The Mission like a movie

Continuing our series on Fighter Pilot Wisdom, here is Ran Ronen, one of the most celebrated combat fliers and commanders (he died in 2016 as a retired brigadier general) in the history of the Israel Air Force.

Preparing for these missions, I would hole myself up in the operations bunker and go over every detail of the coming flight. This is not like studying for exams. You are running the mission like a movie through your mind, anticipating every possible emergency, then planning and mentally rehearsing your response.

Ran Ronen in 1973

But preparation was more, Ran continued, than rehearsing for predictable exigencies.

A fighter pilot accelerating down the runway on an operational mission must keep foremost in his mind one reality: at some point before his wheels touch down again, something is certain to go wrong. Will he have an engine failure? Will an unseen enemy appear? Will another plane in his formation experience a crisis of some kind? Bank on it: Something unexpected will happen. When it does, it will be followed almost always by a second emergency, and often a third, in immediate succession, each one producing a graver crisis than the one before. In such a situation, the pilot’s body will exhibit all the manifestations of fear. His heart rate will soar; his flight suit will become drenched with sweat. But his mind must remain focused. His thinking must stay clear and calm.

You and I, embarking on a two- or three-year creative or entrepreneurial project, can count on the same thing happening. Unexpected Emergency #1 will materialize, followed immediately by our own Panicked Reaction #1, which in turn produces Unexpected Emergency #2, leading inevitably to Freaked-out Overreaction #2.

Can we stay calm in the midst of crisis? Can we keep thinking clearly and working at our optimum level?

I’m in the midst of a similar situation right now. An external event with super-negative twists and turns is afflicting me emotionally every day, even pursuing me into my dreams at night.  Indeed I am freaking out. Indeed my daylight hours are full of crazed phone calls and emergency consultations.

But one thing remains inviolable. I will not stop working on the book I’m writing now. And I will not stop working to my fullest capacity.

That’s the mission, and I will keep flying it no matter what.

And here’s the weird part. In some crazy way, I think the book I’m working on is actually coming out better.

I keep this wisdom from Ran Ronen before me 24/7. It helps.

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40 Comments

  1. Chuck DeBettignies on August 25, 2021 at 6:50 am

    We’re flying in formation with you Steve . . .

    • Kate Stanton on August 25, 2021 at 9:34 am

      Amen, Chuck!
      Another shot of inspiration!! “I will not stop working on the book I’m writing now. And I will not stop working to my fullest capacity.” Looking forward to your new book!

  2. Brian Nelson on August 25, 2021 at 7:07 am

    Steve,
    I love how you share your own continued drama’s of life. It if both disconcerting and reassuring. It confirms the sad truth that there is never, ever, ever a there there. There is no finish line, no day when all preparation, work, planning, sacrifice will create a perfect life without worry, stress, drama, or unpredictable problems.

    It is reassuring in the way that you model appropriate behavior, focus, and choices amidst the troubles. The heart is mysterious. As I read your blog, my heart broke for you–and we have never met face to face. It must be your openness to share vulnerability that touches my heart.

    My suspicion is that you also find solace in the work. It might be the one ‘controllable’ that you can control, and in that effort you find some reprieve from the chaos.
    bsn

    • Sam Luna on August 25, 2021 at 8:39 am

      “there is never, ever, ever a there there. ”

      Ain’t it the truth!

    • Kate Stanton on August 25, 2021 at 9:35 am

      Well said, Brian. “It must be your openness to share vulnerability that touches my heart.” I know Maureen feels the same way–Steve’s work gives us courage to be more authentic and vulnerable as creators!

      • Maureen Anderson on August 25, 2021 at 9:54 am

        Not only that, Kate, but I’ve also made it to frame life’s emergencies (real and imagined) as a test of my devotion. What will I use as an excuse today? Equating “emergency” with “excuse” changes the game.

        Not that I’m the winner Steve is, not yet. But I know what winning looks like, thanks to him.

        • Maureen Anderson on August 25, 2021 at 9:55 am

          Made it A HABIT to frame life’s emergencies…

          Sorry about that.

        • Kate Stanton on August 26, 2021 at 8:17 am

          I LOVE this Maureen!!

