Captain’s Log: “Burn the Ships!”

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

Seriously? Not on my watch. It’s all about having backups. Or we wouldn’t have made it to Seattle…

It has been said that in July of 1519, Spanish colonizer Hernán Cortés ordered his men to burn their ships after the battle of Veracruz on the eastern shore of Mexico, thus forcing the men to conquer or die. He had effectively removed any idea of a backup plan, should the invasion be repulsed.

I hear this notion bandied about frequently by so-called “motivational speakers.” (That phrase always always makes me laugh. It conjures up the Saturday Night Live sketch of Chris Farley living in a van down by the river.) The concept these thought-leaders are getting at is the idea of commitment. Their challenge: how committed are you to the outcomes you say you want? Are you willing to burn your bridges, or in this illustration, your ships?

If you’re not, the thinking goes, then you will find a host of reasons not to advance. It’s too hard. It costs too much. Your friends or family won’t support you.

Here’s a thought. If your big plans are bold enough, your friends and family won’t support you anyway. Ask Toastmasters World Champion Darren LaCroix whose family told him he could never be a comedian because they knew he wasn’t funny. Which was true when he started out. Being a comedian is a learned skill. His close relations were comparing his first year of being a comedian with Jerry Seinfeld’s twentieth. Which, of course, is not fair in any world, but it happens all the time. And those who’ve known (and, of course, loved) you since you were small will have a hard time visualizing you creating something grand.

As usual, I digress.

Seattle, WA is not known for snowfall. It averages 5 inches per year, according to bestplaces.net. And February of 2019 was anything but average. The 8th had seen over a year’s-worth in one day. Together, the 9th and 10th received another year’s-worth of 5 inches between the two of them. If you’re doing the math, you’re starting to get the picture. There was a LOT of snow on the ground. There was no way Seattle’s airport could have planned on that much snow at any given time. They did not have the resources to manage. Snow was piling up on the ramps and spilling over onto the taxiways. Still, as we departed Denver, the runways had not yet been affected.

The air force schools have a platitude they’re quite fond of. They like to say that “flexibility is the key to air power.” And let’s just say my copilot and I were feeling pretty powerful the evening of Monday, the 11th, as we turned northwest from Cheyenne to point the nose at Seattle. We knew that more snow was in the forecast, so we’d added substantial fuel to give us options en route. We could hold along the way if necessary to get sequenced in, or in a worst-case scenario we had options to divert to land somewhere else. We could be flexible. So far, so good. And by dinner time, as I was winging my way there from Denver, snow hadn’t yet started to fall.

That changed as we passed over Boysen Reservoir. The data link message from our dispatcher in Chicago informed us that it had started snowing, but to his knowledge operations were normal. So we pressed on.

Message number two reached us over Dillon, Montana. This time the dispatcher told us that snow was falling heavily and that arrivals were starting to be impacted. We might want to slow down to build in options along the way (backup option A), but his recommendation was to continue for Seattle.

So we did both. The third message, received as we came abeam Mullen Pass, was that Seattle could no longer accommodate planes landing and taxiing to the gate. There was too much snow and planes couldn’t get to the terminal. We should plan on taxiing to a remote parking area to meet buses that would drive our passengers to the terminal to pick up their bags.

Odd, but okay. We’re flexible, remember? We figured we could execute on that plan (backup option B), unusual as it was, but we’d both done stranger things.

Westbound approaching Ephrata, we got the big one. Seattle Center advised that Seattle was no longer accepting arrivals. No further information was available. “Plan to hold at Ephrata (option C). I’ll get back to you.”

And there we were, being flexible, driving race tracks in the sky over central Washington state, thankful that we hadn’t “burned the ships” as we were flight planning safely on the ground back in Denver.

On any other day in just about any other year we would have held for a little while, then landed a bit late but uneventfully at our destination. That was not going to be our lot on the evening of February 11th, 2019. We flew around in circles for three quarters of an hour. Then with snow falling at a record rate, and Seattle airport in chaos with no plan for reopening before we ran out of gas, we engaged backup plan D, and turned southwest for Portland.

