6 Keys to Escaping Survival Mode

survival skills

If you happen to be lost and alone in the jungle with only a box of crayons and 3 paperclips, your to-do list is pretty short.

A. Survival To-Do List: 

  1. Find food.
  2. Find water.
  3. Find shelter.
  4. Avoid danger.
  5. Get un-lost.

All your energy and creativity should be spent on these five things. If you are Bear Grylls, you have time for maybe one more thing, like a good camera shot.

B. Not on the Survival To-Do List:

  1. Complain about being lost.
  2. Curse the jungle for being a jungle.
  3. Wait for a miracle.
  4. Post status on Facebook.
  5. Check likes.

Any energy spent on list B will have negative consequences to list A. And since list A is going to keep you alive, list B while very attractive is not recommended.

Key things to remember:

  1. Focus on List A
  2. Do List A.
  3. Survive.

IMPORTANT: If you are currently lost in the jungle and happen to read this while checking Facebook, please stop reading now and begin list A.

If you are still reading I presume you are not, in fact, lost in the jungle and so we are free to proceed.

Survival mode serves a very specific purpose and is meant to be a temporary solution to a temporary problem.

Yet, take a walk through the workplace jungle and you’ll hear people talking about how they are “just trying to survive” or “just make it through another day”. But that’s not really the case, is it?

The reason I ask is that most of the people I run into at work who say they are in survival mode are usually focused on list B.

This is the equivalent of being scared and angry about being lost in the jungle, running into other people who are also lost, complaining to them about how much the jungle sucks and thinking that somehow this will bring the rescue plane.

I can only conclude the following:

  1. They aren’t really lost. (but like pretending to be)
  2. They are really lost. (and wish to keep it that way)

Those who are really lost and focused on list A, (the workplace version), are typically in pretty rough shape and stressed to the point of burnout.  Sooner or later they are going to find a way to get un-lost (as in leave the organization) so you are mostly left with the first group.

If you find yourself in this state on a regular basis, are you happy? Is work getting any better? Do you have energy left for anything else? How does this mindset affect the rest of your life?

If work really is a scary and difficult place for you, I’d like to suggest another short to-do list that will help you get out of survival mode and on to something a bit more enjoyable.

Beyond Survival To-Do List

Assess your situation – Are the circumstances really as dire as you imagine them to be or that you are reacting to a situation over which you have more control than you have chosen to believe? What is really driving you to feel that survival mode is the only option?

Check your expectations – Do you have realistic expectations for your work performance? Are these expectations setting you up to feel stressed and isolated? If you believe the source of your stress is due external expectations, what are you doing to address the situation?

Find your place – How do you contribute? Are you clear on the value you bring to others and to the organization? If not, how can you clarify this for yourself so that you have a greater sense of purpose and direction?

Find your influence – How can you expand your circle of influence to improve your circumstances? Who can you turn to for positive guidance to help you navigate the situation? When working with others, do you reinforce the negative or look for solutions?

Find your power – Are you taking action or waiting for someone to come to your rescue? What source of motivation will you tap to help you start taking action? How will you change your attitude and orientation so that you feel empowered?

Find your freedom – Is it time to make a job change or is it time for your perspective to change? How will you break the cycle of defeat that keeps you stuck in survival mode? What steps do you need to take so that you can begin to see a way forward?

Work isn’t a reality TV show where the goal is to be the last one left on the island. Survival mode may be necessary for short periods but living that way day-to-day sucks a lot of the joy and energy from life. It’s in your power to get un-lost and back on a path that is more inspiring and rewarding.


  1. Dear Scott,

    Happy , healthy New Year to you and yours! Thank you for sharing this post. I really need to ask the question “find my place”. Am I clear on the value I bring to others and the organization?



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