hope z

young black male with bright clothing and a quizzical look

For as long as I can remember, my usual workout time has been between midnight and 3:00 AM. A couple of weeks back, two young guys—Josh and DaeDae—started working the overnight shift at my gym.

I’ve been chatting with them here and there—when I arrive, when I leave or whenever they happen to be cleaning nearby. Nice guys. But until recently, it’s been mostly small talk.

Friday morning, on my way out, I decided to go a little deeper with them. I wanted to ask about something that’s been on my mind quite a lot lately, especially where Gen Z is concerned.

You see, I’ve noticed a distinct change in people’s mind sets over the last five or six years. I suspect it’s been brought about by a perfect storm of political upheaval, a pandemic, a stark rise in hate crimes and a 24-hour news cycle (or pseudo-news cycle, in many cases) where strong personalities seem bent on peddling controversy and worst-case scenarios in exchange for ratings or personal social-media followings.

Meanwhile, we’re being continually bombarded with click bait—video and article titles that are intentionally vague, misleading, skewed or outright false. If they’re to be believed, everything we know and love is a hair’s breath away from being torn away from us. Our freedom. Our democracy. Our safety. Our health.

Our very existence as a species on planet earth.

And the result has been an outbreak of fear, anxiety, depression and doom every bit as widespread, infectious and devastating as COVID-19.

So I stopped and asked Josh and DaeDae this question: “How do you feel when you think about your future?”

And in stereophonic unison, they immediately replied.

Excited.

Not much surprises me, but I admit that this did.

And it encouraged me.

And piqued my curiosity.

I continued. “That’s great to hear. So… what do you do when you hear all the bad news about, like, the United States maybe not surviving, or climate change, or meteors that might wipe out all life on earth or whatever?”

Josh took a few beats then said this:

“I can’t worry about all that. All of that stuff is outside of my control. I can only control my own choices. So I just make the best choices I can today. That’s all I can do. If the rest of that stuff happens, you just have to deal with it as it comes.”

DaeDae jumped in. “Exactly. Worrying won’t change anything. Nothing. So you just do what you can do, and you choose to be happy and believe that the future will be good. I’ve never been more excited about the future than I am right now.”

I promise, I’m not putting words in their mouths. To the best of my recollection, this is precisely what they said and how they said it.

This is remarkable in and of itself. It very nearly sums up the contents of my entire first three books.

But let me take things up a notch by telling you a little more about Josh and DaeDae.

Josh is Puerto Rican. DaeDae is black. Both are 19. Both are out of high school now and working the overnight at a low-wage job that mostly consists of restocking paper towels, mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms.

And they’ve never been more excited about their future than they are right now.

In case you’re starting in with your yes-buts, please don’t chalk their positive outlook up to youth or naivety. They’ve experienced firsthand the inherent inequities in the system. They’re well aware of racism and race-related violence. And where we older generation practiced fire drills in school, Josh and DaeDae practiced armed-intruder drills from first grade on.

These two Gen Z guys have already managed to figure out something vitally important to peace, happiness and success—something that many, many others with more years, more privilege, more money seem to miss.

All of that stuff is outside of my control. I can only control my own choices. So I just make the best choices I can today. That’s all I can do.

I’ll add a few thoughts of my own to those of Josh and DaeDae:

What you consider to be your sources of news—and how much time you devote to watching them—is your choice.

How far you go down the rabbit hole of sensationalistic internet articles, social media and online videos is your choice.

Which conversations you get into and with whom is your choice.

If politics worries you—vote. Write letters to your congressperson. Financially support the candidates you believe in.

If climate change worries you, recycle. Find ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Get involved in activism. Donate to worthy, well-vetted causes.

If you feel helpless, help someone in need. Appreciate the many good things you do have in the present rather than dwelling on those you don’t have, or which you may or may not have at some nebulous later date.

These are all choices you can make.

Conversely, worry is no more than wasting time, thought and emotion on choices you cannot make. That is the very definition of futility. And futility breeds hopelessness.

From The Best Advice So Far:

Worry serves no purpose
but to ruin the present.

I do hope you will take both courage and encouragement from Josh and DaeDae’s wisdom and outlook, and that you too will be able to join them in saying,

I’ve never been more excited about the future
than I am right now.

 

P.S. If you or your discussion group are looking for a personal, practical and experiential approach to rediscovering what’s right with your life, the world and the people in it, I invite you to check out my new book, Alternate Reality.

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