The Stockdale Paradox

You might be having a tough time working where you are. It could be the sort of toxic hell you’d give up in a second if you could but wait. Is this more of a mindset issue?

What if someone said that you will prevail in the end if you face your current reality and live through it?

Admiral Jim Stockdale was imprisoned for eight years at the “Hanoi Hilton” during the war in Vietnam from 1965 to 1973. he was severely tortured over 20 times and he didn’t know if he’d see his wife and children again.

In an interview with Jim Collins he explained how he survived all those years,

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

He remarked that those that didn’t make it were the optimists. Perhaps that’s not what you’d expect to hear but Stockdale explained, “They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart.”

Stockdale helped many of his men live through imprisonment by accepting and analysing all the brutal facts and having faith in prevailing in the endgame. Whatever our current reality, if we can be completely honest about it, it is our ability to stay goal-oriented and hopeful that will help us prevail.

This teaches us that we need to confront the reality of our situations. We can’t take the ostrich approach and stick our heads in the sand and hope the difficulties will go away. They won’t. The Stockdale Paradox is a lesson in faith and honesty, not blind optimism. It get’s my thumbs-up as a real lesson in resilience.

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