On October 14, 1927, just a month after the U.S. Air Force was created as a separate service, test pilot Chuck Yeager officially exceeded the speed of sound in level flight in a Bell X-1 aircraft. An incredible accomplishment!
Previous attempts had been stymied by a buffeting and a loss of control as the aircraft approached the speed of sound, but a discovery made by German Luftwaffe pilot Dr. Hans Guido Mutke in his attempts to achieve the same result allowed Yeager to stabilize his plane through the period of buffeting. Much to his surprise, Yeager reported that after passing through the speed of sound control returns and the plane behaves normally.
My brother-in-law was telling me this story yesterday evening and he made an interesting correlation that I thought you’d like to hear. He observed that many achievements in life follow a pattern similar to what occurs when breaking the sound barrier. Momentum increases, buffeting occurs before the goal is reached and then once the goal is accomplished, the buffeting ceases and control returns.
Have you ever had that experience? It seemed like you should have been there already, that you did what it took to succeed, yet the finish line was not around the corner you expected. Or perhaps you were moving along nicely, the finish line in sight and then all hell broke loose. No matter how it shows up, navigating that phase of pre-victory requires an uncommon steadiness.
I wonder if one of the differences between those who succeed regularly and those who don’t is in how they handle the brief period just before the finish line is crossed. Those who panic, who overreact, or who freeze are more likely to know the agony of defeat than they are to taste the fruits of their labor. Conversely, those who dig deep down, who have faith in their abilities and who hold steady in the face of adversity keep control of their ship past the finish line and beyond.
Here are a few tips for navigating the buffeting:
- Don’t panic. When the buffeting starts, relax into it rather than tense up. Relaxation promotes clear thinking.
- When things don’t go as expected, resist the temptation to blame and maim. Lashing out is rarely effective. Instead, look to tie up loose ends.
- The pressure will likely be on, as it is when the sound wave compresses in front of the aircraft as it approaches the sound barrier. Note your tendencies when under pressure and don’t beat yourself up, instead, find creative ways to overcome your weaknesses.
- Don’t take shortcuts. Stick to the plan unless a change is absolutely necessary. Making dramatic changes while passing through the buffeting is rarely advisable.
- Don’t forget to breathe out. Express your appreciation externally to those around you and internally for your progress to that point. Thank whoever you thank for getting you there.
Perhaps you have other tips that have helped you along the way? I’d love to hear them!