As my second year on the hang gliding competition circuit ends, I find myself constantly reflecting on how far I've come in the last two years. In the middle of this introspection, I keep circling around to the same silly comparison: life is a lot like a hang gliding race, and in more ways than just the cheesy ‘highs and lows' experiences.
Distractions – AKA Focus Vampires
While I'm racing, I find it incredibly easy to get distracted. There's so much to think about – how your altitude is fluctuating, where the other pilots are, if the air is changing along course line, whether my gear is perfectly adjusted, or if I'm flying at the best speed for the situation. It becomes difficult to parse through the excess and focus on what's actually necessary. After years of experience, the pros seem to do this effortlessly, digesting each snippet of external information and adjusting accordingly.
For me, every distraction takes away from the task at hand. I could always be turning more efficiently in a thermal or more attentive to my best gliding speed. Instead, I let other pilots or my own thoughts distract me from the basics. Anyone can fly a hang glider, but it takes an immense amount of experience, preparation and focus to race one well. My goal will always be to maintain perfect focus each time I have the privilege to touch the sky.
Do I have the same goal in real life? To focus on exactly what's in front of me – no distractions and a constant drive to do well… to do perfectly? As I write this, I find myself listening to my rumbling air conditioner, tying and retying my ponytail, walking to my kitchen only to return empty-handed, spinning half circles in my desk chair. If I could limit my distraction, this article could be written in minutes. If life is like a hang gliding race, and I want to do well, then that means learning to focus intently on the things directly in front of my face – no more, no less.
They Chose the Better Line
Raise your hand if you've been on a long glide sinking like a rock, trailing just behind another pilot whose altitude hasn't seemed to diminish whatsoever. Now, raise your other hand if you weren't happy about it. I'd rather be the other pilot, I'd rather be flying the better line.
But too many times to count when I wasn't that successful pilot, I found myself at goal while they were packing up their gear kilometers away. And I've often come up short after a great run too. So what's the point in comparing yourself to others? A win is always a lucky sandwiching of our own ability to somehow avoid decking it while other pilots don't, and it's the result of each pilot's unique experiences that lead to a day win. There is no perfect combination of experiences that guarantee success, so playing the comparison game is useless.
On solid ground, we see the same thing. Comparing ourselves to others helps us to imagine what achieving our own goals would feel like. But we forget the work the other person put in to get where they are, and picture ourselves succeeding effortlessly. It's not effortless and it never will be.
Wishing you made the same decisions and took the same actions as someone else, so you could enjoy the same success is completely devaluing your personal journey to achievement. There's no problem with finding inspiration in another's story, but we will never ever have the chance to write our own walking in footprints laid before us. So even if they chose a better line, I promise myself to fly my own course and value each bit of lift I receive along the way.
Failure and Success are Inevitable
At the top of your game, your flights will never always be good. And on the opposite side of the same coin, your flights will never always be bad. Taking wins and losses in stride results in one thing only – learning. During every good flight, I learn how to make good decisions. During a flight that didn't live up to expectations, I learn what choices I should have made and try to apply those lessons to future flying.
Walking through life, you pretty quickly figure out the same thing. Failures just… happen. It all depends on how you react to those failures. For me, whenever something doesn't turn out perfectly, I take note and mentally throw the failure behind me. I try not to dwell on it and move forward as quickly as possible, choosing a new route and learning from my mistakes. I'm not perfect at it, but here's to always learning and getting better.
I don't pretend to know all the answers. I'm okay at life and okay at hang gliding, but I love both with all my heart. In each, I try to minimize distraction and avoid comparing myself to others who have different experiences than I do. I fail often, succeed sometimes and attempt to learn from it all. And yeah, life is like a box of chocolates… but my life is much more like one continuous hang glider flight.