The seeds of doubt were planted at a young age. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it started in childhood. I was lead to believe I wasn’t capable, that I would struggle in this life. In particular, concerns surrounded my abilities in English. At first, my parents worried that I had a … Read more Why I Write
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman (Source: The Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman: A Visionary for Our Time) I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘what do you mean the ONLY … Read more The Only Thing The World Needs From You
The other night, while I was trying to sleep, I started thinking about the post I wrote last week where I stated that hatred is driven – at its core – by a fear of death. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something fundamental. Naturally this started to make me feel a little anxious. … Read more Why Everything Scares You To Death
That’s the most liberating, wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you’re an ass. It’s wonderful. When people tell me, “You’re wrong.” I say, “What can you expect of an ass?” S.J. Anthony de mello – SOURCE: AWARENESS “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent … Read more The Secret Ingredient Missing From Every Conversation
“The principle of freedom must be our first commitment, for without this no one is immune against the virus of aggrandizement – the impulse to grab power, wealth, position, or reputation at the expense of others.” – Herbert Douglass – SourCE:The Cost Of Freedom True freedom is a commitment to experiencing the very real limitations … Read more Why Freedom Demands Responsibility
Hello lovely readers and welcome back to my new and not-at-all improved (except for name) newsletter! It’s the only newsletter that tells you if you want to take control of your life you have to let go…
Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 joke that’s so bad, it’s good!
“The primary reason we give life meaning is because it gives us hope. When we fail to see the meaning in something we lose hope. This causes us to give up.”
“The reason we lose meaning is because we’re clinging to something. Ironically it’s often an outdated belief that we’re unable (or refuse) to let go of. A belief that clashes with our current reality. This prevents us from instilling or finding new meaning in what currently is.”
“When you are grounded there is no need to look up or down. You are where you are, and you hold true strength and power from that position. The success you experience becomes more enduring and robust. It is only once you are grounded that you can truly soar.”
– Brad Stulberg
“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and results come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity.”
The reason an aeroplane flies is because of something known as the four forces of flight. Those are thrust, lift, weight and drag. Thrust counteracts drag, whereas lift counteracts weight.
If the forces of lift and and thrust are greater than the forces of weight and drag your aeroplane will climb, if they are less you will descend. When they are balanced, well, then, Bob’s your uncle.
That means your flying straight and level – sitting pretty while cruising at your optimum altitude. Thanks Bob.
Here’s a nice picture:
Now, let’s imagine you’re sat fat, dumb and happy, at your optimum cruising level, with all four forces in perfect harmony, when, all of a sudden, for reasons that Bob can’t understand, you bring the thrust back to idle.
Now, let’s pretend, for reasons that Bob really can’t understand, you decide you want to stay at your cruisy cruising level, despite the fact you brought the thrust back to idle.
How do you do that?
Well, the only thing you can do is pitch up. You must increasingly pitch up to counteract the loss of energy so that the sum of the four forces remain equal.
The problem with this is, by pitching up, although you increase lift, you also increase drag. Unless you come to your senses and increase thrust, you will continue to lose energy.
If you keep pitching up in desperation, eventually you will reach a critical angle of attack (the direction of the aerofoil relative to the airflow) where the air starts to separate from the top of the wing resulting in a substantial loss of lift.
This is what’s known as the stall.
When this happens Bob is no longer your uncle. In fact, Bob is fucking furious. (It’s possible he may be the Captain.) The only way to make Bob happy again is to do the one thing you don’t want to. Unless you have enough thrust to blast off into space (and you don’t), you must pitch the nose down.
You must bring the angle of attack down in order to regain lift. You must come back to earth – you must sacrifice height for energy. It’s the only way to recover from a stall.
As you might have guessed, this isn’t just a crucial lesson for aviators but all of us. Which leads us to the first critical life lesson and the central thesis of my (soon to be) high-flying book:
When we stall in life the only way to regain lift is to let go. We must let go so we can find our feet again in the present. So we may accept and face our reality as it stands. This is what grounds us. We let go of what we can’t control in order to regain control of what we can.
Now, hold on to your pilots hat because I’m about to take this analogy to new heights!
The Four Forces of Life
As it happens there are – broadly speaking – four forces that act on you at anyone time. These are known (by Bob at least) as the four forces of life.
They work, of course, just like the four forces of flight. Those are your health (which is equal to thrust), purpose or meaning (which is equal to lift), responsibility (which is equal to weight) and life itself (which is equal to drag).
Just like an aeroplane, when the forces of health and meaning are greater than the forces of responsibility and life, the human aeroplane that is you, will climb. If it is less, you will descend.
If they are balanced, well, then you’ve found the sweet spot. You have full health and enough meaning to carry the weight of your responsibilities. You’ve achieved that tricky thing known as life balance.
Here’s another pretty picture:
Now, let’s imagine you suddenly lose your health. Maybe you get ill or suffer a depilating disease or break you leg. What ever it is, suddenly you don’t have the capacity to carry on to destination. Does that mean you’ve stalled? No, although it can lead there if you try to soldier on. What it does mean is you need to come back to earth pronto!
It’s like when Captain Sullenberg ingested birds in both his engines. Did he stall? No, but he suddenly became a big-ass heavy-weight glider. That meant he had to come back to earth, and fast.
He understood how crucial it was to let go of everything that wasn’t absolutely pertinent to the emergency at hand. Had he not had that clarity of purpose – had he not been able to accept what had happened – well, the end result may well have been much worse.
Stalling in Life
So, what do I mean, exactly, when I use the term stalling in life. What causes us to stall?
Well, meaning. Fundamentally, the reason we stall in life is because we’ve lost meaning. Meaning in what, you say? Well, the present. Your current circumstances. Life as it stands.
The reason we lose meaning is because we’re clinging to something. Ironically it’s often an outdated belief that we’re unable (or refuse) to let go of. A belief that clashes with our current reality. This prevents us from instilling or finding new meaning in what currently is.
When I ended my 12 year career in aviation and left the city I’d called home for most of my life, that resulted in a substantial loss of lift. Did I stall? You bet your bottom dollar I did! Letting go of that was one of the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But, of course, I had to. I had to let it go in order to find meaning in my current circumstances. My present reality.
As it happens, this is why I’m writing this book. It’s part of my stall recovery. I’m not only letting go of my past in the process – I’m subsuming that past and including it as part of my present day narrative. It’s the whole idea for this (soon to be) high-flying book. It’s so fucking meaningful to me, so fucking poetic, I could cry.
Not only is this important, as I will attempt to argue, it’s absolutely necessary. We must continually replace meaning in our lives. We must let go of old limiting beliefs and update them with new, slightly less limiting, ones. We must keep doing this. We must keep dying to ourselves over and over and over again.
But, and this is a big but, there’s a deadly important caveat. Not only do we need to instil meaning in our lives, ultimately we need to learn to transcend meaning altogether. We need to see through meaning itself.
We need to let go and take control – we need to transcend and give meaning – at the same time.
Now, I’m going to circle back to this particular paradox and the question of how, but first it’s important to understand why. Why it is we all find it so damn hard to let go. What it is at our core we’re unable to come to terms with.
I suggest you buckle up boys and girls. Turbulence is forecast.
This is part one of a series of posts on the subject of stalling in life.
Just imagine, you’re sat fat, dumb and happy when BAM! Your engine shits itself. (And so do you.) Suddenly you’re forced to divert. You need to get on the ground pronto!
Before you know it, there you are. Grounded with a bum engine – a million miles from the original destination you had in mind.
So, you find yourself sat around in your underpants on a Thursday afternoon scratching your whatsit wondering what to do with the rest of your life. (Probably not scratch your whatsit.)
After twiddling your thumbs you decide, at exactly 3:34 pm, you’re going to grab the day by the horns. So, you make a cuppa and sit down at your desk. After checking facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube and then facebook and twitter again, you begin typing.
All that thumb twiddling has given you a radical idea. (Actually, it’s given you many, but not all of them are suitable from younger readers.)
You decide that the time is now or never. After all, your wife is bringing home the bacon. You have no excuses. “No more thumb twiddling!” you say.
It’s down to business.
So, ladies and gentlemen, here I am. This time I’m really doing it. I’m committing. I’m going all in. I’m going to start by stating it out loud.
But first let me check facebook one more time. Oh look! Someone liked the photo of the coffee I made. (Yesterday’s main accomplishment.) Yay!
Anyway, back to this radical idea, this pet project of mine.
A book, damn it!
There, I said it. No backsies. I’m going to take my thumb out and write one. By announcing it out loud it I figure that
a) you dear readers can hold me accountable and,
b) give me some much needed feedback as I progress and, crucially,
c) tell me how to actually write a book.
Because I don’t have the first clue!
Anyway, I guess I should start by telling you what my radical idea for this book is.
This tremendous book (title to be decided) will combine lessons in aviation (and life) with modern psychology (and a bit of ancient philosophy) in an attempt to help people hit the metaphorical reset button and rebuild their lives from the ground up.
The idea is to provide a roadmap for those who feel their lives have stalled – who feel lost and unsure about what direction to take – who feel overwhelmed and burnout out. (So yes, me.) It’s going to talk them through the stall recovery. The need to come back to earth in order to gain some much needed clarity and perspective. But also to regain the energy and lift needed to maintain a sustainable climb over the long haul. (Of course all of this will play to my strengths: long extended aviation metaphors.)
Sections 3 and 4 will expand upon 1 and 2 respectively. A kind of beginners section and command section. This will possibly be spilt into two books (or a series of mini books). Anyway, this is just me spitballing – the basic idea I have in mind – all to be expanded upon in due time dear readers.
For now I just want to throw it out there and get your feedback on
a) the idea itself and
b) where the hell I should start? (From the ground up I suppose.)
Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
I’m going to stick my neck out today. I’m going to talk about something I’ve been avoiding for certain political and professional reasons for some time now. A topic that is close to my heart.
As it turns out, aircrew are extremely reluctant to talk about mental health. On the rare occasions I’ve brought it up, I’ve seen Captains visibly squirm in their seats. They will find any excuse to talk about something else.
Anything but the elephant in the cockpit.
Unfortunately, the problem isn’t simply an inability (or unwillingness) to talk about it. Aircrew are also more unlikely to get the help they need because of the stigma attached – because of what it might mean for their careers.
I recall talking to one Captain who was clearly distressed. It was evident that the last few years had taken its toll.
I asked him if he’d talked to a company doctor to get some time off. I told him I’d done so and was afforded 3 months stress leave.
But he refused. He said that no airline would hire him if they found that on his record. He said it would be career suicide.
The hard reality is, if certain airlines get whiff that you have suffered from any kind of mental health issue in the past (regardless as to the whether that issue remains in the past) they will bring the shutters down hard. It seems only super humans will do. Preferably robots, in fact.
But here’s the thing that really gets me.
Many of these airlines appear to turn a blind eye within their own organisations. It’s as if they don’t want to know about it. As if they would rather their aircrew suffered in silence. Despite asking them, in some cases, to work under extremely demanding conditions.
To give you a glaring example, I’m sure many of you will have read about the draconian covid measures the Hong Kong government has imposed over the past couple of years. In the story of animal farm, you can think of the aircrew as the rats. We were seen as the least equal of all the animals. Consequently our lives were placed on the frontline in government’s war to maintain zero covid.
What that has meant is hard to put into words. It’s been soul destroying. Collectively we have endured not years, but hundreds of years of quarantine. I’ve had more swabs shoved down my throat than I can count. Funnily enough one captain I flew with did. He was on PCR test number 234 and counting!
Yet, that wouldn’t have been as bad were it not for the severe punishment the government (and company) threatened if we failed to comply. The simple act of leavening our hotel room could mean 6 months in prison. We weren’t even allowed outside to get some exercise (a right, I might add, even prisoners are extended).
