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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Imperfect Path

T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill

Imagine you're on a path towards a mountain. The mountain is where you want to go. It's not really a path in the sense of being surrounded by dense trees where the path winds through the dark forest, the type Little Red Riding Hood took on her way to grandmother's house. It's more like the yellow brick road where the path passes fields, scenes, characters, and distractions along the way. The path is supposed to be the shortest route to the mountain. You want to get where you're going and you "know" that path is the right one to take you there. But, somewhere along the way, you get off the path. 
 You discover yourself not perfectly aligned with the perfect path. You're still going towards where you want to go--the mountain is in front of you still. But somehow, you aren't on the yellow brick road anymore. You think to yourself, "How can I make it to the mountain if I'm not on that yellow brick road?" You try to get back on the path but it's hard. You're still facing the mountain. It's out there in front of you as you walk, but the course you're on is not the path. Yet you're moving towards the mountain even off the path.

Obviously, this is a gigantic metaphor. What I'm suggesting is we assess how well we're getting somewhere by only looking at a single course line. As aviators, we understand course lines. It's the route we plan to follow before we fly. We want to get somewhere and imagine a path like a course line on a map. The problem comes when "life happens," and diverts us off that course line. Like encountering unexpected weather along the way, we have to deviate from the pre-planned course. Yet, we're still able to head towards where we want to go. That's just like life. We plan where we want to go but are constantly pulled off course along the way. We are rarely on the perfect course line. 

I think we're "check the box" kind of people. We want to measure success by getting to defined places along our path. As much as we might say, "It's about the journey, not the destination," that's really hard to believe. After all, how do you know if you're going the right way unless you steadily check off the boxes on time and as expected? If we aren't checking off the boxes on schedule, i.e., staying on the planned path, mentally we're off course. Mentally, we might think we can't get where we want to go, we aren't heading towards the mountain. As you can imagine, people give up on their path when they think they can't get there.

Here's the thing: in this scenario I did NOT mention that somehow we got off track from the path and then got turned around away from the mountain, opposite to where we want to go. I only suggested we got off the path for whatever reason and were still trudging forward. 

The problems began when we looked at how far off the path we were. Too often we measure how we're doing based only on our perfect path, the yellow brick road. It's unfortunate because for sure we'll get diverted off the path. Something always comes along and diverts you off the track. If your assessment mechanism only looks how you're doing compared to the perfect track and you were always off that track--because life always happens--you might think you were doing something wrong.

Imagine this: stand up facing your mountain. The perfect course is a straight line directly from you towards the mountain. Now imagine going one or two or three degrees off that course. Move your finger slightly away from the mountain. Obviously, where your finger is pointing is not the perfect course. But, if you went that direction you'd still be heading towards the mountain.

Now consider this: as you're facing the mountain stretch out your arms with the palms facing towards the mountain. Any direction forward of your arms, your hands, takes you to the mountain. Of course, just barely "north" of your hands isn't very much towards the mountain but it's still going there, albeit a lot slower than the perfect course. As long as you aren't going backwards, you're still heading towards where you want to go. Sometimes, that's the best anyone can do.

I have been in impossibly complicated situations where the path forward was muddied at best. I was unsure whether the next step was the right one because I had no idea what would really happen with the next step. I could only hope that the next step would be in the right direction. Sometimes all I could do to keep moving towards the goal was to take a step, see what happened, and think, "At least I'm not going backwards."

So much of how we think we're doing is only based on the perfect path. Unfortunately, when things get tough the perfect path may be nowhere to be seen and you might give up. I am no different. I constantly need to assess how off course I am. When it's tough, assessing this way can be very depressing. Sometimes all I can do in such situations is stretch out my arms to see if I'm still moving towards the mountain, even just a little bit. Then I can say, "At least I'm not moving backwards."



  1. This... Is exactly happening to me.

    Listen, I have been studying only 1 subject out of 9 in 6 months. I have more 12 months.

    The thing is... Because I haven't been to school for a year already, it made me lost my concentration, focus and attention - in other words, the keys to wisdom.

    So I have REALLY been studying the subject for a month. I have finished yesterday.But, the journey does not end here. I have to revise it, because only 1 look is not enough, but revising will be a lot faster (a day or two).

    I am a synesthesic student. I need movement, colors and a specific lighting so I can learn. Sometimes remembering a specific tune beat and associating with a successful complex calculation formula will boost my attention.

