Stones stacked up onto of each other with ocean in view

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: 

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mix of white and grey, stormy clouds in the sky

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:

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flock of whooper swans flying in formation

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:

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green stop sign with the words

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.

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little girl standing on father's shoulders while he holds her hands

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...

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dandelion with petals releasing in the breeze

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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