The Lone Leader Weekly

16th Jan 2023

Just Bloody Start!

Failure is the worst that can happen.

#1. Suffering is necessary.

However, you feel right now. The suffering, aligned with your vision for your life, IS worth it. If you lack purpose, you are suffering for the wrong thing.

#2. Be selfish. Act. Don’t regret.

A small act of discipline brings about more possibilities than you could imagine. A first act of love, a first walk, and a first article start with doubt and fear.

#3. Stop with other people’s bullshit.

If you want to be the best you can be, edit your life, thoughts, and actions. Your frustration is born in the mirror of a society where deep, unapologetic work is frowned upon.

The Stockdale Paradox was initially brought to life in the Jim Collins Good To Great book on what it takes to make average companies extraordinary.

Interestingly the Stockdale Paradox is only widely known if you are a fan of Jim Collins, which is a surprise as the principle is pretty straightforward and applies to all aspects of our lives.The most straightforward example I can think of is the following:

‘You go into an important meeting to land that next big project. All goes well; you feel pumped when you come out, life is good, and you know the deal will come through. 

But then, that reality check that the universe likes to play with you. You have a parking ticket for $200. At this moment, your brain triggers your emotions as this is a negative pain, and that’s where we will bask for the next hour.’

But the Stockdale paradox says we need context; let me explain.

The Stockdale Paradox is one such concept that, at first glance, takes some mental wrangling to grasp fully.

Jim Collins found a perfect example of this paradoxical concept in James Stockdale, a soldier, one of the highest-ranking naval officers at the time, who, during the Vietnam War, was held captive as a prisoner of war for over seven years.

During this period, Stockdale was tortured without reason to believe he’d make it out alive, let alone get home. Within the grim awareness of his reality, he found a way to stay alive by embracing the harsh reality of his situation and a balance of healthy optimism.

Stockdale explained this concept as the following:

“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.”

The simplest explanation of this paradox is hoping for the best but acknowledging and preparing for the worst. The ability to acknowledge your situation (awareness) and balance optimism (growth mindset) with realism comes from understanding the Stockdale Paradox.

This contradictory way of thinking was the strength that led James through those trying years. Such paradoxical thinking, whether you consciously know it or not, has been one of the defining philosophies for great leaders making it through hardship and reaching their goals.

Whether experiencing torturous imprisonment in a POW camp or going through your trials and tribulations, the Stockdale Paradox has merit as a way of thinking and acting for all creating an aware and conscious life.

Because, reality check, only some things will be rosy, all day, every day. But, if you accept the principles of stoicism from leading thinkers like Ryan Holiday, there needs to be a healthy detachment from our emotions to create acceptance of our daily reality.

It also flies in the face of unbridled optimists and those positivity peddlers whose advice pervades nearly every self-help book or guru spiel out there. In no uncertain terms, those Instagram ‘celebrities’ are deeply misaligned with reality and try to convince you of the same.

Stockdale Paradox and life

We want to be successful, happy and fulfilled. Reaching this state of fulfilment will come with a positive mental attitude. That’s all well and good, and it makes us feel excellent.

So many people like to listen to the endless gurus and motivational speakers promising us the world if we only learn to change our mindset or buy the course. But they leave out the need for self-awareness and action towards something that moves you first because fulfilment comes from meaning.

Confronting the situation is instrumental for success. A positive attitude is required, but it needs to be counterbalanced with the thought that you can fail and be better for it. Countless hopeless situations turn out more abundant than one could ever imagine, as illustrated in The Pursuit of Happyness.

Your wildest dreams just might come true. . . that’s the paradox.

It’s not about choosing which side to take, but instead learning to embrace both feelings in opposition to one another and realise they’re necessary and interconnected.

How to apply the Stockdale Paradox in your business

When it comes to your leadership and creating your vision, this dual state helps to guard against the inevitable disappointments that will hit you in the business world.

Optimism drives innovation, but that needs to be checked to ensure that you’re playing in reality and not heading towards something that can’t happen.

The Stockdale Paradox can help any owner to improve their situational leadership and plan accordingly to tackle the challenges that will arise. It builds resilience through both the idea that you can be positive and believe you will overcome all difficulties while, at the same time, you are confronting the unpleasant facts of your current situation.

The awareness of your reality causes fear and shuts down the momentum required to reach the positive outcome you want.

So when you next get a ticket, or something doesn’t go your way. Give it context, look to the future and move on. Remember, all success is on the other side of pain.

There are no shortcuts.

Until next time.


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