My Favorite Parenting Advice

Parenting is hard. Really hard. By the time we have kids, most of us haven’t figured out what we want from our own lives after decades of trying. Yet, somehow we’re expected to...

Sometimes You Gotta Make a Mess to Make Something Beautiful

Life is messy. We spend our time trying to organize the chaos into something recognizable, but messiness will always be part of it, especially when we start something new. Here's why you should embrace the mess.

Why You Must Believe in Yourself

There are probably many people in your life who believe in your ability to succeed. Mom or dad or the significant other. But those...

What to Do if You Want the Benefits of Meditation but Have Trouble Doing It

Does the world really need another post on meditation? Probably not. But there’s a reason it gets lots of attention...

Mistakes Fuel Growth (The Pianist Who Almost Wasn’t)

Hate making mistakes? Me too.
But unless you never attempt anything hard, making mistakes comes with living a full life. I've made a lot of them, but I'm lucky to have a daily reminder of the importance of being free to...

Procrastination Paradox: Why Done is Better than Great

Procrastination sucks. If there is one thing that has slowed me down in life more than I care to admit, even though I’m doing so now, it’s procrastination.
It’s not as much an issue for activities I feel I must do, like earning a living or making an effort to stay healthy. But for lofty pursuits I want to do...

Talk Some Nonsense Into Me

For readers who know me only from the blog, in my other life I run an information technology firm that helps multi-billion dollar organizations make better software. If you’ve ever wanted to smack your forehead in frustration over a company’s glitch-ridden website or mobile app, that company could use our help. You could say we are...

Three Concepts Aspiring Writers Should Know (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)

More people than you’d think harbor dreams of writing. This is apparent to me because when someone learns about my experience, I often hear...

How to Rise Above the Storm Clouds in Life

How do you feel when you walk outside to a bright blue sky? Good? I do.

What if the day is dark, with rainclouds hanging low? Different feeling, right? I like it sometimes if we need rain or a break from the heat. But too many days in a row like that messes with me. My energy gets low. The world doesn’t have the same sparkle to it.

What about the...


The Best Ways to Find Shark Teeth at the Beach

I’ve been addicted to hunting shark teeth on beaches for a long time. The activity is meditative and helps clears my mind, at least until exhilaration spikes when I see the perfect tooth and snatch it up seconds before a wave surges in. The popularity of searching for shark teeth seems to have increased over the years. I come across more people actively looking for them than when I started almost twenty years ago. During our week-long beach vacations, my family and I usually find over five-hundred shark teeth. There have been some weeks we’ve found close to a thousand. After seeing some of our more treasured examples, people often ask how they can find more while others express frustration that they never find any at all. This post is for those who are new to shark teeth hunting as well as those who want to increase their hauls. What follows are the best ways I've discovered to spot shark teeth on a beach. If you have your own tips, please leave them in the comments so this post will truly include the best advice to help everyone find more of these prized fossils.

As an aside, I don't work aviation into every post, but something I learned during flying lessons helped me become a better shark tooth hunter. I love when flying skills spill over to life on the ground.  

Know what to look for - Teeth still in a shark’s mouth are white. I’d recommend...

Why You Should Keep a Journal and How It Will Change Your Life

If there is one activity that has vastly improved my life in multiple ways, it’s journaling. I’ve mentioned this to numerous people who’ve asked me for success advice over the years and the reactions are varied. Some stare back like I’ve spoken a word in a foreign tongue while others downright wince. Maybe it’s not sexy enough for some or sounds like too much effort for others. Truth is, succeeding at anything does take effort, and whatever sex appeal any endeavor radiates is often the aftereffects of an extreme amount of hard work. But journaling is nowhere near an extreme effort, and the rewards are great. At the end of this post, I’ll tell you how to do it with minimal effort.

So why is journaling life-changing? The reasons are many but here are my top five:

What Fills Your World?

I sometimes envy people who travel the world with everything they own slung over their shoulders in a backpack. How carefree it must be to only keep up with whatever is packed in that modest canvas bag. While I don’t consider myself someone who craves material possessions, I’m often taken aback when I look around me to see an overwhelming amount of stuff collected through the years.

It’s not the big ticket material possessions that weigh on me. I kept my previous vehicle twelve years before getting a replacement. My wife’s car is well over a decade old and still running strong. We’ve lived in the same house—the only one we’ve ever owned—for eighteen years. But the small stuff seems out of control. We’ve given mounds of possessions to charity over many years, but I’m hard-pressed to tell it. 

What would I save in a fire given my family and pets were safe? Truth is, not much. Family photos and important files are synced to the cloud, so no worries there. I would grab the 140-year old journal my great, great, great grandfather kept, 254 pages of handwritten prose and beautiful color sketches of his multi-year adventure exploring the pacific northwest. I’d also save my...

A Course in Nature

From the deck of our oceanfront rental, I watched my boys play in the sand. “Play” is probably the wrong word. Looked more like work to me. Shovels and elbows moved in unison to pile sand beside widening holes. Feet carried bodies with arms and hands that carried buckets to the low tide line and back, over and over, to bring ocean water that helped shape sand into castles. Nearly every day of our week’s vacation, a new sand castle emerged from the smooth beach right below the high tide line. Each time the boys put great effort into their creations, only to watch the ocean reclaim them, bit by bit, until the sand was flat once more.

You’d think watching nature level something you spent hours building would be difficult, depressing even. But for my boys, it was...

When a Flaw Becomes a Strength

I drive through an old neighborhood on my way to the office and back every day. It’s the highlight of my commute because I like to pass under the sprawling canopy created by massive trees that meet above the street.

Last year, a For Sale sign appeared in front of one of the houses. It’s a modest thing, fairly small, but the yard is full of great trees. One morning, the tree closest to the street was gone. Storms had moved through a few days before so I guessed it had been one of the casualties. Too bad. It had been a majestic fellow. Now, only a massive stump remained.

When I passed the house again on the way home, I felt bad for the owner. A stump that large would cost a lot to grind down. But what choice did the person have? Who wants to buy a house then pay for stump removal? Yet, the stumped stayed as I passed the house each day.

At some point, a huge pot with colorful flowers appeared atop the stump. Red and yellow petals stretched toward the sky to...

Watch the Moments

Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

My friend’s dad used to say that often. It sounds old-fashioned in this day and age. Most people used to snatch pennies from the ground in days gone by, but now, I bet they are left lying there as much as they are picked up. 

Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

The saying may borderline on quaint these days, but my friend listened to his dad. He’s not much older than me, but I sense he’ll never have to worry about money for the rest of his life even if he stops working today.

I don’t want to worry about money either. But what I fear more than not having enough money at the end of my days, is not accomplishing what I want in life. Right now, the biggest hurdle to accomplishing what I want is wasted time.

This isn’t about watching too much TV or idly surfing the internet for long periods of time. I’ve learned to avoid those activities most of my days. Instead, I find myself...

No Coincidences

Have you ever watched a movie that follows multiple characters over a period of time as they unknowingly weave in and out of each others lives? Then fate brings them together near the end? Critics grumble that these movies are unrealistic, their depiction of life contrived and too chocked full of coincidences. But aren’t all movies contrived to a degree, a cinematic reveal of meaningful events using elements yanked from real life but with all the boring parts left out?

Critics be damned. I’m convinced those coincidental events happen frequently; we just don’t recognize them. Film cameras don’t follow us around to capture every wide-angle moment as life flows past us in a river of unknown individuals, some who return later to become meaningful in our lives. Sometimes we know the significance of the coincidences, sometimes we don’t. But something is behind them all.

Years ago, a friend of mine and her husband had some laughs looking over old photos of him, ones taken before they met. Sifting through them, one caught her eye. In it, he stood inside the city mall. Shoppers milled behind him as the photographer snapped the shot. My friend’s heart raced when...

The Bright Side of Storms

Pilots of small planes give thunderstorms a wide berth. Accidentally flying into a brewing system is feared by many aviators and I’m no exception. But in my everyday life on the ground, thunderstorms elicit a different response. They excite me. 

When I’m outside on a hot day devoid of wind and a sudden breeze cools the back of my neck, I’ll sometimes turn to see dark clouds building over the horizon. The temperature ticks down several degrees before the wind starts to gust, the updrafts making the nearby trees flash the pale green underbellies of their leaves. When the day goes dark and distant thunder rumbles, my body begins to brim with energy. In these moments it’s easy to imagine a cosmic force has torn an invisible rift between worlds and who knows what awaits on the other side?

Why do storms energize me so? They bring damage, they bring loss. Sometimes they bring death. I don’t want that for anyone.

But storms also bring change. Storms roll in when...

A Magical Power

Hundreds of years ago, remote communication on earth didn’t extend beyond smoke signals, drums in the night, or the written and spoken word traveling vast distances by ship, horse, or the lonely runner. If you had lived back then and spent the day plowing a field or hunting the woods to feed your family, you would have spent much of it in isolation. That solitude would have given you something a lot of us are missing now: time to think, time for deeper thoughts, time to discover who you were.

Communication is instant now. We have near-constant access to friends and family and they have access to us. We can find the answers to pressing questions with ease. So much power and information sits in the palm of our hands from little boxes, magical devices we carry all day long that makes us feel connected. But are we? Are we really connected or are we tethered?

When you look at the flip side of the instant communication, the constant barrage, there seems to be many who are overwhelmed and agitated by it. I sometimes hear people wish for simpler times, an era before the little boxes when each of us weren’t so accessible. I’ve had those thoughts too.

But when those thoughts flash in my head, I stop them and remind myself of one thing: I’d much rather live now, than in a time before the devices existed. Because the most magical thing I can do with that little box after I’ve used it for what I need, is to press and hold down the power button. I control my life, not that little box. I have the choice to power down to make time for deep thoughts and to ponder questions whose answers can’t be found on the internet.

You have that power too. Don’t be afraid to use it.

How to Foster Peace and Limit Stress

When I started training for my pilot license, I was amazed at how I felt after a flight ended. If I ever lifted off from a bleak world, one drained of color from life’s challenges, I always landed in a revived landscape, bright and vivid. No matter what mood I’d been in before the flight, a lightheartedness afterward kept my feet hovering an inch above the earth for the rest of the day.

At first I thought flying to be a magical elixir. If everyone could float in that mystical well of blue sky and peer down on the greens and golds where most of us spent our days, all would find their stress left on the ground. But then my perspective shifted...

Remember What You Came Here to Do

I’m a sucker for a distraction. I often walk into my home office with a specific purpose in mind only to waste precious time doing something unplanned. Maybe it’s grabbing a magazine off the desk to read a tempting article whose cover title is far better than the piece itself, or tumbling down the internet rabbit hole when I simply want to pay a bill online. The worst part is that after the detour ends, not only do I feel listless, I’m irritated because I find myself staring into space trying to remember what I originally came into the office do. Over the months, those small detours turn into long stretches of time I can’t account for… and will never get back. And what do I have to show for them?


The same thing happens to our lives. String together countless detours of unplanned activities and they can turn into...

Get Out of Your Head

“Stop staring at the instrument panel,” my flight instructor said, finger pointing to the blue stretch of sky beyond the windshield. “Everything that makes flying worth it is out there.” 

I lifted my eyes from the cockpit's gauges and took in the view. He'd made his point well.

Student pilots tend to become fixated on the plane’s panel early in their training. Ignore the altimeter and you can drop 500 feet and not realize it. Disregard the course indicator and a few degrees off your bearing means 100 miles off your intended destination when traveling long distances.

The gauges are extremely important, but experienced pilots have learned to glance briefly at these instruments so they can focus most of their attention on the world outside the cockpit. Some of that world contains things that can ruin your day. Storm clouds and incoming planes fall into that category.

