The best things in life can’t be purchased
…they’re learned, they’re earned, and they’re grown.
James Stockdale was the senior residing officer at the Hanoi Hilton prison camp during the Vietnam War. He spent eight years as a prisoner of war, being treated as a war criminal. He was isolated, battered, starved, and tortured. In the midst of going through this experience, Stockdale said he knew that he would turn his current struggles as a POW into the defining event of his life which, in retrospect, he would not trade. He held true to those words to his dying day.
The reason why Stockdale felt this way is because it was during his time at Hanoi Hilton that he learned what actually mattered in life. The first lesson was that when everything was taken away from him – when, as they say, he went from king of the skies to scum of the earth in a heartbeat – there was hope. There was the recognition that life may not go the way we think it will, but that doesn’t mean it’s doomed to stay that way. As easily as the tides of fate can shift against you, they can shift back.
Holding on to that belief, Stockdale and his men found ways to survive their ordeal. Their survival was about forming deeper relationships – the connections we can establish with other people. It was about personal strength – the notion that when you go through horrible things and you still stand back up, you now know that nothing can knock you down permanently. It was about gratitude for the small things in life – small kindnesses that remind you that there is always good to be acknowledged and grateful for. Lastly, it was about having a sense of mission, purpose, and forward momentum.
None of these things can be purchased, but when life takes a turn and you find yourself needing help, these are the things that matter. These are the things that make a difference.
This was a particularly difficult lesson for me, but was ultimately a very liberating one. You see, I grew up in a middle-class home with reasonable parents, but I became very susceptible to materialism and married someone who was very financially well-off. All of a sudden, I defined myself by the stuff that I had, what I wore, what I drove, what I did for a living. But with this 6th truth came the realization that material things don’t matter.
Life is not about what you have, what you drive, what you do for a living. It’s about who you are, who you surround yourself with, and the impact that you have on others. Your values and the actions that support them, those are what matter. Your car, clothes, and fancy job might be nice, but who are you if or when those things are taken away?
Be Well. Do Well. Struggle Well.
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