Course Correction

Introduction.  Body.  Conclusion.

Pilots perform a takeoff.  Pilots fly to a destination.  Pilots land safely.

I always rush into things.  Four blogs later, I realize I should have begun with an introduction.  My thinking was that we’re all big boys and girls.  Read my writings or don’t.  I want you to like them for what they are in and of themselves, not because I convinced you to.  Just the same, I do think that I owe you an introduction of sorts explaining why I think you should enter into this relationship.  That’s easy.  It’s because I am a pilot.

I love that pilots are stereotyped as arrogant.  That makes this so much easier.  Introduction complete.

Pilots are arrogant.  But it’s justified.  We actually do know better.  When it comes to making decisions, especially time-sensitive decisions, nobody knows how to do it better.

This is because unlike non-pilots, pilots get practice at living.  Think about it.  I have.  There is no more perfect metaphor to life than flying.  That means there is no more perfect way to practice life, than flying.  Each has three parts.  1.  Birth & Takeoff.  2.  Life & Flight.  3.  Death & Landing.

1.  Birth & Takeoff – The moment a human is born, a sequence of events which has only one ending begins.  It is the same in flying.  Once an aircraft takes off, either controlled or uncontrolled, it will land.  “What goes up must come down,” as they say.

2.  Life & Flight – The metaphor grows stronger the further we explore it.  In life, as in flying, there is only the illusion of control.  Life can end at any moment, no matter how it has been lived.  Seemingly healthy people drop dead with no warning.  There is no formula for longevity.  You can do your best to live ‘correctly’, and yet you’re not in control.  The same goes for flying.  Everyone can agree that during the flight that killed you, you made every decision perfectly.  That doesn’t change the fact that you’re dead.  While the vast majority of aircraft mishaps are determined to be caused by pilot error, there are still plenty that are simply out of the pilot’s control.

3.  Death & Landing – This brings us to the deathbed.  As we age, we certainly spend more time thinking about how we lived.  Looking back, we are at least curious if we would make any decisions differently if given the opportunity.  After a pilot successfully lands his aircraft, he too looks back and analyzes how the flight went.  Why does he do this?  Because flying, like life, is inherently dangerous.  Unlike life, however, the danger in flying is imminent.  The pilot knows this, and wants to avoid the danger at all costs.  So the flight’s events are recounted.  Mistakes are discussed in an attitude of learning.  He always is thinking about the future and what can be done to avoid making the same mistakes next flight.  And with every successful landing, there arrives another opportunity to take flight once more.

Here’s where the metaphor blossoms.  Pilots are arrogant, we do know better, because we literally get to practice living.  Each time we takeoff we face the threat of death, even if we perform our duties flawlessly.  Consequently, the few hours we are in the air become mini-lifetimes.  Grounded people only live real life.  As mistakes are made, the consequences occur and are lasting.  If similar situations arise, there is a possibility to avoid making the same mistakes.  Generally though, the intensity of the consequence isn’t strong enough to avoid it on a second chance.

Consider being hundreds to thousands of feet in the air.  Are you sure you want to stubbornly ignore what looks to be the thunderstorm that is building in your flight path?  You know that if you fly into it, you could die.  You might wait until the last moment, but you turn.  But the thunderstorm that is the recurring fight with your spouse, parents or children can be flown into every day with minimal immediate consequences.  Unlike a real thunderstorm that can immediately kill a pilot, that thunderstorm might take the rest of your life to kill you, but kill you it will.

What about the hydraulic leak you’re being told about?  How much fluid can you lose before the system fails?  If you don’t know the answer, you conservatively end the flight early, and learn the answer before you fly again.  Similarly, there can be slow leaks of love and respect that when ignored can kill a relationship.  But unlike the situation of the imminent threat of death if you lose your hydraulic system, taking the time to learn how to stop leaking love and respect might seem like it can be put off until another day.  Can it though?

In the end, the pilot has intense motivation for actually learning from mistakes.  The grounded person does not.

The pilot, then, lives one mini-lifetime after another.  Over and over again.  Practice, practice, practice.

Whether pilots have ever been aware of this metaphor or not, the very nature of their profession affords them the opportunity to apply the lessons they learn at work, to their personal lives.  And this is why we seem arrogant.  We wouldn’t make the decision if we hadn’t already thought it through using our professional debriefing skills.  This is why we don’t seem to want to hear other opinions.  We’re sure that we know what we’re doing, and sometimes we’re just lazy and don’t want to take the time to explain how we came to our decision over and over again.  The result is that it seems like we’re dogmatic and uncaring.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

This is not to say that pilots don’t make mistakes.  This is not to say that pilots don’t sometimes treat minor life events with too much gravity.  But when it comes to making decisions, to developing criteria with which to make decisions, to sorting through the vast amount of information and discerning what it truly important, pilots won’t steer you wrong.

In conclusion, this blog will serve two purposes.  First, it is the place where you can come to read some of flying’s most important lessons learned.  It should be clear now that these could also be called life lessons.  Second, it is the place I will use to improve my writing skills.  As mentioned here, the ability to stop and debrief the recent past is invaluable, so your feedback is priceless.  Was I unclear?  Do you disagree?  Let me know.  Like pilots say, “We don’t crash in compartments;” so my failures will become our failures.  The same is true for you.  The only way to get there is together.

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