But most of the world beyond the cockpit is a magical tableaux that makes flying worth the enormous effort required to learn. Student pilots don’t pay hard-earned money to learn to fly because they want to stare at a cluster of instruments. They learn because...

What Some Call Failure, the Successful Call Experience

Failure can be a scary thing. Most of us sense it lurking at the edge of anything important we try to accomplish. It also has a particular sound to it, our own voices forming the words, “What if I can’t…” or “Who am I to…”

We try to shrug it off and move forward, but its weight sometimes slows our inertia until one day we aren’t moving forward any more. For some, they stop trying at all. Those people often awaken near the end of their lives to find themselves...


The Current of Life

In my last post I promised ideas to help you flow with life versus forcing it. If you’ve been trying to force life to happen on your terms and your timeline, you can probably recognize it because you’ve expended tremendous energy and effort for minimal gain. It feels as if you are swimming upstream.

And that’s what’s happening. You are trying to reach your goals and destination by mainly using logic and manual effort instead of trusting a universal, unseen current that yearns to whisk you on a great adventure. The current knows where it’s going so stop resisting and let it do the hard work.

Will the ride be easy, a gentle river winding the entire way to your ultimate destination? Not at all. You will have to navigate and survive multiple rapids on your journey. Sometimes the current will smash you against massive boulders. You’ll be sore, perhaps a little bloodied, but as those unyielding rocks fade in the distance, your wounds will heal and you’ll be smarter and tougher than before. You may gain newfound abilities to dodge the boulders next time, and if not, at least you’ll remember the pain is temporary.

So what does it feel like to let this invisible current do the hard work? How do you take advantage of it to make life easier? Below are ideas that have worked for me:

-View life as a treasure hunt

Life is littered with precious gems that most people pass over because they don’t recognize them as such. Many of the gems are...


Life Flows

Continued from Life Force:

There must be an easier way.

Those words sifted through my mind five years ago as I sat on the front steps of my office building watching traffic flow past. I had stepped out to clear my head, hoping to escape the weight that crushed me inside. The previous six months had been a nightmare with setbacks and difficulties, small and large, pushing me toward an edge I didn’t want to be anywhere near. 2008 had already been one of the worst years of my life even before the economy started to rip apart at its seams that fall. Seven years before, I’d been jolted awake by 9/11, had made significant life changes by learning to fly and starting to write, but little had changed about my primary career. Years had passed and I was in the exact same spot I’d never wanted to be in the first place, mainly, working for someone else, implementing their vision instead of mine. I didn’t feel in control of my own destiny, and I needed to be in control.

Or so I thought...


Life Force

I’ve penned Lessons from the Cockpit for over four years and in all those posts I don’t believe I’ve written one as important as this. If I’ve cultivated any major life philosophy over the years, this is it.

In 2010 I launched a business with two partners, great people whom I trust completely. We’ve grown from only three of us initially to nearly fifty employees. Last week we were named number nineteen of the fifty fastest growing companies in our region. The company has exceeded my expectations in every way, and I feel the best is yet to come.

I share this to highlight the fact that I’m not a passive guy. Anyone who knows me will attest that I don’t sit and wait for things to happen. I look to the sky for lots of things—peace, inspiration, fun—but I’ll never lift my eyes upward with the expectation a financial windfall will float down and land at my feet.

To an outside observer, it may appear that...


Raising Fools – Part 2

Continued from Raising Fools - Part 1

I’m lying with my upper back flat while the rest of me twists to the left, right knee almost touching down to the floor mat. The move soothes my lower back, especially the right side that is tight from sitting at a desk too much lately. Over twenty people surround me, all of us mirroring the moves my wife makes from atop the platform at the front of the group exercise room. We are stretching at the end of her weight training class; she tells us to twist a little more if we can.

I glance around the room and an errant thought skims past. It disappears before I grasp its full meaning. Not until I walk past the gym’s yoga studio a day later does it hit me. I back up to...

Raising Fools

We have three boys, all with different personalities yet similar in so many ways. When the oldest was eleven or so, I’d often walk into the family room to find him nearly upside down watching television. There were many variations on the position, but he was always twisted in some fashion, usually with part of his back resting on the floor and his feet on the cushion where most people plant their backsides.

“What are you doing?” I’d say. “How many times have I told you to sit like a normal person? Get up!”

He’d reluctantly stand and attempt to sit on the couch like a gentleman. But within fifteen minutes—two minutes if I left the room and peeked back in—he’d find his way to the floor again, feet on the cushions

Flash forward. Now I’m experiencing the same behavior with the middle and youngest boys. I look into the family room and they are twisted into the oddest positions on the floor, more like pretzels than humans.

It gets worse.

Whenever my thirteen-year-old does happen to use the furniture, he never...


Expand Your World

Conventional wisdom says aquarium fish only grow as large as the tank will support. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m willing to bet it’s spot on for humans when it comes to growth as individuals, whether emotionally, socially, intellectually, or spiritually.

Humans don’t live in aquariums, but many do live strictly within the invisible walls of comfort zones. Some only move beyond them when forced. And like the fish trapped in an aquarium that’s too small, when we operate only within the safety of comfort zones, we stunt our growth. 

I can’t speak for you, but I need to grow. In all aspects of my life. I want to break through any wall that prevents me from exploring this world to the fullest. Growth only occurs outside those walls.

What will you do to move beyond your comfort zone today? Tomorrow? Forever?

I have suggestions:


The Transmission of You

For those of you who still listen to the radio, perhaps you have a favorite station you tune in to on the way to work everyday. What if a runaway truck demolished your car in the office parking lot one bright afternoon, with everything inside destroyed including the radio? Would you be devastated because your favorite station no longer exists?


You may be sad or mad that your car and radio were demolished, but you’d move on. You’d buy another car, maybe a new one with an improved radio. Then you’d tune right back in to your favorite frequency.

Always remember: Your body is the radio. Your soul, your essence, is the frequency. And that frequency is broadcast by a vast, universal “radio tower” that will never cease transmission. Events of the world will eventually demolish the receiver that is your body, but nothing will ever destroy the transmission that is you.

Live on.

Let Nature Spill In

Our upstairs air conditioner stopped working one Friday evening in late May. I almost called the repair guy but held off. Waiting until Monday meant a cheaper bill instead of rates at time and a half. And I knew we’d sleep comfortably over the weekend if we opened the windows since temperatures still hovered around the mid-sixties at night.

My wife and I have dark curtains in our bedroom. Years ago we’d read that people slept deeper if a bedroom was pitch black, so we’d hung heavy curtains to block the occasional light of a full moon. But on this particular weekend we left the curtains open for better airflow from the outside.

I’m an early riser. Not that it’s natural for me, but because I’d rather

Nothing is Impossible

What in your world do you define as impossible, that you wish weren't? To make a living as a painter? To run your own business? To travel 100 million light years to another galaxy?

Don’t believe it. Nothing is impossible…nothing.

Let me define “impossible” as I see it. If someone tells me an act or idea is impossible, I take that to mean impossible altogether, that there is no chance it will ever happen, from now until the universe collapses in on itself. I can’t buy that line of thinking. Nothing is impossible altogether, only impossible at a given moment in time and space. It’s a much different idea to say something is impossible altogether than to say it’s not doable at this moment, or this particular spot on earth where we stand right now.

If I asked strangers on the street, “Is it possible or impossible to...

An Empty Space

I never thought about the old man until I’d see him on my way home. If the weather was good, he’d be there, sitting on his porch at the intersection of Lake Brandt and Lawndale where an endless line of cars made left turns in front of his house. He always waved. Not only to me, but at everyone making a left there. It wasn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill wave either. No. His wave had gusto. He’d perfected his own unique brand, perhaps from years of waving from that porch. As cars crossed left before him, both hands would shoot out, palms facing the road, fingers pointed toward the sky. All four fingers on each hand would snap down twice then open back up like a magician showing you he has nothing up his sleeves. A big smile always punctuated the double wave.

The drivers and passengers in the cars, including me, always waved back. You couldn’t help it. Something in his wave made you smile, made you feel good, a great cap to the end of your work day. My boys loved seeing him if they happened to be with me. They always turned in their seats to continue waving at the old man even after we’d passed. After the boys grew older and begin to lose interest in some of the simpler things of youth, they still loved to see the old man on his porch, and they always waved back.

Then one day,

No “L”

It looked as if a forest had exploded. Green pine needles littered our carpet with a trail of them scattered throughout our foyer. This was the beginning of the New Year, and the mess came from carrying our gigantic Christmas tree outside to the curb. The tree had been netted coming in, so no problem there. But going out was a different scene: I had to forcefully shove the dried thing out the doorway, leaving a bulk of needles behind in the house.

“We need to seriously consider an artificial tree next year,” I told Susan as we cleaned up. “They’ve come a long way in how realistic they look.”

It took some convincing, but when we found an extremely nice one on sale after Christmas, we took the plunge. Susan even bought a strong scented pine spray to add to the illusion of a real tree.

The next Christmas, I unpacked the artificial tree from its box, spreading out the pieces. The groups of branches that randomly came out were labeled with inconspicuous letters. I pulled out a group of “M”s and set them aside, then a group “X”s and placed them in a separate pile. I continued this way until the box emptied.

Connecting the main trunk was easy. Next came the task of inserting the individual branches.

No Small Lives

A great actor can transform a bit part into something amazing and memorable. That is why the acting great Stanislavsky said, “There are no small roles, only small actors.” The quote stood out for me in a passage when I recently read Katherine Jenkin’s book, Lessons from the Monk I Married. I’d often heard the quote years ago when my wife and I used to perform together in theatre shows before a growing family of three sons shifted where we spent our free time.

But the quote stood out for a different reason this time than for its acting context. Lately I’ve been thinking about how easy one’s day can be filled with time wasters and material pursuits, instead of focusing on doing something great. How the internet and television can become our world instead of the real one that calls from beyond our door. Stanislavsky’s quote had new meaning this time, more as a guide for life and the role we play in it. Suppose it read,

Book Recommendation: “Lessons from the Monk I Married”

I’ve been running full steam over the last six months with a new business but finally found some time to read Katherine Jenkins’ new book, Lessons from the Monk I Marriedwhich is also the name of her blog. I “met” Katherine a couple of years ago when she reached out to me. Lessons from the Cockpit had caught her eye on one of the aggregation sites because of the similarity of the first few words to her own blog.

After some email exchanges to get to know one another better, we decided to cross-post on each other’s blogs. At the time, Katherine had just found an agent and subsequently sold her memoir to a publisher. Having already enjoyed Katherine’s writing style and inspirational posts on her blog, I expected nothing less from her book.

That said, what a gift, this book. It sailed past my expectations. I know each of us must travel our own paths to learn our own lessons, but the inherently wise among us know that when we

Movie Lessons: Almost Famous

My friend, David Horne, occasionally writes a “Movie Lessons” segment for his blog. I love these and constantly nag him to write them more often. So, while I wait for him to pen a new one, I decided to write one myself.

One of my favorite movies is Almost Famous, written and directed by Cameron Crowe. It won an Oscar in 2001 for best original screenplay. What makes this movie even better for me, is its autobiographical nature. As a lover of rock music, Cameron Crowe wrote for Rolling Stone when just a teenager, interviewing, and sometimes traveling with, rock legends. 