Our next concern was what would happen after landing in Portland. With Seattle closed, we wondered if there would be parking space available as all the planes planned for Seattle diverted to Portland. Thankfully, our dispatcher had been in contact with Portland operations who had reserved a gate just for us. We landed there, taxied to the gate, plugged in the fuel truck, and engaged with the recovery plan for getting our passengers to their intended destination of Seattle.

You may be wondering why we might have had an expectation of actually making it to Seattle. They were closed, right? They had more snow than they could manage, right? We had the same questions. As it turns out, while we were holding, then flying to Portland, then re-provisioning the airplane, Seattle had found adequate snow plows, front-end loaders, and dump trucks to keep the runways clear, and remove snow from the taxiways and ramps. And by the time we were ready to go, Seattle was back open and ready for business.

Ninety minutes after we departed Ephrata for Portland, our passengers were disembarking in Seattle. Because we had not “burned our ships” back in Denver. We had built in options, back up plans, to enable us to manage seen and unseen contingencies.

That idea of “burning the ships” has merit as a means to convey the importance of genuine commitment. I don’t want to minimize that. On the other hand, what you might find in the real world of grinding it out, dealing with the reality that stuff happens, is that while “burning the ships” sounds romantic, it may not have a lot of practical use. Now at the tender age of 60+, I don’t feel at all guilty about looking for ways that the plan can go wrong. Seems like a good idea to build in back up plans to deal with those potentials. And then maybe add a little extra fuel, just in case.

Burn the ships? Seriously? Not on my watch. Nor on yours. We have to get the folks to Seattle, and it looks like snow!

Thanks for reading!

Captain Mark

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#stayintheprocess #symphonyofyourlife

 
 
Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com for information.

Captain’s Log: The Burden of the Future

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

Has it occurred to you yet that at some point in life there is not going to be another old friend? And that at some point in life we are relieved of the burden of the future?

I’m over 60, and these concepts only recently came to me via NPR’s TED Radio Hour. The “idea worth spreading” on this episode had to do with the meaning of time. And one of the guests hit me with both of these ideas. They both set me back on my heels.

“Tomorrow is a word on the fool’s calendar.” – Tammy Kling

I’ve been powerfully aware of my mortality for many years now. Still, every once-in-a-while something blindsides me and brings the end of time to the front-and-center of my awareness. This was one of those moments.

Much is made of the idea that our biggest end-of-life regrets will be around the things we wanted to do but didn’t even try. That seems plausible to me. But I’ve recently become aware of another reality. People in the later years begin at some point to realize that what they are is what they are, and what they have is what they have. Their lives are fully formed. What remains is to live them out.

And because they are very aware that they are much closer to the end of life than the beginning, they start to realize that there isn’t time for there to ever be another new old friend. There isn’t time enough to grow old together.

Something else they realize is that there simply isn’t enough time remaining to start, then build out, grand projects that as a matter of course take years to create. Which means they have no choice but to leave those grand projects to those who follow. In other words, they no longer feel responsible for the future. They are relieved of the burden of creating it.

These epiphanies give emphasis to who and what older folks have become during all the preceding years. Clarity of identity becomes important.

These people, the thoughtful ones, the ones who have the benefit of recognizing the proximity of the ephemeral “fullness of time,” find ways to get clear about what the years have meant to them. And they make peace with that clarity. And live accordingly.

What this understanding tells me is that I need to be aware of how I am living today. If I am to have the magnanimity of these aged ones who are living their last stage in peace and contentment I need to live with intention – not by accident.

After Victor Frankl had digested the horrors he had experienced as an holocaust survivor in Nazi Germany, he came to the conclusion that life is not so much a quest for pleasure or power as it is a search for meaning. He went on to say that we can find or create meaningful lives through the challenges that life inevitably throws our way.

Frankl, along with others who have understood meaning, challenges me to be aware of the way the world really works. I need to acknowledge that the world works the way the world works which may not be the way I’d like it to work. I live in the world as it is – not necessarily as I’d like it to be.

So who am I becoming as a result? Who, in fact, am I? And what does who I have become in my six decades of life enable and embolden me to do with the challenges I see around me?

The biggest occupier of my time these days is my work as an airline captain. It is a deeply satisfying occupation. But would I be right to believe that my work is my identity?  Is it who I am?

