An Interesting Anecdote That Recently Challenged My Worldview

I recently heard the story of James Stockdale, an American fighter pilot who was imprisoned and tortured for seven and a half years in Vietnam.

Surviving that long is insane. When he was asked who didn’t return home, he said, “oh, that’s easy. The optimists.”

The optimists didn’t make it out? Shit.

“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.”

Whether or not this is objectively true (surely, an optimist or two survived), it’s an interesting mental model.

“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.”

As somebody prone to wearing rose-colored glasses, this was a nice jolt.

As the old wisdom goes, “it’s not necessary to hope to persevere.” 

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