Confronting the brutal facts, to find a way forward

In his famous book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about interviewing Admiral James Stockdale, who was a POW in Vietnam.

There’s one line from that interview that has remained seared in my brain ever since.

Collins asked Stockdale about how he dealt with the cruelty, the deprivation, and the uncertainty of not knowing if he’d ever get out. His reply was:

“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.”

He went on to say:

This is a very important lesson. 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.”

Do these quotes ring true for you this year?

None of us are enduring the horrors of being a POW – I’m not equating our situation to that of Stockdale’s, but we’d be foolish not to see how the lessons are similar.

This year has not been what any of us hoped for or expected. Our choices and options have diminished – our coping strategies have been undermined – our futures are uncertain.

I’ve been feeling burdened with these feelings, even somewhat depressed the last few weeks. “When is this going to end? I’m so sick of this…”

Confronting the brutal facts

Stockdale tells us not to focus on some imaginary get-out-of-jail-free card, but instead to confront the brutal facts.

What are the brutal facts I need to look at today?

  • It’s unlikely that I’ll see my family for the holidays.
  • My normal lead generation mechanisms are shut off.
  • My home is my office and my kid’s school.
  • I’m surrounded by uncertainty and I can’t plan even the rest of the year!

What are the brutal facts in your situation?

It helps me to sit down and write them out on paper. I usually find that the facts are less scary in the specific than they were in the abstract!

Help is on the way

Looking at each of these facts, what options do I have? Who could I ask for help? What resources could I call on?

When I focus on it, I usually find that:

  • There more options than I realized.
  • There are resources I hadn’t recognized.
  • Some people could help me, even if I just asked them to listen.

What resources are there that you haven’t considered that you’ve overlooked or forgotten about? Sometimes I need other people to help me brainstorm this, a therapist, a good friend, or even a partner.

Turning this experience into the defining experience of my life

2020 has been the end of many businesses and jobs. As I write this, homes are burning, and families have lost all their possessions.

Each of these losses feels like an end.

Stockdale would tell us that they might be a beginning.

These are tragedies, no doubt. But even in tragedy, even in difficult times, there are opportunities. What does 2020 make possible in your life? What new doors are opening? Where are there ways forward?

I’d love to hear what you are seeing, how you are finding your way forward.

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