If you read my blog regularly, you’re probably a bit surprised by the subject header.
But this was a rough week, with a mix of highs and lows.
The low is easy to explain; I woke up on Wednesday with a hacking cough and an ominous feeling, which I wished away. By evening, things had gone from bad to worse. I planned to take it easy on Thursday, but with my husband on a business trip, I first drove my kids at school. On my way home, I realized that bed rest alone was not going to cure me.
I went straight to the doctor, who told me I had a bad case of the flu and mild pneumonia and sent me home with expensive prescriptions and an admonition to lie still in bed for 48 hours. I don’t need to tell you how poorly I followed the “lie still in bed” part. Four hours later, I struggled to breath, and finally called my friend, who left work to drive me to the hospital.
Happily, at that point, the highs of the week kicked in. My friend must have broken a speed record on the way to my house, as she arrived minutes after I called her and whisked me to the hospital. I was met by a remarkable team of doctors who stabilized me and set me firmly on a gradual path to recovery. My husband had taken an early flight home to meet me in the hospital and bring me home, and my mother drove two hours to care for me in the way that only a mother can.
This time, I was more faithful to orders that I just lie in bed. Honestly, I only peeked at Twitter on my phone five times, and received the absolute high of the week when I learned my 17yo son Ryan was soliciting good wishes for me from my followers. These wishes worked, and I have all but fully recovered.
As I struggled over several days to overcome my challenge, I mostly thought about the ambitious plans I have for 2013, and how hard it can be to change the world when the hard knocks of life keep dragging you down. As an advice junkie, as I lay in bed, I thought about all the inspiring material I’ve read about overcoming the low points on the road to success.
Many times I’ve read that people who enjoy success rarely enjoy an obstacle-free ride to the top; they simply learn to overcome whatever challenges they came across. The most successful people are the ones who never believe that they have “won;” they follows Kipling’s admonition that if you “meet with Triumph or Disaster, treat these two impostors just the same.”
As I lay in bed, in between breathing treatments, I thought also the words of a friend who recently explained to me “The Stockdale Paradox.” Admiral Jim Stockdale was the Vice Presidential running mate of Ross Perot in 1992. He famously and clumsily opened the Vice Presidential debate in 1992 by asking “Who am I and why am I here?” His performance was badly misunderstood, and he faded from the public eye and died in 2005.
Being misunderstood in his most public moment was hardly the biggest challenge of Stockdale’s career. He spent 7 years as one of the most senior ranking prisoners of war in Vietnam, and was tortured more than 20 times. His experience spawned a philosophy that is now well known in management circles as “The Stockdale Paradox”:
“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.”
Can you think of a better prescription for daily life?
Anyone who has ever met me would testify that I have “unwavering faith that I will prevail in the end” – after all, I routinely invite near strangers to help me change the world. Yet, I will confess, that my faith in “prevailing in the end” is sorely tested in my lowest moments, such as when I lay still in bed on Thursday, hoping that my situation would stabilize.
But this week I realized that often it’s the other part of the philosophy that I fail to abide by. From the moment my cough began, everyone who heard it urged me to get immediate medical care. Did I? No; I had too many other important things to do, and I allowed my faith that I would “prevail” to stop me from confronting the brutal facts of my current reality – that I was quite sick and needed medical care and rest.
As I make plans for 2013, I have unwavering faith that I will prevail in the end. I will continue to help transform education one district, one leader, and one teacher at a time. Through the Choose2Matter movement, I will help people realize that they are geniuses, that the world needs their contribution, and that they can change the world, and I can’t wait to watch them do so.
But the next time that life throws me a curve, whether it be as simple as a hacking cough or something far more complex, I will learn from my experience this week. I will have the discipline to confront that brutal reality, whatever it may be; treat that disaster as the impostor it is; and rest assured that my unwavering faith and commitment will lead me to a triumph waiting just around the bend.