Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fear vs. Determination

I can remember back to the first time I flew on an airplane. I was around 13 years old at the time, and I can still remember the sheer thrill of the takeoff! This was the first time I was actually passing through, and then looking down onto the clouds. Everything about it was just so exciting! And, I just couldn't wait to do it again!

Later, as I entered the working world I started to have more chances to fly. All of it domestic for a while. I flew mostly to Mississippi where the furniture factories were, and to North Carolina where the furniture shows were, and still are. I flew to California too. In fact, it was a flight to Los Angeles that provided a real defining moment in my life. It was my first "bad flight." An emergency landing in Saint Louis due to a "hydraulic issue" as described by the captain. 

Shortly after that, it was a really windy landing in a small propeller commuter flight. This was back when only a curtain separated you from the pilots. On this flight to Nashville, the pilot even left the curtain open so we all could see the takeoff through their front windows. I can remember my shock over just how little they could see through those little cockpit windows! Then later on the approach to land, the still open curtains provided us all with the view of the pilots struggling to land the plane in the very high cross winds. It was way too much information!

From that moment on everything changed for me. I had quickly developed an acute fear of flying. What was before a real exciting adventure had turned into complete terror for me! I would start getting nervous several days before a flight, and it would build to a peak as I walked down the jet way. The whole flight I would sit in my seat in my own private terror, and I would kiss the ground each time I landed again.

So in order to remedy this situation, I accepted a new job that required me to fly several times a week. Grab the bull by the horns right? That will fix me right up ;-) Well, umm, no! For years I sat in that chair flying through the air scared to death each and every time. Later, I started flying all over the world to places like Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and then eventually China. Some years I flew over 150,000 miles, and still the same horrible feelings every time no matter how I much I would fly.

I eventually encountered my second emergency landing on a flight out of Shanghai. As we were taking off I could just feel that something felt very different. Something wasn't right. I was on the upper deck of a United 747 bound for Chicago. The stewardess was in a jump seat right in front of me, and the phone rang above her head. She said a lot of "OKs" and then hung up the phone. I looked at her and said "it's not OK is it?" She said; "one moment." Then the captain came over the speakers and said; "our landing gear has become stuck in mid position, and we will spend the next hour dumping 180,000 gallons of jet fuel into the ocean, get the gear lowered again, and make an emergency landing back in Shanghai."

Time to panic right!? Well, something really strange happened. I became completely calm. I turned my head and looked out the window to see the fuel stream spraying from the tip of the wing, just as the pilot said it would. Then, I completely relaxed and put my seat back and went to sleep. For some reason, I just knew we would all be completely fine. I don't know why, but I just felt completely confident. About 45 minutes later I woke up, "put my seat back and tray table in the upright position", and we landed without incident.

The next day we all got called back to the airport for our flight. We had to stay overnight so they could bring in a new plane. Apparently they didn't have any extra 747's sitting around for such an occasion. As I boarded the new plane and got back to my same seat, I saw all the same people around me, and the same stewardess sitting across from me in the jump seat. I looked at her and said with a smile; "I hope that phone doesn't ring this time." She laughed and said; "me too."

I eventually moved back to the U.S., and started doing more interior design work. This meant that I didn't have to fly for a living anymore. In fact, for the last year and a half I've been an occasional flier at best. One trip to Italy. There was a couple trips to Vegas. I think their was a flight or two to NC, and FL, and that's about it. This was quite a difference from the ten plus years prior to that.

I'm writing this not to announce my triumphant recovery from my fear of flying, but more for the triumph of facing it each and every time I do. Tomorrow I will start a new era of ludicrous amounts of flying again. I'm traveling to Italy to meet a new client for my furniture designs, and later back to Asia to meet with a couple more. The lure of travel and following my true dreams in life propels me forward to face my fears. For me, it's totally worth it. Each time I face my fear, I get to do what I love!

So if you hear someone screaming through the air by any chance, it's just me on my way to my dreams. I hope you'll stay tuned because I plan to post as much of my adventures and travels as I can. And, there will finally be some new furniture designs coming soon!

Arrividerci :-)

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