It’s a truism of human experience: We tend to dream of great big events that will change our lives for the better.
It’s far more difficult for us to commit to small modifications in the hopes that over time we’ll see a positive impact.
This is true even though myriad examples suggest the more reasonable approach, the more practical move, is to make those little revisions to our way of living. That’s where the real magic happens.
We rush out to buy a Powerball ticket, because a few hundred million dollars would make everything so much better. We stand in line to audition for a talent show in the belief that it will lead to our shot at stardom and unimaginable wealth. We look for quick and easy, when our real salvation could be found more reliably in the benefits of slow and steady.
You know it’s true. At least this has been your thought process occasionally. It’s been mine, too.
But it’s wrong and it’s fairly important that we recognize it as wrong. Because to keep heading down the wrong path in the hopes that it will someday, inexplicably, become the right path, is foolishness. It just is.
Sure, winning a whopper of a fortune through an instantaneous lottery drawing would be wonderful. But it’s been estimated that as many as 70% of lottery winners go broke. Bankrupt. Busted. No matter how much moola they win, they find a way to spend it all and then some. Why? How could that be possible?
It’s because everything is incremental. Everything.
If you’re not good with money, the solution to your problem is not to stumble into a big ol’ pile of cash. That doesn’t make you wondrously adept at financial management. It just means you can make bigger mistakes for a longer period of time before your personal balloon bursts. But it most assuredly will burst if you keep doing the same things that were keeping you from getting ahead before.
Wealth doesn’t make you smart. Size doesn’t make you strong. Holding a pilot certificate in your wallet doesn’t give you special dispensation when it comes to the laws of physics.
Gravity still works, even if you ignore it. Airspeed is still king, even if you disregard it. Angle of attack still matters, even if you’ve forgotten what the term means and how it applies to your flight.
Everything is incremental. That’s as true when gaining ground, as it is when falling behind.
In aviation this matters especially because pilots and mechanics, being human, are just as prone to fantasy, forgetfulness, and undeserved self-congratulatory praise as anyone else. The main difference is that we risk paying a much higher price for our commitment to self-delusion.
It’s one thing to run the wrong way past a zero balance in your checkbook. It’s another thing entirely to headbutt the earth at terminal velocity because you ignored the red line on your airspeed indicator.
Each and every one of us put a great deal of effort into learning to fly, or rebuilding an engine, or constructing an airframe. Can you honestly say you’ve put an equivalent effort into keeping up with new technology as it becomes available? The cockpit we sit behind when we fly today probably bears only a passing resemblance to the panel you saw on your first flights.
When I began flying almost everything I flew had an ADF installed. That technological break-through of the early days of powered flight is almost unheard of now. I haven’t flown an NDB approach in decades, nor would I wish to. They’re as non-precise as a non-precision approach can be.
Now, we’ve got GPS, which is used by VFR and IFR pilots alike. New aircraft designs increasingly benefit from composite construction. And most of us are at least a little behind the curve when it comes to understanding the strengths and limitations of those technological leaps into the future. Similarly, we’re not too sharp at being able to spot our own limitations.
Let me give you an example. I don’t really enjoy driving at night anymore. I don’t go out of my way to fly at night these days either. Why? Because I’m 60 years old.
When I was in my 20s, my eyesight was sharp. Really sharp. So good in fact that I used to wonder how people with 20/20 vision could stand it. Mine was considerably better than that. The standard visual acuity struck me as being a downgrade I wouldn’t want to be saddled with.
Now, several decades later, I wear glasses to correct my vision to 20/20. I’m glad to still be able to meet that mark. But I’m aware my eyesight is degrading. It’s still acceptable, but one day it will become a real limitation. It’s already become a problem at night. I just flat out can’t see as well as I used to, and that bothers me.
Consider the possible outcome if I failed to recognize the degradation of my visual abilities. Worse, what if I recognized those limitations but chose to ignore them? I’d be cruising for a bruising, that’s for sure.
We all lose a step over time. There’s no shame in that. Whether it’s a physical deterioration, or a loss of mental capacity, or just a naturally occurring ignorance as technology and regulations change over time while we put less effort into trying to keep up.
Holding a certificate doesn’t automatically confer any superpowers to us. If we want to be current — better yet, if we want to be proficient — we’re going to have to make a commitment to brushing the rust off, pushing back the curtain, and learning new material on a periodic basis.
That’s not so hard, frankly. But it does require a bit of effort. Then again so do all good things that come our way, incrementally, over time. That’s just the way it is.