Survive and Advance

I am not a creature of habit. That is both a positive (I adapt well to a changing environment) and a negative (there is very little that I do automatically). So you can imagine what it must be like when every day is almost exactly the same as the prior and the next. Yes, my to-do list and meetings change, and a Saturday is still different than a Wednesday, but having to look at a calendar to get my bearings each morning is … monotonous. Numbing. A slog. For a decades-long road warrior that is used to different locations and people on a weekly basis, being at home (and often not even straying outside) every single day is … challenging. What makes it even more mentally draining is the lack of clarity on an end date. It’s easier to manage when the circumstances are clearly temporary. However, when the news is confusing with starts-stops-starts-stops-starts-stops combined with incessant talk about a “new normal” that nobody can truly define, it is … wearing.

However, I consider myself blessed. None of my family have contracted COVID-19, all have maintained their income, and we all still like each other. I know people that have had one or all happen to them. I’ve read about ruined relationships and finances, “deaths of despair,” food insecurity for families, small business owners losing everything, the difficult balancing act of being a parent and at-home teacher, and so many more ripple effects from this virus. Being in any of those circumstances where there is no clear end date can be … depressing.

At times, with so much uncertainty, it’s not necessarily about thriving or even succeeding. It is just about getting through the day, the hour, the minute.

To Survive and Advance.

That is the title of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary about Coach Jim Valvano and his North Carolina State basketball team that improbably won the 1984 NCAA championship. The coach talked about the important things his team taught him during that roller coaster season – having a common hope, belief, and dream while loving others. He also talked about visualization. The team had one practice each year, without balls or drills, where they practiced cutting down the nets (what the champions get to do). It seems silly to practice celebrating a win instead of the skills that could deliver a win but mental imagery or rehearsal is used quite often in sports:

“There is a powerful relationship between mental and physical performance in sport. The development of a wide range of mental powers, such as focus and concentration, elevates athletic performance; over-analyzing detracts from the athlete’s ability to react instinctively, an attribute that is usually a more desirable quality than the ability to reason through every sporting circumstance.”

It was the unifying hope, belief and dream with the imagery of cutting down the nets (along with creative coaching and players that exceeded expectations) that helped NC State endure a very difficult season. It created mental toughness … psychological flexibility … resilience … to overcome each obstacle that presented itself along the way.

It helped them adopt a Survive and Advance mentality. Figure out a way to win. It didn’t have to be pretty. It didn’t have to be the same way each time. They just had to win the second, the minute, the half, the game. And every time they found a way to win, they gave themselves a new opportunity to repeat the process. Every win built upon the prior efforts and over time created an expectation to win. They created their own momentum regardless of the opinions outside of the team.

Are you having a difficult minute, hour, day, week, month, 2020? Survive and Advance.

Are you not sure what the future holds and you’re scared what it does? Survive and Advance.

Are you at your wits’ end? Survive and Advance.

As Coach Valvano said while battling the cancer that ultimately took his life, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

In other words, Survive and Advance.

Mark Pew, The RxProfessor, Educator and Agitator