Needless to say these measures placed the company between a rock and an impossible place. The only way to keep the show on the road was to enact something known as closed loop patterns. This meant that crew who “signed up” would sometimes spend upwards of 8 weeks locked in a hotel room between flights. This was before doing their mandatory 2-3 weeks of quarantine.
Only then were they allowed to feel sunlight again.
What made this particular sinister was the new productivity based contract our company forced us to sign towards the end of 2020. It meant if we didn’t fly above a certain threshold each month our pay was significantly reduced. Of course, we don’t have any control over productivity. We can only fly the flights that are rostered.
I was pregnant with my second child when I was forced onto this new contract. Part of the decision to have a second was based on the money I used to make. At any rate, spending anywhere between 5 to 10 weeks away from my family was out of the question. Thankfully we had money in the bank. We could and did take the finical hit.
But they were many who couldn’t. And what do you do when your choices are to sacrifice your own mental and physical wellbeing or provide for your family?
Of course, you sacrifice yourself.
That’s what the entire aircrew body have done to help maintain the government’s zero covid policy over the past two years. To provide for their families. To keep life going in Hong Kong.
I’m proud to say we did. We gave Hong Kong – effectively – a zero covid existence for over a year. But, eventually, the inevitable happened. A number of crew members broke their quarantine order and caught covid. On investigation it was found they had left their hotel room on a layover.
They were sacked, fined, prosecuted… Instead of simply punishing the offenders, they clamped down on whole crew body. At a time we’d desperately hoped our restrictions would ease. Not only that, we were vilified by many corners of the media. There were even reports of members of the public spitting on aircrew.
Many people have asked me why I left my job. Many people were surprised by the decision I made. Despite everything, despite all of the above, it was, without a doubt, the single hardest decision I’ve ever made.
The job is deeply meaningful to me. I’m proud to say I’ve been part of a rich aviation heritage. To have flown for the same company my father flew for over 20 years. I’m more proud to say I flew as his first officer a number of times, including his last flight before retirement.
I desperately wanted to go the distance – to become a captain for the same airline. To come so close but turn away at the last minute is no small thing. Even after the decision was made, after months of torturing myself, I continued to have crippling doubts. I would get this feeling in the pit of my stomach like I’d been shot. It was awful.
But then, a few weeks ago, those doubts were shattered.
I learned a college of mine had committed suicide. He leapt from the balcony of his high rise apartment. A young British man, aged just 31 years. I didn’t know him well – I flew with him, I think, only a handful of times – but it hit me hard.
I felt angry, sad and ashamed.
Angry that it had got to this point. That the authorities and the media so shamelessly ignored the elephant in the cockpit. But also ashamed that maybe in my own silence – in my own avoidance of the elephant over the years – I had contributed to a culture that may have factored in his death.
In the days and weeks following I couldn’t help but wonder, could that have been me?
Just before the pandemic I sought help for own my long term issues with depression. I regard it as one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. I believe it gave my the strength to get through the last couple years – even if I didn’t get through unscathed.
But what if I hadn’t?
Of course, there are different types and severities of depression. You can’t judge it with the stroke of one brush. But depression can spiral. I’ve never had suicidal thoughts but I appreciate, at least, how the mind could get there. How it could dig a torturous hole within itself. One it finds impossible to escape from.
This is why I believe the issue of asking for and getting help is so important. Making people feel they can – without judgement or repercussion – speak up and do so. Although most airlines offer programs that allow aircrew to seek help anonymously, so long crew as believe that getting help is a career ender, the industry has a significant problem.
While Hong Kong may be an extreme example, its illustrative of how far certain airlines/governing bodies are willing to neglect their duty of care.
The truth is aviators are some of the keenest people I know. They have a passion that most people only ever dream of finding. But that passion has been highjacked. It’s been used by the industry to move the goalposts repeatedly. Because they know that pilots will do just about anything to get their hands on the controls of a jet.
To live the so-called dream.
We often joke about living that dream having been up all night. Once upon time that was mine. But I’ve come to realise there is only so much loss of sleep – only so much soul crushing isolation – you can put up with before you lose the ability to dream altogether.
If you ignore the elephant for too long, eventually it will crush you.
We’re all looking for that Goldilocks position in life. That ultimate purpose specifically suited to our own unique talents and values.
Of course, we want to maximise our potential to do the most possible good. This is why many of us have this gnawing sense that the job we’re in isn’t quite right.
We feel like we are meant for something else, something more.
I didn’t pay much attention to my nature during adolescence, that critical life period when we are supposed to decide what we want to do forever and always. I simply did what I was told I should. Which was anything but the creative subjects I truly loved.
So I took a random collection of other subjects that left me increasingly confused about my future. Then I studied history for reasons I honestly couldn’t tell you, and then I decided to become an airline pilot.
Becoming a pilot was, at least, based on something I was passionate about. Traveling the world. Nothing satisfies my soul more. Still – and this is important – I didn’t become a pilot to fly aeroplanes.
In a sense, this has been a blessing. It’s placed a spotlight on the person I am.
And the person I’m not.
I believe this is why so many of us have joined the great resignation. And why many others feel incredibly burnt out.
We settle into a job. We get comfortable with it – we know we can do it and do it well – so we preserve with it even though we know it isn’t quite right. We keep pushing the boulder uphill.
But you can only fight your nature for so long before it catches up with you. At some point, you have to make a choice: You can either take a chance on the person you are or kill the person you are.
If you let that inner spark go out it can be very difficult to find the strength to fly again.
As I embark on the next chapter of my life, I mean to take a chance on the person I am. I mean to honour my inner child in the hope that I may do the most possible good with the gifts I have been given.
To inspire others through creativity.
As I embark on this journey, I want to take you along for the ride. I want to show you how to increase your self-understanding. I want to help you specialise in who you are so you don’t feel out of place anymore.
So that together, we may fly free in the knowledge we are exactly where we are meant to be.
We don’t always end up where we intended in life. Sometimes, we are made to divert long before reaching our final destination. Other times we may complete the journey only to find the airport is closed on arrival, forcing us to divert at the last moment.
Whether it’s some kind of emergency or our own health that forces us to come back to earth, the reasons are often out of our control. Sometimes, however, we divert because we realise the flight we’re on isn’t taking us where we want to go. We admit the journey itself isn’t what we wanted after all.
This can be a difficult decision to make when you’re already cruising at a comfortable level. A level that you worked hard to reach. The thought of coming back to earth and climbing back up again can be off-putting. Any decision to divert – especially if the possibility of continuing exists – shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I’ve had thoughts about diverting from my profession for a while now. A decade of long-haul flying has taken its toll. I realise that another decade in this job might cost me significantly – if it hasn’t already. The risk to my health is something that plagues my mind.
I haven’t left yet because, well, I’m also scared of what might happen if I do. I’m scared about what a career change might mean for my children, for the quality of life I can provide for them. I’ve also been comfortable.
My job – pre-pandemic, at least – has been decent. It’s not only paid the bills but allowed me to have a wonderful lifestyle. I have traveled the world many times over. Outside of work, at least, it has given me everything I wanted. Although I despise flying through the night, I do enjoy flying aeroplanes.
For all of the above, I told myself to keep going. To grit it out and get my command first. Achieve that, collect my four bars, and then move on. That way, I’ll have achieved everything I wanted and still have time left on the clock to pursue something else.
I figured this would also allow me to work towards a second career in my spare time – to make for an easier transition before I close this chapter of my life.
That was the flight plan.
Unfortunately, things have changed. The journey has become much more turbulent. The ride is approaching unbearable. The forecast at destination is looking increasingly dicey too.
The truth is, there is no life here for aircrew at the moment. So long as this madness persists, there is no escaping it either. Getting home is an impossible task because of the quarantine restrictions coming back in.
We’re boxed in. The choice is to either stay and endure or leave for good – to divert sooner than intended. At the moment, I’m weighing the cost of security in the form of a pay cheque against my mental and physical health. Also, against the cost of not leaving a place I feel an increasing dissonance towards.
But what is the cost of one’s aliveness anyway? What is the price of feeling free? Must we not make enormous sacrifices for it? Do my children not need that more? Do they not need to see me make those sacrifices even? To understand if you value freedom, a pay cheque can often work against you.
The truth is – you know it – the decision in my heart has already been made. Right now, I’m in the process of formulating a plan before I execute my diversion – just short of the destination I had in mind.
I am scared.
I realise it’s ok to acknowledge that. But, like Winston Churchill once said, you have to be willing to leave the shore to explore new oceans. Of course, that’s going to leave you stranded at sea for a while.
But, that’s exactly what an adventure is. The human spirit can only be made in adventure. Provided I back myself to navigate the tricky waters ahead, I believe I can teach my children something that no amount of money ever will: what it really means to live.
When you throw a paper aeroplane you give it thrust. On a conventional aeroplane thrust is generated by a propeller or jet engine that pulls air in and pushes it out in the opposite direction.
The forward motion of the aeroplane causes air to pass over the wings. Because of the camber of the wing, this creates a pressure differential that sucks the wings upward. This force – namely lift – is what holds an aeroplane in the air.
Counter to these forces are drag and weight.
Drag is the resistance the aeroplane meets as it flies through the air. Weight is the force caused by gravity that pulls the aeroplane toward the earth. Thrust counteracts drag, whereas lift counteracts weight.
Now, if lift and thrust are greater than weight and drag, your aeroplane will climb. If they are less, it will descend. If they are balanced, your aeroplane will remain in level flight.
Here’s an awesome diagram:
The Four Forces of Living
To rename the four forces of flight, we can say that the four forces of living are Health, Purpose, Life & Responsibility.
Just like an aeroplane, these forces counteract one another. Health (Thrust) counteracts Life (Drag), whereas Purpose (Lift) counteracts Responsibility (Weight).
Instead of an aeroplane, of course, it’s you that’s stuck in the middle.
Here’s another awesome diagram:
Now, we can say that we’re out of balance when the forces of life and responsibility are much greater than the other two.
This usually happens for one of two reasons.
The first comes from trying to avoid drag and weight altogether, preventing you from getting airborne in the first place (or out of bed). At the other end of the balance scales are those who carry far more than they’re capable of, causing them to stall.
From experience, I believe the latter is a far better place to be. The way I see it, having too much on your plate is a good thing. It means your life is already filled with purpose and meaning.
That’s half the battle.
Once you’re off the ground (which is the hardest part) balance becomes a question of priorities. Understanding exactly what we should pay attention to and what we should let go of.
With that in mind, let’s tackle these issues from the ground up by looking at what it takes to get airborne in the first place.
Thrust vs Drag
Life is drag.
Getting out of bed in the morning is drag. Making your breakfast, brushing your teeth, taking your dog for a walk, Donald Trump… all of these things are drag.
What I mean is, anything and everything you do will always involve a certain amount of energy to overcome. It is unavoidable. No matter how streamlined your aeroplane is, you will always encounter resistance.
The problem with attempts to avoid drag is it makes us weaker. Of course, this makes everything much harder. We need to test ourselves – to actively meet the resistance of life – to gain strength from it.
Just like lifting weights in the gym causes us to gain muscle mass. By meeting the resistance of life, we gain strength from it. As we gain strength, over time, we’re able to climb higher. The higher we climb in life, the less resistance there is, the easier it becomes.
Badda bing badda boom.
So, how do we meet the resistance of life?
We meet the resistance of life by targeting the very thing that creates the most drag: your health.
The better your health is, the more energy you will have, the greater your ability to face and overcome life’s obstacles.
Thrust is more critical than lift.
Theoretically, with enough thrust, you can climb without generating any lift – like a rocketship. It’s impossible to get off the ground without it. That isn’t true of lift. Lift needs thrust to get off the ground. That’s why, as everyone likes to say, there is nothing more important than your health.
