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Faith and Brutal Reality- The Stockdale Paradox

Jim Stockdale as posted on www.achievement.org

Admiral Jim Stockdale was a prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam. Jim Collins writes about him in Good to Great. Stockdale was imprisoned for 8 years from 1965 to 1973 and tortured over 20 times. As a prisoner he did everything in his power to create conditions that would increase the likelihood that he and his fellow prisoners would survive unbroken (i.e. he created rules to help people survive torture sessions, an elaborate internal communications system etc.). He was much loved by his fellow prisoners and went on to win the Congressional Medal of Honour in the US.  When Collins interviewed Stockdale, he asked him “Who didn’t make it out?”

“That’s easy”, said Stockdale, “The optimists….they were the ones who said, and ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas’. And Christmas would come. And Christmas would go. Then they would say ‘We’re going to be out by Easter’. And Easter would come. And Easter would go….they died of a broken heart.

Stockdale’s message:
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.

Where in your life/ business do you believe you will prevail in the end?  For me, I know I can build a successful and enduring coaching company. It is happening right now. Every day I see evidence of it. And the brutal reality is:

  • It takes effort every day to develop business and coaching is hard to explain and sell to those who haven’t tried it;
  • Professionals and business owners take a long time to make a decision that they need a coach and many might never make the investment;
  • Being an entrepreneur is lonely at times;
  • It takes a significant investment of time and money to train as a coach and build a business from zero; leaving a lucrative sales management job impacted my revenues;
  • A lot of coaches give up before they “make it” or make up the difference by training and consulting.

 

Today a business owner client of mine cried during our session and told me how thankful she was that I made the decision to train as a coach. She said that if I hadn’t become a coach and been connected to her, she wouldn’t be where she is today, living her life in such a profoundly different way.

I don’t hear affirmations like this every day but it sure helps me keep the faith that I will prevail, regardless of the difficulties. And I am willing to confront the brutal facts of my current reality. 

Collins says that if you are able to operate from both sides of the paradox, never letting one overshadow the other,

You will dramatically increase the odds of making a series of good decisions and ultimately discovering a simple, yet deeply insightful concept for making the really big choices.  And once you have that simple, unifying concept, you will be very close to making a sustained transition to breakthrough results.

So where will you prevail? What are the brutal facts you need to face? How will you live in the duality of the paradox?

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Natasha Benigno June 4, 2010, 12:52 pm

    It may be a difficult road but I have no doubt that you will attain the level of success to which you strive.

    You are realistic; driven; and, most of all, you have passion for what you do. That’s what makes your clients so thankful to have you in their lives – you truly care.

  • Lisa June 4, 2010, 2:53 pm

    Thanks, Natasha, and it’s precisely the challenge that motivates me so I am fortunate for that! Thanks for reading and contributing. In what do you know you will prevail but need to face the brutal reality??

  • Roger Clowater June 4, 2010, 5:23 pm

    Lisa:

    Sometimes we are too close to the action to see how much ground we have covered in advancing towards our goals. Your comments are nuggets of wisdom, keep moving towards your goals and congratulations!

  • Natasha Benigno June 4, 2010, 7:11 pm

    Marriage!

    Spending your life with another is such a wonderful adventure which comes with its own (sometimes brutal) realities.

    Since I got engaged, I have been polling a lot of couples in my life about the challenges of marriage in order to be better prepared. Needless to say the list is long (but the benefits are just as lengthy!).

    The common themes I found in my research are: patience and compromise. Lucky me, these are the two traits with which I struggle in life!

    I find it odd that we can learn to be motivational leaders, innovative thinkers, and astute strategists in the workplace but we find it so difficult to apply the same commitment to growth and lifelong learning to our home life. Perhaps we need to learn how to bridge the gap and buffer the marriage rollercoaster much like we would an economic downturn? I certainly don’t have all (any) answers but know that marriage will certainly require personal development.

    Armed with knowledge of the realities of marriage, I will prevail in this challenge the same way I do the others in my life: with fearless perseverance and a lot of heart!

  • Lisa June 4, 2010, 10:13 pm

    Agreed. AND I think focussing on this paradox provides some important information. How can you use this paradox in your mayoral campaign in Aurora?

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