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 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. Your friends and family won’t support you anyway. Ask 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.

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. February 8th saw over a year’s-worth in one day. By dinner time on the 11th, as I was winging my way there from Denver, heavy snow was falling fast, with another record in the forecast.

Together, the two days prior had seen 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 before Monday evening’s snowfall even began. 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 as we turned northwest from Cheyenne to point the nose at Seattle. We knew that it was likely to snow, 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. Snow was again in the forecast, but it hadn’t yet started to fall.

That changed as we passed over Boysen Reservoir. The datalink 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

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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: 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 take place to return the world to a place similar to what we knew before. And in my small corner of that world, one of the changes that need to take place is that people need to fly.

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’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

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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: May 18, 2020, My Birthday

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

Captain’s Log: May 18, 2020, my birthday. My airplanes are grounded. No flights, no passengers for 13 days. My last two flights were ferry flights to park airplanes and take them out of service. We’re in the Covid19 crisis of 2020. And today is gonna be a great day!

Good morning! It’s my birthday, and today I am 8 years old! Do you have any idea how much freedom there is in being 8 years old? I am still too young to understand that anything is impossible!

“How can this be,” you ask? “You look far older than 8 years old,” you say? Yes, my body carries the years of a biological birth more than 60 years ago. But 8 years ago today I was given the great gift of a new birthday. You may know the story…

I was over in Moab, UT with a bunch of friends who go there every year to ride mountain bikes. Mid-ride on the first morning there I crashed on the Porcupine Rim trail at 20 mph. I came to with a paralyzed arm and a neck broken in 5 places. One doesn’t come closer to “lights out” than that and live to tell the story.

Amazingly, miraculously, and thanks to some incredible work by the Grand County paramedics and the neurosurgery team at St. Mary’s hospital in Grand Junction, I did live, and my recovery was as good as anyone could have hoped. And here I am, these years later, typing away, greeting you on my new birthday!

Oh, right. That. @Fernanda Nieto, My dear friend and colleague from her days with the Colorado Children’s Chorale, is from Argentina. When she heard about my accident and subsequent recovery, she told me of a beautiful custom from her South American culture. Seems as though in Argentina, when someone has a close scrape with, well, you know, one gets a new birthday. What a lovely custom! And since she told me that, May 18th has been the day I celebrate.

A new birthday! With 6 decades of experience on this body! What does that mean?

Maybe my biggest ambition since that watershed event has been to see and treat every single day as a gift. Fact is, just a tiny difference in my experience on the trail those years ago, and I would not be experiencing any of these days. Hmmm… So this morning, for instance, I was up early in the Willow Creek open space taking in the fragrance of clean air in late springtime, enjoying the remarkably insistent cackling of innumerable species of birds as the sky brightened ever-so-gradually. Engaging the senses in this body that might not have been available to me under other circumstances.

It’s true I haven’t always been successful at treating this second chance as the gift it is. I have made concessions to life, and to the energy of those on my path with me that have sometimes altered my view in a given moment. But that doesn’t change the ambition. It’s ever-present, and I’m always correcting back to the course that ambition prescribes for me.

What else does that span of experience mean to this young life?

A corollary to the first meaning is that I have made peace with death. Did you just say “ouch?” Sorry, get over it. None of us are getting out of this alive. Mortality is coming for us all. So what’s the big deal?

If we spend all our energy avoiding our inevitable end, we waste the time we have here. It’s only by recognizing and indeed embracing that reality that we are free to live fully. So. Let’s engage in life to the greatest extent possible while we’re here. Experience as much as that glorious body of yours, that is yours to use for a season, can show you. Do life!

A corollary to that, then, is to do life intentionally – not by accident. Sit with that possibility for a moment, and decide what experiences you’d like to enjoy. Then figure out how to bring those experiences into reality. Then work the plan.

And here, perhaps, is the most powerful lesson of all: stay in the process! Stay in the process until you have what you desire within your grasp, or life shows you the shift away from what you only thought you wanted and toward something even better. We can never have success at anything we attempt if we stop moving toward it before it is ours.

Today I celebrate my 8th birthday! Thank you in advance for celebrating it with me! Oh – about that 108th birthday Facebook thing. Facebook doesn’t allow 8-year-olds to have their own pages. So I just added a few years for the sake of practicality.

Now here’s my birthday ask, the present you might give me, if you will. Do something bold today. Something you’re a little afraid of. Enjoy your gift of incarnation! And let me know either in the comments or by PM what you chose to do. And know that I am grateful for this day. And for my friendship with you.

It’s my birthday! And it’s gonna be a great day!

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: The Things We See; Flying During the COVID19 Crisis of April 2020

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

April 18th. Passenger count: 0. Ferry flight to park my 737 indefinitely. No passengers, no flight attendants. Only myself and my copilot.

