Thursday, August 7, 2008

Back in the saddle

I wrote last week that the best stories are so successful because they grip us with moments of uncertainty that resonate with our own life experiences. The underlying point is that these moments are not just what make stories exciting, but also what makes life exciting.

As your own life unfolds, the challenge is to remember in the moments of crisis -- in your darkest hours -- that it's all just your story, with you as the hero, and it's precisely these moments that make it a great one.

On Friday, my instructor Lee explained that he had been aggressive with me on purpose. With just a few weeks left of training, he knew that, in order for me to reach my goal of getting my private license, he would have to shove me through the learning plateaus that occur with all flight students.

I appreciate the effort. He began as a very patient instructor, but upon recognizing that we were behind schedule, he opted for another method. It backfired, but he was just trying to get me over the finish line in the time allotted.

Ultimately, we agreed that the goal of obtaining my private license in six weeks was too ambitious. It put unreasonable pressure on both him and me, which became counterproductive to the process. So we threw it out. I can finish that goal back home or another time.

In the meantime, I told Lee that I needed to fly with another instructor. While I intellectually understood Lee's intentions, I also knew that if I climbed back into that cockpit with him again, with all the same stimuli, my emotions would go haywire. Even the thought of it made me tense.

Instead, I flew with another instructor for the past two days, which worked wonderfully. I got my mojo back, and managed to perform several respectable set downs from hover, which is what Lee and I had been working on when I snapped.

I even set down (landed) smoothly when facing away from the wind, which is the most difficult angle, because the wind constantly tries to shove the tail around, as if the helicopter were a weathervane, increasing the risk of catching one skid on the ground and rolling over as you land.

Every pilot I've spoken to about last week has shared a story of their own flight school crisis, meltdown, or emotional blow-up. So, if you're going to learn to fly helicopters, be aware that your crisis is coming. And when it hits, try to remember: It's all just part of the fun.

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