Room for Improvement

There is a concept in aviation that properly understood could potentially make you more effective in other areas of your life.

All pilots in the United States must maintain satisfy certain basic currency requirements if he or she is to act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers under various conditions (day, night, instrument, etc.). These requirements are detailed in part 61.57 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The long and short of the requirements for daytime VFR (visual flight rules) flying are that a private pilot must have made at least three takeoffs and landings while a sole manipulator of the controls in an aircraft or approved flight simulator of the same category, class and type as the one he or she is intending to fly.

As a pilot, I can tell you that just meeting the requirement of three takeoffs and landings will keep you legal, but it likely won’t keep you safe. Piloting an aircraft is a complex process, especially when things go wrong. The basics of flying an aircraft are like riding a bike, but good pilots are proficient at much more than the basics, even for simple daytime visual (as opposed to instrument) flights.

So here’s the broader application I mentioned at the start: to excel at anything consistently you must, of course, satisfy the basic requirements, but you need to train to stay proficient. This is as true for your job as it is for your hobbies or for that matter, your responsibilities as a parent!

Training can come in many forms. You can train yourself. There are resources at hand (thanks largely to the internet) to help you sharpen your skills in virtually any activity. You can seek out a mentor. I’ve found that experts (especially retirees) generally love to share their experience. In aviation we have a number of legal requirements designed to help pilots stay safe and there are a dizzying array of training options to help a pilot not just stay current, but regularly gain proficiency.

A little discipline in this regard can go a long way. I can say that my knowledge and skills are barely recognizable compared to when I began flying 26 years ago. More importantly, I can confidently say a better pilot today than I was a week, a month and a year ago. The learning never stops, unless you stop learning.

Arrogance and complacency are your enemies in any sphere of activity. Even when you are great, there will always be room for improvement.

Chronic Imbalance

Growth inside is the counterweight to growth outside.

Allow me to explain.

If you spend your days growing on the outside, that is, honing your “doing” skills and fail to grow on the inside, the resulting imbalance will eventually lead to implosion. If, on the other hand, inner growth in any person or collection of persons counterbalances outer growth, there will be stability, safety and sanity.

Growth, in this sense, is the natural oscillation of inner and outer growth. Inner growth is spiritual and character development, the wider expression of “being,” while outer growth is the refinement of the tools used to do or “achieve”.

It’s usually better for inner growth to precede outer growth, but the cart is occasionally put before the horse. This is no big deal unless it becomes chronically imbalanced.

In fact, the problems faced by most individuals and the structural dislocations experienced by the world’s great civilizations can be traced back to this one chronic imbalance.

Naked Strength

The Oak by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Live thy Life,
Young and old,
Like yon oak,
Bright in spring,
Living gold; 

Summer-rich
Then; and then
Autumn-changed
Soberer-hued
Gold again.

All his leaves
Fall’n at length,
Look, he stands,
Trunk and bough
Naked strength.

I remember when as a young man I used to wish that I were older so that I might have more wisdom, capability and resources. Looking back at these youthful desires, I see now that each age, each chapter of life contains in it the seeds of perfection, the ideal starting points for the expression of truth and beauty.

If ever you find yourself wishing you were someone else, somewhere else or in another time, be it past or future, stop for a moment and take an honest inventory. Rather than plead for a different set of circumstances, resources, talents or abilities, look instead to identify and call by name those elements present within you and around you that can be put to creative use without further development or manipulation.

When the world is pressing in on you, leaving you little wiggle room, you can tap into an inexhaustible wellspring within you. Your access to that spring changes as you move through life and if you age gracefully, which is possible only by means of an abiding sense of appreciation for where you now are, you’ll find that your ability to tap into that wellspring increases rather than diminishes.

A Different World

I had a remarkable conversation with a relatively new friend the other day. Her enthusiasm, desire to be of service to her fellows in every sphere of her living and boundless gratitude for the privilege of ongoing growth and development personally, professionally and spiritually were absolutely infectious.

What stood out to me more than her attitude, though, was the fact that she brought this approach and perspective straight through a latticework of what most would consider disadvantages. She was born behind the proverbial 8 ball. Though she was born into the land wherein all are recognized to have the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the odds were stacked squarely against her.

While I won’t reveal the details of our conversation or the nature of her unique characteristics that most would call disadvantages, I must say that what she brought to the table of our discussion about the problems of life was possibly some of the finest, wisest and most nourishing food for thought I’ve ever been privileged to savor.

I’d be happy to introduce you to her if you’d like, but you’ve probably already bumped into her along the way.

