Pilots Must Be Vulnerable

Being Vulnerable

Ugh. Being vulnerable is something pilots must be. With all the assessments, exams, stage checks, check rides, etc., your inadequacies are completely exposed. Many of those pinnacle moments you’re being judged by a complete stranger. I’m absolutely terrified during these situations. Admittedly, one reason my CFI progression is stalled is because of the dreaded check ride. There are a few trusted confidants that know of this personal panic I’m plagued with. Not many. Letting too many people know would require more vulnerability. Yikes!

My test-taking anxiety has accompanied me for as long as I can remember. The written exams are pretty easy for me. I’ve historically scored in the 90’s on every FAA written exam. They’re completely objective. I’m fine with that. Facing a stranger and being judged is a whole different story. Nausea, light-headedness, sweats, and chest-tightening plague me when it’s check ride time with an actual human versus a computer screen. It’s horrific. If there was an FAA-approved drug that would help alleviate that stress, I would be all over that in a heartbeat ( #nodoubt).  Interestingly, speaking in front of groups isn’t too difficult for me, especially when speaking about something that interests me or that I’m passionate about.  Maybe that’s because it’s not one-on-one? All of the other people in the room act as a buffer, somewhat.  Most of the time, I cope in these situations by telling myself that it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever see any of these people again.  So, if there’s a screw-up, I can fade away into oblivion! Haha! 

As you may have surmised from previous blogs, personal decision-making in my life is at an all-time high. Only during the past couple of weeks have I embraced these opportunities as blissfully exciting and full of potential. It’s very liberating to realize that my future direction is in my own hands. What is there to worry about? I’VE GOT THE POWER! Wouldn’t it be more worrisome NOT to have the power??

There are so many things I’m interested in pursuing that it can be overwhelming. It’s a curse and a blessing. In one way, it’s stimulating and allows a lot of exploration (I’m never bored)! In another way, it’s hard for me to sit still because if I’m not working on one thing, then there’s something else I want to do or work on. Creating downtime and forcing myself to be still or relax, in some way, can be challenging. There are some rules in place for me. The first two hours after waking must include: 1) exercise; 2) singing and/or dancing; 3) journaling or meditating in some fashion. That usually means just sitting still and possibly just staring at my dog. I know that if these things aren’t accomplished first thing, in all likelihood, they will not get done at all. Each of these activities noticeably boosts my mood significantly. Seriously, no one can dance without smiling. These things energize me and provide an early charge of positivity. They can do that for you too! It’s a fact. There’s scientific evidence to support this. There are endorphins that your body releases that just make you happy. I’m all for releasing endorphins! Who doesn’t like to feel good?? Find out other ways your body releases endorphins and try your best to incorporate these activities into your everyday schedule! Prioritize. Literally, put them in your iCal right now! 

Let’s talk about being vulnerable. And why it sucks. Haha! As previously stated, being vulnerable is challenging for me. Currently, my desk is littered with “vulnerability” worksheets. My “paid friend” (therapist) has opened a can of worms with my most recent assignment. Vulnerability is a buzz word that seems to be getting a lot of attention lately. Thank you, Brené Brown. One could say I avoid it, if possible. Here are some of the descriptive words that come to mind when asked to describe what being vulnerable means to me…risky, exposed, judged, weak, cringe-worthy, unpleasant, troublesome, tense, nervous, irritable, awkward, edgy, ill-at-ease, anxious…Why would I volunteer to feel any of these things???? Running in the opposite direction sounds much more appealing. Talk about baggage. Geez. Why can’t my baggage just be Louis Vuitton? Being vulnerable requires an element of trust.  Trusting that you will not be hurt.  

This is challenging, especially when we’ve all been hurt at some point in our lives.  I’ve been hurt in personal relationships and have had a really bad experience during a check ride with a DPE.  Hence, the check ride reluctance…The actor/comedian Russell Brand has been releasing some entertaining, often insightful videos that I find myself watching on occasion.  He’s pretty funny and offers some thoughtful tidbits with unusual deliveries.  A recent video of his discusses trust.  Most people have about four people in their lives that they absolutely trust 100%.  So, it seems only natural that opening yourself up to criticism from just anyone does not come easily, right?

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. Once you recognize a weakness or challenge (i.e., vulnerability), you can overcome it. Once you take ownership of a shortcoming, there are many tools and people available to help you. I don’t want anything to have power over me or over my ability to have a successful, fulfilling life with deeply gratifying, genuine relationships. Nope. I will not let this thing have power over me in a way that will make my life less joyful. Hit the road, Jack! I’m a smart, capable individual with a desire to reprogram myself and unlearn bad habits. One day, by golly, I will love check rides! That’s hilarious.

Yeah-that is pretty funny, isn’t it?

