The Stockdale Paradox: A Timeless Strategy for Overcoming Crisis

Crisis and chaos seem to be in abundant supply these days. It feels as though no sooner have we wrapped our minds around one disaster than another one strikes, leaving us in a constant state of “what's next?” It's a little like waiting for that final crank of the jack-in-the-box, except much worse. Somehow, the unknown is always worse when you're bracing for it. 

So, how do we go about our day-to-day life, knowing the next horrible thing might be just around the corner? The answer, or at least some strategy, may be found in the Stockdale Paradox. 

What is the Stockdale Paradox?

The Stockdale Paradox is derived from the events experienced by a prisoner of war named Stockdale, who survived nearly eight years imprisonment in Vietnam. When asked how he managed to survive and overcome those years, he discussed his faith in the ultimate outcome. Importantly, during those years, he maintained faith but never forgot the realities of his situation. 

Jim Collins, author of “The Stockdale Paradox,” writes:

“[Y]ou must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

What The Stockdale Paradox gets at is the ability to overcome adversity is rooted in neither toxic positivity nor toxic negativity. Instead, we need to deal with the hard stuff while maintaining the faith that it will all be worth it in the end.

Implementing the Stockdale Paradox in Your Own Life

It's important to ask how we can apply The Stockdale Paradox to our own lives. Everyone is going through some type of struggle, whether health issues, financial concerns, or family relationship troubles. While we could bury our heads in the sand and hope our problems evaporate, the better approach would be to implement the lessons from Stockdale and Jim Collins.

We should keep faith in the future, and in doing so, ask ourselves if there are any immediate actions we can take today that may improve our long-term odds. For many, this may look like organizing and finalizing an estate plan. For others, it might look like moving assets into a trust to protect your business from future liabilities or debts. For a few, it may mean finally seeing that family therapist before the holidays. Whatever your struggle, seeking help from a professional is just one of many ways to recognize and deal with the realities you're facing