Something that has really hit me for several reasons is the concept of the Stockdale Paradox, a concept made famous by Jim Collins in the book Good to Great. You can read about it in more detail here (and I highly recommend you do as I won’t do nearly the justice it deserves).
The extremely short version is that when Admiral Jim Stockdale was taken as a POW he noticed that there were people of a certain mindset who survived (as he did through SEVEN years or so of being held captive and tortured) and people of another mindset who died of a broken heart before they were able to experience freedom again. The biggest difference in mindset was optimism… and not for the better. Crazy, right?
The people who had this optimistic mindset that they would be released by a certain date would fall apart when that day came and went and nothing happened. They believed that they would be set free, but they also blindly believed that things would work out in a certain way and in a specific timeframe.
The people who survived were able to do a very Stoic balancing act. They firmly believed that everything would work out. Many believed that their experience, horrific as it may be, would be something that would transform them for the better. They would survive and become stronger as a result of the experience. This would be a defining chapter in their lives. The ones who survived had an unwavering belief that they would make it.
They balanced that mindset while confronting the brutal facts around them. There was no timeline in which they could count on this to end. There was no specific way they would get out. There were terrible things happening to them that they had to survive, and those terrible things would continue to an undetermined amount of time. They dealt with the brutal facts while holding onto their unwavering faith that everything would work out.
What’s interesting is that this is very similar to what Viktor Frankl shared in Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl said that those who set a falsely optimistic goal of being set free by a certain time often fell apart once their self-imposed deadline came and went. By focusing on something they created in their own head they pushed beyond what should have been possible, but then fell apart when things didn’t change on the other side of their fictional finish line. The ones who survived absorbed each moment and knew that it may continue forever – though their faith was that they would find a way to utilize their suffering to make the world a better place. The survivors found purpose in their suffering and decided they must survive – no matter how long it continued – in order to transform their suffering into purpose.
So why am I thankful for this today?
As 2020 keeps winding down there are more and more messages all around us portraying this epic shift in all of our lives at exactly 12:00 midnight on January 1, 2021. That’s not going to happen. Everything that is currently going on will continue into next year. Remembering these two examples is critical for my mind to to keep at its forefront right now. I’m finding it’s easy to let the changing of the calendar fool me into a false sense of security. It’s so easy for me to mentally skip past the next week and see it as a “throw away” as the last week of the year.
By remembering the Stockdale Paradox and Man’s Search for Meaning I am reminded to have unwavering faith that everything will work out in time. There is much I am able to control, my locus of control lies in my ability to choose my mindset and to live in the present knowing that there will be a brilliant future – in time. Regardless of what happens around me I will soak up all that happens and see it as opportunities to grow and become stronger. I will maintain my unwavering faith in the future while recognizing that any of the challenges of COVID are far from over. I do not know how long it will last, but I do know it will not last forever. I am grateful for the opportunity to be tested and to forge my soul through the current fire. It will all work out in the end, even if it is difficult and hurts in the moment.
Have faith that better days are ahead, live fully in each moment – even until this happens. Do not wish my life away for something out of my control. Even though it may hurt and cause discomfort it is the sensation of growth.
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