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
When Micheal Jordan returned from the NBA after an extended hiatus his publicity manager was unsure how they should announce the news. So, he wrote a number of press releases for Micheal to choose from.
But Jordan didn’t like any of them. He said, “I’ll do it myself.” before picking up a pen and writing down the following message,
That was it. The entire press release consisted of just those two words. Yet, everyone who was anyone knew exactly who and what.
Of course, when you’re a legend like MJ you don’t need to say very much. In many respects, the less you say the better. You should let your actions do the talking.
Unfortunately most of us aren’t legends. Our actions usually don’t do the talking. That’s why we write!
As much as I like to think of myself as the Micheal Jordan of the blogging world, I feel my press realise needs to be a wee bit longer. Mainly because my actions haven’t been talking at all.
Honestly, the last couple of months have been difficult for me. It’s felt like I’ve been stuck in the past. Desperately wishing to catch up with my family – my present – who had been waiting for me in Singapore while I saw out the remaining months of my contract in Hong Kong.
Aside from failing to process some very difficult emotions, I’ve had a million and one things to do. I’m sure you can appreciate what a massive undertaking moving to a new country is.
For all of the above my motivation to write has gone begging. Instead, my muse has spent the last several weeks eating his emotions. I hesitate to point out he’s on a bit of weight..
This morning is the first time in a long time that I’ve sat down to really write and reflect. I quickly released how much I missed it. I released just how much I needed it. Even if my muse did struggle to get up from the couch!
I forget that writing helps me process my emotions. When I lose the motivation it may well be because I’m avoiding them. At any rate, I haven’t been.
All things not said and not done, all I have are excuses. It comes back to actions versus words. There’s nothing wrong with having words, but they must align with action. That’s what makes them true.
As a writer, well, that means creating some words.
I feel particularly guilty because I know how hard the rest of the team here at the new and vastly improved Wise and Shine have been working in my absence.
Let me take this opportunity to say how extremely grateful I am to all of you for your efforts. Your actions do speak louder than words. They haven’t gone unnoticed.
The good news is, I’m starting to feel like the seas are calming. Like I’ve finally caught up with my present self.
I actually moved to Singapore last week. I managed to negotiate leaving a week early so I could arrive in time for my eldest son’s 4 year birthday. He’d been asking where daddy is for several weeks.
So, when I walked through the front door with suitcases in hand, his eyes lit up. He shouted “Daddy!’ before running across the living room and giving me a huge hug. As I struggle to hold back the tears, I said nothing.
My emotions come at me in waves. Often I’m strong enough to withstand them – to hold the ship steady – but every now and then they catch me with my shields down. I’m swept away.
That happened the other day when the movers came in to pack everything up. Seeing my whole life packed into boxes. That was difficult.
But the hardest moment came after they had gone. When I was left all alone in an empty apartment, the place we’d called home for the past four years.
And I could see it all at once. I could see the first time we brought my eldest son home from the hospital. I could picture my youngest taking his first steps across the living room floor. All the heart to hearts with my wife, sat exhausted on the sofa after a long day.
The ghosts of my past were everywhere to be seen.
Yet, my present had already packed up and left. Waiting for me in Singapore while I see out the remaining 3 months of my contract here in Hong Kong.
It was then that the sheer enormity of the decision we’d made hit me. It was then that the real ghosts of my past started screaming. Telling me I’ve made a huge mistake, that I don’t what I’m doing, that I’m weak for not having put up with everything.
Here we go again, I thought. The voices in my head that never let up. The voices that have haunted me for so long.
Part of me worried that maybe, underneath it all – behind the politics, the toxic work culture, the endless days of quarantine – the real reason for leaving is a futile attempt to try and outrun these ghosts. Hoping I would somehow be able to leave them behind when I leave myself.
For the longest time I thought the voices telling me to leave were those ghosts. So, I figured the path to salvation was staying put. I figured I had to stay the course.
But I know that’s not true. I know it was my ghosts that kept me frozen in fear for so long.
The funny thing is, now that the decision is made, it seems, in some strange sense, the louder they scream the surer I am. Yet, they still scream, they still kick.
Thankfully I know my ghosts well. l know, more often than not, they appear in a desperate attempt to mask some deeper pain beneath the surface. I also know that trying to outrun them is a mistake.
