When famed Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie said, “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it”, he was of course referring to man’s imagination and his ability to achieve goals beyond society’s reasonable norms. His character, Peter Pan had the ability to fly; half due to Tinker Bells magic dust, and the other half due to his firm belief that he could indeed fly. Peter did it well. Since physically soaring through the skies is beyond us mere mortals and is a thing of literature, there are other ways to interpret this allegory.
For most, we limit ourselves and our abilities by the expectations of what others think and how we interpret these societal limitations. People move through life meeting expectations. Some of these expectations are self imposed by how we view the world and how we see ourselves within it. There is an old Chinese proverb that translates as each man is actually three men, “The man that is seen by others, the man that we see within ourselves, and the actual man.”
But, can we do more? Can we go beyond these simple limitations that bind us and soar? Can we shed the societal chains that hold us back and strip away the bonds that we apply to control our own destiny? Can we find the real man?
If you desire success in your work, to be a great parent, to lead within your community, or some other equally lofty goal, what do you have to do to achieve it? While there are always some practical and actual limitations, the majority of restrictions are those that society and we consign upon us. But, even physical handicaps, missing professional credentials, and lack of experience and knowledge can all be overcome. It all starts with your attitude and desire to imagine beyond what is expected of you. All that you need is a plan, hard work, and persistence.
Throughout my life, I have always held a strong passion to pilot airplanes. As a teenager, I was an air cadet which afforded me the opportunity to fly as a passenger in a variety of unique aircraft that a young person would never have a chance to get into otherwise. These adventures fuelled the fire within me to be a pilot. However, limitations held me back. I had no university degree at the time so the Canadian military would not accept my application into the then fledging CF-18 deployment program, I lacked sufficient funds to pay for it myself, and others did not see me as a pilot, so I accepted their view and resigned from my dream. Worse of all, it was my own struggles to imagine this vision for myself. All of these things held me back from achieving my goal of being an aviator. I could not clearly see my way to the end result.
As I look back on it all today as a 58 year old business and technology consultant, it strikes me that it may have all been for the best. The path that my life has taken so far has been rewarding and successful in many ways that lean more towards quality rather than quantity measures. The timing was just not right for me to become a pilot back then. But, for some odd reason, I still loved airplanes beyond all standards of common sense and wanted to fly them; to master the skies and become a pilot. I was still one of J.M. Barrie’s “lost boys” who never wanted to grow up. No, I did not wish to become a commercial pilot flying passengers to their sun destinations as that was never actually part of my dream. I just wanted to fly. No more, no less.
Departing Markham Airport (CNU8) in Toronto, Canada
Well, this dream was finally achieved in 2014. I earned my private pilot’s licence and achieved the goal to soar through the skies on my own. It is a miraculous thing to fly an airplane by yourself. It is a special kind of freedom that is hard to describe. It is not for everyone. But it is for me. It was not easy to succeed. Nor was it obtained in the same way that so many others achieve their pilot licences. I earned it in my own way. Yes, it took me just under five years while most do it in less than one year. But, I had many challenges that all had to be overcome one by one.
As an old guy, learning to do new physical things like precisely manoeuvring a steep turn or performing a forced landing to a prescribed government standard was hard. As well, I had to learn to trust. I had to believe in the instructor’s ability to save me if I messed up while performing scary spins and spirals. This took time to acquire.
My path to becoming a pilot had many bumps. The constant churn and the quality of instructors was a serious impediment. None of the instructors wanted to actually be instructors nor were they capable at the art of teaching. They had their own dreams and all wanted to be professional pilots, so teaching students, especially slow learning and older guys was a necessary evil that they had to perform in order to achieve their dreams by accumulating the requisite hours. Sadly, few instructors understood the value of doing things to the best of their ability as they pursued their own goals and just put in the hours to climb their personal ladders of success rather than to place the paying customer and student pilot first. So, I learned lots of bad habits too that had to be fixed.
Finally, after changing flight schools and finding the “right instructors”, it all turned around for me. It became fun again. Once I had someone who truly wanted to actually teach me and help me to achieve my dream, everything changed (thanks to Mark and Chang). Progress was made and the final exams and checkride completed. The moment the examiner told me that I was now a pilot; I sat in the left seat in total disbelief. Partially because I was not sure that I met the regulator’s prescribed standards and part because I was astonished that I achieved my dream after more than 40 years of pursuit. I was speechless and to anyone who knows me can testify, that is indeed a rare event.
You can take away a lesson here. You can indeed succeed in life, but you must first pass your limits. Something very special happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high.
Learning to pilot an airplane taught me a way of thinking, an approach to problem-solving that is applicable and effective for other goals. This new found approach will now be applied to the next dream. It is another conquest to propel me forward to help me break the bonds that hold back my ambitions.
You can achieve your dreams too. You can go beyond who and what you are today. It all starts when you dare to dream and push the limits by fighting the perceptions and limits that others impose. Take the next step and move towards your vision of who you can be and what you can do, you never really know what you can do unless you try. Nietzsche said, “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”
A quarter mile final to Runway 15 at Buttonville Municipal Airport (CYKZ) in Toronto, Canada
Michael Martin is a business guy who holds many passions outside of his work life. He possesses a diverse set of interests that include, but are not limited to: travel, sailing, animal welfare, photography, camping, family, life-long learning, a passionate lover of all things technology, and now, a pilot too. His adventure continues… to the “second star to the right, and straight on till morning”.