Health is thrust.
This is where we must start if we want to maintain balance.
How to Increase Thrust
The four pillars of health are rest (sleep), fuel (diet), movement (exercise) and mental health.
Let me break each of those down for you.
Prioritise your sleep.
The most productive thing you can do is prioritise your sleep and then build your life around it. Here are a few top tips from yours truly.
An aeroplane needs to fly the same way a car needs to be driven. If you leave your car in the garage for too long, it’s going to create problems. We are designed to move. I suggest a mixture of weight lifting, core exercises, cardio, and yoga.
Of course, if you hate going to the gym, then don’t. Find something you enjoy. I love to swim and play tennis. I also love to go for long walks in my local park. I find few things calm my mind as well.
The most important thing is that you make exercise a habit.
If you really find yourself struggling for motivation, consider following along to an online exercise video from the comfort of your living room floor.
All of the above are intrinsically linked to your mental health; however, there are other tools worth implementing.
The main forms of personal therapy I use are meditation, yoga, and journaling. I also earmark a half-hour to talk to my wife about any concerns or feelings I have every evening without fail.
Having someone you can talk to who you can trust when shit gets serious is SO DAMN IMPORTANT.
Lift vs Weight
Responsibility is weight.
You cannot avoid it. You didn’t ask for this life, but here you are anyway. Now you have a fundamental responsibility to love, honour, and protect that one life.
So many struggle against their responsibilities – desperately wishing they didn’t have to deal with them. Yet, our responsibilities indirectly generate lift. The same way an aeroplane takes cargo and passengers onboard. That “weight” pays for the fuel which generates thrust and then, consequently, lift.
Now, you might think the fewer responsibilities you have, the lighter you will feel, the more able you’ll be to climb. To a certain extent, this is true. We need to be careful about how many responsibilities we choose to take on – depending on our capacity – for that reason.
It’s important to stress that if you make all of the world’s problems your own, you’ll never take off.
However, an absence of responsibility isn’t freedom. An absence of responsibility isn’t anything. It’s like an absence of weight. There’s no aeroplane in the first place. To avoid responsibility is to avoid life itself. To try to live in its absence will leave you feeling void.
The major difference between responsibility and purpose is perspective. You will always have responsibilities. Understanding how they serve your greater purpose helps you find the motivation to take them on. This is what turns your responsibilities into a source of lift.
Of course, purpose is the thing that gets you up and moving in the morning. It’s the things in your life that give you both joy and hope.
Purpose is lift.
How to Generate Lift
Wherever you are in life, it’s essential to remain grounded. The only place we live is here and now. To constantly wish you had arrived at your destination is to miss the part we call life – that would be a far greater tragedy than not making your destination. That’s why, as a mantra for life, one should always start with radical acceptance.
I like to think of radical acceptance in terms of three pillars:
The first is present moment awareness.
The second is universal compassion.
The third is gratitude.
Meditation is an excellent tool for all of the above. I also use several mindful hacks throughout the day to keep my monkey mind from getting lost in the clouds. Writing in a gratitude journal is another habit that’s worth implementing.
Without harping on for too long, I can highly recommend the following book: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Build a Moral Compass
This is something you should prioritise long before you start setting goals. I suggest you design your own moral compass by listing out a set of values that mean the most to you and then listing those in order of personal significance.
I then suggest you think about the identity you want to form based on your set of particular values. Following that, you want to build habits that reinforce this identity. (i.e., a loving father and husband who makes time for his family every day, a person who prioritises his own health by meditating and exercising every day, a person who writes every day).
Once you’ve done that, you can start thinking more about the destination by setting some short and long-term goals. Just keep in mind that it’s far more important to embody the person you wish to be today than it is to achieve anything in the long run.
After all, shit happens, and rarely if ever, in this life, we end up at the destination we had in mind.
If your battle is with mental health, then make that part of your purpose in your life. If you have suffered a major affliction, draw on that pain to help others who have suffered/are suffering similarly. I believe this is one of the most powerful ways to generate lift in life. You can apply this idea to almost all areas of your life.
Take having children as an example. They are a significant source of lift in my life, but they are also a considerable weight. I can either look at them as a weight or actively choose to take them on board – to make it my mission to help raise a generation of resilient, responsible, and virtuous children.
Need I say anymore?
Remove Unnecessary Baggage
Many of us carry baggage we really shouldn’t. Usually, that baggage is other people’s bullshit that has found its way into our minds. Once again, becoming clear about your values will help here. Know what is truly important to you and then not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.
I also recommend living a simple life. Be happier with less. Spend the money on a few high-quality products/hobbies that give you a considerable amount of joy instead of mindlessly consuming things you don’t need because it’s a “good deal.”
This applies to people too. Form close relationships instead of lots of superficial ones. Find the people you love and trust. Cut out the toxic individuals that aren’t serving you.
Make time for the things and people you love.
Doing the things you have to do but don’t want to makes you feel less guilty about doing what you love. To turn that on its head, doing what you love gives you the energy to do the things you have to but don’t want to.
As part of harmonious life, you must make time for the things you love. Whether that’s reading, playing video games, or socialising… Don’t neglect fun. Don’t neglect joy. Don’t neglect being silly and spontaneous. Don’t neglect your sense of adventure. Try new restaurants, dance in the rain, fart and laugh about it.
Occasionally say fuck it to all of the above and just go with the flow.
You definitely need that.
Maintaining Straight and Level
Your day-to-day journey, just like life itself, should follow a similar pattern. At first, you should apply more thrust to overcome the forces of drag and weight. You should reduce the thrust and glide gently back to earth towards the end of the day.
As for maintaining straight and level flight, the rest of the time, I don’t believe it should feel like this almighty struggle – like everything has a threat level response attached to it.
When you encounter turbulence, you shouldn’t fight it. You should take a seat, ride it out, and then gently fly your bird back to your desired track and level.
If you really do feel like you’re stalling, there is only one thing for it. You must push the nose down to regain lift. Don’t, whatever you do, keep pitching up in desperation. Heed the warning signs and let go of the controls.
The truth is maintaining balance is a state of mind. One that is firmly grounded in the present moment. It is about going with the flow and dissolving the boundaries that separate work from play, life from death, purpose from responsibility…
It’s important to have a destination in mind, but it’s equally important we don’t get hung up on it. As cliche as it is to say, life is about the journey, not the destination.
Take care of yourself today. Tackle your most pressing responsibilities today. Get rid of any unnecessary baggage. After that, learn to go with the flow and enjoy the journey.
If you can, then you really will fly free.
You can find more of AP2’s writing at the following:
“Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune.”
Have you ever noticed how we’re taught that our wants and desires have everything to do with our suffering, yet we’re also taught to “live in hope”? Have you ever stopped to consider how these messages might muddy the waters?
You see it all over the blogosphere, of course. “Don’t give up,” “Hang in there,” “Never lose hope”…
But what, exactly, are we supposed to never lose hope for? A perfect body? A million dollars? For becoming a celebrity so we may be adored forever? For politicians to do as they promised – to do what’s right for our children?!
So many talk as if hope is the panacea to life’s problems. As if hope will set us free. I wonder how many people have stopped to ask themselves whether hoping is the problem? That maybe it’s because they’re hoping that they’re suffering? I wonder how many people miss their own lives because they’re constantly hoping for something different?
I’m guessing it’s a lot.
What if you shouldn’t be hoping for something different? What if, when your survival isn’t at stake – when, at this moment, there is nothing wrong – what if hoping is the last thing you should be doing?
What if accepting life as it stands is more important than hoping?
We cannot hope the pandemic will disappear tomorrow after all, or that evil will vanquish without a fight. Of course, we must believe in our ability to prevail, but to hope for things out of our control?
Well, hello, psychological torture my old friend!
Maybe we can work towards improving our lives without feeling it needs to be? Maybe we can work in recognition that we already have everything we need? Maybe our work can be dedicated to helping others for that reason? For those who really do need to “live in hope” because their survival depends on it?
What Hope Is For
This is where I believe we need to be clear: Hope isn’t for external reality, it’s for your ability to deal with it. It’s for survival. It’s designed to lift you from the brink of destruction. When your back is against the wall and you ingest birds in both of your engines, hope gives you the fortitude to land that fucker in the Hudson.
Talking of which, when Sully Sullenberger ingested a flock of geese in both engines, the most remarkable thing about that day wasn’t that he successfully managed to ditch an aeroplane on the Hudson. (Although that was pretty damn remarkable.)
No, the most remarkable thing was his ability to rapidly come to terms with his predicament. The most remarkable thing was his ability to take stock of his situation and find the clarity needed to do his job under the most extreme circumstances.
In a TV interview where he describes the events of that day, he said he remembers the first three conscious thoughts he had vividly. The first was, “This can’t be happening.” Followed by, “This doesn’t happen to me.” Then, he said, this was followed by a dawning realisation that this flight, unlike any other flight during his 40 + career in aviation, wouldn’t end on a runway with the aircraft undamaged. He said, “I was ok with that, as long as I could solve the problem.”
Talk about radical acceptance! I don’t know about you, but it takes me more time to accept life when the alarm goes off in the morning.
A Counterintuitive Approach
Here’s the funny thing about acceptance – it provides a counterintuitive approach to hope. If you have the fortitude to do so, it prevents you from hoping for something different. To be saved by some knight in shining armour.
It means you’re left hoping for one thing and one thing alone: yourself. Your ability to deal with life as it stands. Even if that’s means you’ve just ingested birds in both of your engines!
Of course, that’s scary. Having to come to terms with the brutal facts of your reality. To understand that you and you alone are responsible for it.
That’s why most people don’t. They’re too scared to own that level of responsibility. So they distract themselves through addiction and false hope, convincing themselves that their life circumstances are not their fault and, therefore, not their responsibility.
Of course, that’s wrong. We are always responsible for things that aren’t our fault. In fact, that’s life. Life isn’t your fault, but here you are anyway. What do you want to do about it? Hope for something else?
Preparing for the Worst
Bruce Lee once said, “Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
Of course, building the strength to deal with adversity when it happens is something you can control. Whether you have an easy life or not isn’t. What hand the universe deals you is beyond your control. What he’s really saying is you should hope for your best, not the best.
How do you that?
By actively preparing yourself for the worst. By challenging yourself. By putting yourself in the dragon’s den and proving that you can. By defining yourself by your pain. There’s a reason why the proverbial kitchen sink is thrown at pilots every 3 months in the simulator. We are thrown in at the deep end and told to sink or swim. Deal with it or have your license invalidated.
In that same TV interview Sully said, that although they had never practiced a water landing in the simulator before, “Because I had learned my craft so well and because I knew my plane and my profession so intimately, I could set clear priorities. And so I chose to do only the highest priority items, and then I had the discipline to ignore everything I did not have time to do.”
What a legend.
I’ll finish with one more thought.
Acting in hope for your survival and those you love is easy. It’s necessary, so it’s easy. When you have no other choice but to act against all odds, of course, you act. It might not be easy to do, but the decision is.
The real measure of a person is how they respond to events outside of their control. When they cannot act, despite their hopes. The real measure of a person is in their ability to accept. To accept the reality of their past – to accept and embrace the demons in their closet. To accept, ultimately, their own mortality. And that of those who they love most dearly. That is true courage. That is true strength.
And it isn’t hope that will bring you peace – although it may save you. It’s acceptance that does that. That’s why, I suggest you start with radical acceptance for what is long before you start hoping. Then, and only then, if you still have the audacity to hope, you better be prepared to take action.
You can find more of AP2’s writing at the following:
Are you lacking direction in life? Not sure which way you should turn?
Do you have a big problem with no idea how to proceed? Like whether you should quit the job you hate?
