Survival Vs. Thrival

I know that fans of the English language and grammar nazis will point out to me that thrival is not a real word, but to you I say, I am the one writing this so deal with it.

This title comes from some time I spent meditating on my life and on what makes a good story. During that time, I was living in Changsha, Hunan, China. I was six months into a ten-month teaching contract, and I had developed a case of expatitis, basically I could only see the negative in everything and then bitch about it. This happens quite frequently to foreigners living overseas.

At the same time that I was dealing with this internal negativity, I was reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and trying to write my own travel narrative. I was reading the book one morning when the thought struck me that people don’t read books about people who survive, they read books about people who thrive.

Let me illustrate what I mean, when I was just surviving, I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, watched T.V., went to work, came home for lunch and watched T.V., went back to work, ate dinner, watched T.V. Not really the kind of story you’d pay $10.99 to read When I started living In a thrival mindset, awesome things started happening, things that are worth writing about. I started working out and lost a bunch of weight, I got a couple of tattoos (and cool stories to go with them), I said yes to just about everything, I climbed mountains, I made friends with strangers on the bus. In short I made stories happen.

The thing about thriving in life is that it is a choice. It’s not an easy choice. Survival mode attempts to keep you somewhere near your comfort zone, thrival wrecks your comfort zone so completely that you find yourself in places you’d never imagine and your completely happy with it. Thrival sounds awesome, and it is. But it is hard work every day you have to make the decision to thrive, you have to make it your goal and run toward it, if you don’t, you won’t thrive, you’ll just survive.

As I write this, I realize that part of the problem I have had in coming back to Beijing is that I haven’t chosen to thrive on a daily basis. There’s a lot of excuses I could make for choosing not to thrive, Beijing is too far away so it is easier to just sit in my apartment doing nothing, my roommates don’t cook and if I cook instead of eating frozen food, I might piss them off by stinking up the house. Yoga is hard and I haven’t been feeling well. All these excuses are BS; it is just easier to do these things than it is to try. Plus, by not trying I get the added bonus of being able to cry about how things aren’t working out. I don’t know what thrival is going to look like for me this time around, but I do know it will look a whole lot different than it does now.

The decision to thrive is a scary one. It means that you have to make an effort to change your outlook and your situation, whether than waiting for these things to change on their own. In my experience, circumstances rarely change on their own and when they do, you won’t like the reasons, it is better to be the master of your fate and decide to thrive, rather than always just surviving and having “good enough”

So as you start your day (it’s 8:45am, Beijing time as I write this) choose to thrive today. Make the extra effort. Do what you have been putting off. Make that major leap that’s been scaring the hell out of you. Follow your dream. Find your passion. Really live. It’s worth it.




Alone or what Beijing and the History Channel taught me about Resilience

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear

A hard thing, but to turn it to glory.”

-William Barclay

            This quote was shown at the beginning of the season finale of season two of the History Channel show, Alone. I am a big fan of the show, because I have always been interested in bushcraft and survival methods, but I am also drawn to the psychological aspect of the show (basically the take ten people and strand them on an island, in such a way that they are all separated by water, and then with the gear they brought they have to survive, last man standing wins $500,00.

I can relate to some of the isolation felt by the contestants on the show. I have never done anything remotely similar. However, there are feeling that I have noticed that the contestants have had that I can “I’ve been there”.

I can relate to the feeling of isolation that the contestants feel. While I am not alone in the same sense that they are alone, living in a foreign country can produce a feeling of loneliness akin to being by one’s self for long periods of time. As a male it is hard to make friend with my fellow teachers who are mostly female, and mostly married (it would be inappropriate for us to hang out outside of work, and most of the male teachers at my school speak no English and are intimidated by me because I am a foreigner (don’t get me wrong, everyone at my school is very nice, but I don’t exactly have friends at work), then I go home and am alone there too. I have friends in Beijing, but I mostly see them on the weekends, means that I am probably alone or feeling isolated, about 85% of the time. I am working to improve this, but living so far from the actual city makes this hard.

I think that the solution to loneliness and homesickness is to one, acknowledge what you feel and grieve what is lost. Then develop a routine, redirect the energy into something constructive. Nothing will make you more homesick than sitting on your butt, doing nothing. Take every opportunity you can to connect with people, this is easier said than done when you live in a place where you don’t speak the language (or you do speak the language slightly but the local dialect completely mangles the language (I’m looking at you Beijingers)). I recently was able to start going to church again at the church I regularly attended before I left Beijing, and it felt like I had returned home, it completely changed my outlook on being in Beijing (it made being here seem like something I could sustain for a while).

There was a scene in season 2 in which one of the contestants broke down, crying “God, please help me, please help”. I have been there, I distinctly remember last year, at the end of a three year run in Beijing (Beijing is a city that will eat you alive, it is constantly listed on lists of both the most unfriendliest cities and lists of the worst places to live, usually it is in the top 10), I felt so completely at the end of my rope, everything seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. It doesn’t help that I have issues with Anxiety, which just distorts everything.

Unfortunately, we all come to a point when we reach the end of our rope, and unfortunately I don’t have all the answers for to deal with that. The best relief I have is to take a step back and reevaluate your situation. This is best accomplished by taking a vacation, it doesn’t have to be a long one or even far away, just get away from your normal surroundings. During this break don’t think about what you’re dealing with back home, just relax. This time away will allow you to see things with fresh eyes. If that doesn’t work, it probably means you need to change your situation entirely.

The third thing that I have noticed that happens on the show, that can relate to, is something that we all can probably relate to, and that is the feeling of letting other people down when we fail. I experience in July of 2015, when I was forced to relocate to the U.S. due to visa issues. I felt like a failure and a poser and I felt like everyone else probably agreed with that assessment.

The reality was that nobody saw things the way I did, they were disappointed for me, not in me. The reality of the matter was that I had done everything I could do to stay in Beijing, I only booked the ticket at the last minute to skirt any possible trouble that might have arisen. Also I hadn’t been home in three years, so I highly doubt anyone was thinking “what a loser” when they saw me (to be fair I haven’t actually asked any of my friends about it, so they might have been thinking that).

When we fail, we feel like we not only failed ourselves, but everyone else who was pulling for us. Unless our actions actually caused us to fail someone, we haven’t failed anyone, including ourselves. Some failures just happen no matter what you do. It’s how handle the failure that defines us. Two quotes from the late great Mohamed Ali come to mind; “everyone has plan until they get hit” and “everyone gets hit, not everyone chooses to get back up”. I think these ring so true in my life. When things are going right, I know exactly what to do, but the minute things get shaken up, I panic. The good news is that I am one resilient SOB (South Omaha Boy), I very rarely stay down.

Developing Resilience is the key to handling failure, real or otherwise. In life you will fall, numerous times. Eventually you learn that the falls won’t kill you and eventually you just dust yourself off and keep going like nothing happened.