 

Post-apocalyptic. Surreal. Unimaginable – but necessary to imagine.

That was the first part of my Captain’s Log a few days ago, accompanied by pictures of an empty parking garage, a deserted concourse, and planes on the ground. The pictures demanded a visceral response. But did they tell the whole story?

I invited thought on your part. I asked you to consider the meaning of the story in those pictures.

As fast-moving as this situation remains, these days later I invite you to think some more. Can we find something more, something bigger in the story of empty airports and parked planes?

Let’s start here. Remembering the idea that Victor Frankl is thought to have given us, that there is a space between stimulus and response, and that in that space we have the opportunity to decide how to respond, let’s step into that space. Let’s pause to think about how we – as individuals – should respond. And then let’s do that. Deliberately. With intention.

I’ve written about this before. In my book, The Symphony of Your Life: Restoring Harmony When Your World Is Out of Tune, I  inclued this passage: “There is a world in which we live. It may not be the world in which we’d like to live. Yin and Yang had no say about which circle they ended up in. People, places events, and things that we have no control over will, from time to time, impact us. Once we accept that reality, we can accurately assess where we are and decide how best to move forward. The arc of our lives has less to do with Fortune herself than with how we respond to her.”

My point then was that challenges in life are inevitable. And that we should acknowledge that as truth. Otherwise we’ll never be able to respond effectively. Denial won’t serve us.

Taking it one step further,  it’s clear that we have no control over the fact that we are going to be challenged. So we shouldn’t fret over it. What we can control is our response. Which means how we respond is all that matters. We should put our energy into defining how we choose to respond when the challenges show up.

So what is our reality today? What is this new world which seems so different from the world in which we’d like to live? What is it, exactly, that we need to respond to? We don’t want to sugar-coat anything, and we also don’t want to make it out to be worse than it is. So let’s figure this thing out.

I imagine that you have heard over and over again, as I have, that as a matter of economy alone this is “even worse than 9-11.” Roger that. I know it’s true. I took the pictures. And on top of that economy are the public (and personal!) health ramifications.

As we enter that quiet place between stimulus and response, I offer this encouraging reality from the guest of a podcast I heard recently. Understanding that she is battling breast cancer on top of the evaporation of her work, here’s what she said. Without minimizing the truth that nobody gets off the planet alive, we have all reached where we are today by being 100% successful at getting beyond past challenges. It’s probably the only thing that even the most successful people have been completely successful with. And every challenge that you and I have navigated over, under, around, or through has given us a new set of tools that we have then used on subsequent challenges, that we can use today, and that we can use going forward.

Yes, those victories have come at a cost. Yes, we carry scars. And yet, here we are, undeniably, and still fighting. That is an exciting perspective! With that idea carrying us into our thinking space around this corona virus, let’s go back to the event that sets the standard.

9-11 was a disaster. And we survived. There were plenty who predicted that we would not. They were wrong. Because we responded. We acknowledged the new world – the one we were living in, which was no longer the world we wanted to live in – figured out our path, and set out. What we didn’t do was roll over.

And we learned through the process. We all came away with tools that we are using today. In fact, these “tools” are not merely metaphorical. Within the flying industry, for example, we are applying specific, concrete lessons we learned in the bankruptcy era about the best ways to respond to deep financial challenges.

In your industry and in your family you’re responding differently than we are in the flying business. But you have been through your own challenges before. And every one of them has given you tools specific to your own life and business that you are able to pick up and use today. And tomorrow. And this challenge is putting even more tools in your tool bag that you’ll be able to use days, months, and years from now. Today I invite you to remember that truth. And let it bring a determined smile to your face.

Given all of that, how would you like to move forward? Does this current crisis have to be a long-term disaster? Or can it be something else? If it can be something else, what might that something be? And how can we go about creating that other thing? 

United Will Stand Sticker

The image of the medallion I’ve posted today is one of hope and optimism. Of determination. Persistence. It is a relic of the longest, most expensive bankruptcy in the history of aviation. And what it declared was true.

I choose to believe that it is also true today. The empty parking garages, concourses, and indeed airplanes remain nearly empty. But with the passing of these few days, those images have begun to lose their power as we step into the quiet space. The sense of near-devastation and the urge to panic has passed. It’s becoming easier day-by-day to believe that yet again, United will stand.

Our tools are not merely metaphorical. But they do take many different forms. As do yours. In the same way the “United Will Stand” medallion is both symbolic and utterly concrete for all of us in the airline industry. Maybe you can see it that way, too? Maybe it’s declaration of hope and success for one company can be the same for your company, your family?

And if we will all stand, what can our world look like at the end of the day? What can you imagine to be better as a result of being thrust into this opportunity to re-think? How will you look at the world differently when this tsunami of uncertainty has receded back into the vast oceans of our lives as it most certainly will? What will have been rebuilt? How will we have shifted entire landscapes for the better?

