I was returning to the San Carlos airport during my first ever solo flight. Everything went according to plan and I was now within sight of my destination. As I was preparing to go through the landing sequence like I had been taught during my many training flights, I called in to check on the wind speed. [Aircraft are designed to tolerate a certain amount of crosswind, beyond which the aircraft can easily flip over.] As a student pilot, my plane was designed for 10 knots of crosswind. 99% of the time, this wasn’t an issue for landing at this airport. But as luck would have it on this breezy day, I somehow managed to find myself in that 1% scenario. My crosswind speed at that moment was 13 knots. I was not off to an auspicious start.
When you’re in a plane with a limited amount of fuel left, there’s not a lot of time to think or plan. There’s no helpdesk you can call. There’s no autopilot. There’s just you and your instincts. So I quickly decided to abort plan A and head for the Oakland airport across the Bay. The winds will hopefully be a bit calmer to the Northeast. I could feel the surge of adrenaline but I had to fight to keep the anxiety at bay. This was no place for a panic attack. I was able to make my way over to the Oakland airspace and called in for a weather check. 17 knots. What? 17 knots? How can that be? That’s even worse than San Carlos. Now what?
I had to think fast. Scratch that. No time to think at all. I had to operate entirely on gut feel. Livermore airport is further inland and away from the water. Surely the winds would be more sedate over there. I was praying this would work, for I was quickly running out of precious fuel and running out of options. Without hesitation, I made a beeline for that airport. I had the runway in my crosshairs when I called in for the weather check. 20 knots. No way. This couldn’t be happening to me! I miscalculated yet again. Time was running out. The needle on my fuel gauge was approaching the red zone. I had only one last attempt before I had to land this plane come hell or high water. I knew what I had to do.
I went full throttle and headed straight back to where I started – San Carlos. 13 knots was my best option. But by the time I made it back there, the crosswinds had picked up to 22 knots! 20 knots was the maximum tolerance even for professional pilots. This was beyond where the plane had ever been tested. But I had no choice. I had to land this plane. I called in a Mayday distress signal as I approached the runway. They cleared the airspace. I could see the firetrucks lining up. I had to nail this landing. There was literally zero margin for error. I maneuvered the plane as best I could to offset as much of the effect of the strong crosswinds as possible and braced myself for impact. 3… 2… 1… And touchdown. I had somehow made it down safely. I had survived. And to think that I would have been just fine right where I started.
Admit it. Whatever your career, you’ve looked for greener pastures elsewhere. Somehow the answer to your unfulfilled job lies just around the corner. The company you’re working for is too large and bureaucratic but if you could just find your way into a venture-backed startup, life would be grand. The industry you’re in is old and consolidating but if you were able to jump ship into a fast growing, emerging industry, that would be the solution to all your woes. The people you work with are lazy and uninspired but you were just dealt a bad hand. Without a doubt, the employees at your competitor must be much more fun and motivated. Surely, the grass must be greener somewhere else, right? Trust me on this one. While it may appear a bright, colorful green from afar, the grass is brown everywhere.
I’ve learned this lesson firsthand having jumped around a lot of different companies and industries with a myriad of roles and responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong. I have a “no regrets” policy in my life. I’ve loved every adventure I’ve had. Life is fleeting so why not take advantage of exciting opportunities while you can. I’m not suggesting you sit around sulking in misery. Sometimes you may indeed find yourself in a pretty bleak situation that can be easily corrected with a different environment. Maybe within you lies a strong entrepreneurial spirit trapped in a corporate body and you should absolutely go launch that new venture. But more often than not, the cause of your pain and suffering isn’t what’s in your surroundings. It’s what’s in your head.
Like with anything in life, we can focus on the positives and we can focus on the negatives. We can derive enjoyment for what it is or we can feel frustrated for what it isn’t. So before you give notice to embark upon your next adventure, let me offer up a few suggestions to be sure you’re making the most of your current situation. Because perhaps all you really need to get into a better situation isn’t a change of scenery but rather a change in perspective.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. No matter who you are, there will always be someone else more successful than you. I remember getting back together with an old friend in the Bay Area a few years ago. I could tell he was going through a tough time. He confessed that he was depressed because the company he was running hadn’t gone public or been acquired yet and every other day it seemed as if there was another newly minted multimillionaire around the corner. I was taken aback by his mental state. He was after all the Founder and CEO of a fast growing, 200 employee tech company doing over $100 million in revenue. Most entrepreneurs would die to switch seats with him. But if all that matters is how you’re doing relative to others, you can easily find excuses to feel less than adequate.
- Focus on the greater significance of your role. Every job has its drudgery. But if your job wasn’t important to someone, it wouldn’t exist. Our air conditioner at home decided to take a break this week. Unfortunately, during the hot and humid summers in the South where we live, that’s as close to torture as you can get. The repair person did his job from start to finish with a big grin on his face. I asked why he was so happy. He replied: “When I arrive at people’s homes, they’re usually pretty miserable but by the time I leave, they’re so thankful and relieved that it makes me really happy.” You can see how he takes enormous pride in his work. If you work at a company, try to view your role through the lens a much larger corporate mission. Regardless of your role or your title, you are personally helping to fulfill that mission. In other words, focus on the bigger picture of what you are a part of, not just your individual contribution.
- Try to be extraordinary, not just ordinary, in your role. The next time you identify a major problem in your company, before you present it to anyone, come up with two or three possible solutions. Don’t just highlight the issue, try to solve the issue. Take more initiative. Go the extra mile. If you’re in sales and not having much luck cold calling, spend a little extra time on Linkedin to see if you can turn a cold intro into a warm one. Or challenge yourself to increase your call volume by 25%. Push yourself. Don’t just aim for the median level of performance. You’re better than that. Rise above mediocrity. Make yourself the successful leader who others want to emulate. That extra effort will likely lead to additional responsibility and income eventually but regardless, you’ll probably feel a much greater sense of personal achievement and satisfaction.
- Try to have a little perspective. In case you haven’t noticed, everybody on Facebook is doing fantastic. Everyone’s life seems just picture perfect, doesn’t it? Believe me, everyone is struggling with something. They may be financially successful but they’re deeply depressed and empty inside. They may have completed an ironman triathlon but they were also recently diagnosed with a serious illness. People’s insecurities compel them to highlight their accomplishments while hiding their personal challenges. Your life is so much more than just the sum total of your accomplishments. If your health is good, you have a family that you love, you’re in a community that you enjoy, you have religious/spiritual beliefs that give you strength, but your career isn’t exactly where you’d like it to be at the moment, I’d still say you should feel pretty darn lucky.
If you’ve gone through all these mental exercises but still feel the need to try something new, then by all means, go for it. Just be sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons. Make sure you’re running toward something as opposed to running away from something. Because your perspective ultimately shapes your reality. There is no utopia anywhere. Every job, every career, every opportunity has its pluses and minuses. It may appear from your vantage point that the grass is greener elsewhere. You’re praying that it’s greener somewhere else. But the reality is the grass is brown everywhere.