Captain Charlie Plumb; Adversity is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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Many people say it’s not WHAT happens to you but HOW you respond to WHAT happens to you that makes the difference. 

Our latest guest on The Art of Making Things Happen with Steve Sims lives the true value and meaning of that statement. 

Captain Charlie Plumb spent six years of his life trapped behind enemy lines. As a prisoner of war, he learned to survive through some of the most grueling experiences you can possibly imagine. 

Now, he uses what he learned from those experiences to help others master their mindset. Continue reading to learn what he had to say about adversity and mindset. 

2,103 Days

With only five days left of his tour in Vietnam, Captain Charlie Plumb was on a mission to Hanoi, the north Vietnamese capital. He recalls looking out to his left and right and seeing nothing but planes on the horizon. 

As a Top Gun pilot, he was carrying missiles to shoot down enemy aircraft. During the strike, his plan got struck down by one of their surface-to-air missiles. 

Ejecting from a burning plane, it only took 90 seconds before he and his copilot touched down onto rice patties and were captured immediately. Hauled into the prison camp, he was tortured for two long days — so began the saga to an interesting education in Plumb’s life. 

He spent his days trying to survive, thinking of his sweetheart back home, and remembering what his mother always told him. In every adversity, there is both good and bad — find the good. 

Prisoners got shipped around every six months to a different camp with different guards. He explains that they were never really sure why, but he assumes it was to cut down on fraternizing with the guards. 

Even so, the communication was rudimentary due to language barriers. “It was a lot of pointing and talking.” 

He spent 2,103 days as a prisoner of war — just shy of six years. 

Adversity Is Universal

Captain Charlie Plumb is quick to note that while not everyone has shared the experience of being trapped in a POW camp, the feelings of adversity are universal. 

He explains like this: 

  • We’re all felt disappointed. 
  • We’ve all fell short of our goals.
  • We’ve all stepped back up and tried to rejoin the fight.
  • We’ve all had trouble communicating — even with those we love the most.
  • We’ve all had our baseline value system challenged at some time or another.  

In that regard, he says, the feelings of adversity are similar — and there’s something everyone can learn from it. 

He states the same principles that he and other POW survivors used to survive and thrive in those conditions apply to anyone overcoming a set of obstacles in their life. 

So what is the recipe for surviving and thriving to overcome immense obstacles in your life? Here are the principles, as he sees it:


He states that he spent a lot of his time in solitary confinement. In those moments, he had to communicate and coach himself. 

There were no books to read, no scenery to look at, and no distractions. Captain Charlie Plumb says that made it easier for him to focus on his thoughts.

He says, if you can just block out the noise, then focus is easy. Plumb explains that so much of what we focus on, the tiny problems, are incidental. In that sense, they have no profound bearing on our lives. 

If you can boil down your day to nine or ten things a day and not let anything else in, you’ll start to cultivate a life of focus. 

Setting Goals

Your goals should align with the nine to ten life priorities you focus on to live a fulfilled life. When done correctly, it creates an efficient way to build purpose in your life. 

Have a Purpose in Life

Captain Charlie Plumb states, “I’m convinced that people who fail in life fail because they don’t have a purpose of living.” 

Currently, twenty-two veterans a day take their lives. He feels that sometimes when veterans take off the uniform, they can sometimes lose sight of their purpose. 

“When you lose sight of your purpose, you become like an unguided missile.” 

There Is Value in Adversity

After returning home, he recalls having to talk to the media. There, he explained his story. After this experience, Captain Charlie Plumb realized he could use the survival skills he learned in the POW camp to help others. 

After the interview, he entered an elevator when one of the reports finally caught up with him. There in the elevator, the young man explained how his life was in horrible shape. His marriage was in shambles, his career was in the toilet, and he had even considered taking his own life on several occasions. 

He says he’ll never forget what the man said, “You’ve given me hope.” It was then that he knew he could help others. 

In his book, I’m No Hero, he explains the principles he learned from his experiences in the POW camp. He wrote the book in the first six months after coming home when it was fresh in his mind. When you buy the book from his website, he will personally sign it for you. 

You Have a Choice

No matter your obstacles and circumstances, Captain Charlie Plumb states you have a choice when you meet a challenge in life. 

“You can let the challenge beat you down. You can crawl over in a corner, wave your fist, damn your God, atrophy, and try to die in that prison camp or you can say there is a purpose in all of this.” 

Today, Captain Charlie Plumb has shared his story and his principles about mindset on over 5,000 stages in every state and 27 foreign countries. 

He helps organizations and teams build character through the principles of choice, adversity, teamwork, change, empowerment, and more. To learn more about his services and fees, check out his site. 

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