I can self-destruct.
I have the power to destroy everything in my world, but I choose not to.
Some days that choice is harder to make than on other days, but I take comfort in the knowledge that there are other people out there doing the same thing.
I know some of these people well but some I’ve never met; I watch from afar, keenly noticing how fine a line they walk. Occasionally, I’ll read about someone whose done something stupid and I’ll note that they made a different choice that morning – I then briefly consider my own vulnerability.
I can’t ‘do’ average and this is a problem for me.
I’m not saying this to gain any favour, I genuinely revere those who can be satisfied with a film or favourite TV show on a Saturday night but I just can’t do it and recently I was asked a question on social media that got me thinking.
‘Tim, you’ve probably covered somewhere in your writing or videos, but what’s it like to be one day flying around at silly speeds and then the next – just sitting at home or behind a desk? Does it take some time to adjust?‘
When I left the Royal Air Force just under two years ago, I went straight into an aviation-based contract role. There were familiar faces and some good people to work with but it was 9 to 5 and I was behind a desk for the whole day. The work was reasonably interesting but we all knew that it would probably never come to anything and this meant that, for me at least, it lacked purpose.
When I was in the RAF, most of my work had a purpose.
When you’re a Tornado pilot on the front-line, you plan with your team for a few hours and then get airborne, avoid ground based and airborne threats and bomb your target. It couldn’t have been more purposeful – you plan to do something and then you go and do it.
Towards the end of my service, I worked behind a desk as part of a group that oversaw military flying training; this is when I first realised that there was work that was being done for which there was no end. It was work that needed to be done but there were no milestones or significant events – it was endless 9 to 5 and without a finale, celebration or even recognition. The work was non-specific and lacked dynamism – it was grey in comparison to flying but even the flying I was still doing on a part-time basis had become less colourful.
For an instructor, flying training is the same few sorties repeated many times over, the only things that differ are the students you get to teach and I was always grateful for that small mercy.
But, just like the office job, instructing on jets also became routine especially as us military pilots were constantly being frustrated by the civilianisation of a core Service capability – the privatisation of military flying training under the deeply flawed and rapidly failing United Kingdom Military Flying Training System.
The RAF was insisting that we become average – that we conformed to this new way of life and that we must accept it.
But, there was a problem with the Service’s demands, as alluded to by the world’s most highly respected fighter pilot, Colonel Robin Olds.
“Fighter pilot is an attitude. It is cockiness. It is aggressiveness. It is self-confidence. It is a streak of rebelliousness, and it is competitiveness. But there’s something else – there’s a spark. There’s a desire to be good. To do well; in the eyes of your peers, and in your own mind.” – Robin Olds, USAF
In my mind and in those of my fellow instructors, we were being worn down by the system and our lives were becoming average – we were lacking any autonomy or flair and were at the beck and call of something we couldn’t control.
Chris Guillebeau, author of ‘The $100 Startup’, defines most people as the ‘unremarkable average’ who live by a set of rules.
1. Accept what people tell you at face value
2. Don’t question authority
3. Go to college because you’re supposed to, not because you want to learn something
4. Go overseas once or twice in your life, to somewhere safe like England
5. Don’t try to learn another language, everyone else will eventually learn English
6. Think about starting your own business, but never do it
7. Think about writing a book, but never do it
8. Get the largest mortgage you qualify for and spend 30 years paying for it
9. Sit at a desk 40 hours a week for an average of 10 hours of productive work
10. Don’t stand out or draw attention to yourself
11. Jump through hoops. Check off boxes
‘Jump. Through, Hoops. Check. Off. Boxes’ – Yep, that’s not something I’m prepared to do and I believe most pilots are the same.
As this year ends, I realise that there is a significance in the next. It’s 2020, or as I like to call it, ‘The Year of Clarity & Clear Vision’.
As we move into 2020, there is an opportunity for us all to think deeply about what we want in life, about what we feel we can tolerate and what we can’t. Every day, millions of us head to the office to do a job we hate and that hate will end up consuming us – it will define our lives.
By choosing not to do something about our current situation, we are actively choosing the life we have. Everything you do or say by choice is a vote for the person you will become – every choice you make moves you further forward or further back.
“We often feel paralyzed by choice and make no choice. But the thing is, no choice is a choice. If you’re not doing something about it, you’re doing something about it.” – Chris Guillebeau
Our lives are often without purpose consisting of ill-defined goals and meaningless work. Yet we tolerate it because we don’t realise that we have slowly become ‘unremarkably average’.
I know that, whatever work I’m doing, it absolutely must have a purpose and this becomes clearer to me over the Christmas period, than any other time of year.
Over Christmas, many of us lack direction – the world stops, we get bored and lash out. I know I do, many of you reading this would say the same about yourselves. More divorces are initiated after Christmas than at any time of year – what we expect will be the happiest of times can often end in tears as we are forced together in relationships that were already strained.
The problem for many is that, if we lack focus or a mission, we just make things difficult – the devil does indeed makes work for idle hands. When we’re bored, forced to watch TV or lie about the house with people you’ve avoided all year, we tend to look for trouble. We enter conflicts that we would normally skip when we were previously occupied with better things to do.
‘Just how much trouble are you trying to cause? If you’re not doing something important with your life, by your own definition… maybe you’re prone to cause trouble just because you don’t have anything better to do. Trouble is more interesting than boring. If you’re not pushing yourself to the limits of your capacity then you have plenty of left-over willpower, energy and resources to devote to causing interesting trouble.’ – Jordan Peterson
So, I am acutely aware of my ability to destroy my own world if I lack a purpose, simply because it’s more interesting than doing nothing.
Christmas is a difficult time for a lot of people so, how can we find contentment and not ruin the period of festivities?Personally, I set myself small tasks to do during the day and aim to get them done – it gives the day some structure. I also think about what material I need to catch up on such as books or podcasts, try and have some meaningful conversations and stay out of any arguments.
Also, I take a break from the noise – often.
Lastly, the one thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that I have the choice of continuing to walk my fine line or not and, for now, that responsibility is enough.