I was a soldier in the Romanian army. For 6 months, I woke up at 5 AM each morning (except during the 6 nights of Romanian Revolution, when I didn’t sleep at all), I exercised and learned stuff that, fortunately, I didn’t have to apply later on. Except for one thing, that proved to be extremely useful: how to create, deploy and maintain a minimum survival kit.
Romanian army wasn’t what you usually call a summer camp. On the contrary. It was a tough place to be in. From the physical environment to the relationships ecosystem, everything was rough. When it was cold, it was really cold, we had to sleep with clothes on and didn’t have any other way to get warm. When an officer asked something from you, there wasn’t any other choice than to obey. And most of the time the officers were asking really humiliating things, like crawling in front of them in the mud for 15 minutes, for no reason at all, other than they being higher ranked than you in the army. It was a clearly enforced power game. Also, when we’re doing fight exercises, sometimes we had to run continuously for 10 kilometers – or more – with all the fight equipment on us. No wonder that, in only a few weeks, a quarter of my group become regular clients of the infirmary.
It was a rough place, but it also had some interesting ups. I was enrolled in what they call a “research and diversion” group. Our role, as a military unit, was to do research in the enemy field, gather information and create diversions. Exciting, if you look at it form the outside, frightening if you have to do it. Part of our regular exercise was to penetrate other units territory. The soldiers guarding those units had no idea that we were soldiers too, doing an exercise. They had all the reasons to believe we’re the enemy, and they could open fire at any time. Not ideal…
The Survival Exercise
Part of our training was about learning survival tactics and techniques. I don’t know why I was attracted to that, but fact is I really enjoyed learning all the things they were teaching us about surviving. I remember I was always the first to respond when we had surviving classes.
One day the captain came to our dorm and said: “Time to pack your stuff, we’re going out on a survival exercise”. I remember that 2 of our team members became pale and started to talk something about infirmary. They were the guys who were most of the time ill and did whatever they can to avoid getting involved in anything remotely dangerous. The captain looked at them and said they can stay if they want.
The rest of the group took the standard fight equipment (no real ammunition was allowed though) and went down. I remember I put a small bag of almonds and a bottle of Pepsi in my sac. I always did that when I knew we’re going out on some exercise thing. By the way, at that time, 20 years ago, under the communist regime of Ceausescu, Pepsi was considered almost a medicinal drink and it was barely available on the stores.
Down, a big truck was waiting, engine started and humming. Almost without talking, we got up, squeezed together and the truck started to move. It didn’t went on the regular road, to the city, but took it over the fields. Just straight over the fields in the back of the campus, bumping us up and down while we’re numbly trying to get a grip of where we were.
At some point, after we crossed a few forests and hills, and after we didn’t see any house for at least 20 minutes, the truck stopped. “Down, down, down, on the double”, the captain said. He didn’t smile. Usually, he was smiling, but not this time. In less than a minute we were down, near the truck. I confess that I started to feel a little bit strange at that time. What was going to happen, after all?
“Split in teams of two”, said the captain. “You can only use your knife and whatever you can find around yourself. Walk in different directions for 10 minutes, then stop. From that point, you have 48 hours. In 48 hours we’re going to meet in the unit yard. If you can make it earlier, good for you. You’re on your own now.”
After that he jumped in the truck. In less than 30 seconds we were alone in the middle of nowhere, looking at the truck becoming smaller and smaller between the hills and after the forests.
We started to walk in different directions for 10 minutes, in teams of two. Now I was really feeling strange. Suddenly I realized I didn’t have any food, except for the small bag of almonds and the bottle of Pepsi. Nor did I have anything else except my fight equipment. Out of which I could only use my knife.
In a split of a second I realized also that I was on a real survival situation. Nobody would come to help us. We were really alone there…
The first thing I did was to see what else do I have. We were in teams of two and my team mate was a guy famous in our group for sleeping all the time. He was always relaxed and ready to get a nap. Not much of an initiative guy, but a very soothing presence, after all. Well, at least he’s not hysterical, I said to myself.
