Advice From the Cockpit

I received a pep-talk from a friend of mine this last week as I’d admitted to being in a moment of overwhelm.  It’s always encouraging to receive a slap on the back when you need one, and feeling that you’re part of a broader community of people ready to support you is invaluable.  I’ve learned to draw on that community more gracefully these days.
What struck me most was the care taken in choosing these words of encouragement, especially considering they came from a non-aviation friend.  The encouragement and advice was:

“Nothing flies without fuel – what are you going to do to refill your body and spirit?  Stay out of the clouds – those doubts in your head are blocking your vision and creating turbulence.  Take-off is optional – you’ve chosen this path because you’ve trained for it.  Fly!  Stay ahead of the plane – trust your instincts and your planning.  And finally, keep calm and Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.”

This is a remarkably complete set of instructions for bracing yourself and following through, and I thought worth sharing with you all today as we make our way towards the last month of this year.

Nothing flies without fuel

Even slightly ethereal gliders have to be hauled into the air by another aircraft and work to find the thermals that will produce the lift for them to gain height.  After that, it’s about management of resources (energy) to see how long they can stay aloft.  For those aircraft powered by engines, their fuel source is imperative to the length and quality of their journey! 
As you move towards the end of this year, (clearing up what needs clearing; reporting on what’s been achieved and what the next aim is; configuring what needs to be in place for that next chapter) do you have enough fuel to power yourself, and is it clean and of high quality?  Are you powering not only your body, but your mind and spirit?

Stay out of the clouds

One of the most fun parts of learning to fly are the moments spent “cloud bashing” – flying your small craft through, round and between fluffy cumulus clouds as you marvel at the halls they make.  Your ability to manoeuvre between them and anticipate the movement of your aircraft is a heady and exhilarating combination.  A few bumps here and there are entirely worth it.
Then there are the more serious clouds.  The darker, thicker variety that hug the earth on gloomy days, or that exist in the skirts of a thunderstorm.  These are not ones you want to play with.  They contain building energy or conceal hills you should avoid.  We learn early on to be discerning about the bumps we’re willing to play in and the types we should avoid because they cloud our vision and judgement.
Our everyday lives seem full of things that can cloud our vision and create turbulence presently.  It seems pertinent to remember we have a choice in what we look at.

Take off is optional

This is a baseline judgement call in aviation.  It means that no matter how prepared we are and how willing to go, if the conditions presenting themselves are adverse, then staying on the ground is the better call.  Being in the air and wishing you’d rather not be, is not a choice any of us want to have made.  We learn to get over ourselves, and to make sensible calls over those that may seem braver or more exciting in the moment, if the risk involved outweighs the probability of success.
That said, weather is a given, and therefore we train to navigate certain conditions.  We train to fly in these conditions for almost as long as we did to first learn to fly in a clear sky.
You too, have trained for the place that you’re in.  You’ve weathered experience that has added to your know-how and you can pick your battles with more predictability and finesse than when you started.  When we’ve trained and prepared for what’s presenting itself there is no reason to, or joy in, hanging back rather than getting airborne – trusting ourselves, our training and our experience.

Stay ahead of the plane

One of the most dangerous places a pilot can be is “behind” their aircraft.  This refers to a mental position rather than a physical one.  We aim to remain “5 minutes ahead” of our aircraft at all times – mentally prepared for the next step and what it will require.  Perhaps that will mean establishing contact on a new radio frequency which we have ready and “dialled in”.  Perhaps it will require a change of direction on reaching a reporting point – the new heading must be ready and waiting.  If we’re about to reach our destination, the approach to land is briefed and prepared for so that we know exactly what to expect.
This kind of mental preparation means we are always operating in a calm and clear headspace as opposed to one that’s playing catch-up.  It means we’re always one step ahead (if not more) and if an anomaly presents itself, we have leeway.  I believe there’s an expression about “Prior Planning…”

Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.

This is a mantra within itself.  It’s our go-to axiom that reminds us what order to do the imperatives in to maintain control when things back up or when we’re presented with a situation.  The most immediate requirement is always to fly the aircraft – aviate.  To maintain control and focus on what we know how to do well; what we’ve practised and trained for.  Next, when we’re sure we have the basics under control, we decide what needs to happen next – we navigate.  When we’re in control of the basics and have decided what needs to happen next, only then do we communicate that.
Consider the implications of doing all that in reverse… having communicated only to realise that you don’t have the basics under control and no idea where you’re going…
As you can see, the above is solid advice.  As relevant as these reminders are for me, no doubt we could all use them at this time of the year as things get hairy and energy is low.  And when all else fails, the counsel of those who know us well is priceless.

by Christen Killick

November 29th, 2021

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