I, for one, am grateful for the massive response of our country’s various national authorities that have established a space for us to plan out our own best response. The autumn of this year will bring new information that will validate what we will have decided here in early spring, or point us in a new direction based on that new information. We will continue to march, either in the direction we are choosing today, or we’ll reach back into our tool bag for a different tool, and adjust onto another, more appropriate course.

Stephen Covey suggests that highly successful people “begin with the end in mind.” Let’s first imagine that end. Let’s create a better world, a world that wasn’t possible before this crisis, in the eyes of our minds. As we craft our crisis response with deliberation and intention, let’s draft the blueprint for how to get to that better world.

And then begin.

If you’d like some thoughts specific to your situation feel free to reach out. I’m offering free coaching during our lock down. And like the radio ad says, there’s no catch, but you have to connect. My phone number and email are below.

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: Enhance the Text

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

I love flying jets. I’m so grateful to have the privilege of connecting my passengers with their moments that matter most. But that’s not all I do. In another life I am a musical conductor. And in that arena several years ago I had the great privilege of working with Maestro Travis Branam on a project he called “The 303 Choir.” (I wrote about that here.)

The choir was made up of enthusiastic middle and high school kids who have had very little choral training, but who love to sing. As part of that experience we organized an opportunity for them to “meet” internationally acclaimed composer and conductor, Randall Stroope, via Skype. We encouraged the kids to show up with questions, and right out of the chute one of the kids asked, “Why do you write music the way you do?” Not bad. Not bad at all.

Dr. Stroope didn’t miss a beat. He explained that it’s always about enhancing the text. The text always dictates how the music is written. Every aspect of the music – notes, rhythm, meter, harmonies – should be about bringing out the message that the poet is trying to convey. The music should always bring the words to life.

Which brings me to the question of the day: Why do you do what you do?

The art of writing music can certainly stand on its own. Choral music on the other hand, at least as imagined by Randall Stroope, is an endeavor that exists to support others. For example, one of Stroope’s pieces that 303 was learning was his setting of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Pasture.” And the second question they asked that day was, “What inspired you to set that piece to music?

Randall said, “I wanted the music to convey the reality that Frost wasn’t talking literally about cleaning out a pasture spring. He was talking about building a relationship. So I built the notes around that idea.”

As Randall worked to bring that piece to life, his efforts were in complete service to the prior efforts of Robert Frost. He was determined to bring additional clarity and deeper meaning to the poem. In being “of service” over time Stroope was able to create an entire catalogue of music that would be heard and loved by millions and would become a remarkable legacy in its own right.

Can you do that?

Everyone around us is writing a text, a story – the story of his or her life. What are we, you and I, doing about it? How are we supporting those around us? How are we “enhancing the text” of their stories? Are we working to help them bring their words to life? Are we being “of service?”

Or are you so busy writing your own story that you don’t see those around you writing theirs? Yes, creating our own legacy is a worthy objective. We should all be about it. But should it be all about us? Or could you weave their stories into yours? What might that look like?

How about this: Is there something you can do today, tomorrow, next week, next month to enhance the self-esteem of a colleague? Can you add tangible value to a friend’s life? Is there a way for you to ease someone else’s burden? What notes, rhythm, meter and harmonies can you bring to their stories?

Think of someone around you who is facing a challenge right now. Is there something you can do to make it easier for him or her to win that hard battle?

Randall Stroope is able to make powerful poems even more impactful by adding a musical dimension to the text. You, as a composer of life can do it, too. Let’s pick a text today and write a composition that will magnify the writer’s meaning for the world.

Thanks for reading!

The  Symphony of Your Life

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#stayintheprocess #symphonyofyourlife

The Symphony’s YouTube Channel

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: info@mvpseminars.com for information.

Captain’s Log: Esse Quam Videri, Conclusion

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

In case you missed it, here’s Part 3.

For now, can we move the focus away from being “authentic” according to how others see us and on to being the best version of ourselves in the moment, based on the situation and the role that we are engaged in right now?

At networking, for instance, when they ask what you do, why not say, “I’d be happy to tell you, but tell me about you first,” to create context for your answer.. so you’ll know which hat to take out to be of greatest service?

It’s an undeniable reality of being human that we all have different and legitimate roles we assume in different situations. We wear uniforms, white coats, robes and vestments.  Different hats at different times. Does this mean we’re being inauthentic? I don’t think so.

What are some of your “roles?” I act in turns as an airline captain, a father, an author, a musical conductor, a husband, a public speaker, and a real estate investor. All different roles I’ve created for myself over the years. When I’m acting in my capacity as a captain am I somehow being disloyal to my duties as a father or to my love of music?

Of course not. My “audience” needs a captain, so that’s how I show up. I’m being the best me I can be for that audience in that moment. It would be silly for me to show up as a real estate agent.