We were still on a decently populated area. We didn’t see any houses but there were gardens and man made paths. It wasn’t complete wilderness so in a few minutes I realized that the survival in itself wasn’t such a big deal. I think I was more overwhelmed by the “unexpected” part of it. Nothing predicted this situation in any way, yet I was still in the middle of nowhere, with a colleague who was always sleeping, trying to find our way back to the unit.
Little by little, we started to organize things. We established a zero point, marked by scratching small signs under knee level on trees (signs under the knee level aren’t usually visible in the forests, so we minimize the chances that a potential enemy would track us). We did a few short reconnaissance incursions in the field, some together, some separately. We put two traps for birds, made by rope, some breadcrumbs (my colleague used to always carry dried bread in his pockets) and rocks. We didn’t catch any bird, but we soon found something edible in a vegetable garden and also got a pretty clear idea of where we were.
It was getting dark fast – it was autumn, the sun was setting early – so we returned to our zero point and had a little bit of a dinner. Some vegetables, a part of the almonds I was diligently packed and some Pepsi. Boy, that Pepsi was good!
My team mate was getting pretty sleepy and it was already dark. As we sat near the tree trying to figure out what we should do, I saw a difference in the light. Didn’t knew at first from where it was, but I soon realized it was a moving light. Somewhere between the hills a car with the lights on was moving.
I instantly decided that I wouldn’t wait 48 hours. “Let’s go, you will sleep later, I promise”, I said to my team mate and started to move towards that light. In a few minutes I discovered a country road and started to walk it, hoping this is the road that the car was on too. Luckily, it was, as we found out 15 minutes later. Surprisingly, the car was a military truck and I recognized one of the drivers.
“What are you doing here”, I asked after I stopped it. “Patrolling, trying to pick up guys from the survival exercise”. the driver answered. “Well, you found us, we’re from the survival exercise”, I smiled. “Then jump in”, he smiled back.
In fifteen minutes we were back in the campus. In the yard there was a big fire. Half of our colleagues were there too. On the fire, something was cooking. I learned that some of our team mates found some houses and “borrowed” some chickens and even some ducks. Some of them also borrowed potatoes and carrots. From what I saw, what was cooking on the fire was far more than we usually had for dinner. And it looked way tastier too.
I sat down near the fire, with my colleague who was already snoring on the side. The whole exercise took no longer than 6 hours. While I was getting ready to get my meal, sipping from my bottle of Pepsi, I saw the 2 guys who decided they aren’t joining us in the exercise. It may have been because of the fire, but they looked even paler than their usual white, pale color.
A Survival Situation
Every time I get caught in a really nasty thing, I think at that survival exercise. I remember all the phases of the exercise, all the tools I used (pictured as a minimum survival kit), all the outcomes. And every time I apply the things I learned during that exercise, I usually get over it.
Now, you may wonder what’s a survival situation, after all? How can you differentiate a survival situation from just some tough times? It’s an important distinction, because you will use different tools and attitudes. If you’re just getting through some tough times, a general positive attitude and some reasonable adjustments will get you through.
A survival situation is different in that all your regular resources will disappear, you’re in a completely unknown territory and your life may be in danger. Now, it may be about your physical life, as in a war, or it may be just your life as you knew it.
For instance, every major breakup or a significant career change may be seen as a survival situation. Every major shift in your existence is in fact a survival situation, because it challenges the way you actually live your life.
Minimum Survival Kit
From that first survival exercise in the army I’ve been through many survival situations. Some of them involved thorough financial crisis, others involved personal relationships breakups and others were related to my career choices. Being an entrepreneur is one of those careers in which you get loads of survival situations, and I’m not the only one telling you that.
But, somehow, I managed to get out of them. The fact that you’re reading this right now might be the most important proof, by the way :-). After getting out (and in, for what matters) those difficult times, I started to see some patterns. Some attitudes proved to work better than others and some techniques helped me overcome the obstacles easier.
Hence, the idea of a minimum survival kit. It’s not a first aid kit, in that it doesn’t tell you what to do immediately after you get hit. I may write another post on that, but for now, let’s just talk about these 5 things you may need to do in order to get out safely from a life survival situation.