Or perhaps you’ve lost your job and have no idea what the hell you should do next?
Maybe you’re simply having a bit of trouble processing difficult emotions?
Whatever it is, dear readers, fear not – for I have something that can help you formulate the ultimate solution (no promises).
Introducing the CLEAR model! An outstanding structured approach for decision making and problem solving in everyday life!
(Is it just me, or did that sound like a 90’s television commercial?)
Let’s get into it.
The CLEAR model stands for:
C – Clarifywhat the problem is. L – Lookfor information and ideas. E – Evaluate options. A – Act on your decision. R – Review how it is working.
Simple yet elegant I think you’ll agree.
“Wherever did you come up with such a brilliant formula?”
A great question Bob, thank you for asking. The answer is… I stole it of course!
We pilots are taught it as a way to deal with problems we might encounter outside our normal day-to-day operations. It achieves this by providing a series of defined steps to work through in order to (hopefully) achieve a safe outcome.
As the brain is a single channel processor that can only do one thing at a time (yes multi-tasking is a myth), this helps prevents it from being overloaded during periods of high stress and/or workload. (And I think we can all agree that it’s a time of high fucking stress Bob!)
The problem with high levels of stress is it may overload your very simple single channel processor (I know it does mine), which can result in one or more of the following:
– Tunnel vision (or fixation) – focusing on one input to the exclusion of other vital data.
– Unconscious rejection of conflicting data.
– Slowing down of your decision making or, in the extreme, inability to make any decisions at all.
– Impulsiveness – the desire to restore control makes you leap into action too early.
I think you’ll agree those aren’t very helpful responses Bob, especially for pilots.
“But why, exactly, do you think a model designed for flight crew to problem solve on the flight deck of an aeroplane would be of any use to me?”
Another great question Bob! I asked myself the exact same one and let me tell you the answer I came up with: Why not?
But don’t just take my word for it Bob, let’s examine a working example completely unrelated to the realm of aviation. Let’s examine how we might apply the CLEAR model to someone who is dealing with depression and/or anxiety – hardly the sort of problem flight crew look at solving on a aeroplane I think you’ll agree!
The Clear Model As Applied To Depression:
1 – CLARIFY
People who are depressed will often state I am depressed or I am anxious. However no one is depression, no one is anxiety. These are merely things one experiences.
One of the big problems many people with mental health issues have is this kind of identification. They believe it is part of who they are. But this isn’t true.
Already we can see the importance of clarifying the problem.
A much more accurate thing to say would be, ‘I am currently experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.’ This is a very significant shift in terminology that can help you to step back from your emotions.
If you want to go a step further by introducing some deep Buddhist wisdom (and I know you do Bob) you might say in third person, ‘James is experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.’ So as to introduce the idea (and reality) that you are not your ego. That the I is not me. (Wow, my simple single processor is on fire!)
Anyway we could go on about how to properly clarify the problem but I don’t want to bore you Bob. At any rate, I think you’ll agree, we’re off to a winning start!
2 – LOOK
Observe. Simply be with whatever it is that is arising. Obviously this will work best if you can find somewhere quiet to sit without distraction. Yes Bob, that means you’ll need to put away your phone.
Once you have, be sure to take a few deep breaths and settle yourself. Maybe run through a quick body scan – place your hand on your heart if that helps – and then simply sit and observe.
Remember you’re not trying to achieve anything at this stage. You’re simply trying to observe what is going on from moment to moment. Run through your five senses if that helps. Use this time to gather information about what your emotions really feel like within the body.
If a thought arises, simply note it then come back to feeling your bodily sensations. Ultimately you want to go toward your negative emotions so you can observe them in fine detail.
Don’t resist them bob! Trust me.
This won’t be easy of course, especially if you’re new to the game of meditation but I promise you the long term benefits of having such a practise whenever faced with difficult emotions will pay off handsomely.
Anyway I’m sure you don’t need me to run through a meditation routine with you on here. You get the point Bob. Sit and look.
3 – EVALUTE
This is the part of the session where we introduce some curiosity. Maybe you can ask some questions such as, What triggered my emotional state today? What was it that caused my reaction? What false belief or narrative are driving these feelings? Moreover, what emotions am I trying to avoid that I need to feel? What are those feelings trying to tell me that I don’t understand?
After asking these question sit back and see what arises. I find this kind of exercise extremely useful for deriving insight whenever I have a reaction to something I don’t fully comprehend.
There are, of course, many different kinds of meditation practises you could apply to dealing with such emotional states, but once again I don’t want to bore you Bob.
4 – ACT
Now this will depend on what responses you derived from part 3 of this exceptional CLEAR model and how bad you suffer from said emotional problems.
It goes without saying that the most obvious thing to do if suffering from any kind of depression or mental health issue is to seek professional help.
Are you a therapist Bob? No?
Worth a shot.
Anyway, the next best thing, if you can’t afford a therapist or don’t feel you’re ready to face your demons yet (I won’t judge – it took my simple single processor a long time to pluck up the courage and ask for the help it needed) is to talk to your loved ones.
You’re not burdening them by opening up. If they love you they’ll want to know. Trust me Bob. It burdens them more not knowing.
Aside from those very obvious actions the next thing you can do is practise self-compassion. Place your hand on your heart and tell yourself, it’s ok. I’m here for you. Let me feel you. Whatever kind language speaks or works for you.
It’s important to state that you don’t fight depression or anxiety, you’re meant to accept it.
As Carl Rogers once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
5 – REVIEW
This brings us to the final part of this most astonishing CLEAR model. Review or reflect.
Some questions you might consider: How did that work out? What can I add to the practise next time that might help me? Maybe I can add journalling as a way to write down what arises during such a practise? Am I still suffering from the same issues and thought patterns that I have for years on end?
If that last one is true then maybe it’s time to concede that you really do need professional help. I strongly encourage all with such issues to do exactly that. At the end of the day all these tools are helpful at managing your mental health but if you have some deeper issues it’s imperative you seek the professional help you need. There is absolutely no shame in this. Remember it is never too late to get the help you need. Never.
A couple of weeks ago, just past midnight on July 5th, I took off out of Hong Kong, flew across the Pacific Ocean, crossed the International date line and arrived in Los Angeles at 10pm on July 4th.
There are few approaches during my ten year career I can think as memorable as that one. It was like descending into a war zone. Thousands upon thousands of fireworks going off as far as the eye could see. A lurid display, the likes of which I’ve never seen. We descended right over the city with fireworks going off either side as we came into land. What an entrance it was!
What you Americans were celebrating, of course, was your independence. You were celebrating what that independence stands for: freedom. As I reflected on this, while forced to quarantine in an airport hotel room for the next 48 hours, I started to feel homesick. It’s a feeling I’ve been having a great deal recently. Which is strange, given Hong Kong is the place I call home. Given “home” is the one place I’ve actually been able to spend time in. So what’s going on? Why, exactly, have I been feeling homesick?
Part of the reason is I’ve felt imprisoned at home in Hong Kong. While I get to be with my wife and kids (something I’m extremely grateful for), I’ve never felt further from the rest of my family in the UK and elsewhere. This is because Hong Kong’s strict quarantine restrictions, although successful in keeping the place safe, have made it nigh-on impossible to see them. I’m also someone who has always felt “at home” while travelling. I like to think of the world as my home. I love nothing more than exploring it. The inability to do that has, well, hit home for me.
With that aside, the main reason I’ve been feeling so homesick is because I’m heartbroken. When I think about the changes that Hong Kong has undergone politically – this past year especially – the place that I have long called home simply isn’t the same. Freedom of speech has been stifled and many are living in fear. Many have fled as a result. Many others are planning to. You can feel it too. They have taken a stick to Hong Kong. Just like beating a child, its spirit has been crushed.
One of the main reasons I write under a pseudonym is because of what’s going on here. Whether my paranoia is justified or not I don’t know, but the fear is real. Many people have been arrested for speaking out. Colleagues of mine have been let go because of comments made on social media. One of Hong Kong’s biggest Independent papers was shut down just a few weeks ago. The nails being hammered into the coffin keep coming. Make no mistake about it, 2047 has come early. Hong Kong’s special position as a bridge between East and West – a place that once reflected the best of both – has been broken.
Sometimes I still feel like a local Hong Konger. I’ve spent most of my life here after all. There is no place on this planet I know more intimately. A place that has given me so much. Hong Kong will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason. Yet, nowadays, I feel increasingly removed from it.
Of course I have always been, and remain, an expatriate. Never a “true-blue” local. The plus side to that is I have options. I don’t have to stay here in Hong Kong. I can leave if I want to. It’s this question in particular – whether or not I should – that has really been plaguing my mind.
I liken it to being stuck in that hotel room on July 4th. There was nothing stopping me form walking out that door. The only reason I didn’t was because of what my head was telling me. That I could get fired or contract COVID… My head was telling me that it’s best to be safe. It’s best to stay put. My heart, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to say, “fuck this”, and walk straight out of that hotel room door and join the celebrations.
I’m homesick because I don’t feel at home in Hong Kong anymore. My values have diverged from the place. Yet my head is telling me to stay put. Not to leave the security of my job, my pay check, etc. However my heart is longing for somewhere (and something) else. They say that home is where the heart is. I get it now. Home is where your heart feels it belongs. My sense of belonging here has been eroded. I don’t believe it will be long before I gather my belongings and head straight out the door for good.
Freedom, is calling me home.
(Thanks for reading everyone. This post got me thinking about the meaning of home. Let me ask, what does home mean to you? For someone who has always felt “at home” on the road, the pandemic has, paradoxically, left me feeling homesick. I’m curious if many of you have felt the same way? As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.)
Most of us experience stalling at some stage in our lives. In our attempts to be all we can. In our attempts to climb as high as we can, as fast as we can.
The problem is, like an aeroplane, we can only climb so fast. If we pitch the nose up too high, or carry too much weight, we run the risk of stalling. And if we do, then we’re only left with one choice.
Just like an aeroplane, the only way to recover – the only way – is to point the nose back towards the ground. You have to sacrifice height in order to regain lift.
For many of us this is the last thing we want.
When we’ve had our eyes on that optimum crushing level – that perfect enviable position we wish we were at in life – we find it hard to let go. We become so fixated on that place we lose all sense of what’s actually going on, what actually needs to be done in the here and now.
Of course if you keep pitching up in desperation – if you refuse to accept your situation – well, then, the results can be catastrophic.
Towards the end of 2019 I found myself in such a stall. I was mentally and physically exhausted. The relentlessly busy rosters and regular night flying had taken its toll. I also needed help navigating depression.
I’d known for some time I needed help, I just didn’t want to admit it. So in desperation I kept trying to pitch the nose up. Of course it only made things worse. I only found myself in a deeper stall.
Eventually I conceded. I acknowledged the stall and pointed the nose down. I asked for the professional help I’d ignored getting for years.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Shortly afterwards the pandemic gripped the world and I suddenly found myself with an abundance of time at home. All of which gave me the perfect opportunity to keep the nose down. To utilise my support systems. As a result I spent the first half of 2020 at home, resting, writing, reading and being with the people I love.
It was exactly what I needed to regain lift.
By June, when I finally went back to work I felt ready, like the heavy fog that had shrouded my mind had lifted and I could fly once more. It’s just that, this time, the whole world had stalled. Little did I know just how long that stall would last. A year on I still don’t.
What followed were a series of professional setbacks. The biggest of which came when my company consigned our sister airline to the history books. A fifth of our workforce went jobless overnight. Those of us lucky enough to still cling to our jobs in aviation, were forced onto a new contract in very friendly sign-or-be-sacked kinda manner.
