A New Way to Look at Optimism’s Role in Success
“General Stockdale was held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. After being tortured 22 times and losing many friends in prison, he eventually made it out alive. A few decades later, Jim Collins, author of the famous book Good to Great interviewed Stockdale about his experiences as a prisoner of war. … Collins asked: ‘Who didn’t make it out alive?’
Stockdale’s answer was blunt: ‘Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas … We’re going to be out by Easter’ … then Thanksgiving … then … Christmas again … they died of a broken heart.’
… I had always considered myself an optimist, as anyone out there striving for greatness might. But was I setting myself up for failure?
The Stockdale paradox: Faith trumps optimism
There is a very clear line between keeping faith and plain optimism that everything will be okay. The last words that Stockdale shared with Collins stress that more than anything else: ‘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.’
… It’s a small change in thinking that made huge difference … If you have faith that you will eventually succeed, by changing and trying over and over, without being frustrated after each individual setback, that’s when things work out. Then the fact that optimists lose (most of the time) isn’t so bleak, after all.”