As a young teen, I once took a ground-school flying course. If you don’t know, that’s basically an intensive round of classes where you’re taught everything you need to know about flying an airplane without ever actually flying an airplane.
I got roped into it when my mom enrolled, and since my step-dad is a pilot and both my parents are certified information junkies, they decided it was a great use of our whole family’s time too.
And I’ll be honest – it was intense!
There was a LOT to learn about concepts I was only vaguely familiar with – airspace, altitudes, and strict rules about how to fly safely (and legally) within the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) guidelines.
I hadn’t actually planned on getting my pilot’s license anytime soon (I wasn’t even old enough yet), but because I come from a long and proud line of private pilots, it didn’t seem as weird back then as it seems now for a barely-14-year-old to memorize altitude-zones for when flying her hypothetical airplane one day.
But we all pushed through and “graduated,” and in the end, my mom even took real flying lessons and solo’d a plane for the first time! I’ll never forget the date as long as I live because it was the evening of September 10th, 2001. And if you’ve been alive long enough you’ll know that the next morning was September 11th – the day that changed the world, and aviation, forever.
In the aftermath and the in-between of shock and grief, there did surface some token jokes and sideways comments to my mom about her impeccable timing and impactful entrance into the world of flying. (leave it to family to never let you live down weird timing like that!)
But I’ve been thinking back on that story lately. I keep thinking about the funny lessons life offers us – the opportunities we’re handed to choose risk vs. safety, and the confusion of timing that leaves us with more questions than answers – scenarios we constantly encounter throughout our lives, both physically and metaphorically.
I can think back on several other instances in my life when I once again learned aaaaall about something really interesting – spent countless hours, energy, money, and brain space on it. And then?
I didn’t do anything with it.
I didn’t take the risk to test it out and trust the process – to go do the dang thing I’d just learned about.
I took the class but I didn’t actually learn to fly.
Head knowledge can be pretty deceiving – I see and experience this all the time. Every day, people around the world have access to more knowledge and information than they did the day before. Sometimes it seems like the universe of collective global knowledge & content is expanding at the rate of the actual universe. Whether it’s skateboarding, gardening, painting, baking, or swimming, you can read blogs, watch TikTok videos, and read tip after tip on how someone else has done it and is going to show YOU how to do it; but when it comes down to it, you have to actually do that thing, not just read about it / watch it. Some of us decide we’re qualified to teach something we’ve watched a LOT of videos on but never actually done.
But if there’s anything I know now that I didn’t know in my 20’s, it’s that most of us will only actually be good at a pretty limited number of things (unless you’re Leonardo DaVinci, in which case you have permission to be good-at or dabble-in literally everything).
But really, there’s so much more to life, knowledge, the world, and our-place-in-it than you or I will ever know. NO-ONE has all the answers, and honestly, there are some problems around us that just don’t have straight solutions or answers at all. We simply cannot and will not know all the things we’d like to know in our lifetime.
Now before you turn and walk away from this wonderfully depressing speech, this is the part where we find some really beautiful truths to explore – here at the end of our human capacity.
I still believe that our God of the universe is, was, and always will be the only endless source of true knowledge and wisdom there ever will be – so please don’t replace him with the Internet. But also, You yourself are capable of learning a WHOLE LOT of really cool things! All of your accumulated knowledge and life experience up to now – the good, the bad, the uncomfortable, the weird – all of it has made you who you are, and any of it can be used for good when shared with a purpose. In fact, we need to hear from you – from each other. We need to hear wisdom gleaned from the life experience that each of us can uniquely offer the world.
So if you have an itch to go do that “thing” you can’t stop thinking about or researching, maybe it’s time to “get in the plane,” grab a trusted advisor, and use the knowledge you’ve gained thus far to take.off.
Because it’s in the doing that we gain experience and understanding, and it’s through the failures, recoveries, and questions-answered that we become qualified to teach it to others.
If all of this sounds scary, it’s because it is! Trying out new skills always involves risk, and you might even need more than one experienced person in the passenger seat who can offer advice and reminders, and answer your frantic questions in the moment.
You’ll most likely feel incredibly nervous when taking off for the first time, but I also hear that’s pretty normal. (although I still haven’t solo’d an actual plane yet.)
It’s more than OK to be nervous when doing a new thing, but just decide on the front end that you’re not going to back-out in the critical moment; instead, give yourself permission (on the front end) to ask for more help in those moments. Because once you take off, really your only option is forward – you have no choice but to figure out how to land. And chances are, if you’re paying attention and listening to good, solid advice, you will.
Eventually, we all come face-to-face with big decisions around what to do with our hard-earned-knowledge, wisdom and life experience, and we’re going to keep on bumping into those decisions over and over throughout our lives. But the good news is, when we’re learning to fly, the more often we choose to take-off, the more confident and skilled we become. It’s no longer the scary unknown we dive into, but an exciting adventure. And it’s through our active trust in the process of doing that we build the containers of our deepest joy.
If you want more from an area of your life – more joy, more fulfillment, more excitement, etc – you might have to do things a little differently than how you’ve done them. You might need to decide that you don’t just want to learn about flying, but that you are actually going to learn how to fly.
So test out what you’ve learned so far, lean a little deeper into the mystery, take another breath and another step forward, and surrender a little more trust to the process. You might just find that the view from above the clouds is way better and more exhilarating than any amount of ground-school could have prepared you for.