What to Do When You’ve Lost Hope
As a business, individual, or volunteer
One of my favorite things about forward-thinking, millennial age nonprofits is that they have this unyielding energy and positivity about their cause. Disappearing are the days of showing a sad dog to sad music on television to guilt viewers into donating. Disappearing are the endless charades of phone calls and letters and “free” calendars. We have learned that people react to positivity and passion over scare-tactics and guilt trips.
“People are tired of being asked to do the least they can do. They are hungry to do the most they can do.” -Dan Pallotta at Fourth Estate Leadership Summit 2013
I am so excited to be living on Earth during this time when people are excited to do good, get involved in global issues, and make change. Startups, crowdfunding campaigns, and small nonprofits are popping up across my news feed every day, and at first they made me feel like I could do anything I set my heart to. I saw the wild success of Invisible Children’s viral video, Kony 2012, and believed with all my heart that I could do that too. With my own passion, I could start a fire.
In the time since then, I’ve started, become a leader of, or become a part of many ventures. I became co-president of my college Invisible Children club. I started a campaign selling my arts and crafts to raise money for charities. I planned a cross-country road trip with my high school best friend. I joined a friend to help her start a nonprofit for kids in foster homes. I planned with another group an organization that would teach young people how to become active global citizens. I became head graphic designer as a volunteer for a digital magazine devoted to telling worthwhile and relevant stories while giving back to charities. I started an Etsy shop and blog about the creative lifestyle.
As a self-proclaimed introvert and a generally anxious human being, I was so proud of myself for these things that I did. They took courage. They took stepping outside my comfort zone. But let me tell you what happened. The Invisible Children club slowly lost interest during my term and ceased to exist by only one semester after I stepped down as co-president. I stopped selling my crafts because I didn’t know how to continue and grow it into a real, legal business. We had to cancel our cross country road trip for money and scheduling problems. My friend decided the nonprofit was something that we would have to hold off on. The educational organization started seeming “too far-fetched” and “not the right time” and “maybe not a good idea,” and slowly disappeared into the dust.
The magazine and my Etsy shop–my newest endeavors–are still active, but I can’t help but lose hope sometimes during the times we are struggling. And with a new business or venture of any kind, you probably know that struggles aren’t hard to come by. I think to myself, is it worth it? Am I cut out to do this? Doubt creeps into my mind. Am I doing this right? Can I make it out of the rut? I want to run back to a 9-5 job and some stability. Why is this not working? Why won’t anyone help me?
You may know these feelings. Whether for a business, individual endeavor, or volunteer/activist cause, you may be feeling your own creeping sense of doubt. Sometimes it’s hard to look back at your past failures and say, “This has helped me grow.This has taught me these lessons.” instead of “I can’t do this now because I have failed so many times before.” To me, saying this is so hard because although my past failures have helped me learn and grow, a big part of me still knows that my natural state is not that of a leader. It’s not 10 miles out of my comfort zone or knowledge range. I don’t feel comfortable there. The odds are against me in these new endeavors and positive thinking alone isn’t going to make me succeed.
So what then, do you do when you’ve lost hope? Ask yourself what you’re losing. If it’s a business venture, are you losing money? Are you losing valuable time? Are you losing yourself? Look deeply at these losses and weigh them against your initial reasons for starting your endeavor. Many times I find that my losses aren’t actually so bad after all. I was upset because I was not succeeding. If you are simply not succeeding yet, then there is no reason to give up. Without any or substantial loss, your endeavor still has great value to you. After all, you started at zero, right?
Recognizing that I am just not doing as well as I had envisioned is an incredibly powerful tool to bring back my energy, focus, and dedication to a cause. It is my habit (and I’m sure a lot of yours as well) to have way higher expectations and goals for myself than I would have for someone else. So cut yourself a break. Look back at your expectations and think, I may not have met my goals yet, but here is what I have done and here is what I’ve learned. Because if I continue to learn more about my cause, continue to produce quality content, and continue to push my boundaries, I know that I will be able to grow and succeed and get better. It may happen slowly. I may later evaluate that my losses have become too high. But they are not that way today, and that is why I can keep going.