She is the heavy-set girl sitting alone in the cafe. She’s the smart girl in braces sitting quietly in the corner at the school dance. She’s the woman you avoided in the airport because of her hijab headscarf. She’s the nun who was shunned by religious leaders because of her visions. She, my dear readers, is everywhere.

Why not look beyond your prejudice and take a few moments to discuss with her the problems of life? I’ve learned over the years to never judge a book by its cover. In fact, the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned is how foolhardy and intoxicating judgment can be.

If you dare to rise above judgment – of others and of yourself – I will show you a different world.

A New Standard

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.“- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The moment you become mesmerized by your circumstances is the moment you become powerless in relation to them. Every person on earth is possessed of a vast internal resource, an inexhaustible source of power, that is tapped most efficiently by the spile of character and moral fibre. That power is capable of both overcoming anything that comes your way and releasing you from anything that has already gone under the bridge of your experience.

Life is eternal. The forms it animates are temporal and as such, to life there is no death. If your identity is lodged at the level of the animated form – your body, mind and heart – your sense of mortality will haunt you and compel you in subtle yet powerful ways. If, on the other hand, you take the steps necessary to come to terms with your true identity, that is, the particular focus of life that you are, you will be free of the burden of mortality.

That freedom does not imply license. Immortality does not mean as many mistakenly assume that “you get to do it over anyway so why try?” In fact, when seen in the proper light that freedom should inspire an even greater sense of responsibility for living a meaningful and generative life. In essence, you will be ignited by the fire of immortality. Previous judgments about the nature of your circumstances will give way to a new vision, one that emphasizes openings over limitations, starting points over obstacles.

The fact that you only have so long to live will constrain to a new standard, one that sits between and above the typical responses of capitulation at one extreme and hedonism on the other. Implicit in this new standard of living is the equal treatment of responsibility and privilege. Moreover, this new standard obviates the need for both self-abnegation and self-promotion. It is the healthy, happy and fulfilling median.

What is happening in the world around you is of little import when you live radiantly. To get there, habits of reflexive thinking and reflective living must be broken and replaced with new habits that emphasize thinking and living from the inside-out, that is, originally and proactively.

If you spend your entire life reacting to the world around you, you will be ridden hard and put up wet. If, on the other hand, you awaken to the reality of life and just as importantly, to the reality of you, you will be freed from the shackles of merely existing and liberated to live life as it was meant to be lived!

A Quality Human Being

Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.” ~ Bruce Lee

Why is it that we human beings are so obsessed with plumbing the depths of our potential? We’re driven by a mysterious force to achieve, expand and grow. This drive appears to be unique to us as a species and while not every single person yields his heart, body and mind to this obsessive compulsion, sufficient numbers do to keep the wheel of human progress turning ever forward.

Some channel this compulsion into a self-centered vein and seek to better themselves that they might get ahead. They see their lives as being discrete, somehow dissociated from the larger body of humanity of which they are a part and somehow detached from the flow of human history across the pages of time. As a result, they are driven to grab what they can, to die with the most toys, to seize the day as they say, typically at the expense of others.

Others take a more enlightened, generous and inclusive approach. Aware of their connection to others and all things, they live beyond themselves. They are compelled in the direction of radiant service, seeing every opportunity for self-improvement as a means of refining and enlarging their capacity for blessing the world around them.

What about you? What do you do with that compulsion when it wells up within you?

Infinite Possibility

Man must realize that he was not placed in the world, as a finality, something fixed, limited, restricted and unchangeable. He was entrusted with himself as infinite possibility, as mere raw material to fashion as he will for better or for worse as he may determine. It is part of his glorious gift of freedom, his responsibility of trusteeship. For what a man has he is dependent on others, but what he is depends on him alone. We may counsel another, help him, inspire him to live his life, but we cannot live that life for him. That is his individual problem, in accord with his vision and his ideals; the battle is his and the final victory or defeat, with its responsibility to himself and to other is his.” ~ William George Jordan

I love the opportunity to work in a corporate environment as it provides an endless array of opportunities to discover how to live life. There are routines that bring comfort, surprises that compel personal growth, relationships requiring constant maintenance and more, all within the walls of the office.

Every day is an opportunity to fashion yourself for the better. Your personal habits, the way you carry yourself, the manner in which you handle the daily challenges that come your way can be up for review every moment of every day. Why limit yourself to a life of stagnation, where nothing’s ventured and nothing changes?

Dare to live a little today. The possibilities are endless!