Persevere. Whether in life or in business, it can be hard to keep the faith and stick it out.
The key is to face the brutal reality of your current situation, while believing that the future will be better than your present and your circumstances will improve.
Yes, it is a paradox.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. –James 1: 2-4
The first two years of business are simply about survival. During this phase, you must face the brutal reality of the challenges you are facing. While 1/3 of new businesses do fail in the first two years, overall 50% of businesses do survive the first 5 years.
These numbers are pretty daunting, and can be scary. But they needn’t be. You do need cashflow. You do need a product or service people want. You do need to know how to market your business. You do need to know how to pivot and adjust your products or services, as needed.
What you also need is the ability to be brutally honest about your current reality, while keeping faith that eventually, your situation will improve. You must find a way to prevail. You must persevere. This is called the Stockton Paradox.
The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military office in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again.
He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda. At one point, he beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor, deliberately disfiguring himself, so that he could not be put on videotape as an example of a “well-treated prisoner.”
He exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters, knowing that discovery would mean more torture and perhaps death. He instituted rules that would help people to deal with torture (no one can resist torture indefinitely, so he created a step-wise system–-after x minutes, you can say certain things–-that gave the men milestones to survive toward).
He instituted an elaborate internal communications system to reduce the sense of isolation that their captors tried to create, which used a five-by-five matrix of tap codes for alpha characters. (Tap-tap equals the letter a, tap-pause-tap-tap equals the letter b, tap-tap-pause-tap equals the letter f, and so forth, for twenty-five letters, c doubling in for k.)
At one point, during an imposed silence, the prisoners mopped and swept the central yard using the code, swish-swashing out “We love you” to Stockdale, on the third anniversary of his being shot down. After his release, Stockdale became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
How on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said, when I asked him. “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.”
Finally I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused given what he’d said earlier.
“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.” –Jim Collins, Good to Great
Now, starting and running a business are not the same thing as being in a POW camp and tortured for several years. However, what knowledge can be gained from this is simply this: keep the faith and persevere.
Do not be an optimist. Be a disciplined realist about your current situation. Have faith that your future will be better, and that whatever your current circumstances, it won’t always be like this.
Persevere by Keeping the Faith
Know that your business will succeed. Be disciplined. Have the support systems and plans in place to implement your goals. Persevere and face the brutal reality of what you are are doing and must do to succeed.
Most of all, keep moving forward, knowing that you will eventually prevail, even if you don’t know exactly when.
Good luck on your journey.
(Many thanks to M. Pellicer for bringing the Stockton Paradox article to my attention.)