Surviving isn’t Thriving

One of my earliest memories is singing to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” with my mother in the late ‘70’s.  I remember how proudly my mom watched as I sang with all of my little heart into my hairbrush microphone “I will sur-bibe”.  As I grew into a teenager and young woman that song and my mother’s example of survival carried me through many difficult times.  I always knew that no matter what I could survive.  And I have survived.  Over and over again.  But surviving is reactive and doesn’t move me forward toward having the life of my dreams. 

I think we really need to rethink this whole glorification of being a survivor conversation and begin to aim higher.  Why have we become so good at “just holding on” and waiting for “it to pass”?  Is that what we were really put on this earth to do?  Maybe it’s time that we collectively begin to normalize seeking to THRIVE. 

In a recent conversation with my sister (read sister therapy) we came to the conclusion that when we’re overwhelmed and tired we become masters of doing the same things to “keep things together”.  What if these are really the moments in life when everything needs to blow open and walls need to come tumbling down so that something else can be formed in its place.  Something closer to what our lives are really supposed to look like.  

When the world is pulling and pushing at us it requires less mental energy to “keep at it” than to reinvent yourself and it feels like “holding on” will “keep things together”.  When we are presented with challenges, stressors, difficulties, and painful experiences, maybe rather than snapping into soldier mode and putting “one foot in front of the other”, it’s time to re-examine where our time, resources, and energy is being spent.  I know that seems hard when we’re already feeling stressed to the max but let’s talk about choosing our hard.  It’s hard to “keep on keeping on” and it’s hard to figure out what the hell has you at this difficult point. The difference is that door number one leads to surviving and behind door number two is thriving.

Step one is that we take a moment to ourselves and put the heavy burden down and just breathe.  Then we can take an honest look at where we are spending our time, our resources, and our energy and how that aligns with our purpose and our goals.  

Have you ever noticed that some of the strongest people seem to take the most crap, give the most to others, and settle for the least?  They’re survivors, they hold it together for others, but at what cost in terms of lost opportunities of living their best lives?  Why are we doing the things that we are doing?  Is it to please others? Is it out of habit?  Is it because we don’t think we can do better? What is standing in our way?  What can we do differently?  This is a process and can take time to sort out.  Nothing that’s worth it ever comes easily.

Routines create results.  Where we spend our time every day, how we expend our energy, and what we spend our resources on are key to leveling up from surviving to thriving.  These are our gifts to use, not thoughtlessly in patterns that don’t serve us but with intention to create and fuel our lives. Usually we’ll find that when we’re in survival mode we’re spending way too much of these gifts on others and trying to please them.  We’re also usually operating out of fear.  Fear of change, fear of disaster, fear of disappointing someone – sometimes all of the above plus a few more.  

How can we re-calibrate our lives to better match our purpose and then reconfigure our day to reflect that? I remember someone asking me years ago what was important to me. They then asked me what I spent 90% of my time doing and to think about if the two aligned. Unfortunately old patterns are hard to permanently shift and it’s all too easy to fall back into survival mode but realistically nothing is going to change if I don’t.

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