Navigating Adversity and Uncertainty

Josh Babcock, February 5th, 2023 | Discipline, Motivation

Admiral James Stockdale a Navy pilot and prisoner of war during the Vietnam War was held captive in Hanoi from 1965-1973.  He was subjected to brutal torture and inhumane conditions.  In his book In Love and War, he provides accounts of his brutal experience as a POW and reflects on the lessons he learned about leadership, courage, and perseverance.

Admiral James Stockdale in 1976. Photo by Dave Wilson, Navy Fraker.

Don’t Lose Faith Yet Confront Your Reality

Now, how did Admiral James make it out alive?

  • He said, “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.” 1

On the flip side, who didn’t make it out James?

  • “The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’  And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go.” 1 They would say the same for easter, and Thanksgiving then James said “And they died of a broken heart.”1

In the timeless book Good to Great, part three of what separates good companies from great ones is to “Confront The Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)”.  Jim Collins develops what is known as the Stockdale Paradox which states, “Retain faith that you 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.”

Step 1 - Accept your circumstances

Step 2 - Take control of your mindset

Step 3 - Attack and have faith

Accept your circumstances: Whether a situation is your fault or not you must face your reality, accept the situation, and DO NOT play the victim in your story.

Take control of your mindset: Your mindset starts with what thoughts you are feeding yourself.  Don’t let external circumstances dictate your state of mind.   Proactively manage your thoughts and emotions.  Choose words like “I get to” versus “I have to” or “I will” versus “If only”.   In the book Winning The War In Your Mind, Craig Groeschel does extensive research on this topic. He says, “The life we have is a reflection of what we think." He also says, “Your mind is a battlefield, and the battle for your life is always won or lost in your mind.”

Attack and have faith: Once you accept your circumstances and control your mindset, you must address the problem head-on.  Whether big or small, make a plan and go for it all while having the Admiral Stockdale spirit saying to yourself, this is a defining moment in my life and I’m making it out of this with a proud story to tell.

Everyday Life

Here’s a quick example. When looking for a new job…

Step 1: Accept your circumstances - “I understand it’s a tough economy, the job market isn’t great right now and being in my current job position is of my own doing.”

Step 2: Take control of your mindset - “I am a skilled, knowledgeable worker in my field. I will do what needs to be done to get prepared for future interviews. I will do everything in my power to find a job at the type of company that I’m looking for. I will stay grateful that I have a job at my current company."

Step 3: Attack and have faith - Attack and have faith. At this point, you are scouring job boards, networking, updating your resume/linkedin and practicing mock interviews. This is all while still working hard at your current job because you know you want to finish strong because your end date is coming.

Whether it’s a big or small amount of uncertainty, if you start to make this a habit it will make a huge change in the type of person you become. “You can’t always choose the path that you walk in life, but you can always choose the manner in which you walk it.” John O’Leary 2