Flying in “cabin class comfort?”
Sometimes we are motivated as much by those people that say we can’t do something as by those that say we can! On my 2019-2020 Polar Circumnavigation the voices and comments of the naysayers were alive and well.
One of these comments came from a retired 747 captain who said, “If you are so ’Zen,’ maybe you should see the signs you are getting and not do the trip!”
Another comment came from one of my closest friends who was telling the sponsors that the polar expedition was really a “sponsor-financed vacation.”
Neither of these comments could really be further from the truth. This was never so obvious as when I was over the true, magnetic and North Pole of Inaccessibility and the 5 hours that followed, when my two flight management systems, two ADAHRS (attitude, heading and reference systems), autopilot, HF, and VHF comms went offline. With the Jet A fumes so strong in the cabin that I could taste the fuel in my throat as my eyes watered and sinuses burned, I remember thinking that my reality was much different than what people truly understood.
How then do we reframe these thoughts and comments so they don’t slow us down or block our efforts? Instead, no pun intended, they “fuel our efforts” so that we can take this all in-stride and as the saying goes “smile in the face of adversity?” Here are six ways that might help you deal with the naysayers.
Identify and isolate the naysayers
You will know who they are by their comments and actions. Your job is just to put them behind you. My social media team was instructed that I didn’t need to hear these comments and just to delete and block them. As a practice, we put them behind us as fast as the Citizen of the World could fly, which was about 311 knots true.
Use negative comments and thoughts as an opportunity to educate
Sometimes, despite your deft maneuvering, you won’t be able to dodge all of the negative comments and thoughts. When one of my biggest sponsors said I might as well just tear their logo off the Citizen of the World—since they didn’t think I was ever going to leave—I just hung up the phone. I wasn’t going to listen to that for even an instant. Maybe not the best move out of the sponsorship playbook, but one I was not going to entertain. In hindsight, I could have agreed to disagree and explained we had identified additional risks that we were taking steps to mitigate, and we wanted to ensure a safe and successful flight. And of course, during the delays they were getting additional exposure.
Overcoming a mountain of criticism is often about educating others. Some people simply don’t understand the magnitude of your efforts, passion or the challenges you are facing.
Reveal information on a need-to-know basis
Complicating my attempt to educate, my team intentionally held back information because we didn’t feel my family members and supporters could handle the extreme stress that I was experiencing. It was hard enough on them because their fears were coming up. We figured I would just endure the overwhelming stress and struggle of this journey with the help of my closest supporters. Comments I sent via satellite text to my greatest supporter and friend Susan Gilbert when I was critically low on Jet A fuel over the dreaded Drake Passage confiding I didn’t think I had enough fuel to make it—would have sent others into hysterics.
Focus on your supportersFor every person doubting me there were many more telling me that I could do it and my result would be overwhelmingly positive. Their comments were light filled and so positive that often they would bring me to tears. A note from Eddie Gould of General Aviation Support Egypt (GASE) kept me going:
“Adventures like yours do inspire and create so much more than what you have personally achieved. Having this adventure during one of the world’s most horrific periods must rank high above many of the worthy exploits undertaken by pilots.
I guess we, on the ground, have felt invested in your quest in a way that others would not. Your successes in the air are also ours. I have a massive smile, and I know Ahmed does too, when we get something approved, or a plan works out or even when you say . . . ‘this hotel is fantastic’ . . . the work we do in the background can be enjoyable, satisfying and at times . . . frustrating . . . like when you lose comms or someone doesn’t answer a phone in an office 7,000 miles away. But your adventures create the memories for us too . . . and this adventure is yours and our crowning glory . . . you took on everything the planet could throw at you, faced dangers in every corner of the globe and even had to change everything you knew about to become a Spanish recluse and then a Viking hermit!
I hope you make the book at least half as exciting as the reality was . . . and by the way . . . the aircraft was amazing and beautiful :-).”
The truth will come out as you look closer
Things are not always as they appear. One follower texted me, “it must be nice to be flying in cabin class comfort!” In the picture above with my survival gear stacked outside the airplane you see me moments before departure doing my best to put on my game face when the reality was that I was facing absolutely terrible odds. My survival gear would go on the copilot seat and behind me leaving me little space to move around. The entire back of the Gulfstream Twin Commander 900 was filled with six additional venting fuel tanks. Before the flight concluded I would be losing navigation, dealing with snow blindness, mechanical issues, fatigue, fuel gelling, and wearing a stuffy and uncomfortable rubber emersion suit for 18.1 hours.
I had assessed my chances of survival at roughly 50%. That was not 50% that I would set out and come back possibly making the South Pole—that was a 50% chance that I’d still be alive in 20 hours.
Use these comments to identify risks you need to mitigate
Your naysayers will help you identify the risks you must overcome. They are expert at helping you identify in great detail the issues you must address. An example of this came when a fellow circumnavigator told me that he didn’t think the Citizen could fly 4,400 nautical miles unrefueled. He said I was foolish not to test the range of the Citizen until the actual flight. He was right, and my team set up a series of test flights that helped us verify the range of the plane which allowed me to take less fuel than I was capable of carrying. In a sense, you have an extra team working for free helping you to think through every detail of your journey.
Understand these naysayer comments come from a place of scarcity. The comments are less about what you are doing and more about what others have passed on in their lives. Don’t believe the stories of others they are not your own. It’s like Don Miguel Ruiz says, “If you are going to tell yourself a story make it a good one!”
With the successful completion of the Polar Circumnavigations the naysayers would finally be silenced. They would have to move on to their next project! The ADS-B Out tracking from Aireon fueled by info from the 66 Iridium NEXT- satellites over the South Pole really said it all. If that was not enough, I had two nano GPS trackers, iPad screen shots, recorded conversations with the South Pole that will come out in the docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth and Beyond” and a latitude/longitude text msg sent almost directly over the South Pole.
The naysayers are just a part of your journey and intended to teach and protect you. With their continued help your success will be even sweeter. Yes, it will be hard and at times unbearable, but you will succeed. It will feel like you are about to be crushed like a bug but yet you must persist! It will feel like you are carrying the weight of the world but with the help of your supporters you can do it if you continue to put one foot in front of the other day after day. It may take longer than you think. My preparations were intended to take 6 months but took 18. My actual trip was intended to take 4 to 5 months but took 8 months and 23 days.
Smile in the face of adversity and you will find your success and much more!