  3. Bill Corbett on August 25, 2021 at 7:27 am

    Warriors,
    pressed into my frontal cortex during Naval flight school –where it still resides three decades later– was:
    1) Aviate 2) Navigate 3) Communicate 4) Check-lists, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS in that order.
    Everyone’s bucket will overflow with tasks, distractions, competing priorities, etc., particularly when you are flying close to the ground. The first order of business (…the mission of completing your writing for us) is to keep the plane from stalling and falling out of the sky, THEN worry about which compass direction the nose is pointing, THEN worry about the voice squawking on the radio, THEN worry about your switches. Adhere to that religiously when getting task-overloaded …and you will avoid ending up a black smoking hole in the ground.

    • Tim Murphy on August 25, 2021 at 7:36 am

      Amen, brother. I met Ran Ronen when I served over there. Compelling man.

    • Brian Nelson on August 25, 2021 at 8:28 am

      Bill,
      Such good advice. Don’t know if you read ‘Checklist Manifesto’ by Atul Gawande–but he makes the case in hospitals. Checklists are not a sign of dullards..they are necessary for everyone. The case might be made that creatives are in greater need of checklists than ‘operators’ who are more left-brain dominant.
      bsn

    • Rebecca on August 25, 2021 at 11:42 am

      Thank you for that. I took Ray Bradbury’s advice of jump and build your wings on the way down. It worked, but every now and then I write the word ‘flap’ on my arm to remind me that I need to keep things going. I may add a compass, a musical note, and a check mark after reading this.

      Speaking as a retired nurse, the days always went better when there was a check list. Our former professions have a lot in common.

  4. Diego on August 25, 2021 at 7:53 am

    Steve, thank you for constantly posting great articles like this. As one of the earlier commenters said, “It is reassuring in the way that you model appropriate behavior, focus, and choices amidst the troubles.” You’re a true inspiration. Keep pushing.

  5. Bing on August 25, 2021 at 8:01 am

    I love all these type of stories that help all of us to continue on. It can be Ran Ronen, Steve, Frank Sinatra or St Teresa of Avila. I love creative unstoppable people doing the work they were meant to do. Great post.

  6. Jesse on August 25, 2021 at 8:20 am

    You’re an inspiration Steve. Thank you, for you.

    • Yvonne on August 25, 2021 at 5:50 pm

      This is perfect, and perfectly timed, Steve (as always!). Thank you!

  7. Jule Kucera on August 25, 2021 at 8:23 am

    Steve, thank you for your honesty and vulnerability and your commitment to your work. Sometimes when one of my friends is going through a hard time, I write that I am sending them hugs and soft blankets. But that’s not you. So, for you, I’m sending a Spartan shield and helmet and a well-honed sword.

    Dvekut baMesima.

  8. Joan on August 25, 2021 at 8:35 am

    When you’re going through hell, keep going.
    —Winston Churchill

  9. Scott Mitchell on August 25, 2021 at 9:12 am

    What would Telamon of Arcadia do?

  10. Christopher G. Baker on August 25, 2021 at 9:13 am

    Rule #1: Fly the aircraft.

  11. Dee on August 25, 2021 at 10:09 am

    It’s a joy to learn from the masters of the air.

  12. John Checki on August 25, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Happy to be on board and flying with all y’all. Have Fun Doing the Work, Regardless……………………….of what does or doesn’t happen.

  13. John Checki on August 25, 2021 at 11:17 am

    Whoops, comment above, the Mission Continues Daily, thanks for the Wednesday pick me up.

  14. Peter Brockwell on August 25, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    Amazing. It’s almost unbelievable how Steve achieves this level of self-control, and keeps on-mission. I’m going through a period of practical and emotional turmoil, nay crisis too. Full-on since a couple of months ago, and highly distressing for a a good six months now. There’s anger and a sense of injustice boiling out of every pore. I’ve been sprinting from dawn to dusk longer than I can recall now, and I have more responsibilities than I’d wish on anyone. Circumstances are forcing me to act like ‘the bad guy’, so I’m also disgusted with myself. It’s hard to keep any sense of equanimity. I have a very supportive confidante, and occasionally I remember to meditate. I haven’t written for a couple of months, but it’s there in my HUD, reproaching me.