Set in the 70s, Almost Famous follows fifteen-year-old William Miller who plays hooky from high school to get an exclusive interview with the fictitious band Stillwater for Rolling Stone. William travels with the band in their old tour bus as his angst builds because

Free the Fireflies

Summer always reminds me of childhood when I would play outside with friends until dusk and beyond. On many evenings when the light faded, the soft glow of fireflies pulled us from whatever game we'd made up and shifted the activity to chasing the magical creatures. To catch a firefly you needed that ideal mixture of darkness and light: dark enough to zero in when one lit up, but still light enough to follow it once the glow faded.

One night when the fireflies were unusually dense, we scattered throughout the yard to capture them with gentle swipes of cupped hands. I ran inside for an old jar with a lid and after thirty minutes, the curved glass glowed with a living treasure. We all perched on the concrete steps behind my house to marvel at the beauty of lightning in a jar. We stayed, mesmerized, until the neighborhood began to echo with parents’ voices, a magical event in itself that led to kids disappearing one by one into the darkness. When it was my turn, I took the jar inside and placed it on my dresser where I later fell asleep to a nightlight only nature could create.

When I awoke the next morning and my sleepy eyes came to rest on the jar, my excitement reignited. But it withered fast when I moved closer to stare at a bunch of dead bugs. Before me was a valuable lesson:

Fireflies don’t thrive in jars. They need air and open space. They need to be free so kids can chase them into the night.

Isn’t it the same with the dreams each of us have? How many of us, as we age, place those dreams in

Live Outside the Lines

Life on the ground is often rigid. We spend the better part of our days living between the lines, whether it’s the boundaries of a house or office, the narrow edges of a sidewalk, or the slightly wider lines of a highway. It’s easy to believe we’re well-traveled until we realize that all we’re doing is swapping out the confines of one city for another.

I think that’s one of the reasons I like flying. From the air, the lines are blurred, if seen at all. From the air, most of those lines mean nothing. I can slice them up, crossing at odd angles, but best of all, I can ignore them. On the ground, I have to follow the lines, bound by a path someone else put down long ago.

Then there are the invisible lines drawn all around us. Society wants us to “walk the line,” to “stay on the straight and narrow.” It expects us to “keep it between the lines,” and above all, forbids us to “cross the line.”

For today,

From a Distance

As I neared my speaking venue, I suddenly regretted not making time to wash my car. The thin film of dust on the vehicle’s black hood looked even worse through my bug-bombed windshield. So much for the inspirational speaker leading by example; who will value the message when the messenger arrives in a filthy car?

The feeling intensified when every vehicle in the parking lot seemed cleaner than mine. I pulled to the lot’s far side, locked up, and headed toward the building’s entrance.

That’s when I noticed it.

All those cars that had looked so clean when I’d pulled into the lot, now revealed their own films of dust and bug-splotched windshields as I moved passed them. My car, in the distance, looked immaculate.

My topic that day was the first blog post I’d ever written: White-Knuckle Living: How to Succeed by Letting Go. But after my experience outside, I added an item:

Eyes High: A Simple Mood Lifter

Whenever I lift my eyes toward the sky, my mood improves. I noticed this a long time ago and have always assumed my fondness of that vast expanse above triggered it, an inner kid spellbound by countless shades of blue and an ever-changing cloudscape.

But now I question that assumption, that the sky itself lifted my mood. I believe my appreciation of the sky camouflaged the real reason. This aha moment surfaced as I paid closer attention to my subdued moods, catching myself ruminating over life’s challenges and annoyances, some laughable in their insignificance. In each instance I noticed I was looking down and the simple act of looking up produced a positive shift in my mood. It didn’t matter whether my eyes turned toward the sky, or toward the ceiling, the same effect occurred.

I wonder if this physical act of mood improvement has always been subtlety acknowledged in our collective consciousness? Some common cliches make me believe so: Keep your chin up. Hold your head high.

Don’t take my word for it. Wherever you are right now, look up, beyond eye level to the heavens, to the sky, to the ceiling. What do you feel? If it works for you, use it whenever you find yourself in a darker mood. Nothing could be simpler.

Lego Wasteland

Susan and I spent a recent Saturday cleaning out a few closets in dire need of organizing. One of the closets was in the kid’s playroom, which doubles as an auxiliary storage facility for the Lego corporation. Looking over the sprawling city of assembled police stations, firehouses, planes, cars, and little Lego people, I started to calculate the cost of it all. Somehow, instead of the good people at Lego paying rent to store these items in my home, I’d been bamboozled into paying them to keep it all.

My immediate urge was to vent at the boys, tell them we needed to cut back on the Legos. But the little guys weren’t in the house. Once they’d heard the cleaning word that morning, they’d mysteriously disappeared outside to play with Nerf guns, another corporation we open our bank account to for the privilege of storing their products in our garage. (I am in the wrong business.)

After we finished cleaning the closet, I looked over the Lego city in the playroom once more and remembered a time over thirty years ago when I’d wanted a go-cart. My dad pointed out that all the money I’d spent on comic books over the years, the ones stacked in my room and in my closet, would have bought a nice go-cart. I eventually got my go-cart, but always felt a little guilty about the money “wasted” on the comics once I stopped reading them. 

But in the playroom, with the memory vivid in my mind, I realized something.

Do It Your Way

Six years ago, three friends and I spent a week paddling fifty miles in canoes on the Green River. The stretch of water winds through the Utah desert and eventually merges with the Colorado River. On the final day we arrived at Spanish Bottom, the designated pickup point nestled within a sharp bend of the Colorado. Miles from civilization, we sweated in the late afternoon sun to pitch tents amidst the tamarisk shrubs by the water’s edge. As the campsite began to take shape, movement from the corner of my eye turned my head toward a young man approaching. My body tensed when I saw his outfit.

“Excuse me, sir,” the young man said, stopping a reasonable distance from me. The tie that had been swaying across his dress shirt as he walked now came to a standstill above his belt buckle and khaki pants. “My group is a ways back,” he continued. “I’m scouting campsites. Do you mind sharing this one?”

I appreciated his politeness, and my tension eased somewhat. “We don’t mind,” I said. “Plenty of room.”

He thanked us and then disappeared beyond the brush, leaving the four of us puzzled. We’d known other campers could join us at the pickup point, but nothing prepared me for business attire in the Utah desert.

As we continued working, the conversation turned to the past week:

A Double Life

I have a secret to share: I’ve been leading a double life. For many readers of this blog, I’m Christopher Laney, writer. But there’s another side to me: Chris Laney, businessperson. I’ve always used “Christopher” on magazine bylines, mainly because there is a heavy metal rocker named Chris Laney who claimed that domain name well before I ever thought about acquiring it. To carve out my own space on the web, I had to use my full name.

It’s taken a long time to realize that those seemingly separate sides—writer and businessperson—are one and the same, and, in fact, in harmony. Years ago, I wanted to distance myself from the business persona, mainly because I had mundane images of it. When a business partner and I sold our company to another firm, I told myself I’d stick around for several years and draw a nice paycheck helping that organization integrate the old company while I transitioned my life to one of a writer.

I made great strides over those years, penning articles for increasingly better magazines, teaching a successful writing class, and even starting the novel I’d always threatened to write. When the time came that I felt I could no longer add anything to the parent company who bought us, I said goodbye, taking off a year to accomplish two goals: 1) to finish the novel, and 2) to lay the foundation for a new company that my future business partners and I could grow into a business that ran well with talented, trustworthy individuals we brought into the fold. Still, I felt I had to keep the two sides separate, mainly because I had mistakenly believed that being a writer and a business owner, were mutually exclusive. At least, that was the case until a past conversation flashed in my head and I discovered an epiphany within it.

The Write Motivation

If you've ever checked out the other tabs on Lessons from the Cockpit, you may have noticed my writing class titled The Write Motivation. I've taught the class twice a year for three years, but this time, I'm joining forces with my great writer friend, Dena Harris, to deliver an enhanced version of the class. Dena and I have always taught separate writing classes, but one day wondered aloud why we'd never taught one together. We immediately recognized it as a good idea and set off to weave the classes together.

Dena is an excellent writer who has penned articles for Writer's Digest and essays in five separate Chicken Soup for the Soul books. In 2010, Dena's self-help parody book, Who Moved My Mouse: A Self-Help Book for Cats (Who Don't Need Any Help), was published by Random House's Ten Speed Press division and subsequently translated into six languages. Currently, Dena is at work on her next big book idea.

The Write Motivation begins Tuesday, March 6, 2012 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm Tuesday May 22, 2012 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm and runs six weeks. Participants of any writing level are encouraged and will learn:

Guest Post at EXTRAordinary! Inc.

This week I have a guest post on EXTRAordinary! Inc., the website of an excellent friend, Rich Schlentz. I first met Rich after he hired my wife as a wellness coordinator for one of the health clubs in town. He and I didn't have much interaction at first, but over time, and over coffee, we came to know each other. I'm fortunate to have a lot of positive people in my life—it's no secret that I try to surround myself with them—but Rich is in a league of his own. The man has an unshakable positive outlook on life that is infectious. I learn something from him every time we talk.

If you know Rich already, you understand what I'm conveying. If you don't, I only hope you get the chance to know him one day. Click here to read my post, Wisdom to Know the Difference, but please make sure you check out the rest of Rich's insights while you are there.

Guest Post on “Lessons from the Monk I Married.”

I'm please to announce my guest post on Katherine Jenkin's blog, "Lessons from the Monk I Married." Katherine spent every single day of 2010 blogging about 365 lessons she had learned or hoped to learn. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her insights. 

On April 3, 2012, Seal Press/Perseus Books, will publish her book Lessons from the Monk I Married. Half love story, half spirtual guide, the book is her memoir about the 15-year journey with her husband, a former Buddhist monk.

I look forward to reading her book when it comes out. Click here to read my guest post, but be sure to check out the other writers featured on Katherine's blog during the month of January, as well as her other posts.

Flawed Beauty: Why You Must Embrace Your Imperfections

Several years ago I drove to a friend’s mountain cabin near West Jefferson for ten days to get my novel jump-started. I’d dabbled with the story for a while, writing a few scenes here and there, but I knew I needed uninterrupted time to get the thing in gear.

Writer friends had warned me to decompress for a day or two before diving into writing. I took that advice to the extreme. By the fifth day, I finally stopped avoiding the blank page and sat down to get serious. But doubt filled my head rather than words filling the pages. Who was I kidding, I wondered? Did I truly have the writing chops to pen a novel? How could I make this book fly with my limited experience and flawed discipline? Even if I finished a quarter of the book in the remaining days, how would it be possible to return to the real world to complete it given a packed schedule and the multiple obstacles life liked to hurl at me? I sat on the deck that day with pen and paper in the late April sun and instead of pushing through and making it work, I focused on my flaws as a writer and the imperfect writing environment that awaited on my return. At the end of the day only meaningless scribbles emerged.

By the middle of the sixth day, I could no longer tolerate the stench of the garbage I’d written so I grabbed my camera and drove to a nearby hiking trail to walk off my frustration. Taking photos of nature relaxes me. If I couldn’t find the perfect words, at least I hoped to find some perfect shots. The trail I chose had a sign at the entrance that gently warned of predators: black bears, bobcats, and snakes. Had I actually stacked up some good writing over those six days at the cabin, maybe I would have hesitated, but the thought of becoming a bear’s meal seemed more appealing at that moment than

Act On Your Dreams

Last Friday morning I flew the Cirrus to Charlottesville, VA to visit a buddy of mine, John Hart. John is an excellent friend and wonderful writer who’s had four books on the New York Times Bestseller List including his latest, Iron House. The only writer to ever win two consecutive Edgar Awards for best novel, John is a great guy who deserves his success.

