I will never forget my first long-distance solo “cruise.” Even though I was being “graded” – the big cross-country solo is a requirement for licensure – I really opted for the long version of the test so I could just be up there longer, so I could really and truly experience a real sense of the air up there.
The weather was perfect. No bumps, no wind, just enough clouds to add to an already impressive God’s eye view of southeastern Pennsylvania. I only wish my instructor were with me to take the controls for a few minutes, just so I could enjoy being there unimpeded by responsibility for the plane..
I know more experienced pilots might disagree, but I loved flying the Evektor SportStar. Other than maybe the Bristell (coincidentally designed by the same guy!), the SportStar is just about the perfect “touring” airplane. Its low wings and clear cockpit allowed me a true “big picture” – I could see everything. Maybe more than everything. If you’ve been up there, you know what I mean.
But, flying solo, I had to keep up with all the little things that go into keeping the plane in the air. (Let’s face it. If the plane won’t stay in the air up there, it’s kinda hard to fully experience it.)
The dichotomy makes for much more than an interesting metaphysical discussion. To truly experience the air up there, a pilot has to be both a wide angle and a zoom lens. He has to see the big picture AND keep focused on the myriad individual tasks at hand. The perfect sunset isn’t so perfect if it distracts a pilot from completing even one step in a single sequence.
During that first solo flight to Cape May, I realized that flying that airplane was a lot like running a business.
Successful business managers are those people who keep their eyes on the big picture – these are the folks with vision. But the really successful business leaders combine their wide-angle vision with a sharp zoom lens – they know when and where to focus on the nuts and bolts of the operation. They realize that it takes more than a clear vision – it takes obsessive dedication to the proper steps in the proper order to make that vision a reality.
I find the same is true about life itself.
There is turbulence. Unpredictable pitches and rolls. It can be a wild, unpredictable ride. There is no such thing as a guaranteed smooth landing.
But I’ve seen what happens when people let go of their metaphorical controls, unsure of how to react. I’ve experienced the frightening sensation of not knowing what to do next. I get knots in the pit of my stomach just thinking about it.
I know it’s a weak analogy. Life is not an airplane. Life doesn’t come equipped with a backup parachute or an emergency checklist. But my old SportStar did. And Step One on that emergency list applies to EVERY situation Life could possibly throw at you:
Fly the airplane.
Before checking the fuel levels, before searching for a nearby landing spot, before calling for help on the radio, or even attempting a restart, pilots are taught to “fly the airplane.”
Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. In that order.
Regardless of what happens, don’t take your hands off the controls! (Aviate.) Yes, it’s going to be a rough ride. But how much rougher will it be if nobody’s in control?
Even if you can’t quite make out the big picture, you must stay focused on the task at hand! (Navigate.) And please, don’t hesitate – ever – to ask for help. (Communicate.) One way or another, we’re all on this ride together.
You’ll be surprised at how many experienced pilots out there know exactly what you’re going through.