. I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces
. To know yourself is to give yourself an excellent platform
for understanding and relating to others. In this chapter we
look at two specific human traits that are essential to your
work in aviation. We also review the concept of what it is
that we really need in this life, and we search to find balance
in our daily routines.
People are truly amazing. So complex, so very unique and yet
we manage to somehow mentally slot people into commonly
understood boxes for our convenience. That might suit someone
who must deal with a large number of people and needs a quick
way to summarise their individuality, but, in so doing, often
serves to miss so many of the details and subtleties that make us
individual. We become staff numbers and roster codes, rather
than living breathing people with unique and personal feelings
. “I am NOT a number. I am a person.”
Patrick McGoohan (From the UK TV series “The
. When we are “averaged out” by a corporate system we may feel
misunderstood, disregarded, and unimportant. In recent years,we have seen
significant advances in personnel and operations
systems that manage employees … and so it is in aviation.
Given however, that most of these systems are computer-based,
we still have a level of disconnect between those for whom we
work, and ourselves. The work is ongoing to bridge this gap,
this disconnect, but, until such time as systems can truly
understand and adapt to our complex natures, we must
endeavour to adapt to the system.
Life Resource Management provides an insight into the nature
of our beloved industry and, whilst acknowledging its
undoubted weaknesses, we can use skills, hacks and techniques
to work with it, rather than against it. Butting heads with the
system leads to stress, fatigue, illness and tests our feelings and
emotions to the limit. I'm not suggesting for a moment that we
all become compliant automatons, but we can work with
ourselves much more easily than we can with a faceless system.
. “It is not a failure to readjust my sails to fit the waters I find
. When we consider how to adapt to the challenges that work and
life send us, we need to first ask ourselves “What is it I really
need out of life”. Some might respond that they need money, or
a nice house, or maybe a great looking spouse. Who doesn't
want these things? In truth, however, we are much more
complicated even than we ourselves realise. We have needs at
all different levels. Let us look at them, shall we?
. In 1943 in the USA, a Jewish Russian immigrant, by the name
of Abraham Maslow, published a paper in a journal that led to a
far greater understanding of the nature of our human needs. He
was looking for nothing less than the meaning of life. In his
search, Maslow established what he describes as his 5-layer
pyramid, or hierarchy of needs, and it is quite revealing in
describing the complexities of our human nature. We are far
more complicated than even we realise.
The first and second areas of basic human needs could be
considered as the practical things in life. Maslow refers to them
as physiological needs. The third, fourth and fifth levels are
much more mind-based needs. He refers to them as
psychological or spiritual needs (in the non-religious sense).
Let’s look at those items now, shall we, because it is the
satisfying of these needs that this book is about.
1. The base of the pyramid. Physiological needs. These things
are non-negotiable. We must have them.
Things necessary to basic human existence: food, water,
warmth, and rest.
In our jobs, we may or not obtain crew meals, we will have
accommodation provided down route but, generally, we must
pay for our own food and drink.
. 2. The second level. Safety. Security and protection. It is the
responsibility of the company to provide us with a secure
working environment but, outside of that, we must keep our
wits about us and look to supporting others in times of need.
. 3. The third level and onwards are Psychological needs. At
level 3, belongingness and love. We need to feel part of
something, our tribe of work colleagues, our friends, and our
. 4. The fourth level. Esteem. We need to feel that we are valued,
respected, and that we are taken seriously. Some companies are
well experienced in maintaining employee morale, others less
so. In the absence of company efforts to make us feel valued,
we must take our own actions to maintain our own concept of
. 5. The fifth level. The top of the pyramid. Self Actualisation.
Living according to our potential, and becoming who we really
are and not just the face that we put on for others. This is the
highest level of need and, so often, the part of us that is left,
unnourished. Life Resource Management brings the life back into living.
We are made of complicated stuff and each of us has different
levels of each of these needs. To put it simply, it is our
responsibility to establish what it is we really need, and what is
just a want. We can then, more proactively, take action to
satisfy these needs. Without these needs being satisfied we
experience anxiety, frustration and a whole list of emotions that
can be best described as pain.
. It is within you to look within yourself and see (maybe for the
first time) what it is you lack at different times in your life.
What emotions are you experiencing, and do they indicate a
lack in any of the areas we have spoken about above? You will
find, in the coming chapters, very cool tools and systems to do
just that and bring yourself back from a place of pain and lack,
to a place of power and abundance. These skills will support
you through the challenges and joys of your life and puts you in
an excellent position to help others. Do however, remember the
cabin safety briefing:
. “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen
mask before assisting others.”
. You do yourself an injustice if you do not attend to yourself
first, and you will be unable to help anyone else if you,
yourself, are not healthy and balanced. To live a full and
expansive life, we want to be firing on all cylinders to be able
to squeeze every bit of goodness out of life that we can and,
part of that vast life, as you will find, is in helping others.
