The most effective way we can intervene at the see level is to validate our expectations in two vital ways:
With what is real: the timeless, universal “true north” principles that govern in all of life
With what is realistic: what you can reasonably hope to achieve or become in your own situation
To align expectations in these two ways is to create the foundation out of which life balance capacity naturally grows.
So what is “real”?
Principles are real. They are those timeless, universal truths that govern all of life. They are a sure foundation—one that will not dis- integrate over time or fade with passing philosophies and fads. To understand and align our expectations with principles will generally lead to thought patterns and actions that bring long-term success.
Consider “trust,” for example. Trust is a timeless principle. It operates in our lives and relationships whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we respect it or not. If we personally value trust and we see relationships in terms of building trust, we’re going to do things that are trustworthy. We’re going to treat people with consideration. We’re going to respect confidences. We’re going to keep our word. We’re going to act in ways that reflect our concern for the well-being of others. And generally, the results we get will be high trust relationships that will weather life’s storms.
On the other hand, if we don’t value trust and instead see life and relationships in terms of immediate self-gratification— “What’s in it for me now?”—we’re more likely to do things that may maximize some short-term return but do not build long-term trusting relationships. We may make promises we don’t intend to keep. We may befriend people today and “stab them in the back” tomorrow. We may engage in unethical business practices that create immediate profit. But, long-term, what are the results? Such actions will never build lasting quality relationships or long-term success.
At one time when I was facilitating a management seminar and brought up the issue of trust, a participant shared a very sad story.
He said that the CEO of his company had recently retired. This man was arrogant and almost brutal when it came to the way he dealt with people. Evidently, he thought that his hard line and tough decision-making approach were of great benefit to the company and that people appreciated it.
The day following his retirement party, he came to the office to pick up some things he’d left. He no longer had any authority; his ID was not recognized in the security system. When he asked the security guard to let him in, the guard wouldn’t do it. After years of being treated rudely, this guard was finally in a position to give back a little of what he’d been dished . . . and he did!
After quite an ordeal, the ex-CEO was finally admitted inside the building. But when he went to his office, nobody spoke to him. Nobody helped him. They just looked at him with disdain. There was obviously no respect for this man. And without his authority, nobody had to treat him well, so they didn’t. The realization of the consequences of his behavior hit him like a ton of bricks. He realized that all the “respect” he thought he’d had was nothing more than a required response to his author ity and his hand on the purse strings. There was no real respect because there was no character there to respect.
The point is, while incorrect paradigms may appear to bring temporary results, truly seeing life in terms of timeless principles—such as trust—is clearly and absolutely foundational to any genuine whole-life success.
So, too, is seeing life in terms of what is realistic.
Suppose, for example, that you’ve become convinced that trust is a principle of effectiveness, and you determine that you want to embrace it as a guiding principle in your life. But for years you’ve been operating out of a different paradigm, and you’ve done things that created rifts in your relationships with other people. Is it reasonable to expect that just because you’ve had a major paradigm shift, suddenly all the problems created by your previous operational paradigm will suddenly disappear?
No, it’s not. But it is reasonable to expect that there are things you can do that will make a big difference over time. You can sincerely apologize. You can make efforts to rectify problems and restore losses created by your actions. You can begin to interact with integrity in every situation.You can begin to build trust and heal broken relationships. Even if those you’re trying to work with choose not to respond in positive ways, you will still be making a powerful positive difference. By valuing trust, you’re building your own character and significantly enhancing your ability to handle future relationships in more effective ways.
This will improve the quality of your life. But it isn’t necessarily a “quick fix.” And if you expect it to be, it’s likely that you’ll be disappointed.
As you begin to think about life in terms of what is realistic, keep in mind that this does not mean you cannot dream. In fact, the opposite is true. As long as your dreams are in harmony with principles, being realistic is what empowers you to fulfill them.
Erik Weihenmayer had a dream—to climb Mount Everest. Many people have had that dream. Less than a hundred ever accomplished it, and Erik was one of those.
But what made Erik’s accomplishment so incredible is that Erik is blind.
In a speech at a recent FranklinCovey Symposium, Erik told how, encouraged by the example of Helen Keller—who “took the world’s perceptions about the disabled and shattered them into a million pieces”—he set his goal to climb the mountain. But he had no illusions about the difficulties he faced. It was with realistic expectations that he dealt with his own limitations. He paid the price to be in excellent physical condition. He spent years becoming a world-class climber and made many ascents before attempting Everest. He worked hard to earn the trust of his climbing team. He discovered ways to compensate for the sight he didn’t have, such as putting tiny bells on the climbers in front of him.
Erik was not only a dreamer; he was a realist. One of the reasons he was able to fulfill such a fantastic dream was because he faced the reality of where he was, and he developed ways—in his unique situation—to reach his goal.
So, too, did Admiral James B. Stockdale.
Some time ago I presented at a program for CEOs in Arizona. Leadership and management expert Jim Collins was on the program just before me. He was speaking on his book that would soon be out—Good to Great—in which he shares research identifying the characteristics of good companies that have “made the leap” to greatness and enduring success. Having arrived early, I was excited to sit in on his presentation.
As he spoke, Jim told of an interview he’d had with Admiral James Stockdale, the highest ranking military officer in a prisoner of-war camp during the Vietnam War. During the eight years of his internment, Admiral Stockdale was subject to terrible conditions. He was personally tortured over 20 times. Nevertheless, he man aged to lead and inspire his men and help them develop ways to communicate and endure.
When Jim asked him how he managed to survive, he replied, “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 ...”He also observed, though, that the “optimists”—those who expected to be out by Christmas, and weren’t . . . or Easter, and weren’t . . . or Thanksgiving. and weren’t . . . or the next Christmas, and weren’t . . . eventually did not survive. They “died of a broken heart.”
Admiral Stockdale concluded: “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.”
Jim came to call this the “Stockdale Paradox,” and said he’d been surprised to discover it was a common characteristic of all the successful companies he and his team researched. In his book, he observed that the “Stockdale Paradox is a signature of all those who create greatness, be it in leading their own lives or in leading others.”
To us, this “Stockdale Paradox” unforgettably illustrates the power of validating both our unfailing confidence in the overarching, long-term principles that govern in life and also the sometimes harsh or brutal realities of “now.”
Weihenmayer, Erik. Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther Than the Eye Can See. Plume. New York, reprint edition, March 26, 2002. This is Erik’s biography. Erik shared this story at the FranklinCovey Symposium in 2002.
Collins, Jim. Good to Great. Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. Harper Business, New York, 2001, pp. 83–87. While we shared the story in this book as Jim shared it in a program for executives in Arizona, we took the quotes directly from his subsequently released book.