Will It Ever Happen? Ask Tiger Woods and Jim Stockdale.

by Rand Manasse

Will It Ever Happen? Just ask Tiger Woods or James Bond Stockdale.

Are you at the point where you’re wondering if things will ever happen?

It’s common for business owners, founders, CEOs and executives to struggle with this thought at some point. Most businesses go through struggle on their way to greatness.

In fact, every company likely goes through some kind of struggle that becomes a make or break moment. It’s probably the biggest reason so many companies fail especially in the start-up world.

Coping with difficult situations is a concept leaders need to understand. Perseverance in difficult times is how you take a company through periods where everyone involved has to fight through bad luck and poor performance.

The difference between good companies and great companies is how the leaders addressed the reality of the situation without losing their drive to succeed.

The Story of Jim Stockdale

James Bond Stockdale was a Vice Admiral of the US Navy and candidate for Vice President of the United States with Ross Perot in 1992. As Admiral Stockdale tells his story, the defining moment in his life was during the time when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  He recounts:

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade."

When asked who didn't make it out of Vietnam, 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."

Stockdale then added:

“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."

This philosophy of duality was then coined by Jim Collins as the Stockdale Paradox

It’s an incredible story and that alone makes you feel lucky for your current situation in life and whatever struggle you’re going through in life or in business should be a defining point in your life.

Perseverance and optimism need to work side by side.

Stockdale said those that didn’t make it out were “the optimists”. But faith that you will succeed is a form of optimism that needs to work hand in hand with the perseverance to make it through the tough situations to find the solution.

Optimists will struggle with let down if they don’t employ perseverance. On the contrary, perseverance doesn’t work without a positive outlook about the future.

Successful organizations understand the necessity to set big goals. This is a form of optimism. This is what keeps employees interested and driven to succeed. They want to be part of something successful.

But goals alone won’t achieve results. There needs to be a culture of perseverance in the organization in order to achieve goals.

That’s the relationship between perseverance and optimism essential to success.

Use Struggle As The Defining Moment

Stockdale used his situation as a POW as the defining moment in his life. He knew he would go through incredibly difficult situations nearly every day, but he told himself it would be short-term and that in the long run he would be better for it.

This is something all great leaders and organizations are able to do.

It happens in sports all the time. After losses, the best NFL coaches will often say that the team now has an opportunity to get better and improve. A difficult loss strengthens the team and allows them to address the fact that they can get better.

Tiger Woods is another recent example. He went through the worst slump of his career, which was at least in part if not entirely due to his own decisions.

But after years of struggle he regained form and again became the number one golfer in the world.

He didn’t tell himself that he would win the next major. He focused on getting better and building a better game than he had before.

Tiger knew he could become the best in the world again. He didn’t set false expectations. He believed in himself and the process. He put in the work and ultimately persevered.

Final Thoughts

If you talk to successful business owners and ask them what defines their career they will often talk about perseverance. It’s a defining characteristic of nearly every successful person. They believe they will succeed no matter what and they’re willing to work toward it.

Just like Jim Stockdale, great companies are able to get past the feeling of “Will it ever happen?”

If you’re going through a difficult time take a step back. Address the brutal reality of your situation. Create a plan. Get ready to do the work and never lose faith that you will succeed.

As always, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think. If you need help in building value into your business, contact me on my direct line at 914.666.0830 or rmanasse@referencesystems.com.

To your success!


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