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September 19, 2020

A Pilot’s 16 Tips on how to Fuel for Life’s Turbulence.

I’ve been dealing with health issues and with worries about one very precious to me—and sometimes I wonder if I have enough gas in my tank to make it through this wild journey.

Between my personal worries, COVID, wildfires, and political insanity, all it takes is a minor argument with my spouse and I find myself up sobbing at 4 a.m.

It seems my personal fuel tank is empty. I’m tired. Are you?

When I was taking flying lessons to earn my private pilot’s license at age 56, I learned in no uncertain terms, that you have to bring enough fuel for the journey. After all, if you were going to fly with me and I told you I was “pretty sure” I had filled the tank, how thrilled would you be?

Pilots have to have a personal minimum—an amount of fuel that will cover the planned journey, plus a reserve. Since I found the exercise of filling the tanks on my flight instructor’s Cessna 150 to be a pain in the rear, it was tempting to fudge a little if the fuel was just a tiny bit lower than my personal minimum.

But, no. Clio taught me that the personal minimum is like the bushido for the samurai warrior—a life or death line in the sand.

My routine for measuring fuel involved using a dipstick. Picture a wooden paint stirrer with a numerical scale from zero to 10. I would climb up on the strut of Clio’s Yellow Bird (the name of the plane), unscrew the cap to the fuel tank on the top of the wing, and put the dipstick in to see how much fuel was in there.

To find your “fuel” minimum, you’ll need to ask yourself some questions:

>> If you were to measure the fuel in your own tank—physical, mental, and spiritual fuel—what number do you come up with at the moment?

>> Is it a good number?

>> What would be the minimum number you’d want to have in order to do your flying around in the world?

Now, add extra for night (those dark times like these) or for getting lost (ditto), and you’ve got your personal minimum.

Now the question is, what’s your premium fuel?

If I had put jet fuel into Yellow Bird’s tank, we would have crashed on takeoff. But if you’re like me, you just might fill your physical, mental, or spiritual fuel tank with something less than premium now and then. And then there’s all the toxic fuel coming our way from current events.

“Bring enough fuel for the journey” is lesson number two in my book, Flying Lessons: How to Be the Pilot of Your Own Life. I’ve been revisiting these seven lessons to remind myself how to do more than survive this turbulent weather.

We’d better know what premium fuel works for us.

>> Are you an introvert or extrovert?

>> Do you get energized from other people or from solitude?

>> What foods really energize you?

>> What stimulates you intellectually? 

>> What inspires you on a soul level?

These are questions a lot of pilots-of-life are asking these days, since some of our former fuel sources are simply unavailable.

Quarantine is hard for extroverts. Zoom may be hard for introverts. You foodies may find it hard to cook all your own meals. Exercise-dependent lovers of the outdoors are feeling imprisoned by terrible air quality and storms. Huggers don’t thrive under COVID restrictions. Anger can turn into danger if we don’t have a way to rise above it. So we are being asked to be adaptable. We may have to find premium fuel alternatives.

So let’s go on a discovery mission.

>> What new kinds of tea can I find to make my early morning routine tasty?

>> What meditation techniques are helping me find inner peace?

>> What breakfast truly makes me feel nourished?

>> What exercise creates those endorphins that are my friends?

>> And which human voices do I need to hear and keep close to me?

>> What kinds of books, stories, and films are inspiring me now?

>> What creative pursuits will make this time into something beautiful?

And most importantly:

>> How much news is really enough, before it all starts turning on me?

We need to keep flying. We need to keep finding ways of rising above the gravity of fear, anger, and despair. Flight means dreaming the new dream that will create a better tomorrow. After all, this just might be the most important journey of our lives.

As Rumi said, “What will our children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?”

~

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