THE STOCKDALE PARADOX

One of my favorite writers in the business world is Jim Collins. In his book Good to Great he defines principles that make some companies great companies over a long period of time. A lot of the focus is on the leaders of these companies. His in depth research found many traits these leaders have in common. One of these traits is related to what he called “The Stockdale Paradox.” In his words, this principle involves “Maintaining unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (These and other concepts may be found at www.jimcollins.com.)

Stockdale is Rear Admiral James Stockdale who was the highest ranking military person to spend time in a POW camp during the Vietnam War. Stockdale spent eight years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, living in shackles. He was tortured repeatedly. His only communication was a code system of taps he used to communicate with the prisoners next to him. The prisoners had a network of communication which sustained them through this brutal time. Stockdale sites this social network as being crucial to his survival.

When Collins asked who didn’t survive the grueling ordeal of years in prison in Vietnam, Stockdale responded: “The optimists. 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 wishful thinking didn’t change the reality of the situation.

I was thinking about this principle yesterday. I have certainly embraced the brutal reality that I have a very dangerous disease, and that there is no absolute guarantee that the treatments will work (though my kind of cancer has much better success rates than many others). It is so easy to fall into wishful thinking, like maybe I can go fishing Saturday. I’m going to try and go fishing, but I may not be up to it! That is reality.

I absolutely believe God is in control of this thing. I can plead, bargain, and try to make a deal with God. But ultimately it is His will not mine. Having said that, God also loves me and knows what is best for me. I’m good with that.

Meanwhile, I will push forward every day knowing the treatments will come to an end. It is not wishful thinking to truly believe everything will be OK in the end. There are a lot of people a whole lot worse off than me – I meet them all the time at the treatment centers. My little problems seem small compared to what some people have gone through.

Trivia Question: What else happened in Stockdale’s life that made him somewhat famous?


 

A QUICK UPDATE – A NEEDED BREAK

I saw my chemo doc yesterday to figure out our plan going forward. Since I had reactions to both drugs they were giving me, he decided to give my body a week to get back to “normal”. I was frustrated at first – not wanting to delay ANYTHING right now. But, the new plan is to go with just one drug, and do it on Mondays. I’ll really only lose a few days in the mix. I can work with that. Meanwhile, this week I only have the burning, with none of the poison. Sounds like a good week to me. I plan to make the most of it!

This will shift my schedule a bit. I was trying to get a lot of work done on Mondays and Tuesdays, now that will shift to later in the week. I guess the part I have had the hardest time adjusting to is having no control over anything. I am a planner, a scheduler, a task-oriented implementer. All of that is out the window. Last week, Peggy said “I guess we just have to take it one day at a time.” To which I replied, “I don’t think we can plan that far out – how about an hour at a time.”

A big deal for me this week is trying to record a message that can be played at our annual meeting in late October. I am anticipating that I won’t have enough voice to do it live. I hate watching myself on video. Every time I do, I just want to quit ever speaking in public. But I have what I feel is an important message about bringing churches together. So it will just have to do.

If you are the praying type – Please pray that my body will accept the new chemo drug without any reactions so we can wind this thing up and kill the beast in my neck.


 

THE REAL FIGHT

It has been a crazy week of side effects to meds. Not only did I have the reaction I mentioned earlier this week, yesterday when they started my chemo drug, I immediately got a tight chest and difficulty breathing. They anticipated this possibility, and took care of it immediately. I take Benadryl that makes me sleepy and steroids that fill me with energy. Radiation burns my throat inside and out. On and on. The point is this – I am so busy dealing with side effects, sometimes I almost forget I’ve got cancer. The little beast that is slowing being put to death in my throat seems like the least of my problems. I don’t feel it. It is just there. I actually go days without thinking about the tumor!

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day stuff of life that we lose the big picture. Often the real enemy is invisible. The Apostle Paul wrote: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6.12) Paul endured plenty of “flesh and blood” battles in his life. In another place he wrote: Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (2 Corinthians 11.24-27) So he knew about day to day trials and troubles. Yet, he also wrote: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3.21)

In other words, Paul never took his eye off the big prize. He stayed focused on the goal. He realized that what was happening today is part of a bigger picture. How about you? Do you get so caught up in the day to day, that you lose sight of what is truly important? Or, are you one of those people who sets big goals and works towards those goals? I truly believe that the “big goal” people do much better at dealing with the small stuff, than the people who make the small stuff the big stuff.

My side effects are the small stuff. They try to occupy my mind. But they are all part of a bigger picture. I’m nearing the middle point of my treatments, and I guarantee I am having a better day than the beast is! He got his rear end fried this morning with radiation, making it impossible for him to have babies, now he is getting ready to receive the chemo that will add insult to injury. When the beast is finally gone, my side effects will go away too. Looking forward to that!