Sitting at the controls of the C-141 Starlifter, I peeked out the windows at the mountains below. I was flying a satellite to a California air base where it would be launched in a couple of weeks. There was only one teensy, totally minor, peculiarly odd thing about what I was doing.
I wasn’t a pilot.
I marveled at the fact that only three years out from graduating high school, I was sitting in the Captain’s seat of one of the world’s largest cargo planes while it was in flight.
“Okay, now I need to get back in there.”
After a few minutes, the real pilot took back his rightful spot in the cockpit while my friend and I made our way back to the cargo deck. We each had a turn at the controls during the flight (don’t tell anyone), which was a pretty cool break from staring at the satellite we had loaded that morning.
I had joined the Air Force so I could become an illustrator. Which sounds totally illogical, but it worked out in the end — in some ways even better than I had hoped. In the meantime, I loaded helicopters, Hummers, and hundreds of pallets of cargo onto airplanes bound for destinations all over the world.
The funny thing about that flight is that nobody else in my unit wanted to go. It sounded boring. But things were slow at Norton AFB, and sitting around in an old hangar every day was making me feel like I was growing moss on my butt. So I raised my hand and volunteered to go.
Besides the aforementioned pilot impersonation, we had a pretty amazing trip. The flight crew were reservists, so for them it was a fun break from their own daily commercial airline grind. Let’s just say they were prepped for having a good time. When we got to California, they took my friend (the other volunteer in my unit) and I to great restaurants and we all did some sightseeing along the coast. One of those restaurants became a sort of birthday tradition for our family several years later.
I could relate hundreds more stories like these in my life where I took an opportunity without knowing where it would lead and wound up with an amazing memory. Maybe you can, too. I hope so.
Life is hard sometimes, even cruel. We don’t always get everything we want. But I don’t like to dwell on those things, I would rather look ahead to what’s next. I believe that being curious and open to opportunities is a crucial quality to develop. It’s impossible to predict what’s going to come out of what might seem like an “okay” chance to do something.
I worked with an animation director who said that in the entertainment industry, if someone gives you an opportunity to do something new, you always say, “Yes” and figure it out later. I think that also applies in any area. Obviously you have to judge for yourself what’s a good idea or not because jail or death don’t sound like the makings of a fun memory. Outside of that, I usually say “Yes.”
Of course, it doesn’t always work out wonderfully. I’ve done many things that I thought would surely lead to excitement and adventure and been sorely disappointed. It’s a chance you take. And I typically don’t share those stories unless I can teach somebody something. Usually the lesson is simply, “Don’t do that.”
It’s true that you regret the chances you didn’t take. So I try to take as many as I can, for better or worse. One thing I’ve also found to be true is that the opportunities I took that turned out to the most amazing were the ones where people looked at me like I was crazy for doing it.
“All you have are the experiences! That’s all there is to everything, Johnny. The experiences.”Burgess Meredith, Grumpy Old Men
I’ll leave you with that.
A shout out to Matt. Happy Birthday!