The Stockdale Paradox – Don’t be an optimist.

I learnt about James Stockdale today. He was a Navy vice Admiral/Aviator, he was also a prisoner of war for seven years, during the Vietnam War. Tortured well over twenty times during his imprisonment from 1965 – 1973. A frightfully clever man, after all he instituted the internal communication system – tap codes, to help reduce the sense of isolation. However, I am more interested in how he managed life in there (yes, it is relatable, go with me)..

“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.”

Then he was asked who didn’t make it out, his answer is one that I love:

“Oh that’s easy, the optimists. The optimists, they were the ones who said we will be out by Christmas. Christmas would come and it would go. Then they’d say we will be out by Easter. Easter would come and go, then it would be Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. They died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. 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.”

Clever guy, right? Let’s allow that to just sink in for a sec. This paradox states ‘that you have to have faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be’..

Just stay the course, focus on the now, on surviving. Trust the system. Believe in your body’s innate, amazing, remarkable ability to heal itself.


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