One of the many blessings of preparing for this polar circumnavigation is the aviation support team I have the privilege of working with. These people have made my flying safer, more enjoyable, and more abundant. Building this team hasn’t been easy and has created many moments of frustration and soul searching that have left me scratching my head and then needing to course-correct more often than I care to remember. But, with persistence and a relentless focus on our mission of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness & Humanity” and the strengths needed to realize this impossibly big dream, these challenges and relationships have taught me many things, made me stronger, clearer, and I hope a little more “Zen” in the process.
I would like to share 11 “Zen Lessons” I have learned and introduce you to my team and their strengths so that you can build your own aviation support team with greater ease, grace, and enjoyment. Knowing you have a solid, caring foundation of earth angels will allow you to be your absolute best in the air and on the ground.
First and foremost, find people who share your passion for aviation 100 percent and focus your energies on them. In a time when we can have 5,000-plus Facebook “friends,” I’m here to tell you just the opposite of what you might expect—to do the impossible you only need a handful of true supporters you trust to get started and keep going. Imagine a small circle of people gathered around you with their arms outstretched, hands on your shoulders, championing you and your ideas without exception. The energy of that circle transforms into an upward spiral of momentum and at times, cheesy as it may sound, becomes the wind beneath your wings.
Accept only 100 percent integrity from your team and yourself every time you interact with them. You want people who will lift you up and not dilute your energy. Mindfulness coach and author Mary Marcdante is one of these people for me. She is my sounding board, a mentor, wise editor, and kind friend to me. She is the person who asks me questions like, “Are you in 100 percent integrity with your values and your word? Are you living up to your branding of being a “Zen Pilot?” Is this how you want the world to remember you?” She asks me the hard questions, inspires creative solutions, and keeps me pointed toward my True North.
Surround yourself with people who are willing to make time for you. Some will share they are too busy and don’t have the bandwidth. Don’t take it personally. Let them pursue what they are passionate about and use your energies on attracting people who share your life passion of flying. Mike Jesch is one of these people for me. Mike is a master CFI, airline pilot, kind soul, speaker, and so much more. He has always been supportive of me, makes time for me, and helps me find answers. We are currently trying to establish the amount of time and fuel needed to climb to altitude in Citizen of the World when the aircraft is fully loaded with fuel 935 extra gallons of JetA1. This information is currently unpublished and unknown but critical to the success of my pole-to-pole mission.
Find people who will speak on your behalf and hold you in their thoughts. Anne Anderson is one of these people for me. An international GA pilot, Ninety-Nines chapter president, business owner, and supportive friend, Anne has reached out to media outlets, potential sponsors, and aviation organizations for me. She sends me information that I need to see and would otherwise miss in support of my trip. Anne has on occasion reminded me that I need to do a little more of that “Zen” stuff I’ve been talking about when things get tough. Anne’s delivery is always gentle, which allows me to hear what I need to hear and shift my energy quickly.
Find people with real world experience who are concerned about your safety and go beyond acceptable to extraordinary. Tim Kneeland and Jennifer Gamon of CAPS Aviation are my safety angels with huge hearts. Jennifer recently offered a free day of survival training to the entire Ninety-Nines organization of 5,000 female pilots throughout 44 countries. I attended the first of many of their survival training courses and instantly fell in love with both of them. I thought I had such a kick-ass survival kit—even AOPA articles have been written on it. They pretty much threw the entire kit out and started over, building me a custom survival kit for the 26 countries I will fly to that leaves me awestruck. The kit includes organized spread sheets with expiration dates; the latest technology; and all of it with a consideration for weight, energy conservation, safety, and rapid response.
Have a few dreamers on your team that will help you expand your life and flying experience. Ron Hulnick does this for me. Ron is a pilot and psychologist who has been teaching Spiritual Psychology for over 35 years. He has dedicated his life to making this world a better place. When I started planning my first circumnavigation along the equator in 2014, I went to him and told him of my interest in supporting a cause. He said, “How about World Peace?” I laughed when he said it, and he chuckled as well. I later came to realize he was serious. At the time I wasn’t ready to take on a project that “impossibly big.” Several years later, the support and inspiration I felt my from team gave me the courage to take this huge bite out of life and dream up our “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity” mission.
Have people on your team who are wise enough, strong enough, and loving enough to stand up for you and to you; tell you when you are wrong; and then help you get back on track. Susan Gilbert is this person for me. Susan is the person who told me “No” five times in one meeting on a topic I couldn’t let go of. She also first inspired me to fly and keeps me and my aircraft soaring. She is my chief tactician, mentor, and, really, the brains behind much of what we do. She is an expert in social media, publishing, and life. Susan is the first person I thought of and called after my single-engine Piper Malibu, “the Spirit of San Diego,” failed 14,000 feet over the Strait of Malacca and not knowing if I would live or die, I dead sticked 19.6 nautical miles over the dense jungle of Malaysia into a busy international airport. She truly is the wind beneath my wings and the ground beneath my feet.
Have people who are smarter than you. Astrophysicist Brian Keating, Ph.D., is my top science advisor, has been nominated for the Nobel Prize, and has microwave telescopes at the South Pole and on mountaintops in Chile and Bishop, California. He is the one who understands the movement of the magnetic poles, optimum times for crossing the poles, and has connected me to the NASA experts who designed a legacy experiment for Citizen to carry that will also ride on a NASA mission in 2059! Brian is one of my best friends; he’s an inspiring, generous friend and has a cosmic perspective that helps me to see bigger and dream impossibly big.
Have people who support you with global connections and resources and whose loyalty and love of aviation is greater than their love of the paycheck they receive. Meet Eddie Gould. Eddie loves aviation more than almost anyone I know and truly cares about my wellbeing. He is the guy who stayed up all night watching my flight over the Indian Ocean and almost lost his mind when I arrived two hours late because I had incorrectly transferred avgas to the wrong ferry tank and needed to slow down to conserve fuel. He bent over backward to get me oil, fuel, lodging, a haircut, and data chips for my airplane on the dark side of the planet on my first circumnavigation in 2015. He has proven his loyalty 10 times over.
Be your own best teammate to yourself. You and your team must be strong enough to change and evolve with the times. This means letting go of who and what doesn’t work to make room for new people and new experiences. It’s OK if some people are with you for a short time. Not everyone is intended to be with us forever. The saying, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” applies here. Having a loving, evolving support network in alignment with you and your vision and values will help you reduce your stress and sleep better knowing that the weight of your mission is shared and doesn’t just rest on your shoulders.
Remember to give back to your most cherished team. Go to your personal limits in loving them back as well as supporting them on their personal journeys. After all, the best teams feel valued and respected (love in action), and the best journeys are shared.
For detailed bios on individual team members, go to http://flyingthrulife.com/pole-to-pole/the-team/