top of page
  • Writer's pictureSarah Mason

Life in the Gap Between Surviving and Thriving

Between surviving and thriving, there is a gap.

Many of us- especially these days- are merely surviving. Honestly, that is great. Surviving is hard work. If you lost all your income or your sense of safety, surviving must be the priority. When you are thrown overboard a ship, the reaction is to swim to the surface, to get air. You must first survive before you can do anything else.

A Note to People Who Are Content:

A lot of people live in contentedly all of their lives, and we dreamers can call this a survival life, but it’s really a contented life. These people live day-to-day, feeling satisfied in the success they experience. They are often hard workers who appreciate and enjoy their life as is. Ambition and aspirations have negative connotations for them. These concepts suggest ruthless greed and ungrateful self-importance. They prefer to appreciate what they have. If you are one of these people, I’m glad you have found peace in your life. Without any judgement, I extend my happiness for you. But also, I need to admit that this blog really isn’t for you. You are not my intended audience. Though, thank you for visiting.

Before you leave, I would ask you to do one small thing: support those who crave something different than what they have. Even if you can’t understand their desire for something different, and even if you can’t empathize with their strange ambitions, I ask you cheer them on in their search for happiness.

Happiness is subjective and what makes you happy doesn’t have to make someone else. It’s better that way, right? I personally don’t mind meeting people who don’t like chocolate and potato chips as much as I do. It means more for me.

At the very least, I ask that, you who live contented lives, please refrain from calling these other discontented souls, “too big for their britches.” Maybe they are. One size does not fit all. Let them find britches that suit their needs and their style, please and thank you. We all deserve to find where we fit in life.

Back to our Dreamers and our Travelers seeking to overcoming mountains:

Why We Want More

In my country, we have this beautiful founding document that depicts our belief in this concept. It reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

For some of us, we have aspirations outside the scope of our current life. We feel a fire of ambition within to venture forth into an unknown. For us, ambition isn’t about arrogance or a lack of appreciation. It is about a nagging feeling of purpose yet fulfilled. It’s about having an aspiration, coupling it with determination, and chasing it.

We hear “survive,” but we want to thrive. Because we aren’t content to survive where we are. We are not happy with the status quo around us. It’s no judgement of the status quo. In a family of entertainers, you might dream of being an accountant. In a family of military service members, you may dream of creating street art. We experience a nagging, a tugging of emotions. We crave something we’ve never seen in the pattern of life around us. We want to feel peace, but we need fulfillment in something other to do so.

Thriving looks different for each of us. It’s a calling to learn answers to plaguing questions. It’s a drive to affect societal change. It’s a need to heal wounds. It’s a yearning to create beauty. It’s a hunger to perceive life at a deeper level. It’s a fervor to share talent. It’s a hankering to make an impact.

In a life where I feel offered the opportunity to survive in the known, I look out beyond the horizon, dreaming of “the great wide somewhere” and know it is where I will thrive. I crave a life of purpose and meaning and, hopefully, adventure. To actualize my dreams is not easy. Actually, it’s brutally difficult, particularly these days. Sometimes, life throws curveballs and terrible things happen to us or the people we love. Sometimes, we take a leap and fall. And once in a century, a pandemic stops the world in its tracks.

Survival is a Launching Point

Survival is acceptable. As a way of life for some, it is fine. However, for us who have grand visions for their life, it can feel like failure. But sometimes, survival is what dreamers need. Sometimes, dreamers fail and that’s normal. Failure is expected.

Let’s take that imagery of living a life where we are thriving. Let’s place it on the classic Tackling the Mountain imagery. The actualization of your dream is at the top of the mountain. In working towards it, you have an arduous pursuit. You labor up that mountain. Maybe you even reach it. And then a gust of wind, a slip in the mud, or a sudden screech of an eagle makes you lose your balance, and you tumble down and down that mountain. When you get to the bottom, you are miraculously alive. But you are bruised, physically and emotionally. You want back on top. The peak is where you thrive, after all! But before you start climbing up, you have to recover. You have to heal. You have to survive the fall and you have to survive getting back up from the fall. Survival is a necessary part of the process. If you are hurt, it does you no good to worsen your injuries in scrambling back up. Heal properly. Recover. Ensure you are strong for moving past survival back into the climb.

