Survive and Advance

Survive and Advance March 17, 2024

I promise this is not a sports post. But it begins with a sports term you’re likely to hear over the next three weeks: “survive and advance.”

“March Madness” starts this week. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament starts on Tuesday and the Women’s Tournament starts on Wednesday. Both tournaments start with 68 teams and play single-elimination until one champion remains in each. It’s called “March Madness” because every year there are great performances and upsets that no one expected.

Still, the higher seeds are expected to beat the lower seeds – and the greater the difference in seeding, the more such wins are expected. While a #16 seed will occasionally beat a #1 seed, most times those games play out exactly like you’d expect – with the favored team cruising over the underdog.

Other times, though, the higher seeded team will win, just not by much. A team that was 30-3 in the regular season beats a team that was 17-16, but only by 2 points. That makes people – especially those who get paid to talk about these things – wonder just how good the 30-3 team really is. But eventually, someone will utter the phrase “survive and advance.”

At the end of the day, all that matters is that the higher ranked team won and it gets to play another game in the next round. Win by 30 points or win by 1 point – either way they win. They may need to make some changes – or just play better in general – to defeat better teams down the road, but at least they have the opportunity to do that. They still have a chance to win the championship.

Survive and advance.

The sports talk ends here.

survive and advance - photo by John Beckett

More than you can handle – more than I can handle

To say that my life is stressful right now would be a gross understatement. It’s been stressful for the last several months (though honestly, for most of the last year). It’s not any one huge thing. Rather, it’s six or seven or eight moderate (and in some ways, ordinary) things. I could handle any one of them just fine. I could handle two or three with some difficulty.

I’m struggling to handle all of them.

Exactly what they are isn’t relevant to this post. As with much of my personal life, there are things I will discuss openly in person that I simply will not talk about on the internet. Trust me when I say it’s nothing unique to me. But it is making life difficult for me.

I’m an engineer at heart – I’m a problem solver. So when I encounter problems my first impulse is to fix them. If I can come up with a plan then I can work the plan and track the progress and feel good (or at least, better) about the progress.

I can handle almost anything if I can see a way through it. Sometimes the way through is tangible – other times it’s magical.

Only some problems can’t be fixed.

Or they can’t be fixed by me.

And that makes a stressful situation even more stressful.

Sometimes no amount of effort, no amount of money, no amount of magic can fix a problem. Sometimes the only win you can get is to make it through the day and keep going tomorrow.

Sometimes all you can do is survive and advance.

This is fatigue, not mental illness

I want to be clear that I’m not talking about – or hinting around at – suicide or other self-harm. I’ve been there before – this isn’t that. That was a despair that things were bad and they were never going to get better. This isn’t the kind of depression where you can’t get out of bed for days at a time.

[If you need mental health care I strongly encourage you to get it, and I say that knowing that “get it” is easier said than done. It’s important – do it.]

Rather, this is the emotional and physical fatigue that comes from having to go through the same things day after day after day, having no idea when it will be over, and worrying that it will get worse.

This is getting up and doing what you have to do because you can’t not do it, but being dragged down by it just the same.

The fact that others have it worse doesn’t make you feel any better. Yes, people in Ukraine and Gaza have it far worse (and yes, we – collectively – need to be doing more to remedy that) but that doesn’t make your problems go away.

Sometimes people who say “other people have it worse” are genuinely trying to help you put things in perspective. More often, they don’t want to hear about what’s bothering you. Maybe they’ve got more than they can handle themselves and they can’t take on any more. Or maybe they just don’t care.

As I often tell others – and have been telling myself a lot lately – you don’t have to like it. You just have to deal with it.

You have to survive and advance.

This isn’t personal – this is life

I tend to take things personally. To be honest, that’s not all bad. When you look first to yourself when bad things happen, you tend to take action to make them better instead of waiting on someone else to fix it for you. While I strongly believe we have an obligation to build a society that’s fair, just, and compassionate, there is no substitute for you taking care of yourself and doing what you can do to make things better.

But some things aren’t personal. Sometimes you do the right things in the right way and bad things happen anyway. Life is far more random that we like to admit.

And sooner or later everyone dies.

And also, fixing blame is rarely helpful. Even if it is your fault (it’s probably not your fault) what’s done is done. This is life. What are you going to do going forward?