I took John flying over farmland he’d recently purchased so he could get a bird's eye view. His good friend and new neighbor, Neal, joined us. Neal, a developer in the Charlottesville area, is a great guy in his own right. His land is adjacent to John’s and they both enjoyed seeing their acreage from the air. It’s always intriguing for me to watch “aha moments” as people see something from a different perspective.

After a smooth flight we touched down to knock around Charlottesville for the day. Neal headed off to a business meeting while John and I hit Keswick Hall for bloody marys on the deck that overlooks the hotel’s stunning golf course. Later we regrouped with Neal at the Downtown Pedestrian Mall, a bricked-in area on the city’s early Main Street. Strolling to lunch, we passed John Grisham eating at an outside table within a stone’s throw of the writing office he has above the mall. Once we finished lunch, Neal ran off to make his next deal but promised to meet us for dinner.

John and I spent the afternoon exploring his future farm. We covered a good portion of the hundred-plus acres, zipping through wooded trails on a John Deere Gator. Stopping at various landmarks we’d seen from the air, we walked as John explained his plans for them. On one trail, a deep blue glint caught my eye.

Get Uncomfortable

Fitness has been part of my life for a long time. I’ve worked out enough to have a little insight into building muscle. One absolute truth is, muscle doesn’t grow unless you apply resistance. And to apply resistance means making that muscle “uncomfortable.”

When I think about this in broader terms, I realize it applies to any accomplishment in life. I can’t think of any goal worth achieving that is performed without effort, or more specifically, without being “uncomfortable” in some manner. Yet, we seem to have become a nation that seeks comfort. We chase it instead of our dreams. We seek the path of least resistance instead of the path to enlightenment.

And it’s making us soft... mentally, physically, and spiritually.

For many of us, our days are filled with numerous activities that get us nowhere. We do them because they make us feel comfortable. They suck us in. Who hasn’t misplaced an hour or two getting lost in the internet or a few television shows? But we don’t seek out these activities because we truly desire them. No, we bury ourselves in them because we are avoiding something. Some may say we are avoiding our dreams, or success, but frankly, what we are really avoiding is the hard work, time, and effort that it takes to be:




What are you avoiding because you’ve been confusing comfort with happiness?

Do something today that makes you uncomfortable.

Live Your Future Now

If you suddenly found yourself with enough money so you no longer had to work, what would you do with your time? When I ask that question to a variety of people, most answers are not exotic. People say they would:

  • Read
  • Write
  • Hike
  • Camp
  • Spend more time outdoors
  • Work in the garden
  • Exercise
  • Spend time with friends

I’ve yet to hear anyone say they would:

  • Eat more
  • Watch more television
  • Surf the internet more

The question is great because the answers always remind me that most of the things we all want for ourselves, are simple activities we can have now. Yet so many defer them until they “have enough money” or “have more time.”

I’m not sure how many of us will ever “have enough money” or “have more time.” That’s why it’s important to recognize how much we defer living, waiting for a future that may never come. What do you dream of doing one day? How can you do it now instead of waiting?

Hope for Humanity

There is a person you are meant to be. You know this because you’ve dreamed of it. Perhaps that person is a painter or a photographer. Maybe it’s an entrepreneur or a scientist. But whatever the goal, many of us have the same issue in trying to reach it: we tend to only see the people we are now. When we peer in the mirror it’s too easy to find the faults and imperfections, both inside and out. As much as many of us do not want to admit it, we cling to that person inside whom we don’t want to be.

Why do we do this? Maybe it’s because that person is all we know and it’s so difficult to imagine the higher-self beyond.

I’ve done my share of clinging in life, and while it felt comfortable when it occured, over time it only felt empty.

One book in particular opened my eyes to a new way of thinking: Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. Read it to discover its wonderful message for yourself. The journey is worth it. But I will share the line from the book that helped awaken me from fumbling through this world on the ground.

Life On The Outside

Who knows why most pilots felt the urge to learn to fly? Perhaps some grew tired of staring at cloud bellies and wanted to see their tops. Maybe others vowed to break free of the ground. For me, flight itself beckoned, the idea of soaring above the earth and feeling free. If I ever figure out how to fly without the plane, I will die happy.

But flying a plane is a lot of work. When students first learn, the whole process is overwhelming. We focus on yokes and rudders and throttles. We learn airspeeds: what is too slow, what is too fast. We learn altitudes and air space, the required distances from clouds. We work on coordinated turns and slips, how to lean the fuel mixture and when to turn on the carb heat and somewhere in that early process, we forget that we wanted to peer on clouds from above or to simply soar.

Before my checkride—an actual flying test to earn my license—the plane I’d flown during training had to go into the shop for an extended period. I borrowed a similar plane from an acquaintance who happened to be a flight instructor. We met at dawn to fly together so I’d be comfortable with any differences between his plane and the one I knew well.

Time Machine Do Over

A week ago Friday I found myself at an urgent care facility with my 8 year-old, Cort. Less than 20 minutes before, we’d been at the ballpark waiting for his older brother to play baseball. To kill time before the game, Cort ambled over to sit on a wooden step and took a swipe with his hand to clean it off before plopping down. When he started crying, I rushed over.

As I neared, he lifted his hand to show a huge splinter sticking out of his index finger. Splinter is the wrong word; “wood chunk” better describes it. Blood flowed from the wound, running down into the creases of his finger as he held his wrist in his other hand. I tried to calm him even as I started to whisk the chunk out. The half inch of wood that protruded from his finger gave me plenty to grab.

Things don’t always turn out the way you see them in your head. Instead of the wood slipping right out, the part I tugged broke off. Not until I cleared the blood away did I realize he had jammed that piece of wood all the way through the tip of his finger. Some of the blood had been coming from the opposite end where the tip of the wood had pierced his skin on its way out.

Urgent care, here we come.

With a scared kid in tow, I made arrangements with another parent to stay with my other son, John. I kept Cort as calm as possible and even though he hardly made any sound as we rushed to the car, tears spilled down his cheeks.

Find Your Song

I’ve always loved the quote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” It gets misattributed to Stephen Covey and Wayne Dyer, two popular self-help gurus who both use it, however the credit belongs to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin from his book The Phenomenon of Man.

But this “human experience” gets difficult sometimes. The details of daily living can make us forget that we are boundless spirits connected to everything in a vast universe. So what’s a universal spirit to do when life tries to confine it, tries to hold it down? For me, I turn to a song.

Music is a mood creator. When it comes to something we have direct control over, and instant access to, I know of nothing that works better than music to shift our moods in a positive direction. I imagine you are keenly aware of how different songs make you feel inside. If you’re not aware, then I recommend paying more attention to how certain songs affect your mood. Which songs lift you? Which ones bring you down. Which songs rev you up, giving you the energy you need to face the world? Knowing the answers is a powerful tool.

Much gets written about the power of positive thinking, and I believe in it. But sometimes it’s hard to lift ourselves from the trenches we’ve dug when life attacks. The right song can not only help you escape the trenches, but can prepare you to face and negate whatever is attacking.

Spirituality Guest Post

Inspirational speaker and award-winning author Janae Bower co-hosts a blog currently featuring an A-to-Z series on spirituality. This week's letter is "C"—as in Christopher—and Janae has highlighted a piece I wrote.

Janae helps people get to the heart of what matters most to them, something I'm a big believer in myself. She is author of several books including The Little IT Series and Wishing for IT.

Click here to learn more about Janae, then click here to read the post.

More Stories to Tell

Aviators come from all walks of life with wildly varied personalities. But one thing I’ve noticed is, they all tell great stories. Typically, the longer they’ve been flying, the grander the tales.

Recently my oldest son, TJ, and I heard a run of great aviation stories when we accompanied my friend Clif and his wife, Kristen, to the Annual Oyster Roast in Swansboro, NC. The oyster roast started on a Saturday evening, but we made it a weekend affair, arriving Friday night at a great beach house Clif had on loan from a friend. The stories started flowing that evening and while I can usually hold my own, having traveled extensively in the Navy, I had nothing on Clif.

Clif retired from the Navy as a LAMPS MKI helicopter pilot while I only signed up for three years to receive the GI Bill and didn’t earn my wings until later in life. One of the uses of the LAMPS helicopter is to drop sonobuoys, floating devices that detect underwater noise and relay it back to a nearby ship for analysis, specifically to identify submarines and determine if they are friend or foe. Coincidentally, my job in the Navy was a sonar technician, the guy who analyzed the frequencies from the sonobuoys. While Clif shared numerous Navy yarns over the weekend, two of them stood out for me.

The first involved his brush with famed author Tom Clancy who wrote Hunt for Red October and has penned numerous novels with strong military plots. Mr. Clancy planned a shipboard visit for several days to research a subsequent book and Clif learned well in advanced that he’d been assigned to accompany the writer during his time onboard. Knowing the author was quite the military buff, Clif spent many hours in the coming weeks to gain necessary clearance to take Mr. Clancy flying. No small feat. 

Finally, the day arrived when the author set foot on the ship and Clif began to show him around. During the tour, Clif proudly announced that he’d gained authorization to fly the writer in the helicopter. But Clif’s excitement was short-lived.

The Downside of Deadlines

In May 2009, I left a high-paying job to write a novel, and I’ve never regretted it one bit. Navigating the traditional publishing route—versus self-publishing—takes vast patience, but I’m up for the challenge. When it comes to accomplishing goals in my personal life, I’ve learned it’s dangerous to place deadlines on myself. I’ve watch these artificial deadlines derail individuals too many times when they didn’t hit them. Work may be about deadlines, but life, is not.

When you are near the end of your life looking back, are you going to care if it took an extra five or ten years to become a best selling novelist, or successful business owner, or a renown painter?

I doubt it.

If anything, that extra time, those additional miles and scenery, will make the accomplishment sweeter.

Life is not about deadlines.

Are you placing too much pressure on yourself to hit a personal goal next month? Next year? Let yourself grow and blossom naturally. Keep moving forward. It will happen when you are ready.

Wisdom to Know the Difference

There’s an old aviation joke that gets passed down often. It usually surfaces during the required night flight that every student must take during training. Night flights are stressful in a single engine plane. During the day, if you lose an engine, you’ve been trained to identify suitable fields within gliding distance for an emergency landing. But on a dark night with little moonlight, it's impossible to distinguish an open field from a grove of trees. 

Invariably, the student quizzes the flight instructor on the procedure for a lost engine at night. The conversation usually goes something like this:

The Most Important Promise

Most people I know try to honor the promises they make to others. And if something prevents them from keeping those promises, they feel bad about it.

But there is a certain type of promise that most of us break quite often and don’t give much thought to it. I’m talking about the promises we make—and break—to ourselves.

We all have them. The promises to eat healthier, exercise more, worry less, break out of our comfort zone. We swear that tomorrow will be the day we finally begin our novel, or start that new business, or take those flying lessons. But tomorrow has a way of never arriving.

What have you promised yourself you would do and never did? Or never finished? Isn’t a promise to yourself, just as important as a promise to others?

I’m here to tell you it is.

Honor your promises. Especially the ones you make to yourself.

How to Overcome Doubt


It’s arguably the single most insidious obstacle that stands between individuals and their dreams. There’s a wind that’s eager to propel us all toward those dreams, yet doubt keeps our sails furled and our anchors dug deep.

Few people are immune to doubt. Yet many of the most successful people in history experienced major doubt in their lives. Somehow, they managed to succeed in spite of it. How?

It’s simple really: successful people never let doubt stop them from taking action. They do instead of doubt.

What a difference three letters can make.

Action calms us even as it moves us forward. Doubt holds us back. Action provides critical insights we would never grasp if we had remained stationary. And action is never, ever, wasted, even if

Just . . . Trust

When it comes to chasing our dreams, what are so many of us frightened of?