So, when you fall, jolted out of the persistent pursuit of your dream, and you find yourself just trying to survive, use this time of rest to reflect, to reassess, and mostly to heal. We must listen to what our hearts and bodies need in the moment.

After a trauma or a loss (like that of the death of a loved one), survival is a coping mechanism to allow for healing. After the sudden loss of my sister, I spent months in a numb state, going through the motions of life, doing just enough to get by. And honestly, the best advice I received was to focus on one moment at a time. Looking back, that kind person knew it was about surviving the initial grief. She gave me instructions on how to survive. In those months, life was overwhelming, I couldn’t dream or look into the future without feeling like I was an out-of-control train barreling off the tracks and heading towards catastrophic collision. My life felt like it was in ruins with my hopes of a thriving future cruelly mocking me. Rising anxiety would shut down my body and I’d have to remind myself, breathe, breathe, breathe in, now out, breathe.

Not long ago, I watched Frozen 2. And I heard the advice in new, improvised Disney words: “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”

When life brings tragedy, loss, and grief, you must go to the basics. You survive. You take one moment at a time. You take one step and put it in front of the other.

When you learn how to walk again, you can start making them intentional. You start directing your steps. You try to make one healthy move after another. You do the next right thing.

When you fall off your mountain, you do the one next right thing. When life pushes you off of the pursuit of your dreams or when you make a grave error, you assess your injuries. When you are sent into survival mode, you first survive. You survive and heal.

Only once you heal can you go back to your pursuit of thriving.

After surviving

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed we live in a world of jarring dichotomies. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. And in those, I’ve also heard that in life, you can survive or you can thrive. Survive is a smear against those living contentedly day by day. Survive is a snarl against ambition by those with grand goals. Thrive is the choice we are meant to make. But there is a great deal of space between the valley by a mountain and its peak.

And there is a journey and a process that is valid and beautiful in the middle of surviving and thriving.

There is a space between surviving and thriving and that space is striving.

At some point, we have to begin to move again after a fall. It’s easier said than done, but dreamers have to try. To succeed in lofty dreams, you have to develop resilient skin.

Resiliency comes with surviving the fall, ensuring you heal from it well, and continuing the climb. Resilient people survive. Resilient people tend to their wounds. To be someone who thrives again, you have to choose to be resilient.

Striving is a skill honed by the resilient. Striving is the effort of rising and trying. Striving is the struggle without surrendering. It is the arduous, sometimes fumbling, journey up the mountain.

If we still long for a life beyond survival, we must move again. We must strive for the life we crave. Thus, we must listen to the voice that shows us the next right thing, even when that next right thing is without promise of victory. We strive to thrive. And knowing we may never get there, we keep striving.

In this world we are living in, few of us are thriving. In the chaos and setbacks of life’s challenges, we may not be able to rise and recover as quickly as we hope. The distance between surviving and thriving seems to grow, looming above. Sometimes, it can appear insurmountable.

In days when thriving isn’t in reach, we must keep striving. Even if it somehow looks further away with each step forward. When we feel like we’ve failed, we haven’t. When we feel like the task is impossible, we trudge on and that is what is beautiful. The striving is beautiful, more stunning in all the reasons to surrender.

For today, for tomorrow, and for as long as it is the best we can achieve, striving is enough. You resilient glorious soul, repeat after me, “To strive is enough.”


How a Neck Tattoo Inspired Me to Take Risks: "Welcoming Ruin"


Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Naseem Nazz
Naseem Nazz
Jun 27, 2021

bottom of page