Admiral Jim Stockdale, was a United States military officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. Stockdale was tortured more than twenty times by his captors, and never had much reason to believe he would survive the prison camp and someday return home. Yet he never lost faith during his ordeal. He never doubted that he would get out, that he would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of his life.
But there were many that did not survive. They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come and go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.
They failed to confront the reality of their situation. They simply hoped that the difficulties would go away. But having to face reality eventually became too much.
Stockdale knew he was in hell, but, rather than bury his head in the sand, he stepped up and did everything he could to lift the morale and prolong the lives of his fellow prisoners. He created a tapping code so they could communicate with each other. He developed a milestone system that helped them deal with torture. And he sent intelligence information to his wife, hidden in the seemingly innocent letters he wrote.
One of the many reason Stockdale is so admired by his fellow prisoners is that, in order to avoid being used as propaganda he disfugured his face. On one occasion he inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. The enemy backed off in its torture and harassment of other Americans it was holding as a result.
Stockdale had unwavering faith that he would get home and he eventually did 8 years later. His faith was paradoxically balanced with a very different mindset towards adversity than that of his fellow captives. He accepted the reality of his situation and used that reality to develop strategies for survival.
Keeping in mind Stockdale's approach to his situation ask the following about yourself or your business...
- What pain have I not been paying attention to?
- What's the dialogue that I need to have that I haven't had so far?
- What decisions have I avoided this week/month?
- What do I now need to do differently?