Our needs drive our behaviour, and our behaviour is what our
employers and colleagues see at work. My question to you at
this moment is:
. “Do you work to live, or live to work?”
. In life, as in science, we need balance. “Too much work and no
play makes Jack a dull boy.” If we give work our total focus,
we create a massive imbalance. Our relationships suffer; our
awareness of and empathy with others fades, the higher-level
needs of living all of life are subordinated to climbing the
career ladder at the fastest possible speed.
. “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
. Conversely, too little effort put into striving and developing
yourself via work or other means, creates entropy within us.
. Entropy: A lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into
Oxford English Dictionary
. As pilots we carry out a weight and balance check of our
aircraft before we fly, every single time. Would we not benefit
from making a check of the balance in our lives? What needs
are we not satisfying? Have another look at the differing levels
of needs we discussed and see if there are any areas of your life
that are simply not being catered for. How do you feel about
that, and, more importantly, what are you going to do about it?
We have now looked at what it is we need from life, but now
let’s look at what a life in flying requires of us.
. So, now let’s ask … “Am I right for the job?”
. “I have straight A’s, I was a Senior Scout, I am nice to old
people and my art teacher told me I would go far in this
world.” Be your aspiration pilot or cabin crew, there are
clearly minimum requirements to enter our esteemed
profession. This varies from country to country and from
company to company. I don’t think it is necessary to list what
might be considered “minimum requirements” here. What I
would like to discuss with you now are those traits that make
some people, who have at least the minimum requirements,
more successful than other people who have the same minimum
requirements or greater.
. In certain companies, often even before you meet a human
being, you are provided with a psychological test. It often takes
the form of approx. 100 questions which are basic statements
about you, e.g. “I feel confident at parties.” Your options would
. I agree with this statement:
A A Lot
D Not at all
. You then choose a letter that best suits how you feel about
yourself and place it in an answer grid on a piece of paper.
From your many responses, the recruitment people can then
gauge the nature of your character. This psychometric test is
known as the Briggs-Myers Type Indicator (MBTI). I mention
this brand of test specifically (albeit there are many other types
of test that companies adopt), because it is claimed that 89 of
the Fortune 100 companies use the MBTI before hiring a new
. “I’ve already started my career in flying so I don’t need to
know this stuff.” Maybe you’ve been flying for some time and,
with luck, will never endure another recruitment process again.
I mention this for two reasons:
Firstly, if you are about to attend a recruitment process with a
company, forewarned is forearmed. You can think about the
type of questions you will encounter, and how you might
respond to them. The companies create a model of the kind of
person they wish to recruit, and they compare your test results
against their model for “fit”. There are numerous books on
Amazon and the like, that explain this process in much greater
detail. I encourage you to take a look before your recruitment
day. Self-knowledge is a huge factor in maintaining confidence
in life, and particularly when under the pressure of a
. That leads me to my second point:
. As I say, self-knowledge is hugely important in this life. I really
cannot overstate this. Introspection or looking within oneself
can be a daunting process, but provides you with knowledge,
and, as you know, knowledge is power. Power in ALL walks of
life. And this really is the purpose of this book – to give you
power within your life, to provide you with the strength and
motivation to thrive in an industry and world that is continually
changing and will continue to challenge us as our career
develops. But what does it mean to know yourself?
. The psychometric tests that are used in the recruitment
processes above are available to us all via the Internet. We can
take these tests at any time (for a fee of course, albeit I have
found one that is free (www.16personalities.com)). These
introduce us to our character traits that we possess at this time.
I highlight “at this time” because we always change.
Bence Nanay is professor of philosophy at the University of
Antwerp and senior research associate at the University of
Cambridge. He is the author of “Aesthetics as a Philosophy of
Perception” (2016). In an excellent article, Bence argues that
self-knowledge is pointless because we continually change. We
develop over the years and sometimes the changes within us are
not obvious. They slip under the radar. I would argue that far
from being pointless, seeking self-knowledge and an
appropriate level of introspection on a daily basis, leads to a
whole new level of understanding, not only of ourselves, but
others, too. With that knowledge comes the ability to manage
our own thoughts and emotions. The reason why the ability to
do this is important, and it will become clearer in later chapters.
. As Gloria Gaynor said, “I am what I am, and what I am needs
no excuses”. We are all brought into this world with an amazing
set of abilities that are innate, others we learn along the way.
The things that we learn, we generally learn from first-hand
experience or being taught by others. By others, initially these
will be our parents, and what we learn from our parents is what
their parents taught them updated by their own experiences.