    The thing is... Synesthesia is the hardest way to learn in my case. Because I am very peculiar and I cannot change this.

    Now, back to the path analogy:

    I have 12 months to study all, I have to get my slot at first (life demands it) and it's for a very very very hard university. It's the best aviation university in the country.

    The University's website offers to future slot candidates the last few tests so we can study them too and get the idea. And this is when deception comes in...

    I have been failing on my test attempts. The subject is sooooo easy! But recon the test requires a lot of attention and investigation.

    Added to this, I get to have "I don't have time" syndrome. I get anxious thinking I won't have time to revise it and only makes things worse.

    So today, Friday 13th, I have decided to stop. Chill. Watch TV. Tomorrow I will revise part of what I have written and download another test to see how I will perform.

    I realize this is the time to learn from mistakes, but I want SO much my slot that I get anxious. I have to work on my patience and comprehension.

    Tom, why have you started posting things that is happening to me? haha


    1. Alex, first I have to tell you that Tom always sends me posts that are so applicable to my life. So... we're on the same path there.

      Second... you are on the right path. That mountain is out there in front and you are getting there. You have 12 months to find your way. You will.

      But your learning issues and lack of concentration are interesting and I began writing...but not here. Can you wait until Monday?

      Chill...and then we will refocus you for a more direct route! Hang in there my friend!

    2. Alx,

      Thank you for your comments...

      Actually, I have to differ from Karlene in this in that you have your whole life to find your way. The whole point of this article is we're compelled to only look at how we're doing in terms of progress by looking right in front of our nose instead of how we really doing in terms of the long range goal. If the long range goal is where you want to go, the immediate result should be the least of your attention. You should be focused on where you're going down the road. Being overly focus'd on what's immediately next might led you to think the whole thing is too hard.

      Remember, any movement towards you goal is good progress. Even if you're only making small steps you're still making steps. As soon as you give up, you're making no steps.



    3. Oh... fascinating perspective Tom. You're right... I am completely opposite on this. And... I will tell you both why.

      Many years ago I was a very inexperienced skier. Somehow I ended up on top of a mountain with moguls I had never experienced. Not to mention my fear of heights. I was physically shaken. How can I get down this mountain without killing myself?

      The slope was far too daunting and far above my experience level.

      What did I do? I looked at a mogul in front of me. Not the entire mountain. I thought, "My, that is nothing more than a little hill. I can certainly navigate a hill that small."

      Thus... I focused "only" on what was in front of me. One mogul at a time. Guess what happened? I reached the bottom of the hill safely.

      I was able to achieve the goal of survival and ski down a mountain that I should never have been on because I took it one step at a time and focused only on what was in front of me. One step at a time.

      More to come on Monday!

    4. Awesome wisdom from great minds!


    5. Alex, Now you are sooo confused! Lol. Read's for you. And Tuesday too. :)

    6. Extremely confused!

      Today, I made something remarkable. I answered all 30 questions and only got 2 wrong.

      I did it without revising. How come I thought I was failing them? I know... I was probably doing it improperly. Have a slight impression I was not dedicated enough.

      You see? I get super paranoid, Karlene.

      I know I can do it, but have never achieved something this big, so I get paranoid, although I don't fear (or I do of not getting there) and never give up.

      I have concluded this is not lack of confidence. This is the combination external pressure and only one chance to achieve it.

      I need Monday and Tuesday posts! You're brilliant!

      And... How can I pay you back? I just sent a really small thing by airmail to you... Not enough though! Ah! I'll make your trip to Brazil very special for you and Dick!


    7. Alex, you just get rid of your fear...that will be the greatest gift I could receive. The power of your mind is incredible. You just have to save the brain cells for studying, not worrying. But first... more on focus!
      Then we'll talk about fear. :)

    8. Actually Karlene, you're exactly talking my tune. The "fear" is not the mountain. The "mountain" in your case was simply getting down the slope. Taking one step was just fine. Taking a turn, then another, one step at a time, no matter how disjointed was perfect because it was inch by inch, mogul by mogul, you were getting down the mountain.

      Yes, I do believe we are precisely on the same sheet of music.


    9. I'll get there. I promise.

      And no fear.


    10. Alex, you'll not only be on the same sheet...but you will be singing!


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