There have been several times in my life when I have stepped so far outside my comfort zone that I was unsure I would ever find my way back.
While some of these jaunts were exercises in personal growth, such as performing as a member of my high school J.R.O.T.C. drill team, competing in my local Junior Miss Pageant, and even going away to college, most involved flying.
Some milestones on the path to a pilot’s license are mild comfort zone busters: first solo, solo cross country, check rides, etc. Others, such as initial Learjet 35 training at Flightsafety International Inc., are akin to drinking from a fire hose.
Prior to my two week indoctrination into the right seat of the Lear, the most complicated piece of equipment I had flown was a Cessna 310. Going from this relatively docile aircraft to the bad tempered rodeo bronco that hid behind the sleek facade of the Learjet was exhilarating, terrifying, and so far outside my comfort zone that I couldn’t even speak the local language to ask where I might find a bathroom.
For two weeks, I and three of my colleagues were completely immersed in Lear 35 systems, operating procedures, high altitude and emergency operations, and simulator training. Each night, I would have nightmares about whatever system we had gone over the day before, certain that I would never, ever, be able to remember even a fraction of the information dispensed. Each day, we were thrown into the deep end of an unfathomable ocean of information and expected to dog paddle our way back to the shore.
It wasn’t until much later on that I realized the only way to truly learn to operate a Lear was to actually fly it. At first, you are so far behind in your copilot duties that the captain is essentially flying solo until you catch up, which usually occurs about 30 minutes after landing at your destination. But eventually, your comfort zone expands to the point that you know the cockpit blindfolded. And that’s usually about the time you’re ready to upgrade and belly up to the fire hose again.
The moral of this story? Don’t let fear keep you from drinking from the fire hose. If I had allowed fear to win, I would never had known the pure, unadulterated joy of flying a Learjet. Who knows what you may miss out on if you won’t break free of your comfort zone?