Survival Mode

I wasn’t feeling well, not like the kind of “under the weather” that a cup of tea and rest would remedy… more like, I’m not sure I can talk or get out of bed sort of sick. But life wasn’t stopping and I had responsibilities—so I decided to push through. Feeling determined, I left for a big work trip scheduled across the country that required hours of travel and leading a two day training.

I’m pretty tenacious, so even when doubtful thoughts emerged, I quieted them with positive self talk and determination. I prayed for travel mercy and for everything to be smooth sailing—no curve balls. I love my work and many days get energy from it, so I knew the trip would be fine.

It was NOT fine.

From the beginning balls were being thrown my way, and repeatedly I felt like I was going to strike out. I wanted to go home, I wanted to sit back on the bench. I even questioned if I wanted to be on the team anymore.

At the start, I was delayed by TSA and almost missed my flight. I sat crammed in a middle seat on the plane, arrived onsite at the training, and did not have the materials I needed. The agenda for the training became taken over by one crisis after another. Things were a total mess.

I’d like to say that everything turned around… sunshine and roses met me at the end of the whole ordeal… that is not what happened. Yeah, it worked out, but it did not end up being anything close to a home run. I was in survival mode nearly the entire trip.

The whole experience made me think of my friends who struggle in poverty, and how survival mode can actually teach us a thing or two. Here are a few insights I have after some reflection:

Practice gratitude
I had to be intentionally thankful. When I was stuck on a plane for hours with little leg room, I reminded myself of how blessed I am to travel the country and get paid to do it. I had to appreciate that I wasn’t sitting next to a Chatty Cathy and I was able to finally finish a good book.

Don’t give in to scarcity
I had moments when I clearly didn’t have enough (training material shipment didn’t make it to the site). I was forced to figure it out. I had to problem solve and think about a plan B and sometimes even a plan C and D.

Communicate your needs
I had to lean on the relationships in my life. I had to text my husband and ask for words of encouragement. I had to ask my coworkers (back home in Ohio) for help and let go of control.

Work Hard
There where times I had to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty, even do some physical work that was difficult while feeling sick. I had to make a decision to not give up and when it would have been easier to say, “Sorry I can’t do that.” I had to use grit and keep going.

Embrace Fear
The unknown can be really scary for a perfectionist like myself. I had to take ambiguity and turn it into a place of creativity. Quickly making decisions around risk and recognize that mistakes can be learning opportunities not failure.

While this experience is just a record of a few tough days for me, I can’t help but think about those who have to navigate the reality of life throwing curve ball, after curve ball, day after day. The families who stand in a batting cage, of sorts, with balls coming at them full speed with no bat in their hand.

The mother who doesn’t have enough money for decent shoes, but continues to stand on her feet everyday with discomfort and work hard. The returning citizen who is turned down for one job after another, but continues to be grateful for each job interview. The Grandparent raising grandchildren, who sets pride aside, and asks for help because they need it. The first generation college student who is scared to death to take that first class, but doesn’t let fear get the best of them, and gets a degree. All the families who don’t have enough—money, time, relationships, the list goes on…they don’t give into scarcity, they live out perseverance.

So, I survived. I didn’t win, but I stayed in the game…

I think we have a lot to learn from those who survive and stay in the game. Stepping up to the plate, even though the likelihood of striking out is high. Those who don’t give up. Those who despite obstacles, continue to make ends meet and survive.

We must appreciate the resilience that it takes to keep playing, even when you’re not on the winning team. The strength that comes from being in survival mode cannot go unnoticed.

Who do you know that is doing their best to survive? What are you doing to cheer them on as they step up to the plate?

Heather Cunningham, Training Director, Think Tank, Inc.

To learn more about Heather’s work, please visit

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