Like many good myths and stories, Pandora’s Box has iterated over time – if I had a pound for every inspirational speaker I’ve heard say ‘and the last thing out of Pandora’s box was hope’ I’d be doing very well. For hope to prevail, you have to suspend your fear long enough to believe in something better. Pandora did not.
As far as the myth goes – in a very abridged version – Pandora was a curious being, sent by Zeus to punish mankind. She had many gifts from many gods – these were stored in a jar (mistakenly translated as a box), and she was told never to open it. Of course, she did and once she did all manner of evil flew out into the world – she watched hardship, sickness, sadness, death and many other bad things fly out of the box and in an attempt to stop the flow of evil she had released, she slammed the box shut – trapping hope inside. (Later iterations of the myth have her finding hope at the bottom or have her husband showing her hope, which is obviously a much more palatable version of the story – particularly for children)
The interesting and relevant point here is that when you are in scary, uncertain situations you don’t know what is going to come out of the box – you may not be the one who opened the box, but you do have to deal with what flies out. You can’t stuff everything back in and you can’t pretend nothing’s changed – well maybe you can do that but it’s not a very good strategy.
When you act from a place of fear you tend to make poorer decisions from a more limited set of internal resources – which is fine when you are in immediate danger and you need to remove yourself, but not so good for the decisions that most of us make most of the time. There is a fairly simple neurological reason why this is the case – fear ups your cortisol and adrenaline activates your sympathetic nervous system and diverts effort to key survival areas of your brain. It literally narrows your conductive bandwidth, bypassing some of the rational processing that might be needed to find solutions.
Once this happens – even if you are not fully in fight / flight mode, your limbic brain has the wrong chemicals sloshing about for courageous, connected longer term solution finding. For this you need dopamine – the reward hormone, serotonin – for confidence and significance and oxytocin – for bonding and connection. Hope helps to release these hormones, but there is a caveat – you have to believe the outcome you are considering is possible. You don’t have to have it all planned out, you don’t have to know how to do it all – but you do have to believe it is possible that you can do it.
These are very uncertain times for most of us, whether it’s health, wealth or both, it is reasonable to feel fearful. The thing is, we will emerge from this pandemic, what is happening now will pass, and life may well be different after. The decisions you make now, right now, about your business or your work, about your behaviour and about how you show up for your community will impact how your future looks – and while it’s really tempting to launch in and start ‘pivoting’ or changing your for the sake of it if thinks aren’t right, remember this, you have to live in the future you create.
So before you react from a place of fear, think about the future you hope for, the leader you want to be, the life you want and look at how you might start to craft that. If you don’t know, and it’s ok not to know – these are exceptional times, sit with it. Wait. You may well have more than a bit of time on your hands. Make sure you are informed about any financial support you may be eligible for, make sure you have looked at your expenditure and culled where necessary – that is good business housekeeping.
Then, when you start to craft the future you actually want, remember two things – hope helps you to have the right neurochemicals for expansive thinking and creation; and when you hope for something, you need to also believe it is possible in order to get the neurochemical hit.
When people say hope is not a strategy, they are right, and for the record fear is not a strategy either. Both are available to you: fear you’ll probably experience whether you want it or not; hope you might have to look for.
All I’m suggesting is you hang on long enough to get to the bottom of the box – don’t be like Pandora and react (or shut the lid), before you’ve allowed yourself hope.
With love Lynda
PS: if you want a bit of peer support join the Braver Leaders Facebook Group