hot air balloonAre you surviving or thriving?

Once we become an “adult” it’s far too easy to get stuck in the mundane routines of life. You may wonder if you are just surviving,  or are you thriving.   Whether good or bad, the humdrum of waking up, going to work, running errands, making meals, and Netflix before bed can make days indistinguishable from one to the next. Weeks turn into months. Months blur into years.  Years start to speed by. All of the sudden we find ourselves blinking our eyes, shaking our heads, and wondering how the hell we got here. Throw kids and partners into the mix and…. well, you know exactly what I mean.

The thing is, the routines can sneak up on us whether we’re happy or sad, successful or struggling, partnered or not, and so forth.

It’s easy to realize you’re only surviving when you’re unhappy with where you’re at. When you’ve got no money to save, no work promotion in sight, an unhappy relationship (or none at all when you’d like one), and a to-do list that hasn’t seen a check in weeks, you know you’re only hanging on. You might not say it out loud, but you know.

It’s hard to realize you’re only surviving when you’re basically happy. When you’ve got enough money to save each month (and maybe go on vacation each year, even), you’re working a job that requires the degree you have, you’re partnered (or single) and happy about it, and you go to bed with a pretty-much-empty to-do list, you might not know you’re just surviving.

What does thriving look like?

So if the above isn’t thriving, then what is? You might be thinking, “Okay, that’s pretty much the perfect life, what’s wrong with it?!” That’s the thing, thriving in life looks different for everyone. It’s kind of like art in the way you can’t define it but you know it when you see it. Maybe the scenario above IS your perfect life; and if that’s the case, then YES, you’re thriving, baby. But, for many, there is still work to be done.

I’ve been through the ringer enough to know what it’s like to struggle. And trust me when I tell you I have traumatic stories that will bring you to your knees. And through all of it, I know this: while I can’t explicitly define thriving, I can give you the basic outline: Challenge, Excitement, Learning, and Love.

To be thriving in life, we’ve got to be challenged. First let me acknowledge challenge does not equal stress. I’m not talking about the challenge of a shitty relationship or the challenge of a toxic work environment. I’m talking about the challenge of being in environments in which we must persist and make hard effort to succeed—and with good reward. Being able to persist within a challenging environment builds gumption and grit. It brings out our badassery and builds confidence.

Challenge might show up in the form of persisting through a degree program, running a mile for the first time, or interviewing for a new job. Take a risk and fail. Then next time fail better. Keep taking risks and failing better than the last time. It doesn’t have to be perfect. We are imperfect beings.  Picture Tom Hanks in Cast Away trying to start the fire. That’s challenge.

Remember when life was exciting? Remember when there were adventures?! We’ve all had them. The days of our youth when we drove too fast, kissed too many strangers, stayed up all night laughing at a slumber party,  and were just more generally spontaneous may be gone, but that does not AND WILL NOT mean the excitement is over. As adults, we can (in theory) do what we want when we want, so why don’t we? We live in Colorado for goodness’s sake! The mountains! Sleeping in tents! Hot air balloons! And, if you hate the outdoors, then go to a movie, have some drinks and have exciting sex with your partner, or take a mental health day and binge-watch House of Cards. Daily living doesn’t have to be mundane! Picture the Goonies and the waterslide. That’s excitement.

Learning is akin to challenge but don’t confuse them, they’re different. Challenge is about grit, learning is about expanding our minds. Too many people stop learning when they complete their schooling. Learning new things opens our minds to new people, new opportunities, new ideas, new ways to communicate and connect. We all live in a bubble; but we can expand the bubble or even break out of it when we expand and transform our minds. Read the news, read books, meet people and learn about their unique experiences, TRAVEL (or read about it), learn new card and board games. Picture Julie Andrews spinning on the Swiss Alps. That’s the joy of learning.

So it goes, the greatest of these is love. Truth bomb, you’re welcome. We’re talking about both romantic love and friendship, too. Whom do you love in your life? And who loves you? Are you surrounding yourself with people who make you feel smart, cared-for, sexy, and interesting or are you surrounding yourself with people who bring you down, make you feel insecure, ugly, and dumb? Take inventory of your first ring friends and ask yourself, “Do they love me? How do I know?” and “Do I love them? How do I know?” Your people should love you and you should love your people. Picture when Harry says to Sally, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” That’s love.

Do a thriving status check on yourself right now and see where you’re at. Sure, thriving is harder… there is a lot more at stake—and a lot more to lose—once we reach certain milestones in our lives: graduations, marriages, kids, careers, divorces and etc. We can’t just willy nilly travel the world. The idea of the degree we’ve always wanted to obtain seems less realistic: “With the kids and this job, when will I study?” And the new career, “Can I take a pay cut for my dream job?” Taking a leap for a new opportunity you’ve alwaysflirted with—okay, dreamed of—might seem pretty scary when you’ve got responsibilities and an overflowing schedule already.

But here’s my challenge: This is your life! If you want something, take it!