Remember the Stockdale Paradox.
James Stockdale was held prisoner for seven and half years during the Vietnam War. Year after year, he faced a violent and volatile daily existence with an uncertain future.
When Jim Collins, renowned business scholar and author, asked about those who did not survive, Stockdale’s answer shocked him: “That’s easy: 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.
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.”
Though we are not subjected to the physical violence that Stockdale faced, there is mounting evidence that the mental strain of isolation and an uncertain future is starting to take a toll.
Heed the lesson: while so much has improved, there are still plenty of unknowns ahead. We do not yet know the full and lasting impact of the pandemic on the economy. We do not yet know the total impact on our family and friends. But do know that we, as a species, are incredibly resilient. And that we can bounce back.
So as we greet the new year and the return of a new normal, let’s do so not with naïve optimism but with unwavering faith that we can rebuild better and stronger together.