“We are all one decision away from changing the rest of our lives.”
Years ago, I became close friends with a former Marine officer. As former military men often do, we swapped stories. Stories are the basic communication currency of life. My friend chose to fly in the Marine Corps. He excelled in his training and was awarded the opportunity to fly fighter jets. My old friend was the best of the best until he reached night qualifications for aircraft carriers.
United States Naval Aviators and United States Marine Corps Aviators are the only pilots in the world who land high-performance fighters on aircraft carriers at night. Instead of summarizing a night carrier landing, I will let Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 Tomcat pilot in the United States Navy, give her perspective.
No one else in the world will even attempt. There is no blacker emptiness than launching off the carrier’s bow (the front end) at night with no stars, moon, or horizon.
Except when you must return to the carrier, and it’s time to land.
It is a dark black hole, especially when the weather is terrible. The best way to describe it is to walk into your closet with all the lights in your house off at night, then blindfold yourself. And blindfold yourself again. Now try to do your job.
It’s one of the most incredible things you can experience, yet it’s also one of the most terrifying. Coming aboard the carrier at night makes even the most experienced, seasoned fighter pilot’s knees rattle like crazy, and boots beat like a drum on the rudder pedals.
Unlike pilots in other military services or pilots of commercial aircraft, aircraft carrier pilots don’t have the luxury of landing on 6,000-10,000 feet because we are trying to land on a postage stamp in the middle of blackness.
A carrier landing is similar to a controlled crash. The touchdown is enough to destroy most other airplanes. As the arresting hook snags a wire, your body is slammed forward with such force at times, it feels as though your legs and arms are going to separate from your body. That’s what going from 155 knots (178 mph) to a complete stop in 1.2 seconds does to you.
It’s dark, the deck pitches and heaves-sometimes up to 30 feet at a time and it requires every bit of skill, focus, and attention a pilot can muster to get on board safely. 1
Check out the video below. Deciding is everything. Deciding to take on a challenging situation, harnessing that anxiety, even fear, and turning it into something productive.
As a pilot, I can fully appreciate night operations at high speed. Night flying is beautiful, and it can be deadly. On several occasions, I have almost ended my career. But I would be a statistic if not for the finest training by absolutely dedicated professionals.
After successfully qualifying for night operations, my buddy gave in to his fear and turned in his wings. He decided to drive tanks for the rest of his military career. That fear-evoked decision became his story which has haunted him every day of his life.
Unlike my friend, I accepted my death without blinking an eye. Probably a little too easy for a sane individual. Let’s be honest, I knew the risks, but I really never thought I would get so close to ending it all. My “nine-plus lives” was never truly my intention. Being fearless in the face of death is my story.
Our brains are “storied” organs that have evolved to hold onto memories and information primarily by connecting them to narratives. Think about a story that influenced you. How about the characters from television, reality shows, movies, or books that inhabit our lives?
As a novel writer, I grow sad at the end of the writing process. I will miss my characters and the intimacy we have shared. Also, consider the stories we tell ourselves, our inner dialog about who we are. And the impact of our inner dialog on how we feel about ourselves.
In therapy, we can rewrite the stories of our own lives to view ourselves as heroes or heroines rather than helpless victims of circumstances beyond our control. Why does that matter? Stories of our decisions take center stage in our motivation.
All the elements of setting powerfully motivating goals involve the kind of decision that is considered “playing for keeps.” What are the elements of motivating goals?
First, our goal can not be a proxy or a means to another goal. Think about climbing Mont Everest. Climbers only want to reach that summit. Not getting the summit does not qualify them for another award or status. The goal is framed as an end and not a means to an end. Consequently, pursuing the summit never feels like a chore.
Second, climbing for the summit is a decision with uncertain success. There’s an excellent chance we will fail. However, unless we try, we never know. This makes the goal ultimately attractive.
Third, there are great incentives for making it to the top. If you live to tell the tale, it’s a story just about anyone would want to hear.
Fourth, it’s an intrinsic goal—even if no one else cared about Everest’s summit, we would feel incredibly proud of ourselves. Also, we would have a great story to tell based on the difficult decision to tackle a premium goal.
Decide from the mid-15c., “act of deciding,” from Old French décision (14c.), from Latin decisionem (nominative decisio) “a decision, settlement, agreement,” noun of action from past participle stem of decidere “to decide, determine,” or literally “to cut off.” To decide is to cut off. To decide is to play for keeps.
“We are all one decision away from changing the rest of our lives.” My Marine buddy made one decision that forever shaped his life. A decision to quit.
Until next time. Travel safe.