Fast forward to the present day and my coworkers are still fearing for their livelihoods. Many of them have family who live abroad they haven’t seen for well over a year. I’m one of the lucky ones with my family here in Hong Kong. On top this the lack of flying means many of us are rusty. The added stress isn’t helped by quarantine or the ever changing medical/testing requirements. I haven’t even mentioned the fear of contracting the virus itself.
This week I actually got to fly. To give you an idea of the times, the Captain and I flew an empty passenger jet to Hanoi and back. We carried nothing but a bit of cargo in the belly. On arrival into Hong Kong we were made to test for COVID, then wait 3 hours for the results before they let us go home. We were the lucky ones. Many of our other colleagues flying to higher risk destinations and/or with passengers on board are made to quarantine for 3 weeks in a hotel room before being allowed home.
All the above has made the job more demanding that it has ever been.
Yet, despite this, flying to Hanoi and back was some of the most fun I’ve had in an aeroplane for a number of years. I believe that’s because this pandemic has given me something from being forced to point the nose down for the past year and a half. What I believe it really takes to recover from any stall in life: perspective.
I became a pilot to fly aeroplanes and travel the world, but that’s not why I get in an aeroplane anymore. I’ve come to realise those motives alone aren’t enough anymore. They don’t generate enough lift.
Now I fly, above all else, to help the world. To make sure the few passengers who need to travel get home to their families safely. To help transport critical cargo where it needs to go. To keep my company afloat. I fly not just for me and my family, but for the man or women sitting next to me and their families. I fly for all those who lost their jobs. I fly as part of a rich and proud aviation heritage during what is arguably its most difficult hour.
It’s like that story about three bricklayers who were asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.
I’ve transitioned from the second bricklayer to the third. I fly with a far greater passion derived from a deeper meaning that’s been given to this profession – to all things – during this time. Ultimately that’s what I believe pointing the nose down allows you to see. It reminds you what it’s all about. Why you even get up in the morning.
And call me crazy, but for the first time in a while I feel a glimmer of hope. Now that I’m fully vaccinated, with a slight uptick in the amount of flying rostered this month, with genuine talks of opening up travel bubbles…
Of course I’m aware you have to be very careful with hope. Often the light at the end of the tunnel is simply another train coming at you. And if it is, so be it. I’m ready.
Still, I do believe this time we might actually be at the bottom of this stall. That we might finally have the energy – the perspective – to start the slow ascent towards bluer skies. Back towards a new, more sustainable, cruising level. I, for one, can’t wait for the day I look back down the cabin and see the plane full of happy travellers once more.
I, for one, am more than ready to do my part, to help make that happen.
(Thanks for reading everyone. I’m curious to know what stories you have of stalling in life? How did you deal with it? What helped you recover? Let us know below. Wishing you well.)
The point that sets everything you want to happen in motion.
The point from which all order springs.
Don’t lie in. Don’t hit snooze. Don’t think about it.
Just. Get. Up.
No matter how bad your nights sleep, make sure you wake up at the same time.
Every. Single. Day.
This will be hard at first (if you’re not doing this already), but the longer term benefits are massive – especially for those who have trouble sleeping.
Because our bodies are biological clocks that love routine. When we wake up at the same time we reinforce our circadian rhythm.
Not only does this prompt us to go to bed at the same time, it allows our bodily functions and cycles to operate at optimum efficiency – keeping us as strong as a mother fucking Ox y’all!
(Add to this regularly scheduled meal times and you’ll really start to notice shit changing for you. In fact, you’ll notice your shit happening at the exact same time every single day, like clockwork.)
Waking up on the dot affects everything. Energy, metabolism, mood…
Conversely, when our lifestyle has been out of sync with our circadian rhythm for a long time, we start to put ourselves at greater risk to all sorts of diseases and mental health issues. (Check out this article for more info.)
And you can take all of this from a pilot who has been disrupting his circadian rhythm for ten years now with one exception: this past year.
Because of COVID I’ve seen a lot less flying through the night and a lot more regular sleep.
How do you feel, you ask?
Strong as a mother fucking Ox y’all! (And also scared for my job, but let’s blow past that…)
Now allow me to let you in on a couple of tips within this tip!
It takes 40 days or so to form a new habit. So stick with it. It will pay off.
Do I have to get up at 5am, you ask?
No, not at all.
The other important thing to understand is that you have a unique chronotype. (Have a look at this article for more info or take this quiz to help you find out which.)
I happen to be a wolf (side note: awesome).
I hate early mornings. I like to take things slow when I do get up – which is later than most I’ll admit.
I meditate, do a little journalling and reading with a leisurely coffee, and then I do some exercise and/or stretching before I crack on with the day.
I’m at my most alert in the evenings. So when everyone else sits down to binge watch Netflix, that’s when I get to work.
Unfortunately for us wolves, society is biased towards bears and lions (early birds). I used to believe I was lazy for the longest time.
It wasn’t until I understood my chronotpye that I really started listening to my body instead of forcing it. This in turn allowed me to formulate a routine that has me firing on all four cylinders.
It’s important to stress that while the early bird may catch the worm, the night owl gets to hunt mice mother fuckers!
So don’t feel bad about setting your schedule to match your chronotype.
We’re all different!
Whether that means you get up at 4am or 11am, the most important thing is that you wake up at the same time.
The simplest, most common sense piece of wisdom that the vast majority of people fuck up on a daily basis is this: Don’t make shit worse than it already is.
For example, imagine that a global pandemic ravages the world turning life as we know it on its head (oh wait). Now imagine how much harder it would be if you spent your entire time wishing it hadn’t happened (ah shit). Wishing for a different reality (yep, fucked that one up).
Or imagine that you’ve lost your job. Now imagine how much harder it would be if you spent your time blaming your employer for what happened. Pissing all your savings down the drain in anger. Instead of knuckling under and coming up with a plan. Instead of first accepting the hand you’ve been dealt and then putting in the hard yards so you come out the other side stronger.
It sounds simple, not making shit worse than it already is. However not making shit worse is about having the discipline to face your current reality as it stands. Having the discipline to first accept it.
This is why so many people fuck up this simple common sense piece of wisdom. They don’t practise acceptance (which is hard). They don’t first come to terms with what’s happened. Instead of pausing to have a think – instead of then making a measured response – they react rashly, caving in to impulsivity instead.
There’s something else we use in aviation to help us think clearly when faced with any non normal scenario. I believe it works just as well in everyday life. It’s called the CLEAR model. (If you’re interested I wrote all about it here.) It stands for the following:
C – Clarifywhat the problem is. (Global pandemic has left me unemployed.) L – Lookfor information and ideas. (Search for a new job or do an online course to gain new skills.) E – Evaluate your options. (Apply for jobs or learn a new skill or binge watch NETFLIX.) A – Act on your decision. (Binge watch NETFLIX.) R – Review how it is working. (Enjoying NETFLIX. Will continue to watch NETFLIX until I hate myself then reluctantly look for a new job.)
I believe this is a useful model that helps you first sit on your hands and then gain some much needed clarity before making a decision. Because that’s what you need to do. First accept what has happened and then become clear about your options.
There’s a character from the popular sitcom South Park called Captain Hindsight. For those who’ve not seen it, Captain Hindsight is a super hero (of sorts) who shows up to the scene of a disaster while it’s taking place. He then “helps” the people in need by making a stirring speech about all the ways everyone should have acted to prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place. Afterwards he flies away while everyone cheers hysterically, despite the fact he didn’t actually help anyone.
The reason I love this skit is because of how accurately it portrays our society at large. The way we all love to have such strong opinions after the fact. The way we complain about how our government has failed us or how incompetent our colleagues were, before declaring how they should have done this, that or what-the-fuck ever. All without doing diddly-squat except have an opinion (says the man sitting behind a keyboard).
Of course talking about lessons we sorely need to learn isn’t a problem, but I do believe the way we seek to attribute blame is. The way we like to sit on our high horse of righteousness and declare how superior we are. How we go on the offensive instead of looking to assume any kind of collective responsibility for our current state of affairs.
I believe this kind of blame culture blinds us.
For one, those who are responsible become less inclined to own that responsibility, to put up their hand when they’ve made a mistake. They also play the blame game in an attempt to deflect any shame placed on them by others. It also blinds those who point the finger from understanding how they might have been complicit. Like blaming those who voted for such and such instead of acknowledging the role they had avoiding difficult conversations in the past, or how looking down on others has only strengthened respective positions and deepened the divide…
Anyway this got me thinking, maybe part of our problem is the way we think about hindsight. The idea that hindsight is always 20/20. That maybe it would be better for all us to consider the possibility our hindsight isn’t nearly as clear sighted as we think. To think that maybe hindsight is rarely 20/20.
With that in mind I want to tell you a little story.
Earlier this year while flying an approach my crew and I found ourselves in a spot of bother after a number of events left us high on final approach. As a result of then having to ‘capture the approach path from above,’ we ended up busting our stabilised approach criteria. To put it simply, we were too fast.
In our attempt to configure the aircraft and “get the job done,” however, we became distracted and missed the check height at which we should have gone around (abandoned the approach). Instead we continued to landing.
Now I should stress that the speed came back and we landed safely. We got everything done, just later than we should have. But that’s not the point. The right recourse was to go around and we didn’t. It was a honest mistake but, there’s no two ways about it, we fucked up. (And cue Captain Hindsight to tell us exactly what we should have done).
About a week later, back in Hong Kong, the rest of the crew and I were called into work to undergo an ‘operational learning review.’ The sole goal of which was to learn from a safety perspective, to understand what had happened and why. All in keeping with what is known as a “Just Culture.”
For those who’ve not heard of the term, “in a Just Culture both employees and company accept accountability for their actions and learning from events, and the intention is that no one will face punitive action for any unpremeditated or inadvertent error or mistake.”
Anyway one of the more valuable lessons came from comparing what we thought had happened to what had actually happened as demonstrated by the flight data. How all of us had a somewhat, shall we say, favourable recollection of events. But also how all of us had quite different recollections from each other. This is what really hit home for me. Our extraordinary propensity to misinterpret past events. It made me realise that hindsight is most definitely not 20/20.
But there was something else I took from this experience. Something for which I’m extremely grateful. That was the manner in which our company took responsibility for our mistakes. The way our Chief Pilot took responsibility by trying to understand exactly what had happened and why. The way our flight operations department took responsibility by trying to understand what holes might exist in our procedures. The way our training department took responsibility by trying to understand whether the way we’ve been trained needed changing. But also the way our Captain emailed the fleet office immediately after the flight and fessed up. It started with him assuming a position of complete responsibility. All of which encouraged me to do same.
When I look back I realise how easy it would have been for all of us to play the blame game. How easily I could have pointed at the finger at the Captain. Or how easily the company could have made scapegoats out of us. Instead learning in the interest of safety came first. Blame didn’t even enter into the equation. This is exactly what a Just Culture was designed to engineer – a sense of collective responsibility. I believe it works. I believe this is why Aviation has such an outstanding safety record.
I also believe it’s exactly this kind of culture we’d do well to implement more of in the real world. As the year draws to a close I’m hoping we might look back on 2020 as the year where we finally realised the need to come together. As the year we understood that when we take a position of collective responsibility, when all of us put our hands up and look at the ways in which we have failed – even if we weren’t the ones flying the aircraft – that we all stand to benefit. That it is only when we do, that we can say with any kind of certainty that hindsight is, in fact, 2020.
Thank you so much for reading everyone. I’m curious what you think. Is our certainty in retrospect granted or is it, perhaps, foolish? What about engineering a culture of collective responsibility? How might we do that? As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions. Wishing you all well, AP2 x
There’s a term in aviation that all pilots know well called the first solo. It’s when a new pilot completes a takeoff, short flight and safe landing, all by him or herself, for the very first time. It’s basically the aviation equivalent of losing your virginity. You kinda line the aeroplane up with the strip, take your best aim and hope the landing doesn’t hurt too much. It’s something you never ever forget (no matter how much you might want to). For a pilot it is a very special, sacred even, moment.
