Good to Great: James Bond, Goethe, and Self-Slavery

Good to Great: James Bond, Goethe, and Self-Slavery

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You have to be honest about who you are. Avoiding the truth of yourself is tempting, but ultimately, it undermines your entire existence. It’s also important to be terrifyingly honest about your position in life and your challenges. In the book, “Good to Great,” Admiral James Bond Stockdale is interviewed about the experience he went through as a 7-year POW in Vietnam. Stockdale said that he survived because,

“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.”

But Stockdale noted that some people didn’t survive, and they were typically the ones who didn’t admit the truly dire straits that they were in. They tricked themselves, and when each false reality was torn down, their inner man crumbled a little more. Stockdale remarked,

“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.”

He then added one of my favorite quotes, saying,

“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 went on to be known as Stockdale’s Paradox, wherein one has to be utterly honest, while simultaneously being 100% determined. To do otherwise is to deceive ourselves. German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “no one is more of a slave than he who thinks himself free without being so,” and he was correct. However, self-deception is perhaps even worse, because we voluntarily trade freedom for lies, and thus willingly enslave ourselves.

Be honest about where you are in life. Know exactly who you are and who you want to be. Set precise goals. Take on more responsibility. Whatever you do, don’t give yourself a snow-job, pretending that challenges don’t exist, or that everything’s fine when it isn’t. If you do that, eventually you won’t remember what truth looks like, and it can crush your soul.

“He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’”

—Isaiah 44:20

With love, always,


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