I don’t think so. I am not what I do, that is, work as a pilot flying big commercial jets. But what I do enables me to express who I am – a human who touches travelers and eases their way as they connect to their moments that matter most. How can I grow that out?

And I have the great good fortune of knowing the latest date that I will be allowed to engage in that purpose. By law I will have to hang up my jacket with four stripes on the sleeves on my 65th birthday. Other factors have to remain in play for me to make it to that point, i.e., I have to stay healthy for one. But if nothing happens to intervene, I will retire when I turn 65.

But then what? Knowing the latest time at which I will move into the next stage gives me the privilege of thinking about my next “life” and how to go about creating it. That’s actually pretty cool. But there’s nothing really remarkable about it.

Our lives are marked by a series of station changes. Shakespeare wrote about “The Seven Ages of Man” in his play, “As You Like It.” You and I may live those seven stages. Or more. Or fewer. And they may come to us in turn by choice, or as in my case, by factors over which we have no control. They will, however, most assuredly come. And the more of them that we walk through, the fewer there will be in front of us. And our capacity to navigate each next one will diminish as we age.

Those are the ground rules. They don’t necessarily impact the way we approach the game. At some point we are relieved of the burden of the future. And yet…

My mother, in her mid-80s, has just welcomed another great grand-child into her life. And, of course, I got the picture of mom stretched out in her bed with young Ryder snuggled under her arm. Here’s what I wrote to the family in response: “Oh my goodness, that is a powerful pic with mom holding the newborn! Four generations! And that child has the great benefit of being able to know his great grandmother in ways almost unheard of in previous generations! Mom gets the similar joy of watching her legacy blossom  and bear great fruit. We speak of planting trees whose shade we’ll never enjoy… Mom gets to enjoy the shade! Yay for the baby! Yay for mom!!!”

Mom has long been relieved of the burden of the future. She has long since stopped stressing over what she needs to “build” next. Her closest “old friend” recently passed away – one of many in a long line of friendships that have transitioned into a new stage. There will be no more “old friends” for her.

But there are new ones. Like my grand-nephew Ryder. No more burdens in the future for my mom. Only joys.

As I age and shift stages I want to be like her.

Thanks for reading.

Captain Mark

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#stayintheprocess #symphonyofyourlife

Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life

The Symphony of Your Life

The Symphony of Your Life on YouTube

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com for information.

Captain’s Log: Sitting Quietly

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

No longer allowed to read on my IPad en route, I sat quietly one night watching the lights of the cities go by, musing. Which happens to be one of my favorite pastimes… Ironically, I thought of Pascal’s Pensee: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

I know people who can’t sit quietly. They have to have distractions. The TV has to be on. Or Facebook open on their phones.

So why did Pascal attribute all of humanity’s problems to this characteristic?

Maybe a better first question would be why must these folks have distractions? What is it about sitting quietly that they find so uncomfortable?

Or, put another way, why don’t they like their own company?

I can hear you now… “Mark, what does that even mean? What is “my own company? If I’m by myself, I’m by myself. By definition I can’t be “my own company.”

Actually, you can. And frequently you are. What you’re saying is that you haven’t yet become aware of the reality that you are always talking with yourself. We tell ourselves stories all the time. Unless, of course, our minds are on things outside of ourselves; that is, we’re looking at our phones.

Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you had a headache. Why did you go grab some Tylenol? See? You became aware of a reality in your world, talked yourself through how to respond to it, and took action. Or why did you stop in the gas station the last time you filled up? Same idea. You became aware of a situation, had a conversation with yourself around whether this was a good time to stop at the gas station, or whether to wait until next time you were out of the house because at that point you’d be less rushed. And you took action based on that conversation.

That’s what I’m talking about. When we’re not distracted by social media or the television or conversations with other folks, our minds wander to realities in our lives that we want or need to think about. It’s our nature. And every thought around the issue you’re considering is one side of the conversation. The next thought in response is the other side.

It’s also what Pascal was talking about. We don’t resolve issues in our lives without addressing them. We address them alone or in conversation with others. If we address them at all.

