“Hope springs eternal,” wrote Alexander Pope. Tomorrow always brings as much promise as it does potential defeat. Hope is what keeps us going and sometimes the only object on which we can depend for strength to wake up and face a new day. Indeed, Albert Camus wrote, “A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”

Is there a time, however, when hope becomes destructive? Is there a time, as the title of this post suggests, that we can become a “prisoner of hope?”

One of the worst situations in which you might find yourself is believing that tomorrow will be better while doing nothing differently today to improve the odds. This is the trap of relying on credit cards and debt to survive. You might think in the moment that everything will work out eventually, there is no other way to make ends meet today, so charging today's expenses is the only option. The only hope of getting out of the hole being dug deeper by the use of credit cards and debt is that tomorrow will be better.

W.B.J. Martin wrote, “It is when the future blots out the present that one becomes imprisoned.” If the winds of change bring new fortune tomorrow, then it does not matter what you do today. Believing in a new tomorrow eliminates any need for personal responsibility today. If one day all your credit cards and other debt will somehow magically be paid off, then surely it does not matter how much debt you incur.

Such hope brings only bondage today. This post opened with the comment that tomorrow holds as much promise as it does defeat. That means tomorrow holds as much opportunity for fortune to turn as it does for misfortune to continue. Would it make a difference in what you do today if you knew what tomorrow holds?

Where you will go wrong is only believing that tomorrow holds promise and that defeat is not a possibility in the end. When you become a prisoner of hope, fatalism enters the picture. James Hillman wrote, “Fatalism comforts, for it raises no questions. There's no need to examine just how events fit in.” Fatalism simply says nothing can be done to alter present or future circumstances, so why even try?

The problem is that, as Hillman pointed out, fatalism seeks no inquiry into whether you could do something differently today to change your circumstances. Tomorrow will not be any better because nothing is done about it today. No questions are being asked as to how both today and tomorrow could be made better.

Vast numbers of people today are living deep in debt, whether from credit cards, student loans, car loans or other forms of debt, because no better way is perceived to exist. The prison of hope has made them slaves to the future.

I tell my clients, “Debt borrows tomorrow's happiness and spends it all today.” It should be no wonder why you might look to tomorrow for hope because today's happiness was already used up yesterday. If you count yourself among this crowd, there is a better way, but you must act on it today.


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    Climbing the Money Tree


    R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(TM) and founder of Zacchaeus Financial Counseling, Inc., a non-profit organization providing financial planning services to low-income households and households experiencing financial strain.

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