You gave it your everything. You pulled from the core of your being, because you couldn’t stand the idea losing to the opposition. And yet. You wake the day after, exhausted, and you drop to your knees because it wasn’t enough. You lost the battle. Maybe nothing could have been enough.
It hurts. Oh, so badly. You feel destroyed. How do you get up again and face the next day? How can one be hopeful on a day like this? How do you find your joy again?
I’ve been there dearhearts. Activism isn’t always about winning. We like to think that if we just have enough energy, if we just mobilize enough people, goodness and justice will always win.
And yet wars have losses. Battles are lost. Sometimes by a few votes. Sometimes by landslides. Sometimes you have to lose repeatedly before you win.
It is the way of the world.
So what to do when you have lost?
Honor your Why
There was a reason you were fighting. Of course there was. I need you to go find that reason now.
This step hurts like hell, and I’m sorry. But you gotta go do it.
Reach down into yourself and find the reason Why you were fighting in the first place. Gently pick up that reason–maybe it was hopes of a brighter tomorrow, perhaps it was loved ones, perhaps it was the specter of your younger self–and hold it to your heart like the wounded bird that it is.
It’s Ok to take your time with this. Take a day, or two, or three. Or if you were the politician running or the campaign manager, maybe even a few weeks or months. The world will still be there when you emerge. Take some to mourn.
Hold your reasons Why close to your heart and love them. They were true and they were right. Losing doesn’t change that. We don’t always lose because we were wrong.
You were right for wanting to go into battle for what you believed in. So take some time to honor your motives.
Probably somewhere in this process of holding close what you loved enough to fight for it, you’ll start to get angry. Out of the blackness of mourning will come some flickers of light from the embers.
Breathe into the embers. Feel the anger burn hotter. Puff some energy into your Why. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It still needs you.
Re-read some of the stories that pushed you into battle. Go spend time with your loved ones. Visit the things and people that you were defending.
Lift yourself onto your mental knees and then RISE UP.
Because failures are sometimes part of the war, we should always position our battles so that we fall forward. We may fail, but we will have moved the lines of battle ahead so that the next time we stand a better chance of winning.
If it was a media battle, hopefully you redefined the problem to the public. Maybe you helped people to understand what was truly at stake.
If it was a legislative battle, maybe you formed coalitions that will exist long after the battle has receded in our memories. Maybe you have made alliances, and will march into new battles side by side.
Maybe it was as simple as learning that you were not alone. Maybe you and many people like you for the first time were able to define a problem and realize that it wasn’t your fault. You all joined hands and stepped out of the darkness together. There is no going back from that, and it is a win no matter what else happened.
So on this dark day, amidst the wreckage of your battlefield, look around yourself for the ways that you managed to fall forward. Where were your wins, despite everything? Draw hope from them. Turn to them to give you strength. If they are new friends and allies, lean on them as you heal.
Turn towards the future
Now you are ready for the last step, the agonizing analysis of where things went wrong.
Lots of people jump straight to this. The day after they rehash and pour acidic hindsight into your open wounds. Ignore these people. Walk away from them if you can.
It’s not until you have taken the time to heal, reground, and find hope that you can be ready to learn from past mistakes.
And you know what? Sometimes you didn’t even make any mistakes. Sometimes we are outmaneuvered, but sometimes you were just outgunned and outnumbered. Or the field had been landmined before we ever stepped on it. And we can learn from that too.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of they day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” – Mary Anne Radmacher