Who made the snide coworker judge and jury? Who made the absent parent, or the fringe friend, or some person we see once a year, the prophets of our destiny?

For some of us, we listen more to those infrequent influencers than we do to our own voices that tell us to chase our dreams.

And that is a shame.

The voice inside that encourages, that believes, that says you can be more than you are now, is genuine. That voice is closer to a godly presence than the masses of lone clergy who cordon themselves in pulpits and pretend to know more about us than we do ourselves.

We are all more powerful than we’ve ever imagined.

Yet we hold ourselves back not because we believe ourselves incapable, but because we

With a Little Help from My Friends

A few months ago I wrapped up the fall session of the creative writing class I teach. The last night of class always includes a section that covers momentum and how to maintain it. If publication is your goal, the best advice I can offer is to surround yourself with other writers who are serious about improving their craft. I know of no better way to stay excited and motivated than to be part of something larger than yourself, a journey shared with others on the same road. Most of the time this takes the form of a writers’ group. A typical writers’ group meets regularly to give feedback on story ideas and the writing itself. I’m fortunate to be immersed in a strong group with exceptional writers, authors who are going places. 

Two members of my group recently had new books come out.

Universal Perfection

Have you ever had moments when you’ve been struck by an intense clarity, a knowing, that we’re all integral parts of something much bigger than we’ve ever dared imagine? For me, it always occurs when I least expect it. I’ll be immersed in life when something unusual occurs and my world tilts. In that moment, the drab—and sometimes not-so-drab—curtain of everyday life parts until I’m staring beyond it to the universal perfection that is only offered to me in rare glimpses.

The first time I recall it happening was at nine years-old. Summer had arrived, which meant no school and long stretches of daylight when dinner morphed from an end-of-day event to a minor pit stop before dashing back outside to play until dark.

On this particular evening as dusk settled and the air cooled, my friends disappeared into the night, one by one, as the call of their names echoed throughout the neighborhood. Soon, only my friend Eric and I remained, both of us perched on the swings in my back yard. Maybe each of our parents had become distracted and hadn’t realized how dark it had become. We stayed outside a long time.

For some reason, our banter turned serious, focused on the field of stars that intensified above us. Our own intensity grew as we pondered its vastness, the epic nature of it. Suddenly, we both stopped talking and simply stared into the cosmos as if we’d lost our voices. Perhaps it would be more dramatic to say a star suddenly shot across the night sky, the tip of a sword slashing through black velvet from the other side, but it didn’t. Instead, the silence welled, and


If you read Don’t Look Back, you know I don’t spend much time fretting about the past. I’ve made enough stupid mistakes to fret over—trust me on this—but I try not to get bogged down by them. You can’t soar toward a bright future if you drag the past behind you.

That said, I do sometimes wonder why I made certain detours in life, diversions that seemed like mistakes at the time. I’m one of those people who does believe everything happens for a reason, but that doesn’t mean the reason is always apparent. So while I wait for enlightenment on several of my seemingly meaningless life detours, I’m always fascinated to hear stories from others who know exactly why something happened.

On Labor Day Weekend, I flew to a small airport outside of Raleigh to take my friend, Robin, and two of her three sons flying.

Find Your Mantra

I am reposting the piece I wrote as Lesson 221 for writer Katherine Jenkin's blog, Lessons from the Monk I Married. Hope you enjoy it if you didn't already get a chance to read it on her site:

I love to fly. But unlike career pilots with thousands of hours of flight time, I do it for fun and personal growth. Yet, I’m continually surprised how my relatively small amount of aviation training helps me in my personal life. When considered on a deeper level, it only makes sense: if pilots trust their lives to flight procedures and training, then those activities must have some merit in everyday life as well.

One particular aviation mantra I referred to often in my flight training was this: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. Those three words not only highlighted critical activities I needed to perform to keep my plane safe, their order also conveyed the priority. Aviating is the act of keeping the plane airborne and avoiding other aircraft and obstacles that can inflict harm. Navigating ensures you are headed the correct direction while observing airspace restrictions. Communicating lets air traffic control and other pilots know your intentions.

As a pilot, you can navigate and communicate well, but if you aren’t aviating well, the other two may not matter. For example, all airplanes are subject to the laws of physics. Drop below a plane’s minimum airspeed and, in that moment in time, your beautiful aircraft suddenly becomes the world’s largest and most expensive paperweight. In other words: the plane will plunge from the sky. Communicate all you want on the radios but it will not save you unless you regain airspeed.

The saying especially comes in handy in an emergency, an event when a pilot will have numerous distractions in the cockpit. The mantra reminds you that your first priority is to fly the plane.

After completing my initial flight training, I found myself contemplating the aviation mantra that had served me so well—and it still does. I wondered what my own personal mantra should be, one that would help me maintain priorities especially in those times when life heaped multiple distractions on me.

Make the Most of Every Moment

College has been a hot topic in our house. Two weeks ago, we moved TJ, our oldest, into the freshmen dorm at Elon University. He arrived well before the bulk of students so he could begin his new position as a videographer for the football team and its preseason camp. As we situated his dorm room with the stuff we’d carted up a flight of stairs, the seven year-old, Cort, asked in a matter-of-fact voice, “When do I get to live here?”

After the laughter dissipated, the inside of my chest twisted as I envisioned that future moment in time, an event hurling toward me with the speed of a white-hot meteor carving up the night sky. I hesitated to even blink my eyes, fearing I’d open them to find it was Cort we had dropped off instead of TJ. After all, it seems like only yesterday that TJ was seven.

Time’s ethereal nature derailed me again this weekend as we all traveled to Greenville, NC, home to East Carolina where I graduated from college.

Dare to Soar

Lessons from the Cockpit has a blog exchange this week. Seattle writer Katherine Jenkins wrote the great piece below. Her book, Lessons from the Monk I Married, was recently picked up for publication. Please check out her complete bio at the end of her post. Be sure to read my post on her site as well by clicking here. I have never flown a plane before, but I can only imagine how freeing that must feel. I do know that when I’m up in the air, there is a quiet, almost other-worldly feeling; I feel like I’m getting close to the source of life. There’s an eerie loneliness when you look out the window of a plane. It’s as if you and the passengers on your flight are the only ones who exist in the endless sky. The only change of scenery is the different shapes the clouds take. Sometimes you are in the clouds. Other times you soar above them and can finally detect their distinct shapes. 

I usually request a window seat when I fly. I like to lean my head against the edge of my circular window and watch the view from above. 

Recently, on a flight coming back from New York, I had the privilege of witnessing an endless sunset. We were flying to Seattle, so technically we were flying back in time. We moved fast enough to escape darkness. It was the longest sunset I had ever seen. 

Some people are afraid of flying. I’m not a big fan of take-offs and landings. There’s always a risk involved. Once on the runway, the realization strikes that you have committed yourself to leaving the earth. There’s never a guarantee that you will touch down safely once airborne.

Whenever you do anything in life, there is a risk; especially when you try something new.

There’s the fear that you may never get off the ground. That you might fail. And what would people think if you failed?

And what if you do get off the ground and achieve great heights in your life? What will happen to the life you once knew? Will you always be looking back toward the ground, back toward where you once were and wishing you could return?

What makes us afraid of reaching our highest potential in life? What is so scary about soaring high?

In, I found these four definitions of the word soar:


I want to take a moment to thank all the readers of Lessons from the Cockpit. Without you, there'd be no lift to make the concept fly. Readership has grown significantly since launch in 2009, with a strong surge in newcomers over the past few months. It’s great to have so many from all over the world visit regularly. I also love the numerous emails and comments on how the posts have positively affected individuals by providing new insights to old challenges.

With the growing readership, I want to highlight some popular posts to check out if you missed them. But first, I’d really appreciate if you’d take a moment and help Lessons from the Cockpit continue its trajectory by sharing the site with a few friends you think would enjoy it. It’s easy and free to subscribe, and if they are on Facebook, they can simply click “Follow this blog” in the NetworkedBlogs widget on the right side of this page under “Subscribe.”

Again, thank you for lifting Lessons from the Cockpit into the stratosphere.

Popular Posts

The Real Questions Are…

What do you want to do with your life?


What do you really  want to do?


Why aren't you doing it?

What Boosts You?

My youngest son, Cort, didn’t enjoy his first airplane ride. He was four and from the moment we took off, he kept asking when we’d head home. I tried to stifle my disappointment. How could this boy not like flying? Among our sons, Cort is the most like me: acts like me, looks like me. When he was an infant, I’d carry him into a public place and strangers would stop us, all saying something similar to, “Are you sure you didn’t birth that boy?”

I didn’t realize the underlying cause of Cort's attitude toward flying until one of my flying buddies, Ged, pointed out what I’d overlooked. Having a son the same age, Ged made a simple observation:

“Did you bring a booster seat so he could see out the window?”

Well… uh… no.

Sitting in the back of the plane, Cort couldn’t see anything but the inside. No wonder he wasn't impressed, forced to look at my seat back only. He couldn’t see how high we flew, couldn’t take in the breathtaking sights that make flying worthwhile.

My friend’s observation that day was genius of the common sense variety that not only solved my dilemma, but also bestowed an insight on life in general. No wonder so many of us get discouraged with our place in this world sometimes. We concentrate on our immediate surroundings and lose sight of what’s beyond. We focus on the distractions, the bills, the lackluster reality that didn’t meet our hollywood expectations, when instead we must discover what will boost us above the fray so we can see further.

I’ll tell you what boosts me:

Connected for Life

I often speak to groups about networking. People think I have a success secret on it. But I’ll tell you the same thing I tell them: I don’t like networking.

If networking means an attempt to increase my address book contacts by learning what people do for a living, while I try to figure out how they can help me, then I want no part of it. What I prefer, is this: making new friends while discovering their passions as I figure out how I can help them. Is that networking? Sure. But many people have a bad taste for the concept because it's often pursued in the first manner. And many people try to cram it in only when a new job or customer is needed. When that doesn't yield results, they believe they are no good at networking.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

With a perspective shift, anyone can become a better networker. In fact, most people could become great if they approached it with a different attitude. What follows are some key ideas I've used in everyday life that have helped me tremendously. But before we start, let’s ditch the word networking. For many, that label carries negative connotations. I like to use the word “connecting” instead. Here goes:

Notes from the Universe

I have something to share with you. It’s going to sound strange, but here goes: for a couple of years now, I’ve been getting messages from the universe.


They always seem to come in the hours before dawn, where I can digest them while the house is still quiet, before the daily craziness ensues. When they first started, I was unsure what to think of them: were they really meant for me?Should I laugh them off or ignore them? Or was there something in them I should pay attention to and and take seriously?

Over time, as they continued to show up, I began to look forward to them. I became eager to decipher their meaning and on the few days they didn’t come, I missed them. But I haven’t told you the really strange part. They show up in my email inbox.

What I’m talking about is a free service you sign up for and every weekday morning you receive a message in your email from the “universe.” Most are fun and clever while a few are corny, but all of them seem to be just what I need to get a jump on the day.

Someone once said,

The Weight of the World

When non-pilots see the plane I fly, they assume it carries a lot. But everything in life, love, and lift is a tradeoff. If I want to take four people on a trip with the baggage compartment maxed, I better calculate how much fuel I must remove from the wing tanks to ensure we aren’t overloaded. Less fuel means a much shorter range, but you deal with it. Even pilots of huge passenger jets pay meticulous attention to weight and balance because they know the same thing: you can’t overload a plane and expect it to fly right, if at all.

