“Find a Way” to Thrive; Don’t Merely Survive

Find a Way

In early September of last year, a marathon swimmer named Diana Nyad became the first person to swim across the shark-infested waters (without a cage) between Havana, Cuba and Key West, Fla, a distance of 103 miles.

She logged four previous attempts, beginning in 2010, but her fifth shot at swimming 53 consecutive hours shoreline to shoreline brought her victory.  Diana is 64 years old.

I’ve watched several news interviews with Diana; she even sat down with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday.  As you might expect, she presents herself as a strong-willed, determined woman with a “live large” attitude. (Watch Diana and Oprah.)

I’ve also read snippets about her life and I now believe there are two overarching reasons why Diana finally stumbled onto the shore of Key West last year.  It wasn’t because of her 35-person crew and technology, or the silicone mast that protected her from jellyfish.  The successful swim wasn’t even because of favorable Gulf Stream currents.

No, Diana’s death-defying swim wasn’t even as a result of all those things combined.

Only two reasons why Diana Nyad made history in September 2013

I believe Diana’s success is two-fold:  One, she shifted her mindset from surviving to thriving, and two, she’s an atheist with a spiritual sense of awe and wonder.

Whoa.  How does that work, you might ask?  Oprah asked too during the Super Soul Sunday broadcast. Diana said while she doesn’t believe that one entity created everything that has ever existed, she does stand on a beach and feel a deep sense of awe and appreciation. She is moved when she thinks about the enormity of previous generations who stood in the same place contemplating their lives and their ambitions.

I agree with Oprah; feeling awe is believing in a power greater than oneself.  Wouldn’t you think that some sort of faith in the great Whatever is necessary to swim with sharks for 53 hours?

As for the shift from survivor to thriver, Diana also spoke with Oprah about being sexually abused as a child by a swim coach.  One day, many years later, circumstances took her to a dinner where she met a retired professor who unexpectedly shared her experience of being three years old and watching her family ripped away by the Gestapo during the Holocaust.

When Diana tried to downplay her own story of abuse, saying there was no comparison, the older woman reportedly took her hand and said, “‘Don’t ever say that.  Every human being on this planet has their pain and their heartache and it’s up to all of us to find our way back to light.'”

From that moment, Diana determined to live her life in big ways, not to settle for merely surviving.

Find a Way

During her tedious, stroke-by-stroke swim last September, maybe Diana recalled her conversation with the retired professor.  Whether she did or not, she remembered three incredible words that formed a mantra for her journey:  Find a Way.

Diana speaks regularly now and those same three words are often offered as a challenge:  No matter what is going on in your life now, or what you’re struggling to overcome from your past, Find a Way to work through it. Find a Way to move on.  Find a Way to shift from surviving to thriving.

Sage advice, don’t you think?

Watch Diana’s terrific talk on TED.com to here her story for yourself.

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