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Surviving vs. Thriving

Setting an intention for the new decade.

Anna Akbari
Make your life a permanent super bloom.
Source: Anna Akbari

As we hurl ourselves into not only a new year but a new decade, there are many resolutions to contemplate—from a health upgrade, to fostering mindful connection with others and ourselves, to asking, WTF am I doing with my life?

But I’d like to take a step back from all of those worthy goals and think about a bigger question: Are you thriving, or merely surviving?

This is something I’ve thought about regularly this year, and it’s an intention I want to be front and center as I start this new era.

What’s the difference between surviving and thriving?

Surviving is a grim struggle—you’re white-knuckling life, just barely getting by. Thriving is living and thinking abundantly.

Surviving is a drag, a daily slog to stay alive. Thriving is joyful and infectious.

So what keeps us from thriving?

One of my favorite musicals, Once on This Island, features an exhilarating song called “Waiting for Life,” in which the main character, Ti Moune, sings about “waiting for life to begin:”

Oh Gods, oh Gods
Are you there?
What can I do to get you to look down and give in?
Oh Gods, oh Gods
Hear my prayer
I'm here in the fields with my feet on the ground and my fate in the air
Waiting for life to begin

How often is that us? In survival mode, waiting for “real” life to begin?

I’m guilty.

This has been the most challenging year of my life. Most of the time survival has been the name of the game. Long term, that is a soul-sucking, unfulfilling way to operate.

Whatever your circumstances, we all encounter moments like that. Some last longer than we care to admit, and some of us are permanently stuck there. It can feel like we’re drowning—in relationship woes, money issues, health crises, a job slump—sometimes overcome by multiple forces simultaneously. At times like these, simply surviving can seem like a win.

But if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s this: Surviving is not a life I want for myself or those I love.

Let’s be clear: Transitioning from surviving to thriving is a far more challenging resolution than, say, joining a gym or taking a moment to meditate. Particularly in times of darkness and difficulty, we must dig deep to channel abundance—or at least the promise of abundance—and rewire our brains. It often seems impossible. Too hard. We might feel ill-equipped, alone, and afraid.

And yet, the alternative—merely surviving—is depressing as hell. But sometimes it’s not until we’re pushed to the brink that we can truly appreciate the difference.

I’ve tasted a life of survival, and it’s not for me. I refuse to accept that as enough. I hope you will, too.


Simply committing to thriving and leaving behind survival mode is the first and most difficult step. Survival is too often our default; there’s comfort in its familiar discomfort. But thriving is not only circumstantial (“when my life REALLY begins, I’ll thrive!”); it’s a choice.

There is treasure in adversity.

There is hope hidden in despair.

There is flourishing on the horizon. (It just may not look the way we’d imagined.)

Once you reprogram your brain, it’s time to clean up the debris left behind—all the survival mode wreckage: bad relationships, unhealthy habits, a life devoid of intention and purpose.

In other words, shifting from surviving to thriving is a process of rewiring and remodeling the inner and outer landscape of your life.

Unfortunately, merely wishing it would happen (or worse, complaining) won’t get you there. It takes deliberate, consistent action. Consider your mantras, identify what isn’t serving you, and clear the path. So simple, and yet so freaking hard. Fortunately, perfection is not required to reap the rewards.

Since every challenge is better with an anthem to animate and motivate us, here’s one—for you, for me, for all of us, whenever we question how we can possibly shift from surviving to thriving. I’m perpetually amazed at the unforeseen turn even the most dire situation can take. The clarity that emerges; the wisdom and joy gifted. So when in doubt, remember: Mama Will Provide. (Once again, courtesy of Once On This Island. If this song doesn’t make you feel alive, nothing will.)

Walk with me, little girl
Don't you be afraid
Follow me, little girl
Let me be your guide
Oh, a pretty thing like you
Will need a thing or two
And whatever you need
Mama will provide

Down the road, little girl
You may lose your way
All alone in a world that may seem too wide
But sit on Mama's lap
And I will draw a map
And whatever you need
Mama will provide

Bugs will bite, little girl
And the night will fall
All alone in the dark you'll get terrified
But you will make it through
'Cause I am liking you
And whatever you need
Mama will provide

Walk with me, little girl
And I'll take you far
'Round each bend, little friend
I'll be by your side
That's what a Mama's worth
To give her child the Earth
And whatever you need
Mama will...

Here’s to a new decade of limitless thriving. And remember: Mama’s got you.

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