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  • Writer's pictureSam Hamstra


The past almost year of life, this kind of goes without saying at this point, has been quite the roller coaster.

In April of 2020, when the world first began to shut down, I came across a leadership principle that has been my mantra in this season and has helped tremendously with my daily mindset. I think it will help you too. The principle is called the Stocksdale Paradox.  


The Stocksdale Paradox comes from a real life story of a guy named James Stocksdale.

On September 9, 1965, James Stocksdale was flying on a mission over North Vietnam in the Vietnam war. His plane was struck by enemy fire. He ejected & ended up parachuting into a small village where he was found and taken prisoner. He would spend the next seven and a half years of his life in a prison camp called the Hanoi Hilton. As a Senior Naval Officer, Stocksdale was routinely tortured & would spend day after day in a windowless concrete cell that was three feet by nine feet.

Reading this story I found myself asking, "How do you survive circumstances like that for seven and a half years?" In his classic book Good to Great Jim Collins shares a little bit of James Stocksdale’s story. I love what Stocksdale says about how he got through this time in his life.

"I never lost faith in the end of the story."

Jim Collins then asked Stocksdale this game changing question. Who was on that plane who didn't make it out like you did? Stocksdale answered by saying, "Oh that's easy, the optimists."

This quickly caught my attention because I am pretty optimistic person, so I was wondering what does being an optimist have to do with making it out?! I thought it would be the optimists who would be able to keep themselves motivated to make it out.

He then went on to explain why the optimists didn't make it out...

The one's who didn't make it out were the one's who would say we will be out by Christmas & then Christmas would come and Christmas would go. Then they would say we will be out of here by Easter and Easter would come and Easter would go. Sounds like a lot of us thee days doesn't it? We will be "back to normal" by the Summer of 2020, we will be "back to normal" by Fall of 2020. But yet, we are still here with no seemingly a distant end still in sight.

Stocksdale said that the optimists ended up dying from what he called a broken heart. In other words, the one's who didn't make it out where the one's who simply tried to motivate their way out of it. After explaining who never made it out, Stocksdale then shared a shared a fascinating philosophy and leadership principle with with Jim Collins that has become known as The Stocksdale Paradox.


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 other words, the best leaders have a habit confronting the brutal facts while still never losing faith for what will one day come to pass.

When I read this in April of 2020, I made this my leadership mantra & I am so grateful I did. This declaration has helped set my course in this season. We have shared this with our team time and time again. We have tried to make it a habit to continually confront the brutal facts about the times we are living in. And to be honest, they are hard to swallow. Our seats will probably be 6 feet apart for years to come. Some people have taken this time to decide they are never coming back. They have moved on. It's going to be quite some time before we can embrace one another like we used to with a big hub. However, you can't stop with the brutal facts. You have to continue to remind yourself in the midst of the brutal facts that it will not always be this way. There is a day coming when we will be better because we have gone through this!

We must always confront the brutal facts of where we are while never losing faith & hope of what God is doing and will soon do.

So for you maybe the brutal facts are your situation is not good, confront the facts but don't lose faith & hope in what God can still do. Maybe the financial rut is huge, confront the facts but don't lose faith & hope in what God can still do. Maybe your whole life has been turned upside down, confront the facts but don't lose faith that God can redeem any story.

I don't know what your brutal facts are in your situation, but what I do know is that the starting place of change is confronting them because real change starts with confrontation.


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