Don’t Be An Optimist

The “Stockdale Paradox”

Jim Collins talks about the “Stockdale Paradox” in his books. It’s a fitting paradigm right now.

The “Stockdale Paradox” is based on Admiral Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton” for over eight years. When Collins had the gift of interviewing him, he prepared for the meeting by reading the Admiral’s book “In Love and War.”

He described a feeling of depression washing over him as he read the book. Stockdale was the highest-ranking officer in the POW camp, and they would come for him at any time to torture him. Collins was struck by how bleak it was given the endless nature of it. They did not know when or if they would get out.

Collins recalled feeling despair as he was reading it and noting that he knew the end of the story, what must it have been like to live through it? How did he deal with it when living through it without knowing the end of the story? When Collins interviewed the Admiral, he asked him how he did it. Admiral Stockdale replied, “I never wavered in my faith, not only that I would get out, but that I would turn it into the defining event of my life, that in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Collins recaps that this impressive statement led him to ask “who didn’t make it out as strong as you?” and he replied “oh, that’s easy, it’s the optimists…they would say we’ll be out by Christmas…and it would come and go and we’d still be in prison…another would come and go, and we’d still be in prison. They didn’t do well because they died of a broken heart.”

The lesson? You need two things:

  1. You need unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end; and
  2. You need the discipline to confront the brutal facts, as they actually are right now.

The world is in a “Stockdale” period right now, how are you doing?

    The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...


    Utopia – Have fairytales gone too far?

    by Rhea Dsouza

    You Can Choose How the Story Ends

    by Parth Sawhney

    The Good, Bad and Opportunity in Every Situation

    by Dr. Michael Mantell

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.


    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.