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The Paradox

How many of you are familiar with The Stockdale Paradox? Because that’s what we’re gonna talk about today.

After a particularly difficult (yet productive) conversation with my boyfriend last night*, he sent me a text message this afternoon telling me he loves me (gotta love random afternoon cake!), and also this:

“Stockdale’s Paradox, I saw it today and thought of us. Look at it when you get a chance.”

Though I was sure I had heard of this concept before, I couldn’t quite remember the details. So I decided to consult with one of my dearest friends on the issue, Google. A quick perusal of a few highlighted articles told me everything I needed to know. Here comes my basic explanation, please forgive the history lesson: The Stockdale Paradox is named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest ranking US military officer imprisoned in Vietnam. He was held and repeatedly tortured for over 8 years, before finally breaking free from captivity. After his release, many people were curious to find out how he had managed to survive, when all of the others in his position had been unable to do the same. His response: he never lost faith in the end of the story. He stated that he simply never doubted that he would get out, and he believed that he would in fact prevail in the end, turning the experience into one of the most defining of his life. With that mindset, Admiral Stockdale made it out alive.

So now, what’s this paradox? Well I’m glad you asked! The Stockdale Paradox is summed up as so:

“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.”

Deep, huh?

Obviously, these are two seemingly contradictory notions. But holding close to the both of them simultaneously is what allowed for the Admiral’s success. And it is what will lead to success in your life as well: in your career, in your relationships, in your exploration of dreams and passions…

We must never lose faith in the end of our story. However we want that story to end, we must see it, and we must believe it. Wholeheartedly. But at the exact same time, we must never lose touch with reality. Because more often than not, the reality will not exactly line up with the picture that we have painted (at least not all the time). In order to get to that picture, that beautiful “happily ever after” that we have dreamed up, we must must MUST make it through that reality. We must confront our reality at all times, acknowledging that though it may not be fun/easy/perfect, it is a necessary and unavoidable step to the future.

So, in short: We have to believe that our vision for the future will come to pass. We have to do everything we can to make it happen. But, we can never let that belief and faith cloud our confrontation with reality.

Hope this inspires someone else, because it certainly inspired me.

*P.S. “Difficult conversation with my boyfriend” should not be read as “we’re having problems”. In healthy adult relationships, there will be difficult conversations. Never be afraid to have them, they will make you stronger. Promise 🙂


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