    • Peter Brockwell on August 26, 2021 at 10:35 am

      This is self-pitying crap. I need to button-up and follow Steve’s example.

      • Kate Stanton on August 27, 2021 at 8:59 am

        Peter,
        I relate so much to your comment. I tend to not get angry outwards unless it is expressed through writing or music. I hold it in. If I don’t express my anger, I turn it inwards and throw myself the largest pity-party imaginable. I don’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to be angry at others. The Rx? Write write write write in spite of Resistance with a capital R ! Middle fingers may or may not be blazing in their individual glory to “R”! Thank you, Steve!

  15. Danielle Scott on August 25, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    That sounds very serious, thank you for sharing with us. It is a reminder for everyone to press on with purposeful work at all times.

  16. Anonymous on August 25, 2021 at 6:33 pm

    noted, thanks steve

  17. Joe on August 25, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    Great comments today.

    • Joe on August 25, 2021 at 7:45 pm

      And wishing Steve some peace and equanimity. I think sometimes we take the admissions and acknowledgments of suffering too lightly. Like when somebody misses lunch, and by 4:00 pm claims to be “starving.” We know they’re not *actually* at risk of perishing from lack of food, so we take their claims (complaints) with a shaker of salt.

      Up there, I see in a single paragraph the words super-negative, afflicting, pursuing, freaking, crazed, and emergency. I take him at his word, and not akin to the overfed, having missed a meal, claiming starvation.

      I went to Ryan Holiday’s site in search for some curation of Stoic thought on this matter of “An external event with super-negative twists…” He points to Epictetus:

      “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”
      — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5

      So… be well, man.

      • Brian Nelson on August 26, 2021 at 2:32 pm

        Joe,
        Now that is some ancient wisdom. Gonna write that down and post on computer.
        bsn

  18. Tolis Alexopoulos on August 26, 2021 at 1:12 am

    Thank you dear Steve, Joe and all who commented! I am sorry for whatever happened to you Steve, I hope it has not to do with health issues and the approaching of the end of lives, but even if so, there is always life to continue the endless journey on earth and I’m pretty certain that the world will be grateful for one woman’s or man’s contribution to it (even if we can’t know or acknowledge it). Every person in this world did shake the infinite dynamics of the universe and of the future.
    I’m on a different state, quite challenging though: vacations at the family’s town with a young baby. The “Star Trek” phenomenon like you describe it in the War of Art (the grown ups arm the phasers, the children load the missiles etc.) is very evident, and there is always challenge to be created for absolutely no purpose -only to feel alive, like drugs. I can’t say that it makes my book better -I can hardly work for 3+ hours and full of distractions- but with the path on my head, I try to get stronger and more focused. My little “victory” is that I think I got a little harder at being able to focus at what must be done within such chaotic situations, it’s almost like a navy-seals training or something to keep focus. When I was much younger, I would never had made it.
    The energies that attempt to distract us are everywhere! Like in the lord of the rings where Galandriel says, “stray but a little, and all the fellowship of the ring will fall.”
    We go on. We get trained either by muscled army men or by the in-laws, cousins, aunts and uncles! It’s a strange but very interesting world, and full of secret paths that are revealed only to those who are lucky enough to go on a search for them.

  19. Tolis Alexopoulos on August 26, 2021 at 1:24 am

    *(cont.) I can say though that all the obstacles also reveal that I am weaker than I should, too. I know I could wake up earlier. I know I could think more and more practically. I know I could organize things and communicate with the people and tend the ones in need better. I heard this phrase a few days ago and it touched me, it went like this: how can we possibly think we can change the world with our creations, when we only work a few hours a day although we should perhaps work all day many days, for such goals? Here of course comes the “Μέτρο άριστο”, everything in moderation, which I think must be interpreted in the right way.

  20. Rock Stones on August 26, 2021 at 4:55 am

    Amazing. It’s nearly unbelievable how Steve maintains such self-control while being on mission.

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  22. jaattvishal on September 1, 2021 at 3:09 am

    Amazing

  23. Morgan on September 1, 2021 at 6:49 am

    Thanks for sharing behind the scenes…freaking out is something hard to avoid

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