"It's hard to flourish when we're in survival mode"
This was an insight that came to me during a recent conversation with a friend. It got me thinking : How many people are currently living in survival mode, focused on making it through another day, on autopilot, working 5 to 9 on a 9 to 5 job, anticipating every nights and dreading every mornings? How does that affect their quality of life?
Surviving goes beyond our ability to feed ourselves or have a safe place to live. It also has to do with our ability to express ourselves. Unfortunately, that is often taken away from us as a result of us trying to keep up with the Jones, following the heard, or being trapped in Reaction Mode where we're reacting to everything that life seems to throw at us without a second to take a step back, breathe, and figure out a better way to live. This can eventually lead to depression or worst.
Sometimes all we need to get out of survival mode is a broader perspective. Something as simple as taking a step back to look at our situation from a new point of view. When we're in survival mode we tend to have tunnel vision. We only see what's in front of us. In that case, it can help to have a friend, a motivational book, podcast or video to give us a glimpse into what's possible. Other times, an event will cause us to snap out of it long enough to realize what's going on and change things. This is what happened to me when I was living in survival mode.
A couple years ago, I was living in survival mode. I became aware of it when I found myself searching on Google for ideas on what to do to have fun on my birthday. "How ridiculous!" I thought, "Who asks Google how to have fun? How can I not know what I want to do for fun? What happened?". It seems like I had forgotten what I loved to do for fun. I had been working really hard the previous years to the point where was struggling to take a well deserved break and enjoy myself. What's the point of doing all this work if I don't get to enjoy life? Those thoughts became my "White Rabbit". So I decided to take on the role of Alice and follow these thoughts to find answers for myself.
Following the White Rabbit
I quickly realized that I wouldn't find my answers out there but within. So I started to dig deep, got back into journaling to search my mind for some answers. For me journaling was my gateway out of survival mode. It allowed me to take a step back and see my situation from a new perspective. I would ask myself a question, write it down in my journal and then record anything that came to mind. This resulted in many pages of words, diagrams and sketches and after a little while I realized that what really made me happy was to create in the form of drawings. I used to draw all the time as a child. Drawing was my thing. I would spend hours drawing anything for fun. With that answer in hand, I decided to bring drawing back into my life.
I started to draw whenever I had a little bit of free time and then I signed up for a life drawing class once a week with a friend. In class, I would spend hours observing and reproducing what I was looking at on paper. Time slowed down. I was present and fully engaged in the process. Drawing was a mindfulness exercise and as a bonus I would come back home with something I was proud of. The more I sketched the more I wanted to sketch. This led me to urban sketching, where I was not only drawing but also exploring my environment with a renewed perspective. I was appreciating the simple things more and enjoying the life we're so blessed to have.
Drawing was now an easy tool for me to relax and enjoy life. I wasn't stressed anymore, I felt happier and I no longer felt like I needed to be in survival mode. I had found a way to make time for myself and having fun. One of my favourite sketchbook is the one I made during two trips to Las Vegas. It was one of the first time in a while when I really felt like I was reconnecting with myself and was enjoying life. If you'd like to see the sketches I made, I recently made a video flipping through that sketchbook below :
Helping others reconnect with their creative side
This self exploration journey eventually led to me moving to Toronto and founding the Toronto Urban Sketchers where, in a sense, I now get to hold space for fellow creatives to reconnect with their creative sides and come out of survival mode. I believe that we are all here to create. It could be in the form of drawing, coding, painting, talking, cooking, teaching, dancing, building or more. The key is to first take the time to find out what creating looks like for us and then make space in our lives for it. Creating enables us to express ourselves, which in turns makes us happy and help us flourish. It also energizes us and enable us to face our problem with more resilience. Failing to be creative tends to keeps us in survival mode with tunnel vision, missing out on many wonderful life experiences.
If you're currently living in survival mode, I really hope that this will encourage you to follow your own White Rabbit to rediscover your unique creative toolbox so you can start expressing yourself out of survival mode and into thriving mode.