Posted by: Korry | September 22, 2011

A Flight Plan For Life

Success in aviation, as in life, is all about seeing the big picture and not sweating the small stuff. Now I realize that’s easier said than done, especially given the thousands of little decisions we each must make every single day…or every single flight. But if a pilot is to make a successful flight—or if a person is to have a successful life—then the primary focus must always be on the big picture. Without a clear understanding of the big picture, how can any pilot or person begin to prioritize and organize all the little decisions that need to be made along the way?

Flight planning is all about seeing the big picture.

It’s a framework that encourages us to answer questions such as where am I going? How am I going to get there? What significant challenges or obstacles will I face? What tools do I need in order to be prepared for those challenges? What will I do if all my planning falls apart?

No question is as important as the first one: Where am I going? It is the single point of reference that determines how you prioritize and organize all the other decisions that ever need to be made.

For example, let’s suppose I’m flight planning a trip from New York to Los Angeles. Having made the most important decision of all—that is, deciding that my destination is Los Angeles—I now have a framework from which to evaluate all the other variables. I can evaluate the weather across the country in order to identify the safest and most efficient routing that avoids significant storms and unfavorable headwinds while getting me to my destination safely and in the shortest time possible. I can zero in on the types of specific challenges I may encounter such as maintenance issues affecting my specific aircraft, en-route considerations like high terrain or vast expanses of water, and destination issues such as a runway closure, poor arrival weather conditions, etc. Then I can think about the tools I need for success. Maybe that means additional coordination with company personnel and/or possibly adding extra gas to increase reserves in case something would prevent me from landing at my destination. This may lead me to drill down even further to determine if the extra gas I need will require an adjustment to the amount of weight I can carry in terms of people or bags. Lastly, what happens if something occurs along the way that requires me to throw the whole plan out? What will I do then?

If I did my flight planning correctly, the answers should make themselves clear. The key is that each step of the process moves from big picture to small picture. Yes, I’m always thinking about the smallest details of a flight all the way down to the last switch or button that needs to be set correctly. But staying focused on the big picture allows me to prioritize and organize.

Life is the same way. It seems that we, as humans, are geared to think about the minutia while downplaying the importance of the big picture. As kids, we were all asked what we wanted to do in life (big picture). But as we age, our thoughts seem to move to the little picture instead of big picture. We think about getting a job (little picture), not necessarily the job that will serve as a stepping stone towards our ultimate goal.

If we give ourselves a…dare I say it…life’s flight plan, we would start out by asking the deep questions about where we truly want to go in 5, 10, 15 or more years from today. We would seek that clarity so we could then prioritize and organize all the little pieces of our lives to align with that overarching goal.

Does that mean that once we make a decision about our destination that we’re committed to it at all costs? Absolutely not! Life is anything but constant. It always changes and evolves. To be successful, we must evaluate new information and determine if it now warrants a new direction.

In the end, flight plans are just that…plans. They force us to think about where we want to go before we take even one simple step. They help us prioritize and organize our flight decks and our lives. They help us track our progress towards our goals. They provide a filter for evaluating new information. And most of all, they provide a framework and structure to our decision making that leads to success on and off the flight deck.

What do you think? Do you find that the day-to-day minutiae is more of a focus in your life than the big picture? Do you think a flight plan for life could help you to refocus? And if you already have a flight plan for life, does it help you to deal with life’s unexpected adventures?



  1. One of our readers recently asked whether Life’s Flight Plan was IFR or VFR. I guess the answer would be both! IFR and VFR are terms that refer to which type of flight rules govern a particular flight: instrument flight rules or visual flight rules. Both have their advantages and disadvantages for sure. I’ve added these terms to “Learn the Lingo” and will definitely talk more about them in the future.

  2. Well said, I agree 100%.

    • Great read this morning on the van ride to Baton Rouge airport.

  3. […] same goes for pilots and autopilots. Autopilots help pilots to see the big picture, and as I said here, being a good pilot is all about seeing the big […]

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  5. […] (or life) has a lot to do with planning. (New to Life’s Flight Plan? Learn what I mean here). The concept of V1 is nothing more than flight planning on a smaller scale. We think about what […]

  6. […] do in only a few short years what often takes many more years to do. The goals I set in my own flight plan for life were achieved. I was where I wanted to be for the rest of my career (or so I […]

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  8. […] I learned he worked as a producer for a local TV station. We talked about his job, his career flight plan that included a stint in Allentown (just down the road from where I live), and we even talked a […]

  9. […] time around, I am committed to being successful with my New Year’s Resolutions–my 2012 Flight Plan For Life–and I challenge you to do the same! Today, I’m going to provide an overview of what I […]

  10. […] I’m guessing that at least part of that excitement is due to the fact that I have a formal flight plan for my life this year. I’ve set goals in broad areas of my life to keep me balanced. I’ve created […]

  11. […] #1: Always leave yourself an out. Every good flight plan needs a ”Plan B”. When I’m on an airliner, that means knowing where the exits […]

  12. […] many times have you heard me talk about starting with the end in mind? We need a destination before we can make a flight plan and we need a goal before we can determine […]

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