The Stockdale Paradox: Brutal Truth & Unwavering Faith

I am reading Brene Brown’s latest book on leadership, “Dare to Lead”, right now… and loving it! I have been a big fan of hers ever since “The Gifts of Imperfection” came out.

One of the things I love in her new book is the decision she made to bring her message to the workplace. She writes that she never imagined she would be back in the corporate world. Her message, she felt, was clearly destined for the personal realm of life, not business.

I read this while resting after my surgery (which by the way turned out very well… thanks for all the well wishes!) and felt a resonance with her story about how she shifted her focus.

I have undergone a similar twist of fate in my work as a life coach and minister. I always felt that my message, which is about LOVE and conscious creation, was meant for the personal realm of life. This is why I’ve focused on relationships for much of my coaching career.

As much as I love that realm, my attention has always returned to leadership and a woman’s creative expression consciously creating through meaningful work that brings prosperity.

Another gift from this book is a story that I want to share with you today, a story I first heard in James Collins’ book “Good to Great” and which you may have heard elsewhere. 

This time when I heard it, I realized that, although the circumstances are drastically different, the practice it describes applies equally to a women entrepreneur and a man in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp!

The Stockdale Paradox is named after Admiral James Stockdale who was kept a prisoner in the Vietnam War and suffered terribly for 8 years. 

James Stockdale describes the paradox this way:
Retain absolute faith that you can, and will, prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND, at the same time, confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

What I hear in this is that we need to have a powerful faith that we will see it through the storm (whatever “the storm” may be), and to do so requires us to take a good look at the reality of the situation, no matter how harsh it may be right now.

Interestingly, when Admiral Stockdale was asked who didn’t make it out of the camp, he said it was an easy question to answer. It was the Optimists, the ones who said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas”, then “Easter”, and then “Thanksgiving.” His response to this was “We’re not getting out of here by Christmas; deal with it!” 

In saying this, he had absolute faith that he would prevail in the end, while, at the same time, having the discipline to confront the reality he was facing at the moment. That reality indicated they weren’t going to be released any time soon.

Of the Optimists he said, “They died of a broken heart.” 

The message I took away from this reading was that, first of all, instead of wishful thinking it is important to accept what is. No matter how hard that may be. To face things we don’t like. Things that scare us. 

in order to be successful, to consciously create your life and prosper in your meaningful work, you need to honor the truth of this paradox. 

In business, as in life, there are always going to be those experiences, people and circumstances that are darn unpleasant.

Situations that are challenging!

Though they are not as outright terrifying as being in a prison camp, they are still hard to face. 

Yet, when you do that and do so with faith… anything is possible! 

I encourage you to look at something in your life that may be a “brutal reality” …or maybe just a circumstance you don’t like. 

What would change if you faced your reality clearly, just as it is… with an unwavering faith that you will prevail in the end?

I’d love to hear what you discover. 

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