So, I believe, a better question isn’t how to stop your ghosts from appearing, but how to see through them when they do. To do that, you have to hold them in your heart.
To see through the ghosts of your past you have to accept them as they are.
After torturing myself for a while that day I sat down in middle of that empty apartment and took some time to let my ghosts be. Slowly but surely the voices started to quell.
Slowly but surely the real pain my ghosts were masking began to surface: Grief.
Of course, the only way to process grief is to let your shields downs. The only way to process grief is to let your emotions sweep you away. So, that’s what I did.
Hello lovely readers and welcome back to 3-2-1 Flying Fridays! The only weekly post that never gives up – even when all hope is lost!
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!
3 x Thoughts:
1) We’re taught to do things to please our parents for survival. When we eventually grow up we realise we don’t have to do things to please others anymore. Only what we know is right in our hearts. Often that means saving yourself because we’re the only ones that can.
2) It’s important to maintain both a sense of control and a sense of change in our lives. Too much predictability the more meaningless our existence begins to feel. But too much change can throw us into chaos. We start to feel out of control. We need to pursue meaningful but manageable change over time. To do that we need to imagine the person we want to become and then take baby steps through steady, controlled self-discipline.
3) When a pilot flies an aeroplane the last thing they aim at is the obstacle they don’t want to hit. If a plane is on fire the pilots only have one goal: The nearest piece of tarmac. They will think of nothing else. They sure as hell won’t give up, even if the odds are truly stacked against them. How could they? Why would they? And why would you?
2 x Quotes:
“My conclusion as a clinical psychologist has been that as paralyzing and terrible as our propensity for negative emotion is, and as grounded in reality as that propensity might be, it’s more the case that our ability to overcome it is actually stronger than it’s grip on us.”
— Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
— Charles Darwin
1 x Joke:
It’s been raining a lot here recently. When we went outside yesterday I asked my wife is she wanted to hear a joke about umbrellas.
She said, “No, it’ll probably go straight over my head.”
I recently completed a course on personality theory that I found infinitely fascinating. Today I want to share some thoughts about how this understanding can help us better navigate in the world.
You can think of personality as the lens through which we view the world. It functions by filtering the world so we only pay attention to certain things. This then influences the way we think, feel, and act.
Part of what colours our lens has to do with the environment in which we have been raised. But another significant part has to do with the innate personality traits that we were born with.
Not only for knowing who we should become but for helping us understand that other people are fundamentally different. They will never be able to look at the world like you do – neither will you they. It’s this understanding that helps foster greater compassion and tolerance for “the other side.”
This is also why we should pick things like our profession based on our personality. Some are of us are naturally creative while others look at art and simply don’t get it. Conversely, some of us are highly conscientious while others couldn’t care less if they put odd socks on in the morning.
Most organisations need a combination of both vertical (in-the-box) type thinkers and lateral (out-of-the-box) type thinkers. Indeed, the world needs various personality types because there isn’t a single answer to all of the world’s problems.
Does this mean we can’t adjust the colour of our lens? Does it mean we can’t become something we’re not? No, not entirely. Our personalities change naturally as we age. They are malleable. And we should try to expand the limits of our own personality.
That said, there are limits. After a certain point, you get diminishing rates of return. We all have a proclivity to learn specific skills more quickly than others. We all struggle to understand certain things more than others too.
This is because all of us have limited cognitive abilities. We’re simply incapable of processing all of the objective facts in the unknowable universe. Different personalities are nature’s way of covering all bases.
This is important for understanding different political persuasions, which is heavily influenced by personality. Sometimes liberals have the answer; at other times conservatives do. But, at the end of the day, to quote some Indian dude, “the left-wing and right-wing are part of the same bird.”
We need diversity of thought. And we desperately need to work together despite our differences. This is how we cover each other’s blind spots.
Ultimately this understanding can help us find that goldilocks position in life we’re all looking for. The one that suits us best (and this, I firmly believe, best suits the world too). But it also helps to adjust the parts of ourselves that on occasion need adjusting to fit the circumstances.
Ideally, you want to wear the hat most suited to who you are as much as possible. But you also want the ability to put on a different hat when the circumstances require it. Because life is unpredictable so we must be adaptable.
