I read a story the other day about Vice Admiral James Stockdale. He was Navy fighter pilot who was show down in Vietnam, captured, and spent almost 8 years as a Prisoner of War in the brutal "Hanoi Hilton." James never broke. In fact, he would do everything to sabotage his captors plans so he would not be used as a propaganda tool including things like beating his own face to sheer bloodiness to keep from being paraded around by the enemy.
It truly is an amazing story of determination, survival, and grit.
Year later, Jim Collins interviewed Stockdale and he shared what I believe to be some of the greatest advice for success and reality that I think is very relevant for our times.
Collins asked Stockdale, "How did you deal with such harsh circumstances and uncertainty?" Stockdale's answer was succinct and the very epitome of what it takes to survive. He said, "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.”
What he said next was even more important. Collins asked him, "Who were the type of people that didn't make it out of the POW camp?"
Stockdale answered, “Oh that’s easy. The optimists. They were the ones who said, ‘we’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And then Christmas would come, and Christmas would go.
And then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And then Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving. And then it would be Christmas again.
And they died of a broken heart.
“This is a very important lesson,” Stockdale added, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose-- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
At a time of global pandemic and crisis, it is important balance your faith and optimism and confront the brutal facts of reality. Beware being an optimist thinking everything is going to be back to normal in a month or two. That's not reality. We will get through this pandemic, deep global economic downturn and we will be prosperous in the future, but the reality is that the road be tough, rough, go on longer than expected, and have lasting effects for years to come. The sooner we face that, the clearer things will be and the easier it will be to find the opportunity during this time. Make no mistake, there is opportunity. The key is to have yourself in position to see it, act on it, and see it through during tough times.
That is what Vice Admiral Stockdale did. He saw things for what they were, held deep faith, and acted daily to get to his freedom (his opportunity). Most of us will never endure the hell that Stockdale did, but we do have our own challenges we will go through during these times.
Keep your faith that you will prevail and you will.
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