I remember being somewhat daunted in my early flying days at the prospect of taking a long cross-country flight. When I first began doing solo cross-country flights as a student anything longer than 50 miles from my home airport was a long way. Nowadays, I regularly fly to locations up and down the East Coast, to destinations as far as upstate New York to the north and Key West to the south. I have yet to take a cross-country flight in the literal sense of the term, but I am sure that day will come and when it does, I will be well-prepared.
A thought crossed my mind shortly after I began making longer flights on my own that has stuck with me ever since: the epic, long-distance flights are nothing more than a series of short flights strung together. For instance, a 1,500 mile flight in a small plane is naught but three flights of 500 miles, one made after the other. A simple thought, really, but one that makes flights of any distance comprehensible, if not within reach.
So it is with anything in life. Even the most ambitious goals can be broken down into their component parts. Such thinking requires a combination of holistic and linear perspectives; on the one hand, you must be able to envision the entire project or plan, on the other you must be able to define the steps that must be taken to move from where you are to where you’d like to be.
When I take on a large project, such as learning a language or to fly, I state the goal and its accompanying parameters (time frame, cost, etc) as soon as possible. From there I articulate the various strategies I could employ to achieve the stated goal. After considering, weighing and ranking the strategic approaches I pick one and then develop the tactical approach to accomplishing my strategy. My thinking, then goes from the general (goal) to the specific (tactics) by way of an intermediary (strategy).
All of it, of course, is subject to change. I make it a point never to be so rigid that I break when the winds of circumstance blow differently than hoped for or anticipated. The mighty oak’s strength is derived not from its rigidity but from its pliability.
Winston Churchill once cautioned: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” In all my years of piloting I have only had to abandon my strategy of flying home to northeast Georgia in my own plane once. An equipment malfunction precipitated a precautionary landing in Washington D.C. and I had to get back for meetings sooner than the timeframe necessary for the repair. I didn’t balk, hesitate, whine or whimper. I booked a commercial flight and made my way back. Any time you have to adjust your strategy it can be as simple as that…or not. The choice is yours.
The wonderful thing about the circumstances around you is that they offer feedback on how effective your well-intentioned strategy and supporting tactics are working. I have had to make a number of course deviations over the years to avoid unexpected weather. Most of the time I can fly around or over the weather ahead, but occasionally the conditions ahead worsen beyond my comfort level or my airplane’s operational limitations. Again, when conditions change, don’t be so foolish as to assume that your strategy or tactics are set in stone. Remember that flexibility is an essential component of strength.
If your strategy leads you to a brick wall or a cliff, where one step further would result in tragedy or loss, stop where you are. Assess, modify your approach, but don’t give up! Chances are that the obstacles require nothing more than a minor change to overcome, though occasionally you might be required to scrap an entire plan and start in a new direction. Rather than see it as a failure on your part or confirmation of your stupidity or lack of vision, realize that no amount of prior planning can completely insulate you from the vicissitudes of life which come largely as a result of the free will of each and every person on earth at any given time.
When you are faced with a challenge, don’t buckle under the pressure. Use the pressure to your advantage. Look for the baby steps in your immediate circumstances that will allow you to inch your way to your goal. When it comes to forward progress, every inch counts!
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~ Albert Einstein