The First Rule of Survival

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There is a crucial difference between learning anything in a purely intellectual way and accepting something as a rule of life. We can read and hear many different ideas without embracing even one of them as our own personal philosophy – we do this every day. This is a great thing, because without this ability to discern different ways of thinking as right or wrong, we would be tossed back and forth by every new idea we are confronted with.


I learned the first rule of survival in an intellectual way the first time I read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. This novel was first published in 1986 and has been a young adult classic ever since. In the story, the main character, Brian, is stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash. His life quickly becomes a series of unfortunate events. After he gets quilled by a porcupine, he has a moment of self-pity where he weeps about his current circumstances. It is then that the first rule is revealed to him. It is in that moment of absolute despair that he realizes that feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t work.


The author points out that it’s not that it was wrong to cry or to feel sorrow for the situation, it’s just that doing so doesn’t actually help to make things any better. In this dilemma, Brian was the only person who could improve his circumstances. He could lay there in his pain and misery, which would most likely lead to his death, or he could rise up and fight for his life.


I took that lesson in as I read the book, but I wouldn’t fully embrace the full truth of it until later in life.


When I was a teenager, I essentially prided myself on how difficult my life was. I was ready and willing to defend all of my bad behavior with explanations about the adversity and unfairness in my life. As I got older, I started to realize that the challenges I had to face really didn’t matter to the world. I was either going to take ownership of my life, or I was not – and that decision would be the one to make all the difference.


Some people have to take on some incredible challenges during their lifetimes. I’ve dealt with some myself. I come from a broken home, used drugs, sex, and alcohol as an escape from reality at an early age, and faced racism as early as elementary school. I’ve been heart broken, betrayed by friends, and questioned the existence and/or love of God. I’ve seen the ugliness that results from war firsthand in Afghanistan. Many people have faced much more traumatizing adversity than I have experienced, but this rule is a universal, unbiased truth. It’s not meant to moderate the harshness of one’s life, but to provide clarity on how to rise above the current difficulties one may be facing.


God has created each one of us to be stewards of our mind, body, and soul. We will ultimately be judged on the way that we developed and used the talents and resources He has given us in this lifetime. Think about your heroes. Whether they are saints, professional athletes, musicians, you name it, these are the people who rose faced their challenges head on and accomplished great things in spite of them. They aren’t remembered for feeling pity for themselves, but rather we admire the fact that they took ownership of who they were, what they had, and what they were here to do.


It is time that we, as the living members of the Body of Christ, stop feeling sorry for ourselves. God is calling each one of us to run to Him so that He can heal our every wound. He wants to make us whole so that we can be sent out into the world to bring the message of His great love to all people. Being sent out into the world isn’t some blissful experience consisting only of nice people, sunshine, and rainbows. The world can be an extremely tough and ruthless place, and it often is. Without the light of Christ, it is incredibly dark out there. Who among us will be willing to take this light out into the world? It must be you and me. There is no other way.


I pray you will join me on this great adventure of bringing the light of love, joy, and hope out into the world. As Jesus told His disciples, we are being sent out as sheep among wolves. We are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. If we are to survive out here in this dangerous place, it is paramount that we always remember that first rule of survival:  feeling sorry for ourselves does not work.


Nathan Crankfield was born and raised in Harrisburg, PA. He converted to Catholicism at age 13, becoming the first Catholic in his entire family. He graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD in 2015. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a US Army Infantry Officer. He served four years Active Duty during which he graduated from Airborne School, was awarded his Ranger Tab, and deployed to Afghanistan. Nathan now serves as a resident director at Benedictine College and is the founder of Seeking Excellence. His work can be found at

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