The Clarity of Survival

In 2008 a friend and I were in Belize when we saw a couple kayaks by the roadside. We found the guy renting them and after lazily shuffling through a few papers he said

“we’re out of waivers, but no worries, its ok” and handed us our paddles.

We headed out towards the smaller, deserted island nearby. After just a few minutes we were in line with the island but kept going, enjoying the quiet and the calm. After a few more minutes the island was farther away, and we realized we were traveling diagonally rather than parallel to the shoreline.

Trying a bit harder we kept going, paddling just on the left side in an attempt to go right. A few minutes later we were twice as far away, and still hadn’t managed to turn, and the panic set in – we had hit a current and were moving very quickly away from civilization.

My friend jumped out of the kayak and tried to turn us from behind. He was 5’11, 190lbs, and a former college wrestler, but it didn’t work. I jumped out and joined in, pulling along from the front. After a few minutes we were four times farther away, and the island appeared very small.

After a few quick shouts acknowledging we were in deep shit if we didn’t figure it out, we switched positions, with him in the front overriding the direction, and me in the back pushing with one hand and powering with my other arm and my legs.

We started to turn.

For the next 2 hours or so, we swam as hard as we could, in silence, and about every 15 minutes we asked if the other was OK.

During that time my mind was as clear as it could be. In a time of chaos my brain was completely silent, except for one thought.

Keep going, and you’ll get through it.

With every stroke, every breath, keep going, and you’ll get through it.

We made it back, and collapsed on the sand.

In 2011, that friend had become a mentally, emotionally, and physically abusive boyfriend. After years of hidden torment, I had become a shell of a person. Empty on the inside yet full of despair; I had lost my hobbies, my sense of worth, my confidence, and my strength.

It was a Thursday morning when I hit rock bottom. I had suggested for the tenth time we try something, anything, and see a therapist. He laughed a hollow, evil laugh and without even turning to look at me he said “No way. You can go though.” Somewhere deep inside of me the survival instinct finally kicked in. I took the day off and moved out while he was at work. I had no plan, no strategy, I didn’t even have hope, all I knew is I had to get out.

For the next 6 weeks I went to work, I came home, and I went to sleep. My own thoughts and feelings had been suppressed for so long, there was radio silence inside my head. My brain was struggling to operate with freedom instead of fear. But in that time of quiet redemption, only one thing was certain.

I had to keep going so I would get through it.

I had to keep living each day completely in control of my own life, so I would be revived. So every night as I wondered what lay ahead, I thought, keep going, you’ll get through it, and you’ll find your new life.

Fast forward to 2014, when I quit my corporate job and went all in on opening a new business. A coworking space in the Uptown neighborhood. A kind of business that many people had never heard of, in a neighborhood that many people would never expect it. But I had done my research. I had a plan, and I had quite literally used my own blood, sweat, and tears to get it up and running.

I knew the first few months would be the hardest, as I had to first educate people on what coworking was, before I could even explain what the benefits were. So for 7 months straight I worked 7 days a week, 11 hours a day. I had underestimated the amount of savings I needed to pay bills, and although we had a group of happy, loyal members and many great reviews, the business financials were not sustainable.

I was out of money, and I needed to make changes quick or my business would fail.

I broke down. I cried so hard I felt my heart would pop out of my chest. And when that was over, I called my now boyfriend, the most loving and supportive partner I could have ever asked for, and he listened in silence and when I was done he simply said

“Ok, what do you need to do?”

So I talked with friends and business mentors. I interviewed current and previous members. I negotiated with my landlord. I launched a crowdfunding campaign to make renovations. And I restructured our membership options. I was running on empty while keeping my fingers crossed I would somehow make it to the next station.

But I knew I had to keep going, I had to get through it.

I had to keep going because I couldn’t fail.

I just had to do it.

The survival instinct is a part of us all.

Its built into our human nature, comes alive right when we need it to, and is acted upon by a basic human emotion: determination.

The clarity of survival is simple. There is no complex plan or devised strategy.

You just have to survive, you just have to keep going, and you just have to get through it.