Be careful of blind optimism

Balance your optimism with a bit of realism.

“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.” – Admiral James Stockdale.

Almost 20 years ago, Jim Collins introduced us to Good To Great. I first read this book just over 10 years ago and it sits on my desk as a resource today. This book came to my mind again during the pandemic. It is amazing how things have a way of finding their way back to you at just the right time.
In the book, Collins introduces us to the Stockdale Paradox by sharing the story of Admiral James Stockdale.

Stockdale was the highest-ranking United States military officer held captive at the prisoner-of-war camp known as Hanoi Hilton.
For eight years, Stockdale lived in squalor and was tortured over 20 times. Many other service members were prisoners in the same conditions there and did not make it out. Stockdale was the exception.

Collins looks at the difference between the admiral and those who died in captivity and his story.
The answer: the optimists didn’t make it. This sounds strange at first. Here is where the paradox comes in. Stockdale elaborated: “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.”
Optimism is very important, but it must be balanced with a healthy dose of realism.

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