Sweating Through Your Flight Suit
Here is a scene I heard over and over, interviewing Israeli fighter pilots (and I’m sure it’s commonplace in air forces and other combat units all over the world.)
A pilot would describe returning to base after a combat mission. He’d land safely, taxi to a stop; his ground crew would come running to the plane; they’d set the ladder against the aircraft’s flank, open the the cockpit cowling so the pilot could climb out and down … only he, the returning fighter pilot, would be so wrung out emotionally and so shattered with fatigue that he couldn’t get out of his seat.
Ground crewmen would have to literally lift him from under the arms and carry him down to terra firma.
And yet …
And yet, he, the pilot, had completed the mission. He had dropped his bombs, he had fought off enemy attacks in the air, he had done what he was sent out to do.
In such a situation [here is Gen. Ran Ronen on the subject], 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.
I know it’s a stretch to compare what you and I do—safe in our offices with our cups of tea or coffee beside us—with the peril faced by pilots in life-and-death air-to-air combat. But there is, at least metaphorically, a parallel.
You and I deal with panic too. We feel our lives flash before our eyes. Our hearts race, our blood pressure soars, our figurative flight suits become soaked with sweat.
The lesson here is that doesn’t matter. That’s just the body doing what bodies do.
It’s okay to feel terror. It’s okay to break down in tears (as I myself have done countless times). It’s okay to finish the day so weak and limp, you have to pour yourself out of your chair and collapse into the arms of the nearest spouse/wet bar/loyal Labrador.
It’s okay to feel and do all that.
Just keep flying the mission.