Most of us experience stalling at some stage in our lives. In our attempts to be all we can. In our attempts to climb as high as we can, as fast as we can.
The problem is, like an aeroplane, we can only climb so fast. If we pitch the nose up too high, or carry too much weight, we run the risk of stalling. And if we do, then we’re only left with one choice.
Just like an aeroplane, the only way to recover – the only way – is to point the nose back towards the ground. You have to sacrifice height in order to regain lift.
For many of us this is the last thing we want.
When we’ve had our eyes on that optimum crushing level – that perfect enviable position we wish we were at in life – we find it hard to let go. We become so fixated on that place we lose all sense of what’s actually going on, what actually needs to be done in the here and now.
Of course if you keep pitching up in desperation – if you refuse to accept your situation – well, then, the results can be catastrophic.
Towards the end of 2019 I found myself in such a stall. I was mentally and physically exhausted. The relentlessly busy rosters and regular night flying had taken its toll. I also needed help navigating depression.
I’d known for some time I needed help, I just didn’t want to admit it. So in desperation I kept trying to pitch the nose up. Of course it only made things worse. I only found myself in a deeper stall.
Eventually I conceded. I acknowledged the stall and pointed the nose down. I asked for the professional help I’d ignored getting for years.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Shortly afterwards the pandemic gripped the world and I suddenly found myself with an abundance of time at home. All of which gave me the perfect opportunity to keep the nose down. To utilise my support systems. As a result I spent the first half of 2020 at home, resting, writing, reading and being with the people I love.
It was exactly what I needed to regain lift.
By June, when I finally went back to work I felt ready, like the heavy fog that had shrouded my mind had lifted and I could fly once more. It’s just that, this time, the whole world had stalled. Little did I know just how long that stall would last. A year on I still don’t.
What followed were a series of professional setbacks. The biggest of which came when my company consigned our sister airline to the history books. A fifth of our workforce went jobless overnight. Those of us lucky enough to still cling to our jobs in aviation, were forced onto a new contract in very friendly sign-or-be-sacked kinda manner.
Fast forward to the present day and my coworkers are still fearing for their livelihoods. Many of them have family who live abroad they haven’t seen for well over a year. I’m one of the lucky ones with my family here in Hong Kong. On top this the lack of flying means many of us are rusty. The added stress isn’t helped by quarantine or the ever changing medical/testing requirements. I haven’t even mentioned the fear of contracting the virus itself.
This week I actually got to fly. To give you an idea of the times, the Captain and I flew an empty passenger jet to Hanoi and back. We carried nothing but a bit of cargo in the belly. On arrival into Hong Kong we were made to test for COVID, then wait 3 hours for the results before they let us go home. We were the lucky ones. Many of our other colleagues flying to higher risk destinations and/or with passengers on board are made to quarantine for 3 weeks in a hotel room before being allowed home.
All the above has made the job more demanding that it has ever been.
Yet, despite this, flying to Hanoi and back was some of the most fun I’ve had in an aeroplane for a number of years. I believe that’s because this pandemic has given me something from being forced to point the nose down for the past year and a half. What I believe it really takes to recover from any stall in life: perspective.
I became a pilot to fly aeroplanes and travel the world, but that’s not why I get in an aeroplane anymore. I’ve come to realise those motives alone aren’t enough anymore. They don’t generate enough lift.
Now I fly, above all else, to help the world. To make sure the few passengers who need to travel get home to their families safely. To help transport critical cargo where it needs to go. To keep my company afloat. I fly not just for me and my family, but for the man or women sitting next to me and their families. I fly for all those who lost their jobs. I fly as part of a rich and proud aviation heritage during what is arguably its most difficult hour.
It’s like that story about three bricklayers who were asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.
I’ve transitioned from the second bricklayer to the third. I fly with a far greater passion derived from a deeper meaning that’s been given to this profession – to all things – during this time. Ultimately that’s what I believe pointing the nose down allows you to see. It reminds you what it’s all about. Why you even get up in the morning.
And call me crazy, but for the first time in a while I feel a glimmer of hope. Now that I’m fully vaccinated, with a slight uptick in the amount of flying rostered this month, with genuine talks of opening up travel bubbles…
Of course I’m aware you have to be very careful with hope. Often the light at the end of the tunnel is simply another train coming at you. And if it is, so be it. I’m ready.
Still, I do believe this time we might actually be at the bottom of this stall. That we might finally have the energy – the perspective – to start the slow ascent towards bluer skies. Back towards a new, more sustainable, cruising level. I, for one, can’t wait for the day I look back down the cabin and see the plane full of happy travellers once more.
I, for one, am more than ready to do my part, to help make that happen.
(Thanks for reading everyone. I’m curious to know what stories you have of stalling in life? How did you deal with it? What helped you recover? Let us know below. Wishing you well.)
If you like to read more of AP’s perspective on the world from 40,000ft, then please check out his personal blog here: https://clear-air-turbulence.com