The trick is to specialise at what you are but practise what you aren’t.
But to do that, we must first become clear about who we really are at our core. We must first understand the hand we have been dealt before we try to play it – before we match the game to our particular set of cards.
In the following weeks I mean to break these five traits down while placing my own personality under the microscope. In the process I hope to shine a brighter light on who you are too, so we may all deepen our understanding about ourselves and the world we live in.
So my muse decided to take a holiday recently. He packed his bags and went to Hawaii or somewhere. And I know he’s been sitting in the sun drinking Pina Coladas the whole time.
That smug bastard.
Now, I should say I told him to take a break. The problem is, I’ve found it hard to get back into the flow of things. It turns out my muse enjoyed his holiday a little too much!
1I figured the break would do me good. I thought I would be raring to go by the time “I was ready” to write again. But that’s not been the case.
This is odd given my firm belief that you should take a break if you find the muse begging. In my experience you only end up creating more work for yourself if you try to force it.
If you feel overly stressed or burnt-out, I suggest you walk away and grab a beer. Catch up with some friends. Play with your children. Whatever it is, sometimes the muse just needs a little time to connect the dots.
I swear it works wonders.
That said, I’ve realised that there is such a thing as too much time off. So much so that muse forgets the dots altogether. You still need to show up most days.
If you want to increase your creativity, you need some perseverance. Of course, you have to be around to catch the muse when that smug bastard actually bothers to show up.
Consistency and creativity go hand in hand.
The trick, I think, is to make sure you show up almost every day. But make sure, when you sit down to write, you do so without any expectations. Don’t pressure yourself to create something you must publish. Just aim to have some fun. Horse around a little.
Speak your mind.
Then review it in the light of the next day. It doesn’t matter whether you wrote complete garbage. Ruthlessly murder all of your darlings if you have to.
What matters is that you showed up. This is how you learn. This is how you improve. The more you do this, the more willing your muse will ultimately be.
With that said – and this is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned during my recent creative leave of absence – what matters most of all is that you show up for life first and foremost. Your muse isn’t going to play ball if you have bigger fish to fry.
To quote Steven King, “Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
The real reason I took an extended leave of absence is because my wife got a job offer in Singapore. Provided the visa gets approved, I will be tendering my resignation and leaving behind a job and a life here in Hong Kong I’ve spent the last decade building.
Of course we needed some time to prepare ourselves for this potential move. I also needed some time to process my emotions which, as you can imagine, have been a little over the place.
Between this, my full-time job and parenting two frenetic boys, I decided to put blogging on the back burner for a while.
Honestly, I’m glad I did. It’s been a bit of a struggle to get back into it, but here I am. I feel ten times lighter for it.
The good news is my muse – that smug bastard – is starting to come round. And guess what?
He’s rocking a sweet tan.
He’s telling me, it’s time to get down to business.
“There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, ‘Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,’ and an optimist who says, ‘Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn out fine any way.’ Either way, nothing happens.”
— Yvon Chouinard
Most of us don’t call fear out for what it is. We often dress it up as something else. Many of us will even rationalise our fear as optimism.
We entertain thoughts that our situation will magically improve over time. This is common for someone working a job they dislike.
But the truth is – if you feel the same way you did several months or years ago – things probably won’t get better by themselves. Unless you do something about it, the chances are you’ll remain just as unhappy as you are now.
This is what’s happened to me.
Right now I’m standing at the edge of the precipice about to take a leap of faith. All of my gremlins have come crawling out of the woodwork.
They’re whispering in my ear. Telling me this is a massive mistake, that it will end in disaster, that I have no idea what I’m doing…
Of course fear wants us to play it safe. It wants us to choose certainty over happiness. That’s because the ego isn’t interested happiness. It’s only interested in survival.
But that’s why it’s important to understand just how dangerous that leap of faith really is.
But to do that, you first have to embrace your demons. You have to give them the time and space to air out their concerns. So that you can really examine them. So you can hold them up in the light and see that fear for what it is:
This helps us understand where our fears are really coming from. It helps us see what we can do to mitigate those concerns. Which fears are worth listening to and which really aren’t.
This in turn can give us the strength we need to take that leap of faith.
