How to Pilot the Airplane of Your Life

Last night was the halfway point of my Misogi that is the culmination of the first 40 years of my life. I spent my 20th consecutive night in a tent on the rooftop deck of my house. If you want to read about how Jesse Itzler saved my 40th birthday, it’s worth a look. I have done a lot of thinking these last 20 nights.

Doing big or hard things in life is relateable to piloting an airplane.
There are tasks that pilots must complete to have a safe flight. Sometimes these tasks are calculations; sometimes pilots use a checklist; and sometimes pilots are monitoring.
But each of these tasks is important to a safe flight; and, for those of us who want to do big things with our lives, we can use this framework to become the pilot of our own lives.
I use an airplane metaphor for a couple of very important reasons: 1) Flying is scary for many people, 2) Piloting a large jumbo jet and a single engine Cessna have more in common than you would think.
So, no matter the size of your dream or goal and no matter how scary that goal is for you, think like a pilot.
What is your Decision Speed?
If you have ever flown in a plane you know the feeling when the plane starts to roll down the runway and it gets faster and faster. Then all of a sudden you feel the plane start to lift and the wheels lose contact with the runway.
What you might not know is that somewhere during that roll the speed of the plane reaches a speed called Decision Speed or (V1). This is the speed where it becomes unsafe to abort the takeoff. That means the plane MUST take off even if there is an emergency.
This isn’t a simple guess by the pilots, this is something they can and must calculate for a safe flight. They take into account the type of plane, conditions of the runway, wind speed and direction, weight, among other things.
Likewise before we set our lives on a course to do something big we need to understand the decision speed. There is a jolt of adrenaline when you reach that decision speed, you know there is no turning back.
So many of us live our lives below the decision speed. We always have a way to bail out before we even start.
You will NEVER accomplish big things if you always allow yourself a way to bail out before you even get started.
Where is your Pre-Flight Checklist?
The first time I ever flew with my pilot friend, he flew down to Atlanta to pick me up. He landed and exited his plane and we had lunch.
As soon as lunch was over we grabbed my bag and headed toward the plane. I thought we would be airborne in 2-3 minutes. But, then he got out his pre-flight checklist.
We spent several minutes checking what seemed like everything on the plane: Wheel Chocks, Propeller, Fuel, Gauges, Safety Equipment, etc.
“Can’t we go already? You did all this before you left home right,” I asked.
“We do this before every single flight. No matter what. I may have cracked the propeller during the last flight without knowing it, or I may have a fuel leak, or any number of other things. I don’t want to die because I was too anxious to get started.”
I know countless people who have tried to do something big, but failed due to their rush to get started. This is about more than making a list of the gear you will need.
If you want to do big things in your life you need buy in from other people. You don’t live in a vacuum. Is your spouse/partner/roommate on board? Do you need some buy in from your boss or co-workers? What about a doctor or therapist?
Sleeping on the roof for 40 days seems pretty straightforward. But I put a lot of thought into it. The idea first came to me in mid to late August and I immediately grabbed my “Crazy Idea” checklist.
These last 20 days have been very smooth, despite a hurricane, not because I’m some tough guy, but because of my pre-flight checklist.
You don’t use a pre-flight checklist because it accounts for every conceivable problem that comes up. You use a pre-flight checklist because it gives you the best opportunity to have a safe flight.
If you want to do big things in your life, you need to have a pre-action checklist in place to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed.
What are your In Flight Monitoring Procedures?
The captain comes on the intercom and announces, “We have reached our cruising altitude of 34,000 ft.” For many of us if we aren’t already buried in a book or a movie, we might take this opportunity to turn over and get some sleep.
But what about the pilot? Does he turn on the AutoPilot, grab his iPad and start binge watching the latest Netflix Documentary? Hardly.
Once the plane is pointed in the right direction the pilot then starts monitoring several things (of course there is a checklist).
There are fuel and time checks where they look at how much fuel is being used vs. the estimate and how far along they are compared to their estimated time.
Pilots do diversion planning where they think about what airport they would go to if something happened that required them to land the plan before schedule.
They monitor the weather to try and avoid thunderstorms or areas of increased turbulence.
And of course they begin to plan for their arrival at their destination to determine their approach and landing.
Anytime I have set out to accomplish something big in my life I build in constant monitoring to help me make necessary adjustments.
It doesn’t matter if your big thing is changing jobs or climbing Mt. Everest, if you aren’t monitoring you are asking for trouble.
During this challenge I have been checking in with myself daily. “Am I getting good enough sleep?” “Is this goal interfering with my responsibilities in a way that I didn’t anticipate?” “What feelings are coming up as I make progress through this experience?”
I don’t want to “run out of gas”, so to speak, because I wasn’t checking in with myself or end up making my co-workers crazy because my campsite is 45 minutes from their hotel and on day 4 of a trip it isn’t funny that Austin is sleeping in a tent anymore.
Say “My Plane”, Today
Many people do not know this but; Pilots and Co-Pilots are both qualified to pilot the plane you are on. It if often assumed that co-pilots are still learning and that the Pilot is an on the job mentor or training officer.
From time to time during the flight when the auto-pilot is not engaged the pilot and co-pilot have to switch roles. The way this is accomplished is by the Pilot saying, “My Plane” or “Your Plane”.
My guess is that many of you have been saying, “Your Plane” for far too long. You have given control of your life and your dreams to the status quo or to this mythical “American Dream”.
Make today the day that you say, “My Plane.”

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