The same principle applies to you and me as human beings. Many of us want to achieve liftoff on a dream so it can soar. But how many dreams remain grounded because the owner of that dream is saddled with too much weight in the form of emotional and physical baggage they load upon themselves by choice? They weigh themselves down with fear and doubt. They chain themselves to the earth with store-bought distractions and clutter that is rarely used. In short, they place the weight of the world on their shoulders and keep piling it on.

I’ve given a lot of consideration to this over the last few years and have come to realize life

Letting Go – Summer School Final

Ah, Memorial Day Weekend. Although not the official start of summer, the holiday typically heralds its imminent approach. With my favorite season in sight, it’s time to complete our summer school series. Recounting these old stories during an exceptionally snowy winter in North Carolina kept those lazy, golden days within reach for me.

Yesterday, my wife and I took the boys to our pool and lounged while we watched them expend their surplus energy. While there, I thought about one of my favorite jobs ever: lifeguard. While a few stints at a country club pool in college was fun and had its perks, there was different kind of lifeguard position I held that trumps the others.

At nineteen I became the lifeguard for Murdoch Developmental Center, a large campus for the mentally handicapped. The pool sat atop a small knoll in a large grass area near the center of the campus. The cottages where the residents lived surrounded the grassy field. From the pool I had a great view of the sky with plenty of free time to watch it. The cottages had scheduled times for their residents to swim, so I had long stretches between groups where I sharpened my imagination on the soft edges of cumulous clouds as they floated overhead. 

The best part of the job was

The Sunny Side

Yesterday I was guest speaker at the Greensboro Optimist Club. I gave a speech based on my Follow the Glow post I wrote for Rick Smith, Author of The Leap. The members were wonderful and I enjoyed my interactions with them. When it came time to close the meeting, we all stood and recited the Optimist Creed, which was displayed on a felt scroll nearby for guests like me. I believe we all spoke the words from our hearts, but I had to read them while most everyone else recited them from memory.

In a world that many people claim is going down the drain—which I don’t buy; bad news gets most of the attention in our modern times—it’s refreshing to know people walk this earth carrying this creed within their hearts:

The Optimist Creed

Promise Yourself…

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.


How many of these words and actions can you incorporate into your life today?

Colin Hay – A Man Among Men

My music collection is eclectic. If there is one thing in life I strive to be, it’s well-rounded—of the mind, that is, not the body. My favorite artist in that collection is Colin Hay, but when I mention him to friends and acquaintances, rarely does anyone recognize the name. His talent is vastly underrated and under-appreciated. Yet, I guarantee most people my age—the generation mesmerized by MTV when it first started broadcasting—will recognize the face and voice. Colin Hay was the front man of Men at Work. Remember the lead singer of “Down Under,” “Who Can It Be Now,” and “Overkill”? That’s him.

I don’t recall how I discovered Hay’s solo albums. Perhaps hearing his songs on the television show “Scrubs” led me to him. I find most of my favored music by catching obscure songs in movies, and to a lesser extent now, TV shows. (We ditched cable television a year ago because we rarely watched it. It took six months for our kids to notice. Now, if we want to watch a show, we watch it from the internet.)

Two of Hay’s songs graced “Scrubs” the first season, and if memory serves

Life & Whatnot

When I started Lessons from the Cockpit last year, my goal was simple: write satisfying stories—I hoped—about lessons I'd learned from either flying my plane or flying through life. But I often want to share tidbits with my readers that don't necessarily fit into those criteria. Not everything I wish to relay is a story or has a lesson in it. Sometimes I just want to say, "I like this, and check it out if you think you'll like it too."

At first, I toyed with creating a separate page on my website for these random posts, but after talking to writer friends I trust, they convinced me these entries were better left on the main page. They are all part of this journey I'm on and who am I to say some readers won't find a lesson or two in them.

So I will start including these posts on the main Lessons page, however I'll create a new category called Life & Whatnot. This category will be a catchall for random thoughts, ramblings, cool things I want to share, and anything else I find interesting as I fumble through life trying to figure it out. The stories and lessons will not go away; you can still count on them as I have many more to share.

I hope you will continue to visit and read Lessons from the Cockpit as well as post your insightful comments. Your support makes my journey all the more enjoyable.

From the Ashes – Summer School Part 4

Several months ago I flew the Cirrus to Montgomery Executive Airport at Virginia Tech to visit my wife on a Saturday night. She spent the weekend training the college's group fitness instructors in the Les Mills’ BodyPump program. After my arrival, I waited inside the FBO while a lineman fueled my plane. Two photos in the lobby drew my attention. The first showed a super-expensive twin-engine that had once been parked on the ramp outside the FBO. Two jacks supported the plane where the nose gear should have been. The second photo, shot from an alternate angle, showed the missing nose gear wedged into the crumpled hood of a white Mustang. (Click here to see the photos.)

When the lineman entered, I inquired about the photos. He shook his head. “That Mustang belonged to one of our linemen, a young guy. It was brand new, had less than 50 miles on it. The kid was showing off, turning donuts on the tarmac when he lost control and shot underneath the plane.”

I looked back to the photos. “I don’t suppose the kid works here anymore,” I said.

“You think?”

My first thought was, I’d hate to be that guy. But an old memory flashed and I realized I had been that guy almost 27 years ago. While on a job,

Everyday Magic – Summer School Part 3

When did most of us stop believing in magic? Was it the same time we stopped discovering castles and dolphins in the clouds? Did we come to the conclusion on our own, or was it shouted by a spiteful person, or perhaps worse, whispered in our ear by a well-meaning one? At least when someone shouts at us, we have a natural resistance to the message, but when someone we trust tells us, then it must be accurate, right? Never-mind that the person might only relay a message from a long line of people who never stopped to question its validity.

Does magic exist? And if it does, why do so many doubt it? I have my suspicions. Somewhere along the line we were led to believe something is only magical if it happens instantaneously, like a magician releasing a dove from a sleeve or making a 747 disappear on a tarmac in front of a crowd and television cameras. But then again, those events aren’t magic at all, only illusions, or deception, depending how you view it.

I believe magic happens everyday, only we don’t recognize it because it’s often a slow churn. True magic can take time, something a lot of us don’t perceive we have. But we do have time. What we’re lacking, is patience. So when we toss a wish or prayer into the world the same way we arc a coin into a fountain, we lose hope when nothing happens in the next second, or hour, or day. Then, at some point in the future when the granted request returns, we don’t even remember making it.

So how does one perform magic? Simple.

Out of the Cave

​I feel as if I've been hibernating for the last few months. As I stumble out to blue skies and bright sun, I know this: It’s good to be back. I’ve missed posting on the website, but there’s an excellent reason for my absence. I’ve spent the last three months wrapping up my novel. I…am…finished. That is, I’m as finished as I can be at this stage. Writing a novel is a lengthy process that keeps churning until the last possible moment before the book goes to print. When it finds the right home—and editor—at a publishing house, I’ll have more work to do, but I welcome the effort. That’s how a book moves from good to great, provided you have something good from the onset. Right now, I’m preparing packets to send to agents, depending on their submission guidelines. I’ve spent numerous hours researching the appropriate ones to target, however, that is also an ongoing task as it can take a while to connect with the one meant for your book. Like the appropriate editor at a publisher, the right agent will have valuable feedback to elevate the book as well to make it more marketable. If any of you have relationships with reputable agents, I would love to hear from you. But even if you don’t, I still want to hear from you. Learning what's happening in your lives, and sharing in your successes, is just as important as me telling you what’s going on in mine. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: life is not about money and accumulating stuff; it’s about good relationships and accumulating experiences.

Speaking of relationships, many thanks go to all my friends and family who’ve supported me in this process. Also, I could not have done it without my writer friends offering encouragement and lending critical eyes to help improve the novel. If you are an emerging writer who is giving due diligence to the craft, you owe it to yourself to find kindred souls on the same journey so you can help each other succeed. We all have blind spots. The key is to find the right people who will point them out in a nurturing manner.

One writer friend said I should do a post on the lessons I learned while writing the novel, insights I could only discover by immersing myself in the process. Sounded like a great idea to me, so look for that topic in the near future.

But for now, back to our regularly scheduled programming . . . . Summer School - Part 3 coming soon.

Summer School – Part 2

Second in the summer school lessons series. For part 1, click here.

In July of 1990, I had a bad day. The plan called for heels dug into the hot sands of Athens, Greece accompanied by great friends while I gazed at crystal blue water as far as the eye could see. The reality? I had the water part. I had the friends part. The problem? They were as cranky as I was because crystal blue surrounded us as far as we could see on all sides.

Instead of the port call to Athens, among other popular locales, my buddies and I bobbed in the open ocean, captive on a naval destroyer off the coast of Africa. Civil war had erupted in Liberia and our ship, the fastest in the battle group, diverted in a frantic rush to lend assistance. Goodbye France, goodbye Spain, goodbye Greece.

After two months of continuous steaming in a square mile pattern far enough over the horizon so the only glimpse of the coast entailed the occasional mirage, stir crazy didn’t begin to describe us. There were bright spots.

Summer School

I miss summer already. Perhaps it’s a holdback from childhood when the last school bell rang and the doors flung wide to spill kids and teens into a June they finally claimed for themselves. School worked for many people, but I wasn’t one of them. For me, real learning began after those school doors slammed shut behind me.

During summers my mind sparked, ignited because I controlled my education, unfettered by what someone else believed I should learn. Transported by books, bicycles, and blue skies—willing screens I projected a vivid imagination onto—my mind expanded as I chased whatever drew my interest until September closed in. Since those summer days of self-directed exploration, I’ve always considered any learning I’ve accomplished on my own as “summer school,” an educational program driven by someone who had my best interests in mind.

Perhaps you’re like me and felt you didn’t learn the things you really wanted to when you were in school, whether it was high school where classes were chosen for you or college where you acquiesced to parents or bought into society’s urging that the world needed more marketing people. Maybe you feel it’s too late to do anything about it now.

I’m here to tell you it’s never too late, no matter how old you are. You just need to take charge of your own education and enroll yourself into “summer school.”

Follow the Glow: How to Discover Your Passion in Life

I'm pleased to announce my article Follow the Glow is featured on Rick Smith's website. Rick is the bestselling author of The Leap: How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great. Rick has made great leaps himself, including founding World 50, one of the world’s most influential senior executive networking companies that includes members and contributors such as Bono, Francis Ford Coppola and Jon Stewart. What I found fascinating during my read of The Leap was Rick's honesty and accessibility as an author. Given Rick's credentials, he could have touted genius as the foundation for his success. Instead, Rick describes how many people who have accomplished great things, including himself, were not much different from the rest of us. They simply made small changes that made big differences. One of those small changes is simply finding work that fits with who you are as a person. Always great advice, but sometimes hard to know how to execute. Rick's book The Leap can show you how.

So check out Rick's new book The Leap and click here to read Follow the Glow on his website.

The School of Life

There’s no substitute for the school of life. Each of us is enrolled, like it or not. But we should like it. It’s the finest education money can’t buy. Heck, it’s the finest education available even when compared to the ones money can buy.

Everyday we receive lessons. Whether we choose to learn something from them is a different story. I always try to learn something, although I need a remedial course or two on occasion to mine the precious gem of wisdom from the dirt and debris of the situation. But once I discover that gem, I stick it in my pocket as a reminder to make different choices in the future.

There are numerous lessons to share from fumbling through my own school of life, but I thought I’d relay one in particular as it gets a bit of airplay around our house from time to time.

