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Six Characteristics of the Highly Effective Staff Officer by Andrew Evan McCoy

Stashed in: Optimism, Military!, Medium

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This story was memorable:

Medal of Honor recipient ADM James Stockdale was held prisoner for more than seven years during the Vietnam War. He was tortured multiple times, kept in isolation and had no knowledge when his captivity would end or if he would be killed by his captors. Throughout this period of captivity he was well aware of the grim outlook that his situation held, however throughout these dark times he held on to the indisputable fact that everything would work out in the end. While Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknowable, he noted that it was always the most optimistic of his prisonmates who failed to make it out of there alive. “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.” The Stockdale Paradox[iv] can be summarized as so:

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.

AND at the same time…

You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

The unwavering belief that everything would work out alright in the end, must be carefully balanced against the brutal facts of the everyday life.

Just grit your teeth, pour another cup of coffee and get ready for a long night of re-working PowerPoint slides. The night will end, you’ll wake up from the nightmare, and you will move on to another staff position, where you will continue to pull your hair out and work late nights and the cycle will continue until you die in a coffee fueled heart attack. This is your lot in life; you are an Officer in the greatest fighting force ever assembled in the history of recorded warfare. So sit back down at the bench, serve your time, “Row Well and Live.”

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