Are there issues active in your life you’d prefer to keep to yourself? I imagine so. I know a few people who are maybe too eager to “air their dirty laundry.” I know more people who are sensitive to realities that are likely no one else’s business. And out of sensitivity to those around them, or out of self-respect, these issues are not shared. But they are real and need to be addressed. So our other option is to consider them in the quiet of our alone-ness.

Pascal is recognizing that in his experience, the issues we are most likely to need to address alone are hard issues. And in much the same way as we don’t want to address them with the help of those around us, we avoid thinking about them on our own. So they fester unresolved.

It’s also our nature that these issues don’t stay quiet. It may be why we have sleepless nights sometimes. And who enjoys wrestling with issues when we need to be asleep? And maybe it’s not a bad thing to get up after tossing and turning for a couple of hours and open a book or turn on the TV. Those are ways to relieve ourselves from the need to think about hard issues at a particularly inappropriate time.

But that illustrates Pascal’s point. Sleep time is not a good time to have a heavy conversation with ourselves. So if we are to resolve issues we need to set aside a quiet time to have that hard conversation alone. Or the hard issue will haunt us. And there will be more sleepless nights spent in the company of fictional characters in books or on TV.

This can go on. And on. Until we find the strength to sit quietly in a room alone. Or the issue resolves itself without our input, which might not be the best resolution. Which I think is what Pascal is trying to say.

Finding the courage to confront our issues is a learned skill. It comes from determining to give the issues their due, either with the help of others or in conversations with ourselves “quietly in a room alone.” Once we become determined, then what? If we’ve never picked up a baseball, it’s hard to throw a strike.

Maybe the first step is to realize that this is something we all need to learn if we are to solve, or even prevent predictable issues, and then by extension take care of “all of humanity’s problems.” And then to realize that we actually do have conversations with ourselves all the time, and maybe to become intentional about the topics of those conversations. And then to find the courage to confront the issues that demand to be confronted. During the day, when we can be at our best, so we don’t have to distract ourselves in the middle of the night.

One potential challenge… We don’t like to admit how we got into this pickle to begin with. So acknowledging it makes us admit a fallibility. If it’s a “shameful” issue we attach to our “selves,” we may not like who we are very much. So we don’t want to think about the issue and go down the rabbit hole of diminishing our self-esteem. So we avoid. And lose the ability to metaphorically enjoy the beauty of watching the lights of small towns in the Midwest float by as we cruise at 35,000 feet in the middle of the night.

Better to sit quietly alone and decide to like ourselves despite our humanity and deal courageously with issues. So we can then enjoy everything else around us without feeling the need to reach for our phones.

Thanks for reading!

Captain Mark

IMG_20151209_182818

#stayintheprocess #symphonyofyourlife

The Symphony of Your Life on YouTube

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com for information.

Captain’s Log: Meaningful Work

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

It’s been many years now since I was a new first officer rushing between flights in some airport somewhere. As I passed a bank of pay phones (yeah, that’s how long I’ve been doing this gig!) I was pulled from my thoughts by an uninhibited wail of anguish. I looked in the direction of the sound as I continued to walk, and turned just in time to see an elderly lady crumple and begin to sob mightily into the phone.

I’ll never know the details of her despair. But I understood in a second. How could I not? I, like her, was and am made of the dust of the earth. We are bonded by primordial, ancient, indescribable and unfathomable community. In that moment she and I – and you – were one.

I don’t remember what happened after that. My heart went out to her, but there was absolutely nothing I could do to ease her tragedy, so I’m sure I simply kept walking. I’d like to think I’d do something different today. What would you have done? All these years later, on the cusp of my third act, the one that will give meaning to the other two (thanks, Jane Fonda!), all too aware of eternity’s relentless proximity, I can come up with a host of other, maybe better, responses.

But I digress. My writing today is not about those responses, though I’d love to know your thoughts. Rather, I’m writing about Victor Frankl’s magnum opus, his 1946 treatise. You know the one: Man’s Search For Meaning. It’s been on my mind lately. A bunch. Too much. With an ever-increasing sense of urgency.