Don’t make a bad situation worse with regret, especially when the regret is over the way things worked out rather than with something you did or didn’t do.

Instead, survive and advance.

Use your intelligence and will

I like to remind people – and myself – that you feel what you feel. Your feelings are always real, even if they’re unrealistic.

But at some point, your intelligence and your will have to take charge.

Assess the situation. What are you afraid of? What are the odds on that happening? Being prepared for contingencies is one thing – being paranoid is quite another. Trying to build contingency plans for lottery-level catastrophes (i.e. – the odds on them happening are about the same as winning PowerBall) does more harm than good.

And also, if you cross the line from ordinary worrying to actual paranoia, it’s time to see a mental health professional.

Use your will to force yourself to believe your intelligence instead of your fears.

Put your energy into manifesting what you want, not into trying to deal with something that isn’t going to happen.

Survive and advance.

Survival is Priority 1

What do I mean by “survive”? Of course you’re going to survive. Nobody’s shooting at you. You’re not starving. Nobody’s dragging you off to some detention camp. But things don’t have to be life-threatening to be detrimental to our health and happiness.

“Survive” means understanding that even if things went badly today, even if they’re likely to go badly tomorrow, if you made it to the end of the day in one piece that’s enough.

We want happy days. Or days that are hard but productive, where we did something that will make future days better. But some days are too bad to be happy. Some days bury us in dealing with hard, unpleasant, painful things that will never lead to better times.

If all you accomplished was getting through a day like that, that’s enough.

You survived. Feel good about that.

Advancing is Priority 1-A

Let me go back to the basketball metaphor for a moment. Teams that survive and advance did enough to win – they’re going on to the next round. Their opponents lost – their season is over.

Real life is rarely as simple as looking up at a scoreboard to see which side has the most points. The good news is that winning can take many forms.

Sometimes winning is simply a matter of recognizing that you’re one day closer to a victory that is time-dependent (that was me trying to make it through high school) even if you don’t know how long it will take. While that’s helpful it can be dangerous, because you’re also one day closer to your own death. You can burn a lot of days waiting for everything to be OK.

It’s better if you can do something that will make things better. That can be something big or something small, it can be something immediate or it can be an investment that won’t pay off for a long time. Improve your surroundings, learn a new skill, look for a new job, research a better place to live.

Small wins are wins. I’m in a better place today than I was in January in large part because I’ve strung together a bunch of small wins – some of which I had to make myself do. Never underestimate the benefits of going outside and walking for a half hour or more.

Survive and advance.

Remember who you are

Since this is a Pagan blog, I want to remind everyone – and in doing so, remind myself – that we have resources others do not.

There is no substitute for a good, regular spiritual practice. Prayer, meditation, offerings, and other spiritual practices keep us connected to our Gods, our ancestors, and the spirits of the land where we live. They remind us of who we are, and they remind us that however overwhelming our current situation may be, the world is bigger and we are part of it. We are not alone.

And because we have magic we are never powerless. Take tangible action, and then use magic to improve the odds your actions will be effective. When there’s nothing tangible you can do, you can still do magic: the art and science of creating change in accordance with will.

No matter how bad things get, we are never powerless.

Survive and advance and pray and work magic.

I can see better days

I’ve been in survive and advance mode for some time now. It’s working. I’m past the worst of it (I think). And because I got past that, I have confidence that whatever comes next – because I know I’m not done with it all – I can get past that too.

I can see better days even though I can’t see a path to get to them.

That’s OK – I just have to keep moving in that direction and I’ll get there.

Sometimes that means doing big important stuff that makes big dramatic improvements.

Sometimes that means doing small stuff that makes incremental improvements.

Other days I can’t make any improvements.

But I can still survive and advance.

"Thank you, John. I'm glad you're starting to feel better. These are such wise words. ..."

Spiritual Practice When You Don’t Feel ..."
"One thing that intrigues me about R. Wolpe's argument is that I consider Judaism to ..."

A Response From One Of The ..."
""this world is obsessed with action and reacts negative to any kind of slowing down" ..."

Walpurgisnacht in the Infirmary
"Take all the time you need. Rest and relaxation are very important.I try to remind ..."

Walpurgisnacht in the Infirmary

Browse Our Archives