I used to have a fear of heights. When I get asked now and then how I can possibly feel safe flying a little plane, I usually just shrug it off with an answer something along the lines of “I love the feeling of lift more than the fear of the heights”. I rarely, if ever, take the time to explain that, in truth, when I am up in the air, I feel absolutely no fear. Before I even leave the ground, I’ve gone through a process that helps me determine my risks. I know that “Take-offs are optional; Landings are mandatory”, so I do things that keep me safe. Flying has taught me so many life lessons.
I feel absolutely no fear
Facing fears, taking risks and making big leaps in life are essential for growth. But in the process of discovery and adventure, mishaps do happen and can sometimes be tragic. In aviation, as in life, most accidents don’t just happen. Situations occur because one has either not identified the risk(s) and is caught off-guard or, worse yet, has identified a risk(s) yet minimized or ignored it. From learning to walk, to driving a car, getting married or trying something new, everything in life is about managing different levels of risk and stepping into unknown, uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe spaces. As we take these steps, we assess and find ways to mitigate our risks.
Facing fears, taking risks and making big leaps in life are essential for growth.
To “be safe”, one cannot just passively wish for it. Being safe is the result of a process, done either intuitively or by design with guidelines and checklists. It embodies the never-ending “if-this then-that” type of choices and personal decisions that we make in order to avoid mishaps and hopefully achieve a desired result. The aviation industry utilizes a plethora of checklists that are essential tools for identifying and mitigating risk. The aim of one particular model, P.A.V.E. (Pilot, Aircraft, enVironment and External pressure, addresses key areas of personal risk management. It most certainly keeps many pilots calm on the ground instead of at risk in the air and can be used in basically every area of life.
One cannot just passively wish for it.
P = Pilot/Person
This requires you to really figure yourself out. In my case, I get migraines. If I have had one in the last two days or I know that I am getting one, I don’t fly, period. End of story. Experience and qualifications also factor in when proceeding with any situation. I’m a pretty new pilot, so the personal limits that I impose on myself are pretty strict. Each of us has a personal responsibility to know oneself and one’s limitations. You have to ask yourself, “Are you as prepared as you can be for what lies ahead?”
Know Your Craft
A = Aircraft/Automobile/Equipment
Is your equipment suitable and do you have everything you need? Have you planned for all possibilities? Getting caught mid-task without the proper equipment or to have equipment fail can be disastrous. Your craft applies to the tools you are using whether it’s a plane, or work equipment or even your own body. Know its capabilities and limitations.
Know Your Environment
V = EnVironment
In aviation, weather is one of the largest risks to flying that there is. Storms form and pilots can find themselves caught up in unexpected and dire conditions. This is no different than a person getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time or in situation where he/she is in over her head. It’s best to learn to recognize the signs of a storm. I do my best to steer clear of potential problems but, if I must go into a less than ideal situation, I always have a back-up plan to give myself a way out. Sometimes a situation will arise where the environment changes very quickly. When that happens, never waste time wishing that it wasn’t happening. Move quickly past that stage and find a way to adapt, and as they say, “as long as you still have wings, fly.”
Know Your Enemies
E = External Pressures
External pressures are outside influences that create a sense of pressure to complete a task/goal often at the expense of safety. External pressures like time-constraints, ego and competitiveness, fear of judgement, rejection or disappointment figure into many bad outcomes. They are your enemies. Ask yourself if you are making a decision based on what someone else thinks you “should do” or what you know in your heart to be true. The management of external pressure is the single most important key to risk management because it is the single risk factor category that can cause a pilot/person to ignore all of the other risk factors. I remind myself often to listen to my own heart and follow my gut always. When I think back, they have never, ever steered me wrong.
What flying has taught me is that I am not afraid of heights; I am afraid of falling. No matter what I’m doing, even with the best of preparation, there is still a possibility that bad things can happen. But, my goal is to wisely balance risks with good choices. The confidence to make those good choices comes only with experience and trust in oneself. I won’t say that I’m fearless, because I am not, but I don’t fear taking risks. I have faith that the ones that I am taking are making me more than safe, they are taking me to greater heights and allowing me to see with greater perspective, and to me, this is living well.
The confidence to make those good choices comes only with experience and trust in oneself