This is how things are, and how they have been for as long as
humans have been around. We are, then, the sum total of our
experiences and all the “information” that we have gathered
from external sources, filtered by our own sense of logic and,
dare I say it, self-knowledge. We inherently know ourselves at
quite a deep level, but much of what makes us who we are is
retained in a place in the mind that one might call the
subconscious. We know ourselves deep down, at a
subconscious level, but on the conscious level (our normal way
of thinking during waking hours), our fears, desires and needs
may not be obvious.
. Have you ever been in a conversation or argument and said
something that seemed to come out of nowhere and it was only
then that you realised that you felt strongly in a certain way on
that specific subject? It produced a stimulus from deep down,
that was hidden away and only passed through the subconscious
wall when pressed by strong emotions. Knowing yourself is
more subtle and complicated than knowing you like one sugar
in your coffee because two sugars is too sweet. It takes a review
of your actions on a daily basis and a willingness to look at
yourself with a truly open mind, unencumbered by how you
have thought of yourself since the year dot.
. We are what we think. To put it simply, your behaviour in
your waking hours relates strongly to your values, your deeply
seated memories, and resultant feelings plus, and this is a
biggie…, what your mind has been concentrating on in the
recent past. I’ll give you an example of how our thoughts shape
. I was working abroad with a colleague in a foreign country. We
decided to go for a walk along the promenade, next to the
seaside. Like a dimwit, I had a wad of banknotes in the breast
pocket of my shirt. The thin cotton shirt made it quite clear that
there was money in my pocket, but I clearly hadn’t noticed that
it was blindingly obvious to everyone else. I remember walking
along the promenade, and, in the distance, three tall guys were
walking in the opposite direction towards me. Their heads were
shaved. Effectively they were bald. As they approached me, one
lunged at my shirt pocket. Like a fool I reached up and placed
my hand under his. Around my precious money. He ripped my
shirt off and I was left shirtless holding the cotton pocket of my
shirt with the money in it! He looked at me with loathing and
then the three looked at each other, figured it wasn’t worth any
further effort and sauntered on. I was left shocked, scared and
not just a little bit wobbly on my feet.
. Well, since then, men with bald heads leave me…
apprehensive. Interesting, isn’t it? It’s a phobia. It is something
my brain does that is not based on a real threat, but nevertheless
creates a real emotion within me. But I know this. I am aware
of the subconscious feeling of threat that this creates in me, and
I prepare myself and act accordingly. Fear is a powerful
emotion and has a massive effect on how we live our lives… if
we let it. Being self-aware, conscious of how we are and how
we think, can help us to avoid future bad situations created by
our own mind’s concept of how the world is (notice I say
concept, and not how the world really is).
. Put it another way, say in my role as airline captain, I encounter
another man who is bald. Say a ground handling staff member.
They come up and tell me there is a delay with loading a piece
of cargo. It might create within me a feeling of attack. And what
do you do when you are attacked? You go on the defensive and
defensive people are hard to work with. I might shout and yell
at the guy and chew him out. “You don’t get to win over me”
will be how it feels. But all the poor guy did was to tell me he
had a problem, he was trying to fix it and it might cause me a
small delay. He is communicating like a professional, but I
respond with aggression. Not cool. This is my issue and
knowing this about myself lets me take a deep breath and,
rather than chew him out, say “Ok mate, let me know when
you’ve got the problem fixed and I’ll handle the delay from my
side.” That’s how things work better and it is all because I
. As pilots and cabin crew, we all have things that can set us up
to be less than 100% effective. Pilots who hate lightning. Cabin
crew that vomit at the smell of vomit. These are all things that,
if we know about them, we can exercise better judgement over
how we deal with certain circumstances.
. As Bence Nanay said, these feelings may change with time, but
as I review these feelings from over time, I will come to notice
how I am behaving, and may notice that bald guys don’t bother
me anymore. It’s the act of reviewing and noticing that I am
commending to you.
. You remember the psychometric tests we looked at earlier in
this chapter? These give you a snapshot into who you are. The
way you think and, as a result, this becomes a predictor of how
you will behave. As I mentioned, companies look to see if you
fit their model of the “ideal employee”, but, for YOU, it gives
you a clearer insight into something you know deep down but
may not have considered at a truly conscious level. You can
then amend and adapt yourself to whatever situation you may
encounter. I don’t mean that you change yourself unless you
feel it necessary. What is important is to know how you think
and behave in certain situations so you can get the best result. It
may also give you an insight into how differently people
perceive you compared to how you perceive yourself.
. “You mean the shy, quiet guy?”
“Heck, I didn’t think people saw me as quiet and shy. I party
with the best of them, why would they say that?”
. Well, why would they say that? Because that is what they see.
That is what people perceive about you. Does the way people
perceive you, work for you? Do you even know how people
perceive you? If not, does it matter? Maybe. Would changing
your behaviour based on a new awareness help you? Quite
probably. Only you can decide, but self-knowledge is power. To
abuse another quotation “The truth will set you free.”
