How To Persevere When Times Are Tough

These days we could all use some encouragement and hope. A lot of people have lost their business, their job, and in many ways their identity.

And even if you haven’t lost any of those things, you are probably still struggling in some area of life. It’s just the reality we face.

As I thought about this recently, I was reminded of the Stockdale Paradox found in the business classic Good to Great by Jim Collins. This concept comes from the life of Admiral James Stockdale, who was the highest ranking prisoner of war at the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. He was imprisoned there from 1965 to 1973, where he was tortured over 20 times.

How does someone get through an experience like that and maintain a sense of hope and optimism that one day they will be free? Collins asked Stockdale for a glimpse into his mindset during this unspeakable ordeal, and this is what 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.”

Admiral James Stockdale

Wow, what a perspective. He never lost faith, but at the same time he accepted his current reality and made the most of it. As an officer, he continued to lead and looked out for the other prisoners and did everything he could to help them get through the torture. He didn’t just throw in the towel and give up.

And this is the essence of the Stockdale Paradox: maintain faith that in the end you will prevail while also confronting the brutal facts of your current reality.

Here’s a video I recently recorded on this topic:

If you’re going through a really difficult time right now, I want to encourage you to maintain faith that there is hope for a better future. But at the same time, confront reality for what it is and make the most of your current situation.

Adjust, pivot, innovate. Do whatever it takes to get through and not give up.

Don’t lose faith in the end of the story.

Collins, James C. 2001. Good to great: Why some companies make the leap … and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.

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