I started my first flying job last year at the age of 52.
I survived instructors who yelled at me and slapped my hand in the plane
and fear-based learning environments
and being told to “fake it ‘til you make it”
and that my problem is a lack of confidence
and to “be a boss bitch” – whatever the hell that means
and colon cancer.
It was TURBULENT.
When I was 50 years old, I had my first colonoscopy. The doctor found one polyp and said it looked benign. When he called on a Friday at 6p, I knew he was wrong. I had surgery the next month and, although the diagnosis was stage three, I’m now considered cured.
Shortly before this snafu, I decided to pursue a career in aviation. It had been 18 years since I’d flown a plane and almost 30 years since I became a private pilot. On my path to professional pilot, I earned my instrument rating. This permits me to fly “by instruments” – without visual references to the ground, horizon or landmarks. Basically, I can fly in clouds. And by following very precise maps, I can travel hundreds of miles, pop out of the clouds 200 feet above the runway and land.
In the early 90’s, our planes didn’t have GPS or autopilot. I used paper charts, a compass and a lot of math. What hasn’t changed is how pilots operate in the clouds. I’ve been trained to trust my instruments since severe illusions can occur in an all-white world. For example, I may feel that I’m upright and actually be turning. If I accelerate quickly, my body might interpret that motion as the plane pitching upward. Either one of these scenarios can quickly develop into a dangerous spiral or dive.
It’s not all scary though – flying in the clouds is also magical and beautiful!! And this scary/magical combo is what makes flying an excellent metaphor for life. How do I navigate when I can’t see what’s ahead? What maps do I need? How do I deal with turbulence, diversions and storms? Although we now have GPS units in our planes, pilots must be able to fly by the old-timey compass – which consists of two magnets floating in fluid that point to the north and south poles. This is not a perfect system. In fact, there are four errors in a compass and I have to compensate for those in order to get reliable information. To continue with this life metaphor, the compass is my intuition.
Here are few things that create errors in my internal compass:
Mental Interference: Over-analyzing, ruminating on the past or future, perceived pressure or judgement from others
Physical Interference: Pain, discomfort, isolation, weakness, fatigue, illness, restlessness
Emotional interference: Anxiety, fear, stress, overwhelm, depression, numbness, despair, grief
Not only can intuition be illusive, but Interference can make it unreliable. During these times, I encourage clients to pause any decision-making and focus on righting the compass. This involves being present, grounded and calm more often. To achieve this, you may want to be alone, get quiet, meditate, move your body, listen to music, paint, be with your people, be in nature, talk and/or write about your feelings…whatever works for you. Being in your body and in this moment is what makes your inner instrument most reliable.
For me, intuition feels clear, clean and free of tension. This doesn’t mean the way forward will be easy. In fact, it probably won’t be. You may not know how, where, when or with whom the next right thing will occur, but your compass can point to WHAT the next right thing is. Think of the times when you’ve ignored your intuition and how that felt. And how it felt when you honored your intuition. Understanding how your compass works can help you to more easily navigate future travels.
I have many more thoughts about flying as a metaphor for life. What type of fuel is in your tank? What’s creating drag? How can you get more lift? I’ll save those for next time…
For now, I’ll circle back to the beginning and remind you that there was severe turbulence on my route. Many stalls, spins, illusions and delays. And then there was a day – years later – when I could feel ALL OF MY HARD WORK coalescing into an unwavering confidence.
There will be a point when all of YOUR hard work generates enough energy and momentum to lift off the ground. You’ll still need maximum power for the climb, but soon you can level off and pull back on the RPMs. You’ll be able to relax a bit in your seat and look out the window at the beautiful view you have earned.
Confidence comes through action. So keep f’n going.