. Your deeper-set feelings, emotions and biases can be gleaned
from psychometric tests; however, a simple review by yourself
of your day might bring new and more immediate realisations
. Do you flag in the afternoon because you need a
Do you find it hard to deal with numbers?
Does working in a team make you feel awkward?
. The list of potential responses to events that you might wish to
control better, are myriad. If you are aware of how you are and
how you feel about certain things, you can take actions to
alleviate them, avoid them, or counteract them, e.g.
. Carry a protein bar with you to munch on.
Carry a calculator or have one on your watch.
Maybe you could seek advice on how to socialise
more easily. There is a lot of help out there.
. How do I review these feelings, emotions, and my
resultant behaviour? 10-15 minutes is all it takes to sit
quietly and just review your day, your successes, and
things that may have not gone so well. What did you do
well, what could you have done better? In your
interactions with others, how did it go? Why did you do
and say the things that you did? Did it work for you?
Was it stressful? How could you have interacted better,
and why was it that you behaved that way? What
buttons of yours got pressed? What can I learn from
. I did say that I wouldn’t speak at any length about the
requirements companies make of their employees, but there are
two that I would like to bring to your attention:
Flexibility – Oh man, do you need this in spades in flying! You
may go to work thinking you are going to Mallorca and back
for the day, but you may end up going to Warsaw and staying
overnight. You have arranged childcare for your young’uns and
the babysitter goes home at 5pm… but you are stuck in
Warsaw. “But they can’t do that to me!” Oh yes, they can, and
they will. You are a company asset; a chess piece on a board
and you can and will be placed wherever the company needs
. Aviation companies are infamous for creating changes to your
work roster at the very last moment, and they expect you to
adapt YOUR life to THEIR requirements.I remember once,
working away from base, in a canteen having
lunch with other members of the crew. The phone rang and it
was the crewing department. The roster was changed, and we
would probably be away overnight and the time of the return
flight to base would not be confirmed until the following
morning. The cabin senior erupted because she had made plans
to be with friends, childcare issues had now arisen, and her
husband was out of town. Like most of us, she wanted to be
home with her family, and she was gutted that the company
“had done this to her!” To her, it was a personal attack on her
liberty. The rest of us were surprised at her outburst. Someone
of her experience must know that this is how things are, but
sometimes things build up, stresses and strains, and sometimes
it just seems overwhelming. You feel you are owned by
someone else who doesn’t care about you.
. Flexibility is an absolute must in our line of work, and this trait will be
challenged daily. Living with uncertainty is a subset of this and
will be a massive asset to you if you can master it.
. Open Mind – Businesses do not all operate the same way.
Some firms manage to communicate better than others. Each
company will have a certain culture, a way of operating and
interacting with each other that is unique and individual to that
one company. If you have worked at other companies, you may
find that this culture goes against what you used to
know/feel/enjoy at your previous employer. If it does not fit
well with you, you can do one of several things:
. 1. You can rail against it. Call it stupid, ill-managed and
generally put it down.
2. You can try and change it. Good luck with that, is all I
3. You can change the way you behave at work which
may generate a different experience.
4. You can tell them what to do with their job and leave.
5. You can change how you think about it.
. I personally would recommend the latter option. Not everything
has to be the way it was before. Other ideas and concepts at
first can be seen as alien, but can become normal and
acceptable if you just give them a chance. Keep an open mind
that someone else may have had a better idea than you or your
. Finally, I am sure that I don’t need to draw to your attention to
the fact that flying attracts people from every corner of the
globe. People of every colour, creed, and language. English is
normally the common language, but even given that norm, it is
often not the predominant language when you travel the world.
Things often seem strange, alien, weird, outlandish, rude,
ignorant, not like we do it back home. Please remember that to
many, your way of life, language, and culture is all the
adjectives listed above. We all come from somewhere. That
somewhere has shaped us and made us what we are today. On
the other side of the world, that other person’s somewhere may
look and feel very different to where you come from. Keep your
mind open when you are tempted to look down on, deride, or
simply cast judgement on another person’s culture, race, and
. So, never be afraid to be yourself, but learn to truly know
yourself so that you may adapt your behaviour in situations that
might not potentially bring out the best in you.
. Body language and peoples’ interpretation of these things can
vary from country to country. If communicating, be conscious
that your message may not be truly comprehended even though
they understood the words you said. The meaning and intent
might not be obvious.
. We have now seen from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that
the things that we crave in this life are complicated and
sometimes not obvious to us. Knowledge of your needs and
your own character lead you to a place where you can truly
understand not only yourself, but also others. The traits of
flexibility and an open mind are crucial to your success in
aviation, and we looked at situations where these would be
used in your aviation role. We learned that we are what we
think, and we reviewed the role of self-knowledge in
recruitment and establishing a true perception of ourselves.