Do you think it was a good thing that Captain Chesley Sullenberger had a flight plan on that day he landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River? Obviously, the flight plan did not call for an encounter with a flock of geese, nor a water landing but the fact that the good Captain had done the work required to file a flight plan, allowed he and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles to bring the flight to a safe conclusion.

Brian Tracy, author of Flight Plan: The Real Secret to Success, How to Achieve More, Faster than you ever Dreamed Possible, uses the flight plan as a metaphor for career and life success. To pilots flight plans are a required document with some basic information that must be provided to the FAA. However, to generate the flight plan, pilots must determine destination, alternates, weather, know their aircraft capability, winds, the condition of the departure and arrival airport, the required fuel, and numerous other factors – kind of like your career or life plan.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” says Tracy, quoting Sir Isaac Newton (Tracy 2). Not only is this a concept every pilot learns because its the basics of how everything, including aerodynamics and the engine work, but its a fundamental success principle. Take action and you’ll move a direction. But find a direction – you don’t want to be as we say in the industry, “all thrust and no vector.” The direction you choose is up to you. Want to sit on the couch, you’ll move in that direction (well, you waistline will move in direction). Want to take daily action towards your goals. . . ? Well, you get the point.

  • Your life will be off course most of the time (Tracy 4); every aircraft is off course most of the time – staying on course requires constant course corrections, sometimes it means circumnavigating (that means going around) a storm
  • Make sure goals are achievable, you can stretch them out later (Tracy 19). Want to be a millionaire but have never made more than $5, 000 in a year in your life? Then maybe you should start with becoming a “ten-thousand aire” or a “fifty-thousand wire.” Once you’ve figured out how to pay off your debt and put 10 large in the bank, then start working on that next level. Want to help the poor – don’t become one of them (Tracy 21).
  • Successful people, like successful pilots (like Chesley) continue to develop options; pilots are always thinking about options – what will I do if an engine quits, what will I do if I lose comms, what will I do if we have a passenger medical emergency?

Tracy makes the point that achieving dreams requires work. He notes that according to the book The Secret” all one has to do to achieve success is to just think about it – which appeals to all the slackers out there – but the real secret is that there are not secrets. Success in career or in life requires work; in the aviation industry, we call this “paying the freight.” Paying the freight means doing the work – doing the work means building the skills – having the skills means being able to save the lives of 155 passengers and crew when the unplanned happens.

Tracy, Brian. Flight Plan: How to Achieve More, Faster than You Ever Dreamed Possible. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2009.

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