Fear-Setting: A powerful exercise for making major life decisions.
“You have comfort. You don’t have luxury. And don’t tell me that money plays a part. The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort.”
First, you write down the major life change you’re considering.
Second, define the worst case scenario in pain staking detail. Ask yourself if it really would be the end of your life? How permanent would it be? How likely is the worst case scenario?
Third, ask yourself what steps could you take to repair the damage/deal with worst. Would you be able to get another job? What if you were fired from your job today? What would you do? How would you cope?
Forth, ask yourself what the outcomes/benefits of a more probable scenario are. What are the definite positive outcomes (including for your self-esteem, mental and physical health etc)? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be?
Fifth, ask what the cost will be if you do nothing? What is the cost of inaction? What will it cost you financially, emotionally & physically if you postpone this difficult choice?
Finally, ask yourself what you’re so afraid of? What are currently putting off out of fear?
Perhaps It’s Better the Devil You Don’t Know?
“It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.”
– SJ Anthony de Mello
After running through this exercise the other night I came to a number of important insights.
I realised the nightmare scenario I’d been envisioning was one in a million. And the benefits – the positive outcomes – were much more likely. Even if the worst did come to pass, I realised that much of what I felt I was giving up was reversible.
But I also considered what the longer term costs of inaction might be. This presented me with another picture. One that was every bit as scary as the one that had been causing me to hesitate.
So I asked myself, ‘what I am really afraid of here?’
After giving it some thought it occurred to me that I what fear most – isn’t what the future might hold – but losing what I know.
I fear losing the gremlins that have kept safe for so long.
People often say it’s better the devil you know. But what if the devil you don’t know isn’t a devil after all?
After all, you don’t know.
What if it’s not an angel sent to save you? If only you had the courage to reach out to it – if only you had the strength to take that leap of faith and leave the shoreline behind.
The truth is, change is the only inevitability in this life. To cling to what we know only provides us with a false sense of security.
I would argue, to embrace change – to embrace the unknown – is to embrace life itself.
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 something special (maybe).
As a bonus I’ve finished with one joke that’s so bad, it’s good!
3 x Thoughts:
1)A relationship without conflict is doomed. We must challenge each other if we want to grow together. We need a person who will contend with us, not someone who will only worship us. We need someone who is courageous enough to tell us the truth, even if it hurts.
2)If you want to conquer fear you have to define it in pain-staking detail first. You have to hold it up in the light and examine it to see it for what it really is:
3) Change is the only certainty in life. To cling to what you know only provides you with a false sense of security. To embrace change – to embrace the unknown – is to embrace life itself.
2 x Quotes:
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?””
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
Hello lovely readers and welcome back to the Flying Fridays newsletter! The only weekly newsletter that starts the year a week later than everyone else.
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 something special (maybe).
As a bonus I’ve finished with one joke that’s so bad, it’s good!
3 x Thoughts:
1) If you don’t want to get stuck in the past, you must embrace the future.
2) When setting resolutions remember the language you use matters. You don’t have to write in a gratitude journal, you get to. You don’t have to be part of saving the planet for our children, you get to be. You don’t have to eat your vegetables or go for a run at 5am (you definitely don’t have to do that), you get to live a healthy lifestyle.
3) Two rules for writers: 1. Do more living than reading. 2. Do more reading than writing. Feed your brain with experiences and books before you write.
2 x Quotes:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
– Vivian Greene
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Katy Milkman, a psychology professor noted,“Any time you have a moment that feels like a division of time, your mind does a special thing where it creates a sense that you have a fresh start. This helps you to create psychological distance from past failures allowing you to feel that any mistake was the “old you” and that you’ll now do better.”
A useful takeaway mentioned that those who set approach goals – which involves adopting a new habit like meditation – versus those who set avoidance goals – which, as the name suggests, involves quitting something like sweets, alcohol or social media – were about 25% more likely to meet them.
The good thing is, if you want to give something up, you can turn into an appraoch goal. For example, if you want to give up social media, make the goal to take up reading ebooks whenever you feel like a bit of downtime on your smartphone.
1 x Joke:
I thought you might enjoy this.
“Lexophile” describes those that have a love for sentences such as, “You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish,” and, “To write with a broken pencil is pointless.”
