Posted by: Brad Stanford | February 25, 2017


Previously, I wrote from 30,000 feet. Today, I’m on the return trip. But there was an interesting difference on this flight.


Aside from the toll it takes on the airframe, I quite enjoy turbulence. That’s because it lets me know I’m in flight. Otherwise I’m just sitting there. Of course, the side of me that wants to read, type, or not spill drinks in one or multiple laps begs to differ. But the flight side always laughs and says, “Too bad, suckers!” and throws his hands up, enjoying the roller coaster.

Turbulence in its most basic form is a section of air that is moving differently than the air around it. This actually bothers no one, and that’s important to understand. It only affects an object that enters that space. This is unlike tornadoes or hurricanes which tend to seek out trailer parks and gulf coast states, respectively, as if trying to meet a yearly quota. Turbulence moves, but far more mindlessly, itself being pushed around by other forces, rather than being a force of its own.

Airplanes are trying to get from one place to another. They move through sections of air to do so, and lots of them. This is the equivalent of running through all the front yards of all the neighborhoods in your city. Eventually, you will find the old man that yells, “Get off the lawn!” He did not go looking for you. You found him. That old man is turbulence.

After a month or more of turbulence in my business life, I finally have found some smooth air. This does not mean I have arrived. Please don’t confuse the two. Smooth air is simply the space between pockets of turbulence, a place of temporary peace. This is the moment we can reflect and change course if necessary, or be honest about our course, and reset for the next encounter. This is where I find myself: now at 39,000 feet, with periodic small jostles that remind me we’re still flying, and there is still the potential to run into something rough up ahead.

When you think you have arrived – you just finished getting everything stabilized after a lot of hard work – and you hit turbulence, it’s a double shock. The first shock is the actual jolt itself, when suddenly what used to be dependable no longer is. We tend to be disagreeable with this condition. The second shock comes from being surprised by the instability. You have to be able to admit that you fooled yourself. You thought you had landed, but you’re actually still in flight.

The faster you can get through the second shock of realizing you are in flight and turbulence is to be expected, the faster you can free yourself from the anger caused by the interruption.  This is critical for handling the turbulence.

Expected or not, planning your reaction to turbulence in advance can determine how you emerge on the other side. There are three possible outcomes: 1) continued shock, 2) neutral and 3) ready. If you end up in condition 1, it means you now must get yourself back to neutral before being able to get ready for the next encounter. If you are neutral about it, you can immediately begin planning for the next occurrence. Ready means that your plan for handling rough spots worked – as in shock absorber – and you have to spend zero energy on preparedness.

It is this last case that makes things smooth, even when they aren’t. Giving turbulence a place defuses its ability to mess with things. The wings on an airplane flex in the bumpy air. If they did not, the wings would be torn off. Thus, turbulence is not allowed to have full reign, and disaster is averted.

If you are finding wave after wave of things happening, look for what stiffness can be jettisoned. The kryptonite to Super Turbulence is flexibility. More often than not, it is our unwillingness to let go that gives turbulence free reign. Notice, too, that I didn’t say to seek fairness or justice. Sometimes letting go of what you are duly owed is the best shock absorber.

After all, what does the universe actually owe anyone? It’s more like the old man of the neighborhood is making a concession: I’ll let you stay on my lawn as long as you make yourself useful.

But he’ll still yell at you now and again. No one is surprised by this. 

You shouldn’t be either.

From 39,000 feet, somewhere over the great southwest, I wish flexibility, readiness, and de-fool-ation in your general direction.

Don’t be shocked. Be ready.


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