Whether we like it or not, pilots are perceived in the wider society as people who are special, smart, capable, with maybe just a hint of the heroic about us. They see us as risk takers. Of course the truth is somewhat more nuanced than that. Still, the fact that we are pilots makes an impression on people. An impression that can last for years. That makes the importance of the impression we make of real importance. If we leave a sense of professionalism and integrity, that’s good. If we come off as rebels who have no use for authority, that’s not so good.
Recently I got a reminder of this exact lesson from my own past.
A Facebook friend request came my way from a name I didn’t recognize. I took a look at the requester’s profile and found they live roughly 2,000 miles distant. Clearly, we don’t cross paths on Main Street, or in the grocery store. But the requester’s profile photo included an airplane. Because of that, I surmised the individual must be a pilot, possibly someone who read one of my columns or magazine articles, so I accepted the request from what I thought was a kindred spirit. Facebook, true to form, alerted this individual that I had accepted their request. We are now Facebook Friends.
Later in the day I found a message from my new connection that asked, are you the same Jamie Beckett who worked as a flight instructor in Meriden, Connecticut in 1992?
That question caught me by surprise. Responding in the affirmative, I hit the “send” button while harboring a considerable amount of curiosity. Within a few minutes the original question was given some much appreciated context. “You were my first flight instructor.”
Searching my logbooks later in the evening I found my new friend and I had flown together less than half a dozen times. I have no recollection of our flights, frankly. Perhaps they shifted to another instructor, or maybe they ran short of cash. It’s at least possible a work or family scheduling issue kept them from the airport. It doesn’t really matter what the reason might be for us having only a handful of lessons together. But apparently, the experience of flying made enough of an impression that my mystery student pursued it throughout the years, eventually fulfilling their goal and becoming a pilot.
What blows me away is that I remained in their memory for all these years. Twenty-two years to be exact. But then, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. I remember the instructors who made a significant impression on me during my time in flight school. Some of my fellow students have stayed in touch as well. Today we run the gamut, from corporate pilots to freight dogs to airline crewmembers, and me…the general aviation nut in the bunch. All these years later and we all still find each other to be good company, we are fascinated by the work we each do, and find a genuine interest in the stories we have to share and the adventures we’ve had along the way.
Somewhere along your path, you’ve made an impression on someone, too. Hopefully it was a good one. Knowing that we do indeed make a lasting impression now and then might make it a little easier for us to smile a little brighter, listen to our students, instructors, co-workers, passengers, and friends a little more closely, and perhaps go out of our way to be helpful and courteous more often.
I’ve always enjoyed hearing from one of my old students. I’m glad to know I helped them get somewhere they wanted to go in life. And now, I’ve gotten a great reminder of how deep and lasting the impression we make can be.
Man, I just flat out love this business. I hope you do, too.