Here’s what happened:

Life is Rich

We’ve all heard the maxim, “The best things in life are free.” It’s true. But what about those great things in life that do cost something? I’ve been thinking about, and making a list of, things that don’t cost much, relatively speaking, but give rich experiences. The twist, however, is I wanted to identify that which a billionaire couldn’t necessarily buy a better experience than me. So here goes:

1) Great Books - I can feel the pages now: textured paper brimming with stone-wedged swords, grinning cats, time wrinkles, and precious rings. We dive into black ink, immersed in imagination and hours that flow like minutes, until the real world beckons. Ah, such an irreplaceable experience. True, this could fall into the “free” category if you utilize the public library, but supply doesn’t always meet demand, not to mention how many times I’ve tried to reserve a book only to learn the sole copy is 5 years overdue. Our taxes pay for the library anyway, so not exactly free. And yes, the billionaire may be able to buy that first edition of Oliver Twist, signed by Charles Dickens himself, but do you think he sits in a cozy chair by the fire at night to read it? Absolutely not. If he wants to recapture the magic of the story, he’d probably eyeball the same umpteenth edition we do. Dive into a book.

The Passion for Planes, Paintings, and Pets

Passion. It sparks in radiant arcs when you discover it—or it discovers you. When you possess it, you couldn’t hide its warm glow if you tried. Passion spills beyond the edges of your physical form to illuminate your true path in life. But to recognize that path you must wake up and pry your eyes away from the crowded route society suggests you travel, that road thick with business suit zombies—the working dead—who move wherever they’re told. To find your true path, you must study your surroundings, must discover where passion’s glow throws a vibrant light onto hidden doorways and seldom used short cuts. Trust and follow that beam. It will lead you to the person you were meant to be.

But passion is not only luminescent; it’s magnetic as well. Passion draws kindred souls to you, even as it tugs you toward them. And when the individual light of passions mix and swirl in their infinite colors, magic emerges.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched passion energized gatherings and witnessed how they connect us in the most unlikely places. For you pilots that read this blog, please read to the end to learn how your passions can help others with theirs.

The Space Between Life’s Lessons

Some of you may have noticed a lag between posts recently, which may imply I’m not writing as much. Au contraire. Last week I wrote at least six hours a day, sometimes seven and eight. What am I spending so much time writing if not Lessons from the Cockpit? Read on.

Readers sensed something brewing when I posted “Make the Leap” parts 1 and 2, and although I knew my end goal and held the destination foremost in mind, I was unsure when I'd make the leap and start the journey toward it. But sometimes the destination moves toward us. Recently, I felt a palpable shift in my life, a swirling energy mass gathering beyond the horizon. The clear skies circling me gave no indication anything differed from my normal routine, yet I knew the swirl approached, could feel it in my being. I kept angling my body in its direction with anticipation. I liken it to a summer storm where we can’t see the thunderheads building—they’re too far away or the tree line obscures them from view—but we know it’s coming. A breeze kicks up. The temperature drops five degrees. The leaves on the trees flash their pale green underbellies in rippling waves.

Before you think this energy mass was something ominous, let me say this. Some people don’t like storms, but not me. I get excited. Why?

Into the Great Wide Now

Flaps, one notch. Mixture, rich. Sky, clear. Throttle, full. Brakes, released. The plane clings to the ground for an instant, Newton and one of his pesky laws stunts your movement, but soon, another law trumps inertia and you inch forward, creeping at first, then picking up speed, faster and faster, the landscape a green blur down both sides of the peripheral vision. Feet work the rudder pedals, a slight sway from left to right then back again. The stick vibrates your palm as a narrow, white needle springs to life on the airspeed indicator, its silent warning screaming that 30 more knots are critical before you can even think of lifting off. Meanwhile you’ve eaten up half the runway, the trees at the opposite end, the ones that appeared so gentle and kind and docile before, now furious, their faces gnarled in determination as they yank themselves from the ground, shake the red clay from their twisted roots and begin to charge toward you. Against your instinct,

You Can’t Soar from a Prison Cell

Imagine for a moment you're confined to a prison cell. It’s not the dark, dank room we’ve grown accustomed to expect from the movies, but is instead comfortable. You’ve decorated it with several items from home, but you’re confined nonetheless. There’s an impenetrable 12 x 18 inch plexiglass window in your cell that allows you to view the outside world. In fact, your family and friends can amble up anytime you have your face close to the window and talk to you if they’d like.

These welcome visitors bring colorful photos of other friends and family, and gorgeous locales, many places you once visited, and they press those snapshots directly to the window so you can soak in their beauty: vivid flowers of every hue; brown trees with pale green leaves the color of spring, stretching toward Monet skies; a serene lake, a second set of snow capped mountain peaks etched within its reflection.

Airport Angel

Sometimes help not only comes when you least expect it, it can arrive in the most unlikely of forms. At least that was my experience three weeks ago when returning to my home airport of Piedmont Triad International (PTI) from a 3-day Florida trip.

It was 10 pm, the end of a long day, so I was eager to get home, ready to sleep in my own bed. When I’d driven into the parking deck before the trip, I’d turned into a space at the end of a row and zipped through to the opposite, empty space ahead so my SUV faced outward, ready to escape home when I returned.

Back from Florida, I found my vehicle, tossed the baggage in the back, then climbed in and pulled from the space. As I drove across the parking deck to the other side, the vehicle fought me, determined to veer right while I held the wheel straight. Only then did I notice the cockeyed slant of the dashboard, the SUV listing to the right like a boat filling with water. Letting a slow, tired breath escape, I pulled into the next open space to get a visual on what I already suspected: flat tire.

Cosmic Signposts

We all receive signs. Some of us just don’t notice. People call them different things: signs from the universe or signs from God. Both terms work for me, but the writer inside wanted something more original, a phrase I could call my own. Over the last few years, I’ve started calling them "cosmic signposts." For the most part, the signposts are subtle. But sometimes it’s akin to the cartoons where a character plants his foot on the steel tines of a rake, vaulting the handle up to smack his face. Except for me, instead of a rake handle, I get whacked in the face with a red neon signpost ringed with flashing bulbs.

A segment of the world’s population will swear the signs don’t exist, that we create meaning where there is none. That’s fine by me; they can believe whatever they'd like. Let them travel life using whatever tools—or lack thereof—they'd like. Not me. I’ll take all the cosmic help I can get.

It wasn’t always this way. I went through my early adult life without noticing them. I’m sure they were there; I just wasn’t open to them. But all it takes is observation of the world around you, a focus on the present. Once you pay closer attention to everyday surroundings, it’s difficult not to see them. I’ve had a steady stream of them since a particular day when I was barraged by several cosmic signposts me in a row during an important decision in my life. So, what were these successive cosmic signposts? First a little backstory…

Smile and the World Smiles With You

I found myself immersed in a sea of people last week, adrift in the ebb and flow of humanity at O’Hare Airport after I arrived in Chicago. Sometimes it felt as if I was swimming against a current, a riptide of passengers intent on sweeping me the wrong direction.

As I eased through the waves of people in the concourse, I noticed that no one seemed to make eye contact with anyone else. It seems we humans as a group can weave through streams of people pressing from the opposite direction, but we can’t look each other in the eyes.

Why is this?

I’m guilty of it too, adhering to some unspoken societal norm, an unwritten code that we must avert our eyes when we meet others, especially amidst a throng of people.

Is it because it’s too much work to make eye contact and smile at so many people? I suppose I can understand that behavior when large numbers are present, but the problem is, it happens in small groups too. I’ve been in retail stores, with only three or four shoppers around and it’s as if we’re all invisible to each other, as if each individual is the lone person in the locale. Somehow, we are only visible to the store workers, and they ignore sometimes as well.

What are the rules? When is it okay to acknowledge others in this world when you are somewhere you don’t know anyone? I think there is a formula to it. As the number of people in a particular location goes up, the smaller the radius around us becomes before we’ll acknowledge a person that slips within that radius. For example, if two people pass each other by 40 feet on a beach at 6 a.m. when no other people are around, they most likely will acknowledge each other and smile. But pack that beach with 100 people walking the sand later in the day and those same two people will probably not make eye contact and smile even if they pass within 5 feet. I’m sure we are seeing each other; we just pretend we don’t.

Again, what’s going on here? What drives this behavior?

I think I know…at least part of the reason.


Make the Leap – Part 2

When a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, does it know it has become a butterfly, or does it make a leap of faith from the empty husk? I not sure we’ll ever learn the answer, but I am sure of this: some of us are butterflies and don’t know it.

We walk this earth yearning to make a leap toward our dreams, to swap routine existences for passionate futures. But we hesitate; we falter. We don’t just stand on the ground of our monochrome lives, we drop to all fours and cling to it. We do this because no one has ever told us that our life experiences—the passions and desires, the lessons learned, the seemingly unconnected events—have cradled us in translucent transformation chambers that can only be viewed in hindsight. They cloak us as we sleepwalk through life in mundane jobs, expected roles and little boxes where we answer to labels of someone else’s creation. But at some point, the metamorphosis is complete. We have grown vibrant wings. We have transformed into luminescent creatures who are meant to fly, if we’d simply realize we possess the power. And those individuals among us who aren’t butterflies? Just give them a little time.

I’ve been testing my wings lately, getting ready to make a leap.

Make the Leap – Part 1

There is something you were meant to do. The fortunate among us know what that something is and are moving toward their goals. But for every person that has the “something” figured out, there are multitudes that haven’t. Many only know that all is not right with their lives. They feel an emptiness inside, an uneasy void that will never be filled by a life of greater means, but rather by a life of greater meaning.

I fell into the latter group for the longest time. For years, I did everything “society” expected of me. Land a good job? Check. Buy the nice house? Check. Get married to a wonderful woman? Check. Start a family? Check.

But what next? Was I supposed to then find a better job? Buy a bigger house? Continue an endless cycle that would never satisfy, repeating it over and over until the checklist, and I, were exhausted, with nothing left to do but check-out? I wouldn’t trade my family for anything, but I did come to the dawning realization that a stable job, working toward a retirement that may never come, was not my path in life. Yet, that knowledge did nothing to show me what was the path. I was ready to make a leap, but to what?

Don’t Look Back

Someone once asked me if my airplane had a rear view mirror. While it might be useful for keeping an eye on the kids in the back seats, there’s really no need for one. Most planes don’t have rear windows, and the ones that do—only one model that I know of for sure—the windows are so small, there’s not much to see out the back. So, no rear view mirrors in airplanes.

But when the question was asked, a story came to mind that a friend used every time he’d set off on a new exploit. This friend never cared if his last venture went awry; he only cared that his next one had his undivided attention. He’d always relay that the early race car drivers, the ones that raced cross-country, would rip out their rear view mirrors and fling them out the window before the start because they didn’t need to see where they’d been, only where they were going.

I don’t know the legitimacy of this story, but if it’s not true, well…it ought to be. It ought to be because it’s a great reminder that we need to do the same thing in life, to rip out that rear view mirror we have stuck in our heads.

The Holy Ground of Boeing

For those that read Weather or Not, you know I planned to fly myself to Atlanta for the weekend. The universe apparently had another idea for me since a wicked line of thunderstorms barreled through the southeast on Thursday. Given the scenario, and expected rainfall projections for the southeast over the weekend, I passed on flying myself, as well as driving, and opted to book a commercial flight instead. I usually prefer being the pilot, versus the passenger, because I always learn something new about flying, or myself, when I sit in the left seat at the controls. But the flight wasn’t wasted in that regard as there were a couple of things I learned on this commercial flight.

