Editor’s note. I’ve not had a guest blogger before. But Chris has something he needs to say.
I don’t expect I will do this often. I have to know you and like you. And sooner or later you have to start your own blog. So encourage Chris if you will. His story, about thoughtful, well-educated young men and women waiting for work in a down economy, deserves our consideration. And our prayers.
The Optimist Will Never Make it Out Alive.
Recent headlines in the New York Times foreshadow the country’s collective disposition: “In Financial Crisis, No Prosecutions of Top Figures;” “Rise of Iraq’s Youth Is Stymied by Elites;” “New Grievances Broaden Syria Protest Movement;” “Bonds’s Denial, Baseball’s Problem;” and “Budget Details Stir Republican Dissent Ahead of House Vote.”
And that was just one day. It is no wonder many of us find it hard to get out of bed, let alone have a positive outlook. My career outlook seems even worse.
I am a teacher, technically. I am certified to teach biology, but I don’t have a classroom. I have an “office,” actually a desk in a closet. I affectionately call it the science cave. I put up stalactites, rubber bats, and plastic spiders, and I am a science tutor, part time. At times the tiny space shadows my outlook. The lack of natural light probably doesn’t help.
But the truth is, I don’t have a job.
I’ve been reading “Never Work Harder Than Your Students” by Robyn R. Jackson. Chapter three, “Expect to Get Your Students There,” introduces The Stockdale Paradox. Admiral Jim Stockdale was a prisoner of war for eight years during the Vietnam War. He was able to survive unspeakable torture and made it out alive.
But It’s no secret to him what kind of prisoner didn’t make it out of the prison camps. “Oh that’s easy,” says Stockdale. “The optimists.”
This response shocked me. I keep telling myself I’ve just got to be positive, things will get better. The economy will turn around; I will find a full time job. But maybe I’m wrong. Here is how Jackson puts it:
Stockdale explained that optimism could actually create despair. The optimists focused on a specific outcome, such as getting out by Christmas. When Christmas came and went, and they were still in prison, the optimist would loose hope. Many died not from the torture, but from the broken hearts that came with repeated disappointment. As Stockdale warned, “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.”
I’m not trying to minimize Admiral Stockdale’s experience. Faith that you will prevail in the end may help you endure torture, but the brutal facts of our current reality are, we are broken and messed up. So is everybody else.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)” It is neither enough to rely on optimism or an unwavering faith in ourselves. No one makes it out of life alive. Optimism in and of itself will always disappoint, and break our hearts. Faith in our selves will do the same. So I’m disciplining myself to “confront the most brutal facts of my current reality.”
I’m also choosing to put my faith in someone who conquered death on a cross. He endured unspeakable torture, selflessly giving up his life to save us all from our selves. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”
That’s the long term view.
And I’m choosing it.