Someone really smart told me about the Stockdale paradox from the business and leadership book, Good to Great and I keep thinking about the story, especially in my current situation which is not exactly rosy. It’s main point is that we need to find the third mindset for living in between optimism and pessimism. We need realism – combined with a certain, okay, it sucks but I’m going to get over it attitude – to be able to not only deal with a given situation, barely surviving really, head stuck in sand, but make it better.
Pure optimism cuts your ability to assess reality. It stops you from being able to take a step back, change course, to admit defeat if necessary. When you keep humming “everything’s gonna be alright” and advance blindly, with a spring in your steps, you are more likely to run into walls and situations you can’t handle due to lack of preparedness.
Sometimes these walls are actually there and things just crash and burn. I came to believe that in these times it’s more destructive to preach perseverance and encourage our friends and acquaintances to keep on going in the same direction regardless. There are times when it doesn’t matter how many more hours you are prepared to pour into your business, too many important factors – like founding partners, goals, business models – are screwed and no amount of starting over or even money will actually amount to a result. And there are times when your heart will break and no amount of talking will reach your partner anymore, or make things the slightest bit better.
These are exactly the times to give up, let go and practice brutal honesty with ourselves. To sit down in a quiet place and face fears, mistakes, shortcomings. There has to be space to count and label all the monsters. There has to be an opportunity to admit you are imperfect and your strength is not endless. To curl up on the floor and cry to your heart’s content until a tiredness so great arrives that suddenly everything becomes simple.
True desperation can actually clear the air, and give new directions that actually make sense. Like Pandora’s box: you are free to let out all that gnaws at you from the inside and finally look at what is left. I believe you find hope and new dreams underneath all the rubble and this is what perseverance is about really, to be able to look for them. Because when you have nothing more to lose, you are suddenly free to choose the path that in reality suits you best.