Maybe we can put this whole idea of feeling like an imposter to bed with this idea from Harvard researcher, Amy Cuddy. She tells us that her research has revealed that our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviors, and our behaviors change our outcomes. We can do some specific exercises that will start the chain reaction toward our best outcomes as a result of presenting as our best selves. She calls these exercises “power poses,” and they take only two minutes. We can apply them every time we approach a high stakes moment in our lives.

And she tells a powerful story of a high stakes moment in her own life when she was challenged to step into the best version of herself despite feeling desperately inadequate and deeply afraid of being “found.” And succeeding. Of fighting her hard battle. And winning.

How did she manage to do that? She created a role for herself, stepped into it, and behaved as if it was who she really was. Until that became true. That is, she faked it until she became it.

Finally, as we continue to struggle with “being” rather than “seeming,” we might take comfort from this: “4 Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work…” Mark 6:4-5 (KJV) Which was a shame, and a loss for his home town. But if even he was considered a fake by those who knew him, maybe we shouldn’t feel so bad.

So, Authentic Performer, how are you going to show up today? Maybe more clearly, who will you be when you show up? Will you show up as… You? Which you?

Before you answer, watch this video: Amy Cuddy’s Amazing Story.

Then go find yourself an audience. Like Jesus, you may have to go some distance. Go there. Show up. Do your work. Be you – the best you that you can be in the most appropriate form for that audience on that day. And if you need to, feel free to fake it. It’ll be just fine.

Esse Quam Videri.

Thanks for reading!

The Symphony of Your Life

#stayintheprocess

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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 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com. 720.840.8361

Captain’s Log: Esse Quam Videri, Part 3

A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo

In case you missed it, here’s Part 2.

…Does the idea that we’re not yet fully what we aspire to be mean that we’re being inauthentic or even insincere if we show up to the world as if we are fully formed?

Not if you listen to Joe Sabah, founder of NSA* Colorado. Joe is famous for saying, “You don’t have to be good to start, but you have to start to be good.”

And then there’s this from Toastmasters World Champion Humorist Darren LaCroix. LaCroix speaks of being a fledgling comedian and fighting the fact that those around him compared him to Jerry Seinfeld. Not fair. Not in any world. True, he wasn’t yet as funny as Seinfeld. Did it mean he wasn’t authentically a comic? Not at all. His conclusion is that if its not right for others to compare us while we’re new at something to far more experienced performers, maybe we shouldn’t do that to ourselves.

So what should we do about this desire to be authentic when we “know” we’re imposters?

Back to the article from Psychology Today. It suggests that one solution might be to wait it out.  There’s good evidence of an inverse relationship between age and Imposter Syndrome. One contributor’s observation is that, “I think that’s one of the benefits of getting older. Your amygdala is less sensitive, and you have fewer negative emotions.”

That makes sense to me. My experience has been that as I get older I’m less likely to be uncomfortable with the opinions of others, and I am more able to believe that things I have accomplished are real. Could that work for you?

And if we’re willing to accept what LaCroix and Sabah teach, the fact that we aren’t yet at the level we aspire to in any given area doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see our future selves as precisely that aspiration fully formed.  Or that we shouldn’t behave in the present as if who we want to be is who we are today: a version of our true selves that’s different from what our present circumstances seem to convey.

Maybe it will help to think of it this way. We’re all performers all the time. Let that sink in for a minute.

Think about the reality that actors take on “fake” or “inauthentic” personas  and “perform” those roles on stage to convey the point of the play. By definition, that actor is being “inauthentic.” Most of us are not dramatic actors, so we don’t “perform” in that way.

But there’s this other sense of “performance.” High achievers are spoken of as people who “perform” by getting the job done. Nothing inauthentic about that.  That’s who we are and how we want to be seen.

What if we could combine these two very different concepts of performance. Is it possible for non-actors to use acting techniques to create lives they desire? How would it work for us to define dramatic roles that look like the lives we want to lead, and then step into those roles and live them out? Professional actors and life coaches Michael and Amy Port say it would work very well! They think it’s not only possible – it’s smart, and we should absolutely do it. (How To Perform During Life’s High Stakes Moments, TEDx Cambridge, #Michael Port, #Amy Port, #Heroic Public Speaking)

But it still feels… fake. At least a little bit. Michael and Amy deal with that in their TED talk. And we’ll address it in another way in just a minute.

For now, can we move the focus away from being “authentic” according to how others see us and on to being the best version of ourselves in the moment, based on the situation and the role that we are engaged in right now?

We’ll bring it all together in Part 4. Authentic authenticity. Esse Quam Videri. Even if that means we have to fake it!

Thanks for reading!

The Symphony of Your Life

#stayintheprocess

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*National Speakers Association

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 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: mark@symphonyofyourlife.com. 720.840.8361