It’s funny the things that we put out of our minds that stick with other people. During our recent mini family reunion in New Orleans, my sister brought up the time I decided to get my private pilot’s license. That was in the period of my single parenting days with a toddler and I was assigned in Abilene, Texas as an Army ROTC instructor. While there was no Army facility, Dyess Air Force Base was the home to a B-52 Wing that transitioned to the new B-1 bomber. I made some great friends in what we called the “Corner of the Bar Social Club”, and yes, some of the characters in my first novel, Orchids in the Snow, were inspired by that group. I digress, however.
Being around all those pilots and being in West Texas with wide open spaces led to my desire to take pilot training. It was something that had intrigued me and seemed like a logical thing to do. I did enjoy it – there is an absolutely exhilarating feeling as you lift from the runway, soar at 1,000+ feet over the countryside, and touch down correctly. That first solo flight you take is a truly great experience, although as I progressed in the training, I realized that I had a couple of weak points – like navigation and airport procedures. I talked it over with one of my Air Force friends and quietly asked if he would consider giving me a few extra tutoring sessions. Not that I couldn’t have had those with my instructor who was quite good, but this part I wanted to keep private.
I had to be gone for several weeks to Fort Riley, KS, as a member of the ROTC summer camp staff and while I was with my Army buddies, I mentioned all of this to one of the guys who was an aviator. He looked at me and put it into perspective. “Charlie, not everyone can do this. If you’re not comfortable with it, walk away.”
Ouch! You mean, quit? I wasn’t a quitter. I was an intelligent person. I had a plan. I could do this. Except he had a good point. I could do this, I could overcome the intellectual aspects with a little extra work, more focus. I could pass the tests, do better on my next cross-country flight. Then I paused and genuinely reflected on my abilities, and I knew he was right. I did not have whatever it takes to possess the level of confidence that you should have with flying. The moments of sheer pleasure when in the air were laced with other moments of concern that I had been pretending were less intense than they really were. Wasn’t I going to take a lot of kidding from my friends who not only could fly small Cessnas, but who also easily maneuvered the most sophisticated bomber in the world? Quite possibly, and in the final analysis, taking a ribbing was infinitely better than continuing down an incorrect path. And so, with only a few requirements remaining, I walked away. I assured my instructor that it wasn’t him, and actually my pilot friends weren’t the least derisive. They agreed with the guy who had told me it wasn’t for everyone.
Did my “failure” personally sting? Oh yeah, and then I chalked it up to another good life lesson. Trying new things just doesn’t always work out. I don’t regret the time and money that I spent not achieving my goal – it never hurts to stretch yourself even when the end results may not be exactly what you wanted them to be. I don’t recommend quitting at the first “speed bump”, but there are times when it is best to admit that you aren’t able to do something.