I’d no idea I would be doing my first solo the day that I did. My instructor hadn’t given the slightest indication that he thought I was ready. He simply briefed me to taxi back to the same spot once I was done, then told me “Godspeed old chap,” and closed the cockpit door behind him – leaving me completely befuddled as I taxied gingerly to the runway threshold. Then, without thinking about it, I set maximum thrust and took off, all by myself.
It was, without a doubt, one of single most exhilarating moments of my aviation career. One of those rare moments of pure ecstasy, like you’re on top of the world. I felt invincible. That was, at least, until I was flying back when I looked down at the runway and it dawned on me, ‘shit I’ve got to land this thing!’ My exact thought at this point was, ‘Fuck,’ repeated several times in quick succession.
Anyway ladies and gentlemen, I bring this up because, right now, I feel like this very post is my blogging first solo. And to be brutally honest with you all – I’m petrified. I have the same feeling I did when I stared down at that runway just over eleven years ago now. The same dawning realisation that I have to do this all by myself. That same sinking feeling – like I’ve missed a crucial part of my training.
I should say this isn’t the first post I’ve done for PO. Troy and Bogdan had the foresight to test run one of my pieces a short while back – Why Crying Like A Little Girl Is The Manliest Thing You Can Do. (Which, incidentally, seems particularly pertinent given I feel like crying myself to sleep every night at the moment.) It’s just that this time they’ve given me the keys and closed the cockpit door behind them.
“Godspeed old chap,” they said.
Yet I’ve only been playing with my own poky… blog for half a year now. In that time I’ve amassed a meagre total of just over 300 followers. Now here I am, writing for a blog with nearly 16,000!
Is that right?
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
And so I apologise dear readers if all this feels a bit awkward or if my delivery isn’t the smoothest. I’m sure that with time, I’ll be able to the hit the right spot. But you’ll have to bear with me – I am working with rather limited equipment, at least (ahem), linguistically speaking.
Anyway there’s no doubt that I want to be here. That I want to engage with as many wonderful, like-minded people who share in what is such a wonderful community here on WordPress. I believe this will undoubtedly help me grow as both a person and a writer. Which is why when I saw Troy’s ad to say they were looking for writers I was chomping at the bit. And before I circle back to my story, to bring this post home, let me take this moment to say how extremely grateful I am to him and the rest of the team here at PO for welcoming me on-board!
However unlike the average person who feel pride and confidence when they achieve something, I feel nothing but relief that I didn’t fuck it up. A bit like when a captain tells me that was a nice landing (or not) after we’ve taxied off the runway, that’s the moment I realise it’s ok to exhale.
So after my brief moment of joy the other day when I found out the news, my mind, just like it did all those years ago when staring down at the runway, expedited itself into the warm and cosy rabbit-hole of crippling self-doubt.
‘There’s no way I’m good enough to blog on PO. Everyone is going to realise that I don’t belong here. The writers here are all established – Linguistic PHD students, English professors and the like. They also seem to use this thing called discretion. I’m just a pilot with a shockingly poor grasp of the only language I know. I mean, what the fuck should I write about anyhow? What should I make my first post about? Should I make it about me and all my problems seen as no one cares or asked? Great idea!’
Then it occurred to me, I was pointlessly overthinking about what I should write for a blog called pointless overthinking. That at least made me chuckle. Then, just like I did following my mild panic attack all those years ago, I took several big breathes and thought to myself – maybe, just maybe, I’ll feel at home here after all. That maybe, just maybe, I can pull off this landing.
Thank you so much for reading everyone. I want to ask you what scary first time experiences you’ve had? How did it go? Was it unbearably awkward? Or was it, in fact, not nearly as bad as you thought it would be? Was it maybe even, rather pleasant? How did you deal with nerves? Also if you have any other feedback or remarks please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section below. Just be gentle – it’s my first time after all.
To my regular readers: This was my first ‘offcial’ post for pointless overthinking. I wanted to share it with you all here on my blog and to let you know I will be writing a weekly post for them going forward. For those who haven’t checked it out I highly recommend heading over there and taking a look (link at the bottom). It’s run by a team of wonderful writers, professionals, thinkers and the like that I am honoured to now be a part of.
Hello lovely readers and welcome to my monthly newsletter! Included is a round up of what I’ve written about this past August. To begin with are some thoughts on what has been a difficult month for me personally. I hope that you can draw some inspiration from my words. Love to all X
To be honest with you I’ve been struggling recently.
My spirit has taken a hit after returning to a long-haul roster for first time since January. Having to spend my layovers confined to some very tired looking hotel rooms – including a week at an airport hotel – has been difficult for me.
The joy of getting lost in some of the world’s most exciting cities has always been one of my favourite pastimes. To get out of the hotel room always provided my mind with the outlet it needed to remain sane despite the loss of sleep.
Getting lost in the back streets of Roma, watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea from a beach in Tel Aviv, hiring a bike and riding across the golden gate bridge on a beautiful summers day in San Fransisco…
Need I remind myself of how extraordinarily privileged I am to have enjoyed all of these things as part of my job.
Yet, as I sit from my hotel room admiring the city scape over Sydney’s darling harbour, I can’t help but pine for the outdoors. It would be a perfect day to climb the harbour bridge or head down to bondi beach. The world is a forbidden fruit at the moment that makes me want it even more.
I feel I’ve done extremely well to make the most of this year but the truth is it’s beginning to catch up with me. I feel so sad as I sit and write these words. As wonderful an outlet as blogging has been, the human spirit struggles in isolation.
There’s something else that’s been bothering me since returning to work. Something that’s become much more apparent since returning from a long period of regular sleep. That is just how important it has been for my mental health. The body simply isn’t designed to miss a nights sleep, let alone 3 or 4 times a month as is so often the case.
When you start to do the maths it becomes a little scary.
3 to 4 nights of missed sleep per month is roughly equal to 1 year’s worth of sleep lost during the course of 10! A milestone I will reach very soon. At the age of 33, staring down the barrel of doing this for another 30, makes me want to pull the trigger now.
The warning signs are present – both physically and mentally. My body has started to tell me things my heart doesn’t want to hear. Winning the battle against depression and anxiety in my work is one thing, saving my longer term health is another. There is nothing more important than your health.
I already know I can only do this job for a handful more years. Still, I desperately don’t want the last of those years to be like this. I want to leave on my terms – knowing that it was because I chose to leave, not because my health forced me to. I want to leave simply because I know in my heart that it’s the right time to do so, with no regrets. Unfortunately this may well be out of my control. Whether it’s the coronavirus or my health that forces my hand, I have to be prepared to move on. To accept that some things are simply out of my control.
With all that said, today, I still have a job and it’s never been more important to remain grateful for that fact. To remember how my job helps the world keep ticking at a time when it’s all but ground to a halt. To remember that beyond all of this I still love to fly aeroplanes.
Some thoughts about freedom and responsibility. From the article:
“Freedom demands we choose our responsibilities. The same way that having a life demands we protect it. If you want freedom of choice then you have to choose to take responsibility for your life. If you don’t someone else will choose your responsibilities for you. The danger is they will use that for their own profit and power by forming a narrative you refused to take responsibility for forming yourself. In doing so they will shut your mind from your heart. The moment that happens you’ve lost your freedom.”
I had a lot of fun writing this one – dishing out some timeless advice about how to write a to-do list that doesn’t make you want to jump off a building. As I wrote:
“Why exactly does writing out our responsibilities on paper cause some us to run away from them faster than a teenage boy climaxes? After all we know this kind of behaviour doesn’t help us, yet we can’t help ourselves. Sometimes all we want is to tell life to go fuck itself and so we do, even if that means fucking ourselves in the process.“
A more heartfelt piece that explores that question, “Am I doing this because of love or fear?” As I wrote:
“I felt it was such an insightful way of asking yourself why or why not you should do something – whatever that may be – as you go about your day. The more I contemplated it over the following weeks, the more I realised how powerful it was as a guiding force in keeping the values I hold close to my heart, clear in my mind. After all, I believe all our feelings and actions are driven, on a basis level, by one of these two underlying emotions. This question is a great way of bringing to light, exactly which one of these two emotions is driving your actions at any particular moment.”
My weekly newsletter designed to rewrite the narrative that Mondays are the most depressing day of the week and to get you in the mood for the week ahead. Following a 4:3:2:1 approach, it contains 4 exceptional thoughts from me (ha), 3 admittedly better quotes from others, and 2 things I’ve been reading and/or listening to in the week that have helped me grow. It finishes with 1 something silly to designed to make you lovely readers smile. The link above was this weeks post. Below are from the rest of the month. Enjoy!
That’s everything from me for the wonderful month of August guys and gals. I’d like to finish by thanking all you lovely readers for taking the time to read my pokey little blog. Although it’s not been the best month of the year for me mentally – you have all helped tremendously. You really have given me strength to carry on.
For anyone else who is struggling may I add that it’s perfectly ok if you are. It’s very important to allow yourself to feel sad when you do. We must mourn the past if we are to live freely in the present. To do that you have to show up for your emotions. Ultimately that’s what I believe courage is, showing up for your emotions however they are, however difficult they may be.
If you want to drop me a line in the comments section please do. I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions on this blog. Please don’t be afraid to speak up. I’m a stupid man but I have a big heart. All I want is to help all of you as you have helped me. Together we are better.
It was late the other night that my wife told me about her sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things she sets herself to do – of always feeling pushed to do things – of feeling “the need” to do things – that she sometimes feels driven by an underlying sense of ‘not good enough.’
I paused to take in what she was saying, before climbing into bed next to her.
She’s certainly not alone, I thought. I knew those feelings well. I suspect those feelings are probably shared by the vast majority of young professionals driven by certain expectations of society, of their parents, of their conditioning to be the best version of themselves.
As I responded, in one of my rare moments of clarity, I remembered a question that I wrote down from a podcast I heard a few weeks ago. It’s something I’ve asked myself repeatedly since, as a way to guide my actions , especially when I’ve felt a strong resistance to them – like my perceived need to keep up with my own work.
The question was this:
“Am I making this decision because of love or fear?”
– Dr Vivek Murthy
I felt it was such an insightful way of asking yourself why or why not you should do something – whatever that may be – as you go about your day. The more I contemplated it over the following weeks, the more I realised how powerful it was as a guiding force in keeping the values I hold close to my heart, clear in my mind. After all, I believe all our feelings and actions are driven, on a basis level, by one of these two underlying emotions. This question is a great way of bringing to light, exactly which one of these two emotions is driving your actions at any particular moment.
Am I doing this because of love or fear?
As I climbed into bed I asked my wife what her motives are for doing (she’s a yoga teacher FYI) what she’s been doing? Is it because she believes strongly in the cause, to help others, or does she feel pushed to perform, to be better because of some perceived need to prove something to others or, indeed, herself? Is it from, on some level, a feeling of inadequacy, of not being good enough as she is right now?
I went on to explain something that dawned on me about why my own motivation towards work had stalled so many times in the past.
I never felt good enough. I was scared what others thought. I was scared that I would underperform and not be seen as good enough in the eyes of my coworkers. I was so scared of ‘being found out’ for who I thought I was. Of confirming a long help belief – a false one – that I wasn’t good enough. The same has been true of my writing.
Thinking back it’s no wonder my motivation died. It’s no wonder when I sat down to do the work I needed that it was such an enormous struggle. It felt like walking through quick sand as I ploughed ahead while fighting the stress, anxiety and sometimes, full blown depression, that had consumed my heart.
If only someone had shouted, “you are good enough you fool – you know this – you’re just doing it for the wrong reasons!!”
