Timeless Pilot Wisdom in a Pandemic: Drown Out the Noise

While no one knows exactly how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last nor its ultimate impact on society, what’s certain is that we cannot avoid disruption and change—now or in the future.

As an aviation geek and long-time test pilot, my on-the-job experience has served not only to help me build a rewarding career (including here in Silicon Valley at Acubed!), but has also taught me that our only true locus of control lies in the way we react to challenges that come our way.

One thing many of us pilots love and train with are checklists, or mantras, which help us quickly recall the steps required to tackle any situation. Over time, I have found that many of these sayings apply just as well on the ground as they do in the air.

Take, for instance, a litany we go through when we experience a potential or real problem: “aviate, navigate and communicate” – in exactly that order. Let’s break it down.

  • Aviate: Something unexpected has happened? Your number one job as a pilot is to keep flying the airplane. Don’t be distracted by things or people that may keep you from doing this.
  • Navigate: Find a nice big place to land. Turn immediately in that direction and prepare for the landing.
  • Communicate: When all of the above is taken care of, communicate to the people who can help you, and shut out all those who add confusion or noise that keep you from doing the first two things.

Featured above: Paul Smith with his best friend in front of his YAK50

Now try applying this to your daily life. Remember: you are the only captain of your aircraft. Your number one job is to keep yourself in check. Are you experiencing Zoom exhaustion? Listen to yourself. What do you need to replenish your energy? Navigate to that place. Whether it simply requires turning off the camera, accepting less meetings, or carving out time in your day to meditate, navigate to a place where you can “land” and find some comfort. You owe it to yourself.

Once you’ve navigated towards what you need, reach out to a trusted co-worker, your manager, a friend, family member or therapist: someone solid who can provide you with support. And be mindful of whom you bring into your inner circle: someone more frazzled than you will not bring the support you need.

Our lives and work are (hopefully) full of excitement, but also inevitably of challenges. What being a pilot has taught me is that you can and should remain calm and collected, even if those around us are running in circles with their hair on fire.

So before you kick the tires and light the fires so to speak, make sure you check in with the most important person in your life: yourself. No one can fly properly with a deadstick.

- Paul Smith