Frankl was a young neurologist and psychiatrist as WWII brewed, and had written the manuscript before the holocaust began. It was lost when he was interned at Theresienstadt. He recovered it from memory and wrote it all again after he was liberated.
So what brings that writing to mind today? And what does it have to do with the tragic episode beside the bank of pay phones?
Frankl’s message was, and remains, that life is not so much a quest for pleasure or power as it is a search for meaning. And that we can find or create meaningful lives through the persistent and inevitable challenges of life.

As I write, it’s mid-autumn of 2020 and the world is challenged – still. Many events need to happen before the world can return to a place similar to what we knew before. And in my small corner of that world, one of the changes that needs to occur is that people need to return to the sky.

So I see pilots and flight attendants and gate agents and tug drivers and baggage handlers come to work. We wear our masks. And, even in this crazy world in this crazy time, we offer people, that is, you and those close to you, the ability to engage in life in ways that would have been unimaginable only two generations ago.

People call me and send me texts frequently to ask me as an insider if it’s really safe to come back to the airport. I say as emphatically as I can that it is!

Had things been only a bit different, we might have delivered that elderly woman to whatever life event she desperately needed to attend – before it was too late. Today we have better planes and better schedules. And clean, safe air for you to breathe. And plenty of seats to take you wherever you need to go. Let us do that for you. Doing that, managing those challenges on your behalf, is our meaningful work. I hope to do that work on your behalf again soon.

I’ll see you on my jet!

Thanks for reading!

Captain Mark

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#stayintheprocess #symphonyofyourlife

The Symphony of Your Life on YouTube

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com for information.

Captain’s Log: 2 Down, 5 to Go!

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

Note: I wrote this well over a year ago. Not sure why it never made it into this blog. I managed to get it published on Facebook, then apparently forgot about it. Still, it celebrates a moment in time. So… Here it is!

Captain’s Log: June 27th. Three flights. Houston to Orange County, then to San Francisco, finally on to Medford. First Officer: LtC Robert Jordan, USAF (Ret) doing yeoman’s work by my side. Stormy weather departing Houston, but good for the rest of the day. 450 passengers carried. Thunderstorms negotiated. Delays managed. Medical “situation” dealt with. A good day.

And the second anniversary of my first day as Captain. In the ensuing two years I’ve operated 560 flights and accumulated 1,530 hours as pilot-in-command. I’ve enjoyed successes beyond anything I had imagined in my 25 years as a copilot. And there have been embarrassing failures, like the time as a rookie captain I caused a 4 hour delay because I didn’t understand an instrument reading I observed during my pre-flight safety checks. (In my defense, neither did my copilot who’d been on the plane for 4 years! ).

The people I’ve met have included WWII heroes who survived Bataan, movie stars, and politicians you’d know. And here’s the best part. It’s been my honor and privilege to carry 81,177 passengers to their moments that matter most: weddings, funerals, that one life-changing business meeting as well as many more that were mundane, family vacations, and even a quick jaunt over to San Francisco for dinner. Many of these missions would have been unimaginable only two generations ago. This is meaningful work for me.

Two years down. Just under 5 to go until current law will require me to hang up my Captain’s hat and my jacket with 4 stripes. That’s nothing. A blink of an eye. They’re gonna fly by (see what I did there?). I’ve enjoyed every minute of the last two years, and I plan to enjoy every minute of the next 5. Thanks for coming with me on this magnificent ride!

And while we’re talking… Victor Frankl offered in his landmark book that life is not so much a quest for pleasure or power as it is a search for meaning. Help me celebrate this milestone in my own life by sharing here what you do to find meaning in yours. Frankl went on to acknowledge that while challenges in life are inevitable, we can often find or create meaningful lives through those challenges. Where do you find meaning? Your life’s work, as I do? Volunteer work? Working your way through a heavy challenge?

My first flight of year 3 leaves Medford, OR tomorrow at 0631 Pacific Daylight Time with LtC Jordan, thankfully, still at my right hand. Boarding begins at 0551; the door will close at 0621. Don’t be late. I’m gonna push on time!

Thanks for reading!

Captain Mark

IMG_20151209_182818

#stayintheprocess #symphonyofyourlife

The Symphony of Your Life on YouTube

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com for information.