Friday, May 11, 2018

Surviving vs Thriving part II

I talked about thriving and surviving in this post here. That theme keeps creeping into my mind in the quieter hours and I thought more about it. Decided to post it here to further consolidate my thoughts on this subject matter.

There are three categories here:

1) not surviving
2) surviving but not thriving
3) thriving

Basically these are states which describes your level of excess mental and physical energy. Not surviving means you don't have enough physical and mental energy. Surviving means you just have enough and not much to spare. Thriving means you have more than enough.


Those description above are too fuzzy, so I'll describe how each category will look like to you.

1) Not surviving

This is when a person do not have enough physical and mental energy. He will feel tired and sleepy, always wanting to rest more. There could be psychosomatic illness, like migraines, vomiting or fever and flu when going to work, which miraculously recovers when work is stopped. This person complains all the time. This is not a good state to be in. This is not a state of equilibrium and there is a lot of push factors to establish a new equilibrium state. Over time, either the person will be forced to leave the task or the task is forced to leave the person.

2) Surviving

This is when a person have just about enough mental and physical energy. There is enough skill to reduce the energy expended to do things mechanically. This is a comfortable state of equilibrium to be in, where the energy spent to do things is about the same as the energy you have and this state can be continued perpetually. But there is a hint of resignation that this is the best that life can offer you. There is not enough push or pull factor to jolt the person out of this stage of balance, or status quo. In temporary moments of sanity, the person might regret not taking on more risk to expand his circle of competence, and fight for something more meaningful to live for. But when such moments passes, the person shrugs and concludes that he is waiting for the right time to move on. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day to move on, but he does not realise that today can be a very very long day.

3) Thriving

This is when a person has excess physical and mental energy beyond what is needed to do the task. So what does one do with the excess energy? The person engages in free play. Free play is when the purpose of the play is the play itself, and not some rational outcome to be derived from the play. The person will be like a baby with an abundance of excess energy, and he  experiments just to see what will happen. Maybe some good will come out of it, or maybe not, but that's not the point. The important thing is that it is fun. However, this is not a state of equilibrium too. Perhaps one of the creative experiments will lead the person to explore a tangential path, and he starts the cycle from category 1 again. Or that abundance of energy is sucked into some black hole or to fight some energy vampire somewhere. Or perhaps there is only so much things to experiment with and eventually one will get bored and have to find a new pasture to play again.


In terms of work, I'm thriving. I usually don't get drained by work. On the contrary, work tends to revitalise me somewhat, as long as I'm not doing 14 hours a day. My free play will be to experiment with different ways of teaching the same thing and to come up with better worksheets or analogy to explain something better. Recently I am teaching a poly engineering student some really hard engineering math, involving Laplace transformation and Fourier series. If you've not heard of it, you it's only natural. Nobody except those doing some deep calculus or electronics will get to do such stuff. I took home the lecture notes and had a good time 'playing' with the tutorials. If I'm just surviving, then this will be yet another chore I had to do. Instead, I treat it as play.

Last year, I was on survival mode in terms of taking care of my kid. I'm just taking care of him mechanically because I've barely had enough energy and will power to do anything extra. Now, he is about 1.5 yrs old and just starting to walk in his quirky way. I've started a night reading program to expose him to written words and dictation. Also starting to treat him as an adult, talking to him despite him not knowing how to talk. I've no idea whether it will work, but I'm experimenting. And since I'm experimenting new things, I must have energy to spare. 

But the thing about parenting is this. Just when you thought you had mastered everything, the baby evolves to a new higher level and you start scrabbling to unlearn and relearn how to survive and then to thrive. Rinse and repeat. Hence, I think as a parent, being on survival mode with occasional sparks of thriving will be quite good already. Come to think of it, I think for everything else, being on survival mode with infrequent thriving mode is a very ideal situation.

Maybe that's what cruising is all about. I'm not young anymore. I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses. I also know what I want out of my life. I don't need to pursue every opportunities that comes my way. I have the power to say no, and I intend to say that to most of things that come my way. If I don't feel 'hell yes', then it should be a 'no'.


Singapore Man of Leisure said...


I think most of us have experienced all 3 states ;)

Of course they are some lucky (or unlucky) souls out there who are so sheltered growing up they have never experienced setbacks or failures...

One unhappy experience, they shrivel back into their shells. The image of themselves and their self-worth shaken...

Its always good to get some "inoculation" when young!

"Cruising" is experience knowing when to conserve our engergies, when to let it all out ;)

Remember the times when we were like the energizer rabbit?

Ah! Youth!

What I would give to be young again :)

Wait a minute, I am young!


la papillion said...


Yeah, I have definitely tried all 3 states, again and again. After some time, you don't fear it anymore and trust that you have the capability to navigate things.

I like your definition of cruising - knowing when to conserve energy :)

EY said...

Hi LP,

Have seen a good number of people under 'not surviving' category being the ones who are NATO - No Action, Talk Only. No substance but got by leeching (SMOL would call it leveraging :P) on others. When shit hits the fan and pressure builds up, these people would resort to all sorts of underhand means to bring others down with them. Really conniving and unworthy.

But of course there are also those who are the wrong fit for their jobs. They are not using their motivated skills but burnt-out skills to sustain in the job. People who are really productive and happy in their jobs, i.e. the 'thriving' category, they would definitely be using their motivated skills, just like you! :)

As for parenting, I see it no different from playing video games. We have to stay in the same level for a while until such time comes to level up. Things do get more exciting and the challenges are of increasing complexity. You are a very invested parent and I'm sure you will thrive at each of the levels! What's more important is not to lose the big picture. If the going gets tough, let the small things slide. Chill more and have fun!

Jes said...

Hi LP,

I used to have the same thought about the states of life, I term it 'living' vs 'existing'. I find some people like to waste their time and life and not finding ways to be happy.

Anyway, your child definitely don't understand what you are saying right now, but the fact that you are talking to him will mean a lot to him, and it cultivates this habit. He will catch bits and pieces and sometimes throw complicated terms right back at you in time to come, so keep talking! :)

la papillion said...

Hi EY,

Thanks for your advice on parenting :) I'll remember what you said about chilling..I think inherently me and wife are cool parents and not gan cheong at all. Maybe age has a big part to play in such things, because I'm sure my wife will be the kiasu and gan cheong type when she was much younger. Personally I think we couldn't find a better time to have a kid but now.

la papillion said...

Hi Jess,

I like your term of living vs existing! It's the same concept haha :)

I'm the quiet sort, but I find myself talking and gasp..even singing to my son. Unbelievable...I couldn't believe I can do such things haha