The Stockdale Paradox

Have you ever found yourself trying to remain optimistic while at the same time feeling  swamped by a wave of trouble so high you don’t know where to turn?  You may be ready to embrace the Stockdale Paradox.


The story is told of Admiral Jim Stockdale who survived an eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1953 during the Vietnam War. During his time in prison, Stockdale not only survived but helped others manage the unimaginable conditions of prison camp (this story is told in Jim Collins book Good to Great).

In reflecting on his experience, Stockdale says “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”.   

When asked who didn’t survive the experience he said “The optimists.”  He went on to explain that the optimists were the ones who said “We’re going to be out by Christmas” and Christmas would come and they wouldn’t be out.  Then they’d say, “We’ll be out by Easter” and Easter would come and they wouldn’t get out.   Then eventually, they died of a broken heart!

Stockdale made this profound statement: “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 may be.” 

Five transferable principles to help keep you going during challenging times:

  1. The Stockdale paradox is a mindset not a feeling.
  2. If you model living this paradox, others will be inspired to follow.
  3. When living with brutal facts, focus on what you can control instead of worrying about the things outside your control.
  4. To keep your hope strong, remember to daily stoke the fire of your faith.
  5. Find people in your life you will allow you to be brutally honest but at the same time remind you of a promising future.

Personally, I’ve been living this paradox as a result of a life threatening motorcycle accident that happened over a year ago. I’m still in the middle of repair and recovery (my brutal facts) and learning to dance with it while hold fast to a promising future.  To be honest, it’s a work in progress but one thing is true – I don’t like the alternative!

What’s your wave of trouble washing over you? What would it look like for you to deal with your brutal facts while at the same time, hold out a promising future?


About Cam Taylor

I'm help people live inspired, focused and tenacious lives. I work as a coach, facilitator, author, and speaker.
This entry was posted in Adversity, Optimism, Paradox and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s