From surviving to thriving

Zairah Khan
6 min readMay 26, 2023

Part 1: A truthful conversation with my younger self

Photo: Me’s telling a story, art installation by Eva George (2012)

This week I was in a conversation with Michele Holliday, writer of the book ‘the age of thrivability.’ We discussed the importance of storytelling and being able to share livid experiences to help people see another perspective. A perspective in which we are not merely surviving but one in which we thrive together with our communities and nature. We all have a notion of what that would mean, in an ideal parallel universe that is, but how to really get there, that is the hard part. It is often where our imagination fails us… It’s not until we actually leap that we start to unravel the story of thriving. A story that is different for each of us so we unpack it chapter by chapter. Like in the matrix…Michele says. ‘Once you see it you can’t unsee it.’ Although I don’t have a red pill to share I do have a story for you. In fact I have a story I want to share with my younger self, the self that was still stuck in the Matrix.

Dear younger self,

Considering that discovery and accepting uncertainty is part of your journey that is still to come, I don’t want to give to much away, but I don’t want to bother you with empty phrases either. As I look for a line to begin this story the one that I used often comes to mind; I quite my job twelve years ago. But then I realise that this phrase is part of the problem that many of us face, that you will one day face. We are told that if we do not work, if we give up, we are quitters.

So let me re-phrase: I started my path towards thriving twelve years ago. It is when I realized that my ideal job probably did not exist yet, so I might have to create it myself.

I wasn’t at all sure it would work out but from where I was starting, I felt I owed it to myself to at least try. You see I was feeling stressed going to work, struggling to meet expectations that were not my own, negative attitudes and roadblocks. I was fighting my way through the day and not able to let go in the evening. You’ll hear this from a lot of people who have suffered burn out, yet I did not ‘burn out.’ Because I decided to walk away from that. I had no idea where to, but I’m glad I did.

Younger self; was it hard?

I’ll be honest; the path was a lot longer than I thought it would be, but I’m not sure I would call it hard. It would have been harder staying where I was. And it gets easier. The world will start to smile at you each step on the way. But you will also find monsters lurking in the corners and you’re going to have to be brave.

Younger self: Monsters? Ok tell me more about the monsters.

Haha. Of course you’d want to know about the monsters. From the moment we start to hear stories they all have monsters in it. Mostly monsters need to be conquered or slain. But I’m not talking about those monsters. These monsters are teachers. You have to pay close attention to them.

Younger self: Ok what?!?

I can see you are sceptical; I remember now that I used to be to. You just want some clarity right? None of that wishy washy stuff. Trust me you’ll get a lot more wishy washy. But okay. I’ll give you an example.

You think you know who your friends are. But some of them will change, some of them will not like you anymore. Not because you’ve done something wrong to them, but because they don’t understand. They’re stuck on the other side; you can’t save them. It’s not your task. But they might resent you. You see when you choose to be free you challenge something fundamental, you challenge the rules of the game. The rules say that there is a separation between being yourself and work. The rules of the game dictate that in order to acquire your right to eat, to sleep, to live you must give up a part of you. But it’s not true. Do you know the story of the naked truth?

“The Lie said to the Truth, “Let’s take a bath together, the well water is very nice. The Truth, still suspicious, tested the water and found out it really was nice. So they got naked and bathed. But suddenly, the Lie leapt out of the water and fled, wearing the clothes of the Truth. The Truth, furious, climbed out of the well to get her clothes back. But the World, upon seeing the naked Truth, looked away, with anger and contempt. Poor Truth returned to the well and disappeared forever, hiding her shame. Since then, the Lie runs around the world, dressed as the Truth, and society is very happy…Because the world has no desire to know the naked Truth.”

When you start living the truth, not everybody is happy about it. I’ve been told that my choices were only possible because I’m privileged. Funny? But what you don’t know yet is that one of your best friends will tell you that your life choices are only possible because you have a husband to depend on. Being a feminist; that one will really hurt. But dependence is one of the monsters you will need to learn to accept.

Younger self: I’m not sure I can give up my independence.

You see independence is part of the lie. It doesn’t exist. At the same time you must choose very carefully on who you want to depend and for what. I prefer interdependence over dependence. Because interdependence works both ways, while dependence is a one-way stream. You see when you go to the bank to get a loan to buy a house, the bank doesn’t really need you. With so many clients who cares if you can pay your mortgage or not. If you don’t, they’ll sell your house and let you be kicked out. So what happens is that you need to find a job to pay that mortgage, if you’re lucky you’ll find a great job in which you can bring your whole self. But coming from a place of dependence you’ll likely accept a job that is good enough for now, meaning you slide deeper into dependence. Ironically, people tell you that because you are earning your own money you are independent. But really you have no choice, that’s why it’s part of the lie.

Younger self; what’s the solution?

The solution is feeling ok about depending on others and having others depend on you. It doesn’t have to be a partner. It can also be a good friend, a group of neighbours, a family member, a parent. I love that there are women's’ groups in east Africa that help each other with finances. They commit to each others thriving. It all comes down to community and trust.

Younger self: if it’s so great, why don’t more people step out of the ‘matrix’ and quit their jobs?

Haha. You are still so naïve! Because nobody tells you before hand how it’s going to be and even if they did, you wouldn’t believe them! That’s the irony of it.

Change is hard is because our own brains fool us into focussing on the parts that we might loose, especially if the possible gain is vague and unfamiliar. The real matrix, therefore, is fear of change. The not knowing is staring at us like a precipice. And while we are afraid to fall to our death, we just need to spread our wings to find out we can already fly. It’s fear itself hiding under the bed. Only when we face it, do we realize it’s not real.

Just remember; when we turn on the light, the monsters are gone.

You may also like part 2: reclaiming time and money

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Zairah Khan

Regenerative Entrepreneur, Permaculture, BlueO2- Dreaming big from the ground upwards