Flying Solo

Way back in the dark ages when I was single and in college, I seriously contemplated spending the time and money required to get my private pilots’ license.  I even went so far as to get a few hours behind the controls of a Cessna 182.  It was enough to convince me I would love it and that I couldn’t afford to maintain it as a hobby if I was ever going to have a family.   I gave up my quest before my first “solo” flight.  I was disappointed, but accepted my fate with magnanimity; knowing that my first solo take-off and landing would have been a huge blast.

I had a similar experience a few years earlier without leaving the ground.  I have always loved being in control of anything with a motor and wheels, so it was a huge thrill the day I finally completed all the requirements to drive a car without direct supervision.  Driving solo was a huge landmark I had sought after since I first realized I could reach the gas-pedal and see over the dash at the same time.

Based on these two experiences, it might be reasonable to extrapolate that doing things “solo” is the logical end-state of development.  As we learn and grow here in this short life, we should strive to get better at them until we are capable of doing it on our own.  This however is a tremendous fallacy.

Consider the pilot scenario above.  It’s true that as you progress in development, you get to a point where you are capable of handling a well-behaved aircraft on your own, but that is far from the pinnacle.  Consider the cockpit of commercial flights.  As a general rule, these flights are made up of a flight crew with both a pilot and co-pilot.  While part of the motivation for this is redundancy in case one of the crew becomes incapacitated, the real reason is the capacity for load-sharing.  During the more critical portions of flight such as final approach and landing while on instruments, the pilot can become quite busy flying the airplane.  In addition to actually flying the plane, radio communications pick up during this phase of flight and include changing radio frequencies several times, not to mention additional activities and preparations.  By working as a team, the pilot and co-pilot are able to level out the load, sharing the tasks and cross-checking each other to ensure things are done correctly and efficiently.

In the case of a car, it didn’t take long for driving by myself to lose it’s appeal.  The radio and the open road (or congested street more often than not) was a poor substitute for having friends, then girlfriends, and eventually my own family with me in the car.  Focus shifted from driving as an end in itself to a means to get somewhere to do something.  In general, going somewhere is either a non-fun requirements-based thing or I’m taking someone with me.   Driving solo isn’t all it used to be cracked up to be.

So, why on earth am I talking about flying or driving solo…  I can’t remember how many people I’ve run into who’s pinnacle was being independent and on their own.  Friends and co-workers have  indefinitely postponed marriage and/or family because they don’t want to be “tied down.”  I’ve known far too many who left marriages and children in an attempt to seek “fulfillment”  free from the “restrictions” of family.  This universally saddens me when I encounter it.

When I was much younger, I made a high priority of moving out on my own and tackling life alone.  At first it was great being free to do as I chose, responsible to nobody but myself.  However, as I gained experience with the “single life,” I quickly realized how much of a load of crap I’d been sold.  As I gained more and more experience with it, I got more disillusioned, and eventually moved back in with my parents where I had a support structure compatible with my values.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to re-evaluate this concept as I’ve been compelled to fly solo in life for periods when I’ve been called away from home for work or other reasons, and it’s given me opportunity to reflect on the situation.  I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would intentionally choose to be alone.  On my own, I’m solely responsible for taking care of ALL the necessities ranging from cooking to shopping to laundry to completing my normal work.  That, on it’s own, isn’t too bad.  However, I find it’s the intangibles that make the most difference.

I’ve had the opportunity to explore  a wide variety of museums, cities, parks, and other attractions around the world during down-time on business travel.  In the best cases, I’ve had traveling partners who shared the experience.  However, those relationships are transitory, professional, or casual, and the richness that would result from sharing experiences with my family just isn’t there.  While I enjoyed visiting the Hyde Park in London, I experienced it on my own, and don’t have common experiences to re-live with someone who cares.

The more time I’m compelled to spend on my own, the more I appreciate the miracle that is family.  Learning to solo an airplane is just the beginning of a much longer process of becoming a fully qualified pilot.  Learning to trust and work as a team enables a much more diverse and interesting range of possibilities.  My family is my team.  They help me do more and be better than I could ever be on my own.

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