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Handling defeat

I was 11 when I fully devoted myself to the academic curriculum and relatively abdicated my social life, aiming to be included in the top 10 of a batch of nearly 300 students. Perfect scores became my lifeline, as I was persistently ignoring bullying tactics for lugging a stroller full of reading materials despite being the tallest girl in the batch. I didn’t make it.

When I was 15, I was extremely driven to study in my dream school, taking one of the most challenging courses for which it is renowned. I had already envisioned my entire college life, with the name of the university as an identifier of my being. I didn’t pass.

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Recently, I committed weeks of starvation, late-night training, thick reading materials, and other modes of intensive preparation for a provincial beauty pageant, ensuring that no negative impact will be imposed upon my professional life. I ended up third runner-up.

There are people who seem unreasonably fortunate in life, claiming victories one after the other. Even if they throw themselves into the fire, they somehow manage to dance majestically in it. They are able to reduce the fiery element into fireballs that they can devour, and deliver a performance to astound any observer. I am in no position to claim that I am like the lucky ones, for I have had my fair share of failures in my life. The battles I’ve lost significantly outweigh those in which I triumphed.

This, I believe, is a phenomenon that most human beings face. We may correlate defeat with universal conspiracies, inadequacy, injustice, and many more presumptions instigated by a tortured soul. But as we grow, we realize that we will just keep losing until we win.

The latest battle I was confronted with was the Lin-ay Kang Antique 2015, the much anticipated pageant in the annual Binirayan Festival of the province of Antique. Claiming the crown in the Lin-Ay Kang San Jose 2015 held at San Jose de Buenavista last May, I was designated to represent our municipality in this prestigious pageant. It was, indeed, an enriching, if not life-changing, experience. Traveling to breathtaking places, meeting new people, and basically making the most out of life—it was all so surreal.

On the final night, my anxiety and lack of practice landed me in fourth place—as third runner-up. Once again, I was compelled to deal with a defeated state. It was not new to me, but I found myself undergoing the same stages as before. I discovered that this process comprises all-too-familiar human behavior that may, without an unyielding resilience and a firm state of mind, lead to self-deterioration.

How do we handle defeat? The first stage is self-infliction. We tend to subject ourselves to masochistic self-degradation as we let our insufficiencies and drawbacks—both real and perceived—ravage the remains of our ego. Moreover, we venture into the vast seas of what-ifs to further aggravate our self-inflicted agony. My major lapse haunted me massively in the days after the pageant. I drowned in deep regret for letting my nerves transport me into an extemporaneous speech contest, as I delivered a 3-paragraph response in a beauty pageant. I have, several times, introspectively slapped myself for that uninhibited expression. I am also capable of crafting three or four lines; I just didn’t. What’s more disconcerting than what had been is the idea of what could have been.

For some of us, our fighting spirit prevails amid this painful submission. We are directed into the second stage, which is motivation. Suddenly, the urge to prove that our capabilities are beyond what we have revealed to the world becomes a necessity. We develop an unsettling yearning to fight again, guarded by the assurance that this time, we know better.

We let failure fuel our motivation to reclaim the pride and esteem lost, with our eyes fixed on the next opportunity.

With the unavailability of the next battle, we often resort to reconstruction. We wrestle with the agony by restructuring our mindset, desperately elevating ourselves into a more advantageous standpoint. We find comfort in statements like “I won’t be able to handle the responsibility, anyway” or “This is not what I wanted in the first place” or “This is not meant for me” or “There are better opportunities out there.” We persistently compose the story to comply with what we want to believe.

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These stages are strategic schemes of people to transcend, or at least survive, the downfall. Most remain stuck, some progress, and a few others venture into another stage before they move forward to a new battle.

The fourth, and most important, stage is reflection. This is where we learn. This is where we become two to three times more of a person.

This is a stage often abandoned because there is a high probability that we have already been consumed by the previous ones. At some point in this entire progress, we cease to cope and simply give up. We become vulnerable to the force that shoves us into these stages not because of defeat, but because of one of its inevitable backlashes: humiliation. Criticisms and external projections blur our rational thinking and deflect us from reflection and wisdom acquisition.

This stage brings us back to the core of the entire experience, letting us grow from it. It allows us to accept defeat, directing us, not to self-pity, but to self-awareness and the drive for improvement. It doesn’t recklessly push us into another battle, but it reminds us to choose our battles wisely.

Motivation to move forward is triggered by the assurance that we are on the right path. At this point, we revive our passion, we are liberated from angst and fury, and become a much more substantial person. We are able to see ourselves from a bigger perspective, re-experiencing loss from afar. Through this, we see defeat in its entirety.

This stage is our way out of humiliation, as it creates an armor that will shield us from societal turbulence as we take pride in our scars. We let tragedy nurture us, without letting our soul be any less forgiving.

It takes a great deal of effort to break free of the claws of defeat, especially after giving so much of your being to earn a crown. In order to save yourself, focus on the things that truly matter. Reflect. Disconnect. Connect.

Never mind the rest of the world. You are beyond their inaccurate illustrations that confine you. Never mind losing precious things. Everything comes and goes, anyway. Most importantly, never mind those who feast on triumph for breakfast. If the odds always turn in your favor, then where’s the fun in that?

 Joan Bea Juada Lopez, 22, is a marketing officer in an IT company.

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