What learning to fly taught me about handling adversity


When everything seems to be going against you, remember the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it, Henry Ford. 

Ask any pilot if they remember the first time they flew the airplane alone. And you’ll get a resounding yes!  The solo flight is a milestone in each pilot’s life, it’s the time when preparation and opportunity all come together.  You are alone in the airplane, no instructor by your side correcting mistakes, keeping you safe, it’s all up to you.

Although my solo was over 20 years ago, I remember it as though it were yesterday.  The weather, the sounds of the engine and the wheels rolling down the runway.  But what I remember the most about that day is looking over to my right and seeing that empty seat next to me, knowing I was completely responsible for returning this aircraft safely to the ground, intact.

Whether your piloting an aircraft, an organization or a team, how you face and ultimately handle adversity will largely determine your success or failure.  What my instructor taught me long ago was a simple lesson, the goal for each flight is for takeoffs to equal landings, what happens in between is up to you and will determines your success in achieving this goal.

What I’ve learned in achieving that seemingly simple goal is that preparation is the key to success, in business and in life.  Becoming a pilot was challenging, but also taught me a method of problem-solving, a calm analytical approach to decision making that works, and it starts with the basics:

  1. Know yourself, your aircraft and your limitations, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  The road is littered with people who failed because they were too proud to ask for help or admit they were wrong.

  2. Anticipate the best, but plan for the worst.  Always have a plan, but be prepared to change the plan based on new and relevant information.  Plowing forward when everything around you is telling you no, is just not smart, trust your gut.

  3. Enjoy the journey, every flight, every decision is a learning experience.  Just as there are no perfect flights, as a leader you will make mistakes.  With proper planning, training and experience, over time you will make fewer mistakes, but don’t let perfection keep you from taking and enjoying the journey.

Although I haven’t been as active in the last few years as I would have liked, earning and achieving my private pilot’s license and piloting my own aircraft has been one of the true joys in my life.  It has taught me much beyond aviation, about problem solving, planning, decision-making and navigating my own deepest fears and anxieties to a successful outcome.