered the military, I accepted that I might die in combat and made my peace with it.

        I accept that I have Asperger’s and do what I can to mitigate its difficulties. I also accept that people aren’t very forgiving of such and am not therefore crushed when it happens. I accept many bad things that happened as a child. Having accepted them, they are emotionally neutralized. I can move on without them poisoning the present. Not being able to let go of childhood trauma comes from refusing to accept it.

        The opposite of acceptance is not hope, it is denial.

  9. Very well thought out-post. You gave me ample food for thought!
    We had to rush our active, healthy, and deeply spiritual mum to an ICU a few years ago. The specialist told us to “hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
    At its face value, this sentence was quite hurtful as my sisters, and I worship our mother, and the thought of losing her was not acceptable.
    But what I deduced the doctor meant by “hope for the best” was that he would do his utmost for our mother. However, he was also aware of his limitations to work miracles. But didn’t want us to lose hope.
    The “prepare for the worst” part meant that I should accept that although my mother was otherwise healthy, her condition at that point was critical and an outcome uncertain.
    However, I did not cling to false hope. Neither was I ready to accept willingly. But I did so because all my life I had seen my spiritual mother accept.
    I didn’t lose hope either. Because my sisters and I were not going to leave any stone unturned to get our mother well.
    Thankfully she recovered gradually and celebrated her 91st birthday this year.

    1. That’s a lovely story. I’m pleased to hear it had a happy ending. When It comes to life or death situations hoping for the best is necessary. When it comes to everyday life, however, I don’t believe it is a realistic. Often hoping for the best can lead to painful heartbreak. Thank you for sharing your story/thoughts. I wish your mother a happy 91st year of life and beyond 🙏

  10. This post explained really well why you should not always hope for the best and be ready for the worst. If you were to do that, life won’t be able to get the best of you.

  11. Great piece of writing and deeply reflective!! I so appreciate your thoughts. We can only accept when we can let go and forgive.
    Jeremiah writes in Lamentations: “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. — Lamentations 3:21-23 KJV
    Prior to these words, Jeremiah had been wailing and moaning and feeling sorry for himself, his people, and his beloved Jerusalem. And after all that lamenting, he finds hope — a silver lining in the storm clouds over his head. Where does that come from?
    I have only been able to find hope when I am sitting in the ashes of my life – facing my reality and accepting what I have just come through. I’ve been given strength for the journey and tools for the task: Hindsight gives me hope.
    God is faithful. In God, I do trust and I am able to go on and do the work to which I’ve been called. I can only do that when I have faced and let go of my failures; when I have let go of my personal offenses and forgiven those made against me. Every morning I have a fresh start and I have hope because I made it through the day before.

    1. The act of acceptance then the acceptance of action. Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Forgiveness is a key ingredient for learning to accept. Wishing you well 🙏

  12. This is a very beautiful piece.
    It is so true….I just had to to my notes to check a write-up I wrote about being a prisoner to hope. Many times in our bid to be hopeful, we keep ourselves bound and live in a bubble because sometimes accepting reality is the first step to our breakthrough. We should really hope for our best and not the best. Thank you so much for this piece. Would definitely be sharing what I wrote about being a prisoner to hope.

  13. That’s an interesting take on life and is so true. There is no other means to fight change only acceptance is the resolution. Attitude of recognising the reality that things are the way they are is generalised acceptance. But graceful acceptance is a result of understanding the happenstances which is not resistant and away from the conflicting decisions.

    1. Understanding and acceptance go hand in hand. Very true. Thank you for adding your thoughts. I really appreciate it. Wishing you well 🙏

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