Friday, 6 December 2013

Chasing The Needle

“Your quest for perfection is throwing your balance.”  Sean Tyrrell, Victoria Flying Club Instructor and Resident Wise Man

With my flight test quickly approaching, most days I feel as if I am approaching my flight training with new found confidence – until I accidentally find myself stepping on the crack in the ice.  It’s a fine line between brilliance and crazy.

I am reminded of my return to flight training after an extended period away.  Let's just say I have a lot of hours in my log book because I had to redo the entire syllabus.  And I think back to a beautiful autumn day last year, when the man sitting beside me in the cockpit of Victor November Uniform had no idea what he was saying or who he was saying it to when he tapped on the altimeter and said: “You’re chasing the needle.  You’re forgetting that there’s a little bit of a lag in the instruments – you’re actually ahead of it.”

As I harshly admonished myself mentally for not only my inability to keep the needle on the line but also now for chasing said needle.  I replied: “I think my next blog is going to be called “Shake It Off Baby!”

“You should call it 'Chasing the Needle'.  Your quest for perfection is throwing your balance.”

HELLO!  Is there an oracle in the cockpit?  I can’t remember if I said it out loud but I meant to say: “That was really profound man!”

In aviation chasing the needle is considered to be an amateurish tendency to over-correct as inexperienced pilots struggle to find the right-perfect spot.  It can be really quite dangerous and can result in botched approaches or other issues in the air.

Perfect is the enemy of good enough; insisting on perfection often results in no improvement at all.

There’s perfect and then there’s good enough. There’s chasing the needle in an airplane and then there’s doing it on the ground.  The trap is that for some of us if the needle isn’t bang-on then what does that mean?

Sometimes I see myself as the poster child for Human Factors.  I can run down the list and say: “Me, me, also me.” 

Sometimes I even think that as a self-employed single parent maybe taking flying lessons wasn’t the brightest idea.  I literally flew through my divorce.  Looking back it may not have been the best time to take up a new hobby but the tricky part is that I love flying.  I am never more grounded as when I am flying.  I love that I have to be fully present, fully aware, and right in my body.

In my light moments I would say that flying saved me.

In my darker moments the needle points to insane.

Along with pretty much everyone else in the modern world, I have a pretty stressful job.  I work with legal professionals in different jurisdictions across North America.  I often work in different time zones and can sometimes work around the clock.  Because I own my own business if I don’t work my kids don’t eat.  And sometimes my kids like to eat so there can be a bit of financial pressure.

One of my children has some learning differences and the other one has a heart condition that required open heart surgery.  There’s school and homework and doctor’s appointments and lots of “ologists”.  But in our house that’s just called life and we’re pretty good at rolling with it.

I know I’m only 42 years old, but there are days I am so bone tired I can’t even think about studying, or flight planning, or working, or reading, or functioning in what normal people like to call reality because all I am really doing is trying not to vomit.

Anyone who has had an experience of spontaneity with me has really experienced an illusion.  They will never know how much juggling or planning that spontaneous moment required.

Every time I go somewhere to study it costs me $20 for a babysitter.  Then there's the fact that I can’t do math in my head.

And flight training is expensive so there’s the guilt that I am the most selfish mother that ever lived.  I try to justify my selfishness by believing that I can parent by leading by example.  I would like to teach my children that they don't need permission to be who they really are, or do what they love.

All I know is that every morning I wake up from that dream where I am flying and everything is right in the world.  I wake up and I thank God or the Universe or my lucky stars that I am having this experience with all of the amazing people I get to hang around with!  I often say I'm the luckiest girl in town - and that's the truth and I know it!

But it has taken me a long time to get here and patience is not my best quality.

On the days that I’m really pissed with myself for taking so goddamn long to get done what a 16-year old kid can do in a six-week program, I stomp around working myself up into a tornado that starts with “I’m not having any fun” and continues on complaining that if this were a relationship I would have already left.  That I have stayed too long and that I am accepting the unacceptable.  I get a nice hot hate-on and mentally break up with everyone I know.

The crazy bitch inside my head shrieks: “If one more person says to me there will never be a perfect flight - I’m leaving!”

Then I round a corner and someone says: “Hey, we’ve all been there.  You can do it.”  And I hold on tight.

After months of flight test prep, on one of those days that I was really ready to quit-it-all, I called the Head Sky-God and scheduled some time with him to go over my PTR and told him I wanted to spend some time in the plane so I could figure out why I was such a f-up.  I needed to get it done.  I needed to move on.

Best thing I ever did.  We all know the phrase “I have control.”  Well…

After two flights with the Head Sky-God he said to me: “The next time we fly together will be for your flight test.”  I might have said: "Really? Are you sure?"  And he laughed.  At that moment a silky silver ribbon of belief slowly slithered into my chest and wrapped a soft touch around that hard part of me that had been saying: “You’re not ready.  It’s not for you.  You haven’t got it perfected.  It’s not even good enough.”

Sometimes all we need to know is
that we can do it.
I guess the problem is that I was the problem.  At some point I got in my own way.  Recently, I pointedly asked Sean if I was ready for my flight test and he said: “Yes.  You have been ready for months – but you had to finally believe you were ready.  Now you do.”  I needed to believe that I was good enough.

What have I done to, no doubt, overcompensate for my self-inflicted anxiety about taking that flight test?

I have maintained my scheduled times with my instructor; not just to fly but to do ground work and ask questions.

I have scheduled extra time with the Head Sky-God to go over my training and do ground work and ask questions.

I have scheduled some time to fly with the man I am most afraid to fly with.  He is an excellent professional instructor who teaches people to fly war birds like Nanchangs and T-28’s.  If I don’t pee my pants or become completely paralyzed when flying with him then I should be okay.

Am I still chasing the needle?  Over-correcting?  Or am I following the 5 P’s (proper preparation prevents poor performance)?

Back to that day when Sean covered the instruments and said: “Try it again.  I don’t want to see your eyes even peek at the gauges.”  I had to feel my way through.  I had to trust myself.  And it was better.  It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough.

True Story.

Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier… some day, yeah, we’ll get it together and we’ll get it all done.


  1. Honey, you have had it in you all along, and I am glad that you finally see what the rest of us have seen, your beautiful smile of confidence. You inspire me. xoxo

  2. Love your blog! Your mention of stepping on the crack in the ice reminded me of the Qallupilluit, the nasty ocean spirits who pull Inuit children into the cracks in the sea ice. That's a metaphor to keep kids safe of course but, in real life, many of us (including me) need to look out for the Qallupilluit named Perfectionism. Is there a metaphor for Good Enough?