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Fly the Airplane First!

“Fly the Airplane First”: Life Guide for Teens and Young Adults


Imagine you're a high school student facing challenges on your journey to graduation. What can we learn from a pilot’s perspective when it comes to tackling adversity? Let’s look at a pilot’s process when faced with adversity.


Imagine this: you're cruising through high school when suddenly, you hit turbulence. It could be a tough exam, a personal setback, or a complex project. The way you handle these challenges matters. Do you surrender to frustration and accept defeat, or do you take control and face the challenge one step at a time? Do you look for ways to influence the outcome?


Pilots have a golden rule when faced with a challenge: "fly the airplane" first. Even in emergencies like engine failures or cabin decompression, there's no option to pull over and take a break, “fly the airplane” comes first. For you, it means staying laser focused on your goal, even when things get tough. You can't just throw your hands up and accept failure; you must find a way to keep moving forward one step at a time.


Remember the COVID-19 pandemic? It threw businesses and high schoolers alike into uncharted territory. Just as companies had to adapt, you faced challenges with remote learning, social distancing, and disruptions to your activities. But like the pros, some of you formed study groups online, explored new hobbies, or volunteered virtually. The lesson here? Success during adversity comes from spotting opportunities in every challenge and keeping your eyes on W.I.N. (What’s Important Now). Focus on today's lesson, today's homework, while keeping your big goals in sight.


Here's the deal: You need a flight plan for high school challenges. Just like businesses need contingency plans, you should have an advance study plan, know the academic support resources, and have friends and mentors to get different perspectives.


If it ain’t going according to plan, adapt. As former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson once said, "Everybody got a plan 'til they get smacked in the face." So, when you get smacked in the face, be like a pilot – adapt, fly your airplane, and find the best alternative to reach your short- and long-term goals.


Adaptation, contingency planning, and a willingness to change course when necessary are essential skills for facing challenges, finding opportunities, and striving for your goal. Be resilient, like a pilot, find your course, be determined, and have confidence.


Be resilient, "fly your airplane", take control of your journey, embrace challenges, and stay on course to your destination!


Dennis Mellen

Retired Air Force, Author, Speaker, Hi-Lite Coach



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