The truth is that being vulnerable is the only way to satisfaction and contentment. It means you’re authentic, genuine, and “real.” It’s hard to be fake. It requires a lot of energy and it diminishes your uniqueness and worth. Why do that to oneself? Several blogs ago, my own personal values were revealed. One of them is authenticity. Running flyGIRL has allowed many chances to meet and interact with others. I have empathy for what others are going through on their aviation journey or life journey. Connecting with a variety of people is a continuous aspiration of mine. I’m an Aries. I’m not a huge astrological sign fanatic but as far as relationships, Aries are historically known as affectionate, attentive, and passionate. Passionate can sometimes be interpreted as fiery. What’s wrong with fiery?!? We like to connect with many different kinds of people. One can only really connect by being vulnerable (there’s that word again!).

Your Life Isn’t Perfect?!?!

My blogs were fairly regular up until several months ago. Every Sunday a new blog was reliably posted. Writing isn’t challenging for me because that’s how I best express myself. The blogs became irregular when my marriage took a dive. No vulnerability allowed here folks! The dreaded judgment of others! Up until today, only a few people know that I’m getting divorced. Part of me feels that it’s really nobody’s business. Honestly, I couldn’t write because my life was consumed with the failure of my marriage and sorting out the details of my new life. That was the only thing on my mind. It was nearly impossible for me to sit down and think about, much less, write about anything other than my personal life.  Plus, I really didn’t want anyone to know. flyGIRL supposedly has it all together, right? 

Recently, at an aviation convention, I hesitantly stated for the first time publicly that I was getting divorced to a peer. Can you say “vulnerability?” My chest tightens just recalling how it felt to reveal that. If I could’ve thrown a mask over my head and ran out the door, I would have. Except that the convention hall was huge, I was wearing heels, there were blisters on my feet, etc., etc. The whole environment wasn’t conducive to a quick escape. This colleague responded just as I’d feared. She was let down. Paraphrasing her words, “Darn, I’d hoped that somebody had a perfect life!” 😭 It’s hard to let people down. Many people probably see my life as perfect, even though we all should realize that no one’s life is perfect.  

Even though this has been such a painful process, my life is still not terrible. I’m an eternal optimist (also an Aries characteristic). There is still beauty and many opportunities to be thankful for. Each day offers something great or valuable in some way. Feeling sorry for myself just doesn’t register with me. There are too many good things out there in the world to see and do; too many good things to experience; too many good people to meet and spend time with. Aries are all about improving themselves and growing, albeit, we’d prefer that be done as expeditiously as possible. #nopatience

It’s hard to be vulnerable and share painful, personal details about my life. However, I feel it’s a responsibility. Others, somewhere, are going through the same thing. It’s lonely and isolating. If sharing my situation alleviates some of that for an individual, I want to do that. My life is not perfect nor do I want anyone to think it is. My personality longs for connection. The only way to connect is, to be honest. Being honest can be hard. It’s sooooooooo uncomfortable admitting what may be perceived as a shortcoming and face possible judgment. It’s hard to let walls come down. There are a few very close friends with whom I can display myself, flaws and all (about four, as Russell Brand estimates). Thank God! Widening that “Circle of Trust” and allowing new people in, especially with all of these changes in my life, is desirable. Who knows, maybe I’ll join a divorced women’s group…?

 

My therapist has provided me with a new mantra to repeat to myself when faced with an uncomfortable situation or a moment of vulnerability. “I’m uncomfortable, but I’m not in danger.” Instead of running for the hills, I’m to take a deep breath and repeat this phrase. Those words provide me comfort. Memorization is the perfect tool for me. There are several quotes etched in my brain that have helped me through the years.   

Going through a divorce is one of the toughest things one can go through. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. It “S+UCKS” (I used to say that as a kid because I thought “sucks” was a bad word). To provide one ounce of comfort to anyone who has gone through a separation or is going through a major transition right now is the main reason for putting myself out there. It’s uneasy, make no mistake about it (I need to hit publish before losing my nerve…)!

Where Is This Chapter in the POH??

Feeling sorry for myself is just a big, fat, “no thanks.” Coming to the end of one chapter, means the next chapter can be better. My newfound focus is on bettering myself, figuring out who I am, and who I want to be. How people respond to me, flaws and all is out of my control. 

How does this relate to being a pilot? We have to be vulnerable in order to pass that check ride and get to where we want to be. If we avoid the hard stuff, the rewards are limited. It gets easier each time we push through the uncomfortableness. “Practice makes perfect!” Find a few trusted friends and “practice” being real with them. Schedule regular times with them and let your guard down. Reveal things about yourself that may be awkward and may make you cringe. If you’re really up for a challenge, do it without a “crutch” (i.e., beer, super large glass of wine, shot of tequila…). Talk about difficult. That check ride doesn’t sound too bad now, does it?!?! 

Writing this has been extremely therapeutic for me and hopefully has provided something helpful for those who have taken the time to read it. ❤️

 

1 Comment

  1. Fernando Serra

    Touching blog. Not disappointed you are not perfect but just one of us. Life is a learning process and when you stop learning it’s not the same. Keep it up, it gets better every day like landings.

    Take care
    Fernando

    Reply

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