In times of great uncertainty, unrest, and even fear, much can be learned from our history. Great men and women have given us a model for how to not only survive but use adversity as a catalyst for personal and collective growth. While current events have set our world into new uncharted territory, episodes in our history have tested our resolve in a similar manner.

A mindset well suited for these times may be told through a story many of us have heard before, the Stockdale Paradox. Admiral Jim Stockdale was a United States military officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War.  Stockdale was tortured more than twenty times by his captors and never given much reason to believe he would survive the prison camp and get to see his wife again.

Stockdale was interviewed by Jim Collins for his book Good to Great. Stockdale was asked how he was able to survive and overcome such a time of great fear and ambiguity.  His response has been coined the Stockdale Paradox. The idea that in the face of adversity, one needs to be able to maintain optimism with acknowledgment of the reality of the situation. While Stockdale and other survivors remained steadfast in the belief they would be saved, they never failed to fully recognize the realities of their situation. This is how great educators and parents think. They acknowledge the struggle, but never lose sight of the possibilities. They know every student is a beautiful mix of struggle, challenge, and incredible potential. They understand the same is true for each of their colleagues. They maintain hope and sensitivity to the current struggle, which allows them to be powerful and impactful in their work.

It is this mentality that will best position us to stay calm, make good decisions, and do what is needed to not only survive, but perhaps even thrive and come out of this better and stronger than ever before. Below are three Mindsets or perspectives that may help us all respond the way Stockdale would have.


Elevate Your Perspective

The first perspective that can help us all is the understanding that “This Too Shall Pass.” We often asked what the key to your success was when we researched successful people. Almost all would point to difficult circumstances when they acquired skills, built the resolve, or developed relationships that became the catalyst for their success.

It may be difficult to look at the current circumstance, with inflation and war abroad and uncertainty in the new school year and find any silver lining at all. Maybe our current circumstances will make us healthier as a culture and possibly bring us together as a country. It may give us a stronger perspective on what is really important. Perhaps we slow down a little, disconnect from technology, and connect with those we love more deeply. This may not be the case for you, but I know one thing for certain: we learn who we are through challenge and grow the most through adversity. If we can truly feel “this too shall pass.” we can stay calm, make good decisions, learn, and grow from the challenges we face. We may look back at how we handled this one day and tell a beautiful story of growth and triumph.


Own Your Life

Another conclusion of our research was a perspective many people of great happiness and accomplishment held. It was this, “my life is ultimately a product of the decisions I make and the actions I take.” As Victor Frankl once said, “the last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” We may be taking action and making decisions today that will have a dramatic impact on our future. Ultimately, you choose what you listen to, what you believe to be true, and the actions and decisions you make.

Make sure to find the very best sources of information.  Do all the things you know will benefit you and those around you. This is a time to get healthy, build your immune system, sanitize yourself and your home, and learn more about viruses and how they spread. We can all do things that are going to protect us, make us stronger, and better position us for a brighter future together.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “action is the only way to eliminate doubt.”  I can guarantee you that sitting around in fear and staying tethered to the internet or news is not healthy. Doing productive things gives us a sense of power and control. It eliminates fear and moves us forward towards a better situation. Remember that you own your life. Use this perspective to empower yourself and take the action required in the face of adversity.


We Are Connected

Adversity and conflict can create division if we are not careful. However, the beauty of adversity is that it can bring us closer together. Think of what 911 or World War II did for us as a country. Think about what happened with respect to relationships we maintained with our allies. Nothing is more powerful to unite people than adversity or a common enemy (it is safe to say that Coronavirus is a common enemy).

What if one day we could look back on the way our communities, our country, and the world responded to the recent pandemic? What if we learned we are truly better together? Our world is not a zero-sum game in which your loss is our gain. If we came together and the collective was exponentially greater than the sum of the parts. What if our families became stronger, our communities became more united, our politicians started finding common ground, and our world became a kinder and safer place for all of us?  How cool would that be?

The pandemic and aftermath have caused suffering and pain, but what if we could reconnect with each other.  What if we could see and compel the best in each other?  What if one day in the future we could tell ourselves that while these times were extraordinarily hard, the benefits of how we collectively responded to adversity outweigh the negatives. What if we could look back at this time as the moment in which we became more of who we need to be?

I have no idea what changes we’ll see in the aftermath. The key is what I am going to do, how I am going to act, and if I will make the situation better or worse.  That is all under my control, and it will be my mindsets that dictate my actions and ultimate outcomes. I pray I can act as Admiral Stockdale would.


About the author

Jeff Waller is the Co-Founder of 7 Mindsets, the only social emotional learning solution that equips students and adults with a common language of SEL beliefs and values to live lives of passion, purpose and meaning. You can find Jeff on Twitter @JeffMWaller. The online portal which includes hundreds of virtual SEL lessons for students and staff has been enhanced to include topical resources to address concerns related to COVID-19. All lessons are enabled for download and is compatible with all virtual classroom environments.