Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, tells the story of James Stockdale. As a POW in Vietnam Stockdale experienced almost continual torture with no way to know when it would end. When asked how he survived he said,
“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.”
In a discussion with Collins for his book, Stockdale speaks about how the optimists fared in camp. The dialogue goes:
“Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused,
given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.
“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by
Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would 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.”
I talk to business owners who run on that kind of optimism. When I get that big client… When I hire a killer salesperson… When I reach a million in sales… Then it will be easy!
As we’ve talked about this week, growing your business beyond what you can manage on your own and into a business that employs 10- 20 people is a grind. Not as bad as being tortured in a POW camp, but it’s hard work, with an uncertain future, and no clear “end.”
To succeed we need to grasp two opposing ideas.
On the one hand, we need to hold onto the vision that got us started on this journey. What was it that we saw, that others didn’t see? What motivated us to strike out on our own and create a business. What’s the vision, for our business and our life that, if we can get there, makes this all worth it.
And on the other hand, we need to soberly stare at the job we have in front of us this week and get to work. That means embracing all the uncertainty, and doubt, and discomfort, and fear, and get after it anyway.
Which side are you leaning on these days? Do you need a dose of vision and hope to keep going? Or do you need a sober assessment of the work on your plate?