Partway through flight training, I surprisingly found myself in the middle of the pack—decent grades, but nothing spectacular. I had failed a flight like most students had, but I had picked myself up and gotten back on track. My performance was average. I had never in my life been average at something I set my mind to.
What had gone wrong?
I had gotten too comfortable, working hard enough to get by but not enough to distinguish myself. Perhaps after four years at the Naval Academy, I was “taking a break” from all-out intensity. I had also lost sight of my dream of going to Navy Test Pilot School.
It didn’t feel good. Something needed to change. “Average” was not going to get me where I wanted to go. I needed to graduate at the top of my class. I decided to act—to light a fire under my own butt and change my situation.
The more I thought about the issue, the more I thought about those priorities of the air that we learned in ground school. While I could aviate, navigate, and communicate in the aircraft, I was not doing so “at altitude” in my professional life.
Aviate was my priority—refocusing on the task in front of me. The challenge was graduating at the top of my flight school class, not just my next flight. I determined that I needed a different approach to the remaining flights in my program. I began to see each flight not as a box to be checked on the syllabus, but as a stepping- stone toward my goal of finishing at the top.
Next, I needed to navigate the challenge ahead, but this time with help.
Shortly thereafter, and quite serendipitously, I was assigned a mentor. He was an older, somewhat crusty lieutenant who was prior enlisted (meaning he started his career as a sailor before becoming an officer). Taking what I felt was a risk, as I had not even finished flight school yet, I communicated to my mentor that, ultimately, I wanted to go to Test Pilot School.
“I need to be a top performer!” I said.
He looked me directly in the eyes and told me in no uncertain terms that I was capable of graduating at the top of my flight school class. And he would help me.
My mentor challenged me to study extra hours each night. He urged me to go back to base after hours and do extra trainers and simulators the night before each flight. He tasked me with knowing my navigation charts so well that I could fly my flights with my eyes closed. He checked my knowledge and pushed me ever further. I ate it up. My grades improved dramatically, and I graduated at the top of my flight school class with the honors of “Commodore’s List with Distinction.”
If you find yourself in a place where you are not happy with your performance? Do what it takes to change it.
Find a mentor or find a coach and get with it.
Need some coaching? Drop me a line at CaptainBarbaraBell.com. Check out my book: Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence and Learning to Fly High – I have some great questions to help move you to the next level.
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