Looking out of an airplane from the cockpit“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 they are eager to soar above the whitewashed cloud tops that are infinitely more intriguing than their shadowed underbellies. They make the effort because few things are as calming as the glint of morning sunlight off a docile lake a mile below. They remember why flying is important each time they take off over the treetops to see blue spill down to a fertile earth on the distant horizon.

Of course, there is much on the ground that makes life worth living as well. But I wonder if some of us spend way too much time inside the cockpit of our minds instead of focusing on the world beyond? Stay inside your head too much and fear, doubt, and uncertainty grow disproportionately. Allow them to swell and they rob us of action. And when robbed of action, we rob ourselves of fulfilling lives. Who among us hasn’t at one time grumbled about some tremendous obstacle blocking our way? But if we persevered, we later realized the huge boulder in our path was merely a stepping stone to a better life. I’ve done it. And spending too much time inside my head mistakenly transformed that stepping stone into a boulder.

We need what’s between our ears to help guide us in life, from small course corrections to critical decisions. But to find true success in life, at some point we have to get out of our heads and engage the world around us. When you do, it’s yours for the taking.

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