1. Be Prepared
That doesn’t mean you should stop living your normal life and always act like the end of the world is near. But acknowledge the fact that life is unexpected and that you may be exposed to situations you’re not really prepared for. In my survival exercise I took that bag of almonds and that bottle of Pepsi. It was a prevention measure. And it proved to be a very good one.
I’m not saying only to put aside white money for black days, but also stay alert. Live in such a way that you will always have supplementary resources to resort to, if need will be. In business, even when I was successful, I always had smaller projects going on, just in case. They were just simmering slowly and sometimes those projects saved me from some pretty tough cash-flow situations.
This is a very important part of the minimum survival kit. Because if you’re really prepared to face anything, something very powerful will happen: you’ll get stronger. Instead of being drained and depleted, the exposure to those sudden changes will increase your strength. My 2 colleagues who declined the survival exercise were even more pale around the fire in the campus yard. They avoided the challenge but it looked like their strength decreasing.
2. Avoid Excessive Baggage
If you’re on a real survival situation, any excess baggage may drag you down. What does that mean in a real life situation? Well, it may mean: sell your stuff fast, don’t get attached to relationships that may drag you down and just be flexible. If you’re going through a survival situation in business this may lead to difficult decisions, which in turn may lead to let people go or to sacrifice some part of the business in order to make sure the rest will be fine. As tough as it may seem, this is sometimes necessary.
A survival situation will ask each of any resource you may have, so carrying out extra baggage will make you slower and heavier. During my survival exercise in the army, I was fortunate enough to get out quickly. But I can only imagine what would have happen, for instance, if I would have had to carry out extra 50 kilos of equipment. I would probably park the equipment in a safe place and get back to it once I got some help.
3. Take Good Care Of Your Health
First things first. Keep your priorities straight. Eat. Hydrate yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Too often I saw people in survival situations surrendering to worries and neglecting their health.
Why? Why spending your whole night thinking how to pay your mortgage now that you’re jobless, instead of just sleeping? Why jumping in denial by drowning in alcohol? What’s the use of it? Not only it will never solve your problem, but it will ruin your health. And health is one of the most important tools in a minimum survival kit. Because with less and less energy you’ll have less and less resources to push through.
4. Jump To Opportunities
Use whatever you have and once you see something that could prove even remotely helpful, just grab it. Don’t wait. Don’t second guess. Don’t hesitate. Don’t wait for better conditions because you may not get any. Don’t assume things will get better, because usually they don’t.
If you’re in a survival situation, you have to act. You have to do stuff, you have to move. When I saw the light of that car, in my survival exercise, I decided I will just go for it. I will follow it and see what happens. It proved to be the best thing that could happen to me. That approach was verified in other survival situations I’ve been through: the moment you summon the courage to take advantage of an opportunity, that opportunity is in fact the end of the survival situation. It’s your way out.
5. Have Hope
I intently left this at the very end, because it’s the most important part of all five. Hope is the fundamental tool in your minimal survival kit.
No matter what you’re going through right now, it’s temporary. It shall pass. You won’t be trapped forever in this survival situation (although you may feel like it now). At some point the wall will break. It always does.
If you don’t keep hope, you’ll lose the battle even before it will start. Because hope is the fundamental ingredient in keeping your lenses clean. In keeping your mind fresh and ready to react. If you surrender to worries and negative thinking, your focus will shift from an “outside” filled with problems (but also with opportunities) to your own internal, dark and immobile reality.
You may actually miss opportunities, real life opportunities, just because you’re not paying attention. The outside situation may be really bad right now, but once you choose to isolate yourself inside, in that part that is completely disconnected, you’ll lose the grip. You’ll get caught in your own whirlwind of negative thoughts and you won’t see the light moving through the hills.
Hope is the thing that will make you enjoy the dinner at the fire camp after the survival exercise.
Because, in the end, all of these survival situations are only exercises. And, always, always, they are less scary than we think they are. We may get the shivers in the beginning, but after you’re out, life is even better. Tastier. Nicer.
What does not kill you really makes you stronger.