Surviving and Thriving

As we all try and ‘pivot’ to find our way through the mess this pandemic has brought about, I have noticed a recurring theme surfacing – “surviving” and “thriving”.

I have seen organizations ask themselves whether they are in survival mode or whether they can use this situation as an opportunity to thrive.

Closer to home we are looking at our day to day lives with our children, parents, other loved ones and even at our own sense of well-being and asking – are we just trying to survive? Is that enough? What about thriving? Is that even possible?

We kind of get the former, the “let’s just get through this”.

It’s our vision for the latter that is shrouded in our own fear and uncertainty yet rises up, motivated by periods of unbridled optimism.

This tension sharpens an ever-present question in our lives, bringing it to the fore in the most concrete way – the value of living.

What is the place of surviving and thriving in a life well lived?

Is it possible to survive and thrive simultaneously?

Is it a continuum?

Is our ‘now’ only about survival mode or should we be aspiring to thrive?

While pondering this tension, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my son about my own Aliya. I shared the challenges of arriving here as an ideological 26 year old from South Africa, full of desire to “settle the land, inspire everybody and serve in any way that I could”. It took me a couple of years to internalize that when I landed in Israel and actually started my life here, practical life dominated everything and my ideology flew out the window. It really was about survival. Overcoming the challenges of being a new immigrant, starting a family, earning a living and dealing with the loss of loved ones, without most of the support frameworks I was surrounded with growing up, felt more like survival than thriving. However, when I reflect on that survival, I can see that I didn’t just get through it. I became an Israeli citizen. I built a life and raised a family here. I contributed by being here. I grew, acquired skills and knowledge, was able to make a difference and impact those around me. In a word, I thrived! I thrived because subconsciously, I never let go of my compass – my aspiration to thrive.

As an educator I am currently immersed in a world of exploring values through the lens of narrative – understanding and teaching ideas as a story – and within that, the essential role of conflict in story development. Examining conflict in a “values exploration”, perceives every presence of conflict, in every value or choice, as rooted in positive intentions. Sometimes it is easy to see the positive intention in choices. Should I choose peace over justice, compassion over honesty, self-preservation over the wellbeing of others. These situations can be fraught with existential dilemmas and even extreme consequences but we can at least find some solace through the validity of each position. Being stuck at home brings different dilemmas to the surface and I believe that we should see them through the lens of positive intentions too. Should I let my child watch Star Wars IV for the 7th time or should I get them to read another book or do their homework. I need to work but I am so tired that in order to get it done I yelled at my significant other to give me some space. I need to exercise but one more cookie won’t hurt. My 90 something year old mother in law would love to use Zoom but to install it, I have to take a risk and enter her home. These examples are going to form part of our own stories post COVID-19 and we can instinctively judge them on the spectrum of good and bad choices or reactions. It is harder to see them as choices deriving from positive intentions. These choices are all rooted in our basic instinct to survive AND our aspiration to thrive. We are all trying to do our best in these circumstances and it is possible to see ALL our choices through this lens of trying to survive and wanting to thrive.

I recently wrote that the onus is on us to hold onto the insights and important understandings that this period is giving us and integrate them in the future. We just sat down to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. In years to come we are going to tell each other about our journey during COVID-19. The way we tell our story will not only be about good moments we experienced, difficult moments we overcame and insights we now possess, but should also share the choices we made during those moments. Our stories will be significantly enhanced if we can integrate those choices into our narrative through a compassionate, forgiving lens. During our best and worst moments, we were doing our best to survive yet we held on to our aspiration to thrive whether we felt that we succeeded or not. We will be the generation that survived a pandemic. It will serve us well to bring our whole selves, including the choices we made, into the stories we tell in the aftermath. The dilemmas, our positive acceptance of our intentions whatever the outcome and the recognition of our aspiration to thrive while surviving, will be the seeds that will define our humanity in the generations to come.

About the Author
Stephen has dedicated the last 25 years to working with nonprofit organizations and educators worldwide. He has held senior positions in leading Jewish organizations including The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Torah Mitzion, The Jewish Agency and M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education. Stephen has created his own consultancy initiative based on a psychodynamic approach to personal and organizational wellbeing, under the guidance of The Institute for Leadership and Transformation (SA), affiliated with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (UK). A graduate of the Hebrew University (MA Education) and WITS University (South Africa), Stephen was born and raised in South Africa, lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem and is devoted to empowering people to get the most out of their professional and personal lives.
Related Topics
Related Posts