Sunday, January 1, 2012

"First, Fly the Plane"

Many years ago, I got my pilot's license. It had been a dream since childhood but I never got around to doing anything about it (yeah, that's an excuse) until I talked with the husband of a co-worker who had his license and his own plane. I went to the small local airport, walked in, and was greeted by a little lady who looked a lot like Granny Clampett. (Read more about my flight instructor.) Nancy Cooper Moore took me up for a free exploratory flight, which was wonderful, and I immediately signed up to start lessons the next day.

There was a lot to remember in the training, but as we were starting on emergency procedures, Nancy said something that remains firmly in my mind and comes to mind in many situations other than flying airplanes, "First, fly the plane". In an flying context, this means no matter what else is going on, your first priority is to keep the plane flying. If you are lost, first fly the plane. If you just ran out of fuel, first fly the plane. If you wandered into a MOA (military operations area), first fly the plane. When you are in a crisis, you often focus on the biggest, or loudest, or most scary part, but if you don't keep flying, you won't get a chance to fix the other problems.

In flying, it is more obvious when you forget this rule. Among other things, you start heading toward the ground much faster than you want. Or you get into an unusual attitude, like in a sharp turn or even upside down. Whatever else is going on, first you have to get control of the plane and keep it flying.

How does this relate to "Getting By"? As I was planning out the articles for this topic (yes, I actually do think about these before blabbering away), I kept wanting to add, "... but first make sure you ...". After a while, there were more "but first's" than there were real points.

When you are trying to Get By, or Get your Shit Together, or Stop Being Stupid, you must occasionally remind yourself to take care of the basics. You don't need to be reminded if you don't have air and water. You can go a while before you need to remind yourself that you need food. One good cold rainy day will remind you that you need shelter. Do you need to be reminded that you must somehow make enough money to take care of those last two, or have some other way to take care of them? (Yes, there are other ways, even if you don't want to depend on them for too long).

When I took a look at the selection of self-help books at the local book store, I found lots of good advice, some bad advice, and a fair number of pages with nothing other than ink on them. The common assumption in all of them is that you are already "flying the plane" and can continue to do so while implementing whatever advice they are giving you. For many people, they are so busy flying the plane that they give up on all else. For other people, they are so busy trying to do other things, they forget they have to fly the plane. Some don't even notice that they are crashing, or have already crashed!

I'll expand on this topic later, but let's end this post with an example. My daughter has been on her own since she graduated from high school. Her plans weren't always the best but she always worked and always managed to pay the rent and buy groceries. Eventually she came up with a good plan to improve her current and future prospects, but it required further education. She worked out a schedule and budget that could have worked, but depended on working a full-time job (which in itself is not easy to come by when you need to schedule around classes) while carrying a full course load at the local community college. The risk of one or both of these being neglected was significant. Fortunately, she stepped back and thought about "flying the plane", keeping up with rent, food, and other necessities. When literally flying a plane, there aren't too many choices about how you do it. In life, there are many more options, and trade-offs.

In my daughter's case, she agreed to move back in with the folks for six months to let her save up some money and to devote more attention to her studies, and workng part time. (It isn't easy to go back to school after being out for a while). There is nothing wrong with taking a few detours along the way, as long as you recognize that it is a detour and that you'll have to make a few turns later to get back to your path. Moving back with the folks can be the smartest choice; sometimes it is the worst possible choice. The point is, you need to think about flying the plane first, and then focus on the myriad of other things that need your attention.

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