If this popular question is any indication, 2021 might not have started the way everyone hoped. We were all so eager to be through with the hardships of 2020 that we thought 2021 would be different. Turns out, not so much. January’s been brutal — a roller coaster of emotions — and the year is just starting.
There wasn’t a magic switch, a sudden change of scenery, and we haven’t all been vaccinated overnight.
It’s easy to feel discouraged.
But I’m reminded of the Stockdale Paradox, named for James Stockdale (pictured above), a U.S. Navy vice admiral and aviator, captured during the Vietnam War after his A-4 Skyhawk jet was shot down. He was a prisoner of war for seven long years.
In an interview with the famous business guru Jim Collins, when asked who didn’t survive as prisoners, Stockdale replied, “Oh, 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.”
It’s a powerful quote from a man who endured more than what most of us can fathom.
It’s also powerful wisdom. There are three categories here: The pessimists — those who lost that crucial faith; the optimists; and the hopefuls that someday, war would end.
Make no mistake, COVID is our war. We’ve seen 414,209 deaths in America alone. To put that in perspective, that’s more than all the Americans who lost their lives in World War II.
With cases still spiking, we’re not out of it yet. But there is hope.
Vaccines are out, and the distribution will increase. The new Administration is committed to letting science drive policy versus policy driving science. Messaging will be more consistent, and ultimately, sanity will prevail. But how we all get through it as individuals depends on our attitude.
Many of us have been optimists with the pandemic, vowing life would be normal in time for this birthday or that wedding. And when those events have not been allowed to proceed as planned, the blow has been harder to bounce back from.
So, let’s be hopefuls. Real leaders set the example in business and life, so it’s up to you to be hopeful without deadlines. Keep the faith — but don’t lose it when milestones come and pass without change. Hold the vision of tomorrow’s post-pandemic world loosely rather than like a vice.
There’s a reason Britain’s World War II slogan was, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Though potentially overused today, it resonates across the decades. Nothing in life is fixed. Even stone ultimately weathers. This virus will not keep the world in its grips forever. Your life will not remain virtual forever, and we can and will get through this if we stay hopeful and rational about it all.
And so, I say to you, keep calm, carry on, and don’t lose faith. We will not be prisoners of this war forever.