An annual competition is held by the ‘New York Times’ to see who can create the best original lexophile.
This year’s submissions:
I changed my iPod’s name to Titanic. It’s syncing now.
England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.
Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.
This girl today said she recognized me from the Vegetarians Club, but I’d swear I’ve never met herbivore.
I know a guy who’s addicted to drinking brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.
A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.
When the smog lifts in Los Angeles U.C.L.A.
I got some batteries that were given out free of charge.
A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.
A will is a dead giveaway.
With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
Police were summoned to a daycare center where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.
Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off? He’s all right now.
A bicycle can’t stand alone; it’s just two tired.
The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine last week is now fully recovered.
He had a photographic memory but it was never fully developed.
When she saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d dye.
Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it.
I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
Did you hear about the crossed-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?
When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.
When chemists die, they barium.
I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.
I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.
Those who get too big for their pants will be totally exposed in the end.
“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
― Carl Jung
I spent most of my adult life trying to avoid suffering. It made everything worse. I spent my days waiting, hoping for my knight in shining armour. The funny thing is she existed, I just didn’t have the courage to ask her for help. I was too afraid to challenge my beliefs.
I also didn’t understand the paradoxical nature of change. The fact that you have to first accept who you are, that you have to first accept your life circumstances.
Which is hard, of course. I mean, how could I accept what my demons were telling me? How could I accept that what I really believed, was that I wasn’t capable – that I wasn’t worthy?
I tried in desperation to whip myself into something I wasn’t. I tried to kill that part of myself and in the process became consumed by it. Depression took a firm grip and I found myself drowning. In my attempts to fight, I only sunk deeper.
Eventually I gave up altogether.
Yet, it was only when I finally let go that I started to see something. What’s already there is there, so why fight it? To fight your demons, to resit them – is not only futile, it makes things worse.
Attempts to kill your demons makes them scream louder.It’s hating those parts of yourself that gives them strength. It’s only by embracing your demons, by having the courage to hold them in your heart, that you will start to see change.
And it won’t be that those demons go away. They won’t. What changes is your relationship to them. Suddenly they become part of you. You see both the light and the dark side. You come to understand them. You start to see where they’ve really come from.
That is insight.
And because your demons feel heard, they start to soften. They don’t feel the need to scream for oxygen anymore. It’s no different to a child who is shown love after a long period of neglect. Of course that’s all that the inner-child deep down in all of us wants – to be heard, to be held, to be loved.
I believe life’s biggest lesson is acceptance. For who we are, for life in all it’s fucked up glory, for, ultimately, our own mortality and that of those we love.
That’s why I suggest making it part of your morning prayer or meditation ritual. Find ways, design habits, whatever you have to do to cultivate an extreme sense of gratitude for who you are and what you have in this moment. It’s not easy, of course. I get it. It is something you have to practise everyday.
That’s not to say one shouldn’t act. No, that’s resignation. Resignation is choosing not to act when you can make a change. Resignation is choosing to believe the false narratives in your head instead of looking deeply. Resignation is believing that you can’t be helped, when you can. I know all about resignation.
Acceptance is something very different.
Acceptance is about acknowledging your demons, it’s not about letting them dictate the terms. Acceptance is about having discipline to face your current reality as it stands, to own up to it.
You need to let your demons know you hear them, then go ahead and do what you know is right. That includes asking for help if you need it. That includes processing your grief. There is no shame in this. In fact, that’s exactly what courage is.
Now here’s the paradox.
What follows a fear to accept is a fear to act. What follows the courage to accept is the courage to act. If you do that, you’ll find your demons switch shoulders. You’ll find you’re driven by them, not burdened by them. You’ll find your demons are everything to you – they’re what give your life it’s ultimate meaning. Once that happens, you’re not just going through the motions. You’re not just doing a job. It’s far deeper than that.
We need meaning in our lives, because that’s what gives us hope. It’s what helps us to guard against nihilism. The more meaning you find in life, the more meaningful you believe your life is – the more peace and joy and love you will find in it. The most powerful way to do that is give meaning to your suffering.
If you do, you’ll realise your demons were trying to lead you from darkness all along. You’ll look down and realise, your shadows are made from light. You’ll realise your demons are your angels as well.
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.