Alas, I know that wouldn’t have helped. True insight and understanding has to come from within and that takes time. It has taken years to grow in my heart. It still is.
LOVE AS MOTIVATION FOR WORK & LIFE
The last six months – since the world of aviation has been brought to its knees because of the coronavirus pandemic – have given me, like countless others, plenty of time to reflect.
With regards to work I have come to realise that framing my motivations, to be clear that they are coming from a genuine place of love, is what I need to do. Whipping myself into shape doesn’t work in the longer term. It’s too hard.
As I explained to my wife, when I sit down to prepare for work, for a flight or simulator check, whatever it may be, the question I have started asking is, am I preparing from a place of fear or love? And, if I am feeling fearful, what is it that I’m really afraid of? Why am I doing what I am? If it’s because I feel the need to prove something, then I know I’m coming from the wrong place.
Of course preparing so you don’t fuck up in such a way that the flight ends in catastrophe is one way to think about things. Ultimately that’s our goal – Safety absolutely, rightly, comes first. However there’s a big difference between preparing or working from a place of all consuming fear, versus love. Even if you still feel fearful, if you’re coming from a place of genuine love, that will give you strength to carry on. To stare down the eyes of the beast.
I relayed some of those loving motives, as they applied to me in my work, to my wife.
To honour and protect my fellow crew members whom I owe it to perform at my best as I know they are. To do my best for every single passenger we transport – to make sure they arrive at their destinations – that they make it home safely to their loved ones. To remember I am providing for my own family through this job – that gives us everything we need to live a happy, healthy and secure life. To remember I love myself – self preservation because I want to be alive – so I can be around for my family and friends. So my wife has a husband to love her. So my son has a father to lead him.
There’s something else at this moment in time too.
Although there isn’t a huge amount of flying to go around at the moment – I realised the small amount there is, is an opportunity to be part of something, to help in a way most others around the world can’t. To help bring the few people who need to travel for very urgent reasons. To help bring critical supplies, medical or otherwise, to areas of the world who desperately need it. To help the world keep turning to some degree at a time when it has all but ground to a halt! It’s a gift to be able to do something more than simply stay at home during this pandemic. I know millions of others would give a lot for the opportunity to do the same. It’s something to be extremely grateful for.
While these might seem like obvious motivations, I can tell you they are easily lost, or have been for me at least, in a profession so heavily driven by perfectionism – to prove your competency, and that you know everything there is to know. The pressure to prove yourself isn’t part of the the job I relish.
Yet, when I allowed myself to think in these terms, I found myself itching to get back into the righthand seat for the first time in a long time. To be a larger part of this fight against the coronavirus pandemic – even if that means I only get to fly a single sector. I want to help in any way I can. Through my wiring and my profession.
I now realise just how important it is to remind myself of my real motives when I feel anxious, especially when plagued by self-doubt, to help refocus the mind and bring me back to the present.
Am I doing this because of love or fear?
As I relayed these thoughts to my wife that night, it was interesting to hear that for the charity classes she had been organising, from which she earned not a penny, she had felt none of this resistance. She believed in the cause strongly, for a number of reasons including bringing people together from their homes at this difficult time globally. So they too could do something more than just sit at home – to contribute to charities in need, while showing love to themselves. A beautiful act of self-compassion extending outwards.
It’s obvious isn’t it? She had been acting from a place of love and the motivation for doing so was effortless.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to land a commercial jet?
As you’ve travelled somewhere excitedly looking out of the passenger window and thought what the view is like from the front as you come into land?
Well I can tell you, on a good day, it’s truly exhilarating.
To safely bring one of those big birds back to earth. Gliding onto the tarmac with some 300 passengers behind you. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.
On a bad day, however, it can be more of a poo-your-pants kinda feeling. Or, to put it another way, it can be shit scary!
The following is a story about a particularly bad day ‘at the office’ for me. A story of my most traumatic experience as a young pilot. One that took me some time to recover from.
That said, it is one I now look back on as a defining moment in my career. One that led me to seek the help I needed and shape me into the man I am today. I’m not only a better pilot because of it, I’m a better person.
Before I continue I want to first say, I don’t mean to scare anyone with the following account – especially those who might already have a fear of flying (maybe stop reading now if you do) – but only to talk openly and honestly about what was a fairly traumatic experience for me in the interest of raising awareness around PTSD.
I also want to talk about how I coped afterwards in the interest of helping others who might have suffered similarly and might be looking for some guidance.
I hope you find this helpful.
Anyway, allow me to start with the story. Deep breathes everyone, here we go…
(I’m going to try to avoid using too much aviation jargon but will leave links attached for certain phrases in case any of you are unsure of the meaning)
The Story Of My Most Traumatic Experience As A Pilot
As we flew back to Hong Kong over the South China Sea I reflected on how the day had gone. I was pleased. We had flown to Kuala Lumpur without incident during which I managed a challenging approach followed by a decent landing. It was still early days during my Junior First Officer training and my landings had been less than consistent, so this was something of a relief for me. Still, I couldn’t help but doubt myself when thinking about our approach into Hong Kong. I tired to shake it off as we set up for the arrival.
I should say the idea of safely landing a passenger plane based on my skill alone was somewhat daunting for me at the time, especially given it was only my sixth sector ever as the pilot flying a jet (an Airbus A330 for any interested parties) with passengers aboard. I’d also spent the 3 years previous watching on as a Second Officer – without doing any hand flying except occasionally in the simulator – wondering if I was capable. Looking back I realise that I didn’t really believe it. What I’d done by constantly asking the question was reinforce the idea that I wasn’t. As so often comes up in the story about my past the big issue for me had nothing to do with capability, but self-belief.
The weather into Hong Kong was benign except for the wind that was coming from the south (which can mean the possibility of mechanical turbulence from the winds passing over the hills and buildings to the south of the runway, especially near the threshold of 25R – our arrival runway that day).
After briefing the arrival we started our descent. ATC told us to take up the hold while they dealt with the many arrivals typical that time of the day. I began to feel the butterflies build.
As we slowly descended in the hold, the Captain mentioned noticing how I was frequently wiping my hands on my trousers. He told me how Captains tend to notice these kinds of nervous ticks. I didn’t know what to say. I thought about how such a comment was suppose to help?! I knew I was nervous. I wasn’t trying to hide it. Anyway, was it not normal given I was still learning how to fly the damn thing?! I kept quiet and tried to focus on the task at hand.
When we finally joined final approach, my nerves worsened. I tired my best to ignore them but the butterflies were in overdrive. I began to wipe my increasingly sweaty hands with greater frequency – now acutely aware every time I did so! I told myself to breathe. We took the gear down followed by our final flaps. I then asked for the landing check list. Shortly afterwards we were cleared to land.
It was crunch time.
As I took the autopilot out, I felt the mechanical turbulence rock the plane. I tried my best to keep my scan going but had a habit of looking down at my PFD (Primary Flight Display) instead of outside. (As part of our scan we should be alternating between both, slowly increasing the amount of time looking outside as we get closer to the runway. Eventually you should be completely ‘heads up’ – only looking outside while the other pilot (the pilot monitoring) continues to monitor the instruments. I had a habit of fixating on the screen (PFD) a little too much instead of looking outside (Not uncommon for trainee pilots)).
When we passed over the threshold a positive wind change caused the aircraft to ballon slightly. At this stage I was looking up but had left it too late to get an adequate picture of what was going on. Instead of counteracting the ballooning effect by pushing the nose down, I did the opposite. In my nervous haste, with the runway growing bigger, I pitched the nose up, flaring way too early.
Then I froze.
Everything within my field of vision seemed to fade away and all I could feel was an overwhelming sinking feeling. Like my whole being was collapsing in on itself at the pit of my stomach.
I didn’t know what to do.
We floated and floated, for what felt like an eternity, well beyond our desired touchdown zone, as we hovered above the runway.
The next thing I remember hearing was the captain announcing, “I have control.” He placed his hands on the thrust levers driving them fully forward to select maximum (TOGA) thrust. It took a while for the jet engines to spool up before we got the proverbial ‘kick up the ass’ and climbed away. When we eventually did the captain then announced, “Go-around, flaps.”
The rest is a blur.
I remember cleaning up the aircraft – retracting the flaps and gear as per our standard operating procedures during a go-around (an aborted approach to landing) – but little else except for how I felt.
What it felt like was the whole world had fallen apart. That my worst fears had been confirmed – that I wasn’t capable and didn’t belong in an aeroplane, let alone one with 300 passengers – and that my lack of ability was responsible for nearly having an accident. (To give you an idea of the dramatisation going on inside my head – the Training Captain was always in control of the situation.)
To reassure you lovely readers, while It is rare for a go-around to happen because of a botched landing, it does happen. It’s nothing to be alarmed about. It would be more alarming had we tired to continue with the landing. To explain, for those who don’t know, a go-around (an aborted approach) is a standard and very safe option available to us at any time during the approach should we elect discontinuing to be the safest course of action. In this case, as we had floated so far down the runway, flying away instead of landing and trying to stop on the limited amount of runway length left available was the safest option. (That didn’t stop it from shattering my ego of course.) I would also stress that this was during my training. Like any skill it takes a while to get the hang of it. Flying is no different. It’s also not uncommon for Training Captains to take control or help via a dual input (the Captain acts on the controls from his seat on the lefthand side of the cockpit at the same time as the pilot flying in the righthand seat does) when teaching inexperienced pilots to fly on a new aircraft type.
As we flew back around for a second approach, the captain asked if I was ok. I shook it off as best I could given the circumstances and declared confidently that I was. I can tell you now, I was not!
The second approach to landing happened quickly as ATC gave us priority to join final approach. I don’t remember much else except for the landing that was long as once again I flared too early. This time the Captain helped to bring the plane down safely by adding a dual input before we plonked onto the runway. A graceful landing, it was not!
As we taxied off the runway and to our parking bay I felt like the smallest person in the world.
The debrief afterwards was hard to take. The Captain tried his best to reassure me and get me to see the bigger picture – what a valuable learning experience this was, etc. – but all I wanted to do was go into hiding. To runaway, crawl under a rock and never come back out.
When I made my way from work on the train home, I remember reliving it over and over again in my head. I kept wondering what the hell had happened? How had it come to this? I couldn’t make sense of it. My initial base training (where trainees fly circuits at a remote airfield without passengers boarded before flying commercially) had gone so well. I had felt so confident but now it felt like I’d fallen into the abyss. I knew it was going to take everything to climb back up. It was everything I didn’t believe I had. .
Dealing With The Aftermath And How I Eventually Overcame My Inner Demons
That evening I’d made plans to have dinner with my parents. When I arrived at their apartment I explained to them what had happened. I didn’t realise at the time just how important it was to simply talk. How getting those words out in the open immediately lessened the power they’d had over me, trapped inside my head. Had I gone home that evening my natural inclination would have been to lock myself away. I know this would have definitely made things worse.
Instead my parents were there to pick me up when I needed it most. They helped me to see how it was something from which I would learn and grow. Something for which I would one day look back on be truly grateful. It was difficult to see at the time but they were, of course, right.
It’s for this reason I strongly believe having people in your life that you can talk to openly and honestly is something we all need.
Still this was only the beginning of a long road to recovery for me. To give you a little more background, my problems extended well beyond the event itself. I had deeper issues to do with low self esteem yet to work through – inner demons that undoubtedly contributed to what happened that day. Although I did eventually seek the help I needed, it took a long time to find the courage to do so. I dreaded going to work. I worried incessantly during my spare time. When I was at work I became especially nervous about performing landings. I remember feeling my heart beat so hard I thought it was going to come out of my chest! I regularly thought about throwing in the towel and giving up. Yet I didn’t. I kept going, against all the will in my being, something inside me wasn’t prepared to let this event define me like that. That this time I wouldn’t let it end in failure.
