I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of survival. Of being a ‘survivor.’ I used to be so proud to call myself a survivor. I used to believe that my ability to survive meant I was tough, strong, and maybe courageous. But when I discovered my former boyfriend’s nickname for me was The Rock, I felt uncertain.
He called me The Rock because he watched as I raised my younger sister Adrienne and later took care of her during her 147-day battle with liver cancer, which she did not survive. When he broke down, I fought back tears. When he became negative and angry, I became positive and happy even though I was faking every minute of it. That first year after Adrienne’s death I didn’t survive because I was a rock, I survived because I faked it. Every damn day.
The wound of losing my sister, whom I raised from the age of eight, to liver cancer at age 15 will never heal, but it has become more tolerable over time. Yet, because I was stuck in I’m a survivor mode, my life didn’t progress. On the outside I appeared to be moving forward: I started a new career, got married, obtained my master’s degree, finished six marathons, founded a nonprofit, etc. But on the inside, I didn’t change. I stayed in survival mode at all times.
I don’t think it was until my yearlong yoga teacher training (2012 – 2013) that I began to think about thriving. What would that look like? What would it mean to thrive? More than 10 years after my sister’s death, I had accomplished many things but I was still struggling. In my marriage. In my career. In my friendships. In life. At my core, I was surviving, but I felt like I was on automatic pilot. Like I went through the motions. Surviving wasn’t enough to make me happy.
Finally, I stopped thinking about surviving and started focusing on thriving. What did I need to do in order to thrive?
- I had to change my environment. I had been unhappy in Los Angeles for a long time, but I had stayed for my husband. Despite still being married, I left LA in December 2014. Though I visit every year, I’ve never had a desire to move back.
- I had to live alone. Because I always had roommates, housemates, boyfriends, or my sister Adrienne living with me, I had never, ever truly lived alone. I needed to spend time with myself to see if I even liked who I was. (I do.) Solitude in small doses is delightful!
- I had to admit that I didn’t like working for other people. While I like having coworkers and health insurance (especially dental and vision), I never liked working for someone else. My favorite jobs were the ones where I had the most autonomy. If I was going to thrive, I needed to work for myself.
- I had to let go of expectations. I used to get disappointed when people didn’t live up to my high expectations. A yoga teacher said, “You need to treat people the way they want to be treated, not the way you want to be treated.” I resisted but then accepted that truth. Now, I treat people the way they want to be treated even if it means letting them go.
Even though I consider 2015 the ‘Year of Change’, these changes didn’t happen overnight. They took time. But as I focused less on surviving and more on thriving, my life improved. Doors opened. Opportunities appeared. Relationships began. By 2016, I was thriving.
I no longer call myself a survivor. Sure, I can and will survive, but I prefer to call myself a thriver! What would your world look like if you stopped surviving and focused on thriving? Let me know in the comments.