The first thing I realized is I don’t derive the same sense of pleasure I once did from looking out that 8 x 10 window on a commercial flight. In the past, I loved the window seat and the view from above that it offered. But after sitting in the cockpit for so long, experiencing the whole view straight ahead, that tiny glass pane can’t compare. It’s like getting a scenic tour of the grand canyon through the peep-hole of a hotel door.

The other thing I noticed was during takeoff. There was lots of chatter throughout the jet when at the gate and while taxiing to the runway: traveling coworkers discussing company business, vacationers excited about their trip, people meeting for the first time, spilling their life stories to each other.

But something happened when the plane swung wide onto the runway and the jet engines whined upward.

Weather or Not…

I’ve been thinking about the weather lately. This weekend, I’ll fly my plane to Atlanta to join my wife at a fitness event where she's a presenter. When you pilot a small plane, the chances that weather may ground you are higher than when you travel commercially, and we all know how much weather can affect commercial flights. Anyone who has slept overnight in an airport knows this fact too well.

So I’ve been eyeing the forecasts, analyzing what the weather systems may do. But all this weather watching has led me to a paradoxical question:

Why is it when we were kids, we spent hours upon hours outdoors and rarely thought about the weather, while as adults, we spend the majority of time indoors and we obsess over it?

I think I know the answer. It’s not only making me rethink how I deal with travel arrangements, but life as well.

The Sky’s NOT the Limit

There’s a saying that’s common. You’ve probably heard it:

The sky’s the limit.

It’s said to encourage someone, to inspire him or her to aim as high as possible. The irony is, the saying itself is limiting in a subtle way. I’m sure it’s expressed with good intentions, but suppose the recipient dreams of becoming an astronaut, wants to be the first to set foot on Mars? Would the phrase be relevant then? Would it inspire?

I’d like to believe the saying appeared before man learned to fly, because then it does invoke a sense of no-limit dreaming for the people of that era, that anything was possible. If, however, it originated after man first flew through the sky, then the phrase’s meaning loses some luster since it was coined in a time when we knew flight was possible, but apparently only believed the sky was as high as we’d ever get.

But regardless of its origination, at some point in time it etched itself into society’s collective phrase-book, passing from generation to generation without a second-thought given to the fact that it doesn’t make sense anymore when used today. We simply accept it as a positive phrase without considering its true meaning.

So what does this have to do with you?

Discover the Hero Within

I’ll let you in on a secret, but don’t laugh. Well…you can laugh, but try not to do it in front of me. Here goes: the reason I learned to fly an airplane was because I’ve wanted to fly like a certain superhero ever since I discovered Superman comic books in elementary school. Granted, I need a plane and Superman doesn’t, but other than skydiving, which may be next, it’s as close as I can get right now. Perhaps it’s silly to identify with a fictional character, especially one with incredible super-powers that don’t exist, but lately I’ve begun to realize it might not be so crazy after all.

Life is an adventure. Just how much of an adventure is up to us. Each of us star as the hero within our own story. Some heros are larger than life, more daring than other heros, and that’s okay. What’s important to grasp is, it’s not our mission to compare our hero’s journey with others, but rather to ensure our voyage is a success, that in the end we can look back knowing we made the most of our adventure.

But sometimes it’s hard to see your life as an adventure when you’re mired in a unfulfilling job or struck by the solemn realization that the laundry bin truly is bottomless. As kids, we saw ourselves as heros with vivid ease. The whole world, and our whole life, lay before us with nearly unlimited options. Hope was plentiful. However, as we grew, as we matured and bought into the trappings of adulthood, the unlimited options began to narrow until one day, we awoke to dead ends. Somewhere along the line we had traded life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for life insurance, liability waivers and the pursuit of credit. All the once promising paths had been cut off, gouged by a deep, circular rut of our own making.

So how do we make the most of this adventure? How do we rediscover the hero within, the one some of us buried years ago in a shallow, unmarked grave beside Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny?

Reach Your Dreams: You CAN Get There From Here

One luxury of flying an airplane is you travel straight to your destination. Barring an obstacle along the route, like restricted airspace or an ornery weather system, you can take the shortest distance between two points—a straight line—to get there fast.

Life on the ground is more problematic, both for travel by car as well as the journey to reach a dream. Rarely is there ever an easy, straight route between two points. However, most experienced drivers wouldn’t question their abilities to get from New York City to Los Angeles by car, even if they’d never made the trip before. They’d consult a map, plan the route, then set out.

So why do many of us question our abilities to reach our dreams? Granted, there isn’t necessarily a roadmap that shows us how to get there, but most of us have a general sense of what we must do, what path we should take to achieve the dream. But that can be a problem. We not only become so fixated on the path we think we should take that we can’t see anything else, including alternate routes when an obstacle blocks us, but we also slow down or even stop because we can’t envision every turn, every fork-in-the-road choice in our head, even if that choice won’t be made until much later.

If I plopped a U.S. map in front of you that had five wildly varied routes highlighted from New York City to Los Angeles, and I only asked, “Which route will get you to your destination?” what would your answer be?

Find Your Balance to Find Your Wings

Balance is critical in aviation. Flying a plane that has a center of gravity too far forward or aft invites trouble. You can stare at the outside of a plane all day long, but until you peer inside, beyond the glossy exterior, you’ll never know if it’s balanced or not. Perhaps the baggage compartment is overloaded with heavy items that make the plane dangerous to fly unless the weight is offset or a portion removed.

Sometimes the danger comes from too much weight altogether, the plane loaded past the capacity it was designed to carry. As pilot-in-command of the aircraft, it’s my responsibility to ensure I consider and correct these factors before takeoff. If my plane’s balance and load are outside the tolerances, there’s a high chance the plane will not reach its destination safely.

But guess what? For you, as pilot-in-command of your life, you have the same challenges. To achieve a goal or lifelong dream, you must ensure your life is balanced and not overburdened with more than you were designed to carry. Otherwise, you may crash and burn before reaching your destination. 

So what throws our balance off? What weighs us down, keeps us grounded instead of soaring toward our dreams? Like a plane, we can’t always see imbalance by looking on the outside. To really know, we must look inward. I’ve done my own share of looking inward over the last couple of years in pursuit of my dreams and I’ve picked up some helpful tactics along the way. Here are a few of the discoveries: 

Unexpected Turbulence: Navigating Life’s Jolts

This might come as a shocker, but aviation weather forecasters don’t always get it right. The accuracy level they’ve achieved in recent years is phenomenal, but you can bet there are times when the weather throws pilots a curve ball. I’ve encountered this a few times with unexpected turbulence. I took off, eager for a relaxing, smooth flight and halfway to my destination, the plane starts bouncing like a stone skipped across a pond. Unlike that stone that will disappear and sink to the bottom of the pond before it makes it to the other side, I need to safely reach my destination. 

But unexpected turbulence doesn’t just show up in the sky; it shows up in everyone’s lives from time to time. We cruise along, everything fine, and out of the blue we get a jolt. Then we get another and before we know it, we can have major turbulence in our lives. We can wish it away, but in the end, we have to cope with it. 

Pilots are trained to deal with turbulence, to perform certain actions to preserve the structural integrity of the plane. In fact, flight training covers many emergencies through a series of checklists. Even very wise, high-time pilots use checklists to help them remember what to do in the event something bad happens. However, we as human beings on this journey through life, are expected to deal with tough times without any formal training beforehand. If we do get "official" training it’s often after the fact, perhaps in the form of counseling or therapy. The downside is this typically occurs after long, continuous exposure to major life turbulence, often after some damage has been done.

So what should you do when turbulence hits your life? Here’s a suggested checklist:

Follow Your Inner Compass: How to Listen to the Voice Inside You

If you ask a pilot how he navigates, how he knows which direction to fly, the acronym GPS will probably appear somewhere in the answer. After all, there are no signs in the sky. I’ll admit, the GPS is a wonderful invention, but it’s useless if you lose electrical power in the plane. That’s why most planes have a basic compass mounted near the windshield. It’s a simple thing, white markings on a black ball that rotates freely in a clear, plastic housing. If the GPS fails, you can count on the compass to ensure you fly the right direction. But even the best compasses can give wrong indications. If you have magnetic interference near the plane’s compass, perhaps an electronic item in close proximity on the dashboard, you may get a false reading.

Planes aren’t the only things that have compasses. We do too. Some may call it intuition or instinct; others may call it a higher power, but all of us have an inner compass that helps us reach the place in life we are meant to be. This compass—or inner voice—gives us guidance, tells us what is right for us and what is not. But too often, our chaotic lives generate so much interference—distractions, endless mental chatter, packed schedules—our inherent ability to follow that inner compass is diminished. So what can life travelers do to get the most out of their internal compasses?

Here are a few ideas to help you reduce the interference and target what is right for you:

Who Stole the Go Signs?

There are no signs in the sky—well, at least no man made signs. I like this. One of the reasons I relish my time in the air is due to the brief respite from a landscape littered with predominantly negative signs. “Stop.” “Slow.” “Keep Off The Grass.” “No Admittance.” “Stay Back.” Everywhere you turn, you find words trying to contain you, limiting you as a person. Where are the positive signs out there? Even the billboards we see on the highway, the ones that seem to convey a positive message, are typically negative in their subtext, which usually is, “You are not good enough until you have this,” whatever this may be.

I wasn’t always so aware of this negative bombardment until a wise person pointed it out to me. Last year I had stopped at some construction on a two-lane road, mine the first vehicle in a growing line of cars. A workman stood in front of my car holding the familiar red stop sign on a stick. As I sat there, probably thinking about work or some item on a long to-do list, a tiny voice floated up from the back seat.

Sustain or Drain? Minding the Company You Keep

Flying sustains me. When I walk away from my airplane after a flight, I have tremendous energy, and I’m ready to accomplish anything. Life makes sense, the world seems brighter, its colors more vivid. I’ve tried to prolong this euphoria, attempted to stretch it out over the week as weather or work ground me. But bills pile up, to-dos mount, and its luster always fades.

Over the last few years, I’ve begun to seek other experiences that have the same effect on me, ones that leave me energized and powerful like flying. What I’ve learned is this: some of the best sources of positive energy come from a select few people in my life. I call them Sustainers. Of course, the opposite types skirt the edges of my life as well: the Drainers. You probably have both types in your life too. What I’m pointing out may seem obvious, but how often do we stop to determine which people are the true sustainers and who are the drainers, and to what level? I bet many of us haven't. Yet to reach our dreams, to live the lives we're meant to lead, shouldn’t we have a firm grasp on these influencers who shape our days, weeks and years?

I’d never explored this until one enlightening experience with two friends I met separately in one day. The vast contrast in the way I felt after the two meetings called attention to how much others can affect my well-being.

After I met my first friend...

White-Knuckle Living: How to Succeed by Letting Go

Early in my flight lessons, my instructor called attention to the death-grip I had on the plane’s yoke. Looking down at the white knuckles on my left hand, I realized he was right. I had to laugh. White-knuckle flyers were supposed to be passengers, not pilots! 

But it’s a common occurrence with many flight students until they realize that a trimmed plane will fly itself—imagine controls that can align your car while you drive so it doesn’t pull left or right. I was making it too hard. All I had to do was relax and make small course and altitude changes. 

In my case, I’d created an obstacle because I’d mistakenly believed that flying a plane was supposed to be hard. Flying a plane is easy. It’s doing all the other stuff at the same time—navigating, communicating on the radios, watching out for other planes—that can be tricky at first. And even that becomes easy eventually. Once I relaxed and let go, the act of flying the aircraft fell into place and I made great strides in my flying progress.

What in your life are you white-knuckling, making more complicated than it really is?

Here are a few concepts I’ve embraced that can help you let go and start living the life you were meant to lead:

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