(Again I want to reassure you lovely readers that I did seek help for PTSD following what happened – however the help I’m referring to above relates to the larger issues I had with both anxiety and depression that long preceded this event. In both cases when I did seek professional help, it was never their opinion that I needed any form medication or that I was a danger to myself or others or that I should stop flying. Had they thought so, they had the power to ground me. Before you jump on my back for continuing to fly despite suffered from mental illness, I want you to know I never believed my issues were so bad I couldn’t perform my duties. I’m confiding in you all now partly because I believe there is still a very unhealthy stigma surrounding mental illness – especially in aviation – where such topics are still strictly taboo despite the crucial need to talk about them!)
Ultimately it was getting back in the seat and facing my demons head on that allowed me to overcome them.
I managed to overcome my fears by proving to myself I was more than capable. Little by little, flight by flight, landing by landing, the anxiety that gripped my heart began to loosen. I went on to complete my Junior First Officer training and then First Officer upgrade the first time of asking and to a very good standard, with no other hiccups along the way. Following that I flew for years around the region with so much exposure that landing the plane became second nature.
Still, there was a feeling that wouldn’t go away. A feeling that continued to plague me. A feeling that I knew if I didn’t face, it would continue to plague me for the rest of my life. I put it off, out of fear, for as long as I could. Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer. I reached out and finally got the help I knew in my heart I’d needed all along.
When I did everything changed for me. I can honestly say I don’t suffer from depression or PTSD anymore. I’m still working through some issues regarding anxiety but even that has lost its hold over me.
It’s for this reason I will always be a voice for encouraging others, especially for anyone who is reading and has suffered from any sort of trauma or mental illness, to ask for the help they need.
I can tell you from experience that that later you leave it the harder it is to solve.
That said, it’s never too late to get the help you need. Never. And solve it you can.
I really hope I can inspire others who may have difficulty getting the help they need, to find the courage to do so. To come out and talk about their problems openly and to know that there is no shame in this whatsoever. Whether talking to a professional, friends and family or simply leaving a comment here – we all need to be having far more of these awkward discussions. We are all human and part of being human is to know we can’t do it alone. Together we are stronger and together we can help one another change. However difficult the road might be for you, please know that change is always possible. It starts with talking.
“Fly The Aircraft To The Ground” – Some Closing Thoughts
The day after the landing that wasn’t, I remember getting a call from work. Another senior Captain called to ask how I was and discuss a recurring problem he’d noticed when teaching Junior First Officers to fly. He said he’d noticed how many of them stopped flying after the flare. If you can nail the flare exactly this isn’t such a big issue, but if you flare early, or wind conditions cause you to land long, he’d noticed a tendency to let go even if the aircraft hadn’t landed yet. He said “you have to fly the aircraft to the ground.”
I never forgot that advice. Not only because it was a very practical tip that summed up exactly what I hadn’t done. But it resonated with me on a deeper level.
You have to fly the aircraft to the ground.
Don’t think because you’re on final approach you can relax. Don’t think because you’re almost home you can let your guard down. You have to keep flying. You have to keep going. Keep taking responsibility for your life and your problems. Life isn’t just one big problem to solve and then you’re set. It’s a series of never ending problems for which you have to take responsibility right till the end. You have strive to stay in control. You have to believe you can deal with it. Should you get it wrong, then you need to let go of you ego and go around.
You can always go around if you don’t get it right.
There is no shame in this. Don’t be afraid to go around and try again. But try again you must. It’s up to all of us to manage our own journeys in life and to make sure we come home safely. I, for one, have ever faith that you can.
For Additional Information regarding PTSD please follow the links below:
“A few modern philosophers assert that individual intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protect & react against this brutal pessimism… With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.” – ALFRED BINET (early 1900s)
I’d lived with a fixed mindset for years.
It was a mindset driven by a deep seated belief of not being good enough. Not being smart enough.
Simply not being enough.
I told myself all sorts of lies based off this. Lies that sounded so strongly I became crippled with depression and anxiety.
My mind tortured my heart until it shut off completely.
I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now.
I’m more productive than I’ve ever been. I’m calmer, more confident. My thinking is clearer. I trust in my heart again.
I’m beginning to wake up to who I truly am.
One of the reasons, I believe, is an understanding that nothing is fixed. Nothing is permanent.
Through true insight gained from asking for help, I’ve been able to gradually change the harmful narrative I’d spent over a decade strengthening.
I didn’t realise it then, not in these terms at least, but one of the major reasons I managed to overcome depression was because I started to cultivate a growth mindset.
A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.
A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behaviour, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.
Through her research Dweck demonstrates just how limiting a fixed mindset can be in stalling motivation and progress, especially following failure or when facing challenges. Conversely she demonstrates that those with a growth mindset see failure not as a confirmation of being unable or unintelligent, but as something from which they can learn and improve.
At the crux of her argument is the idea that those with a growth mindset understand just how valuable effort is over any sort of innate talent.
They understand effort = intelligence, and so fall in love with the process of improvement. On the other hand those with a fixed mindset are so worried about what failure might say about them, they come to dread doing what they have to in order to succeed. In extreme cases they avoid doing all together so as to avoid the pain of failure.
“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
When I began to think back over my own life in these terms, I began to see how damaging a fixed mindset had been throughout my life.
Failure to me was confirmation I was one.
I hated doing certain work from a young age. Languages, in particular, were difficult for me. I was led to believe, by many teachers nonetheless, I wasn’t good at English and/or Languages.
I didn’t bother putting any effort into those subjects. I remember thinking what’s the point. I’m not any good so might as well concentrate on what I am.
The trouble is it worked in reversed too!
I was regularly told how good I was at math – that it was something I should pursue because it will open many doors. This was drilled home to me.
I completely lost interest in a subject I once loved. I still managed to scrape an A during my GCSE’s, but much to my father’s disappointment, I decided not to pursue it as an A level. I didn’t want people to find out, that if I put in the effort and failed, I might not be that good after all.
My parents, who I know believed were doing the right thing, didn’t realise how harmful praising my natural abilities were. It turns out that praising a child’s natural ability, or telling them how clever they are, is extremely damaging because it fixes a child’s mindset.
As Dweck notes,
“The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent… In contrast, when students were praised for effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from.”
I’ll tell you a story of another teacher who never made mention of my abilities in English. She had me moved into her English class for the top peers in our age group (even though I belonged in the bottom). She made sure I sat at the front and paid keen attention (she was somewhat terrifying which helped). Despite not putting much effort into my coursework during those years, because of her, because of what I learnt through the effort I was forced to put in, I achieved B’s in both English Language and Literature.
You might think so what?
Well given my coursework material, which counted for a large percentage of the final grade, averaged between a C and a D, I must have aced the final examinations. I would also point out, before I joined her class, I was far, far behind the rest of the pack. On top of which I was going through some very difficult times in my life (I’ll get to that shortly). To this day they’re my proudest grades from secondary school.
Forgetting the grade, however, what she proved was far more important, even if it didn’t fully register till years later. She proved that if I chose to apply myself I was more than capable. She helped plant the seed for developing a growth mindset that would bear fruit many years later.
‘Prolonged bullying can instil a fixed mindset. Especially if others stand by and do nothing… Victims say that when they’re tortured and demeaned and none comes to their defence, they start to believe they deserve it. They start to judge themselves and to think they’re inferior.‘
I would love to say from this point everything got better. That I understood and moved forward with a newfound belief and started to grow.
But it didn’t.
It got worse. Much worse.
My problems stemmed from many variables, but bullying played the biggest role. Those years of secondary school were brutal for me. I was bullied every day at school for years.
This was compounded by the fact my parents couldn’t see what was happening. I was at boarding school halfway across the world. They didn’t know.
The trauma of being bullied repeatedly hardwired my response to withdraw from everyone and everything. I shut down as a way to repress the overwhelming emotions I didn’t know how to process. It was depression in the making.
Ultimately this was a major problem because it prevented me for doing what I needed the most.
Ask for help.
What followed makes perfect sense to me now.
When my first love of two years broke up with me during University, I fell apart. I had no confidence I was capable of being on my own. No belief I was lovable, or that I’d be capable of finding it again.
Similarly, when I messed up a landing so badly during my early Junior First Officer training as a pilot (that the Captain had to take over and go around), it felt like my whole world had fallen apart. I put on a brave face but when I got home I broke down. The feelings of inadequacy came flooding up. It was too much for me.
(For those who don’t know in aviation, a go-around is an aborted landing of an aircraft that is on final approach.)
Carrying on afterwards, whenever I faced failure of some kind, was extremely, extremely difficult. Difficulties would often trigger a bout of depression that could last for weeks if not months at a time.
What my fixed mindset always wanted was to give up. To retreat into my shell. To shut down rather than fail and confirm what years of bullying had led me to believe.
It took everything I had to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To understand these were just lessons on the road of life which all of us go through.
Still, something in my heart kept my head above water.
The small voices of a growth mindset, planted there by various people including my parents, my high-school English teacher and my wife, to name a few, who all understood I really was capable, were enough in the end to pull me through. To all of them I am, and always will be, extremely grateful.
Yet it was all much harder than it needed to be. The major problem wasn’t my fixed mindset, but that the depression and paralysing anxiety it caused, prevented me from reaching out for help. I knew I needed it but for years I simply couldn’t find the strength.
It wasn’t until after my son was born, when I came home from work one day consumed by a regular bout of depression. As I sat with him and looked into his eyes, I realised I didn’t want to be around him.
I didn’t want to father him.
The familiar feeling of wanting to runaway and hide, to withdraw into my shell, to shirk all my responsibilities – including that as a father – broke me. The remorse and guilt was too much to bear. I left the room and the tears fell.
I let the sadness consume me.
I cried and cried. I cried until nothing was left but a strange peace. Something inside me changed. Something that said this time I couldn’t let depression win. I won’t. I didn’t think about what to do next. I simply picked up the phone.
I reached out.
I asked for help.
“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives”
I rate it as both the most courageous and important decision I’ve ever made. Since then the changes have far exceeded what I thought possible.
Am I out of the woods yet?
No, not a chance.
But I can honestly say after I sought help, after over a decade of suffering from what was eventually diagnosed as long-term depression, I’ve not had an episode since.
I still struggle with anxiety and other emotions that surface, especially in the face of adversity. However the difference is they don’t consume me like they used to.
I’m acutely aware of where those emotions and the false narrative are coming from. This has helped me to gradually let them go.
I also realised through the flooding of my subconscious with positive thinking and reading (the same way bullying can flood your subconscious with negative thinking), you can change the narrative in your head. You can literally grow out of a fixed mindset. You can literally grow out of depression!
Of course I don’t want to underplay how difficult this all was or, indeed, still is. To this day being bullied remains one of the most difficult topics for me to talk about personally, let alone publicly, but I now understand the need to do so.
In not facing your demons, you only give them strength. You only strengthen your fixed mindset. By not asking for help you only make it harder to do later on.
Ultimately if there was just one message I could convey to those struggling with depression – to those who suffer from an all consuming self-doubt – it would be to ask for help.
To somehow find the courage within you and reach out.
I know how hard it is.
But please remember, asking for help is simply asking someone else to help you grow. We all need help from one another – from the day we’re born till the day we die. The last thing it shows is that you’ve failed or that you’re incapable.
It shows the exact opposite.
It shows that despite everything you’re still willing to show up. It shows you’re not willing to let past demons fix in you any false belief. It shows that you understand that within you is another voice. Another mindset that knows you have so much more to give. A mindset we all have.
Dear readers, thank you so much for listening to what I have to say! In the interest of growth, I’d love to hear any comments, suggestions, questions or criticisms you may have in the comments sections below. Thanks again. Yours, AP2.