What I learned from Chuck Yeager
In June of 2011 I went to see Chuck Yeager speak at the McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. There was just a small crowd of us gathered on folding chairs assembled together in front of a legend at the Aerospace Museum.
Chuck Yeager is 89 years old. He still flies jets however is required to have another pilot fly with him. He still does not need glasses. Some things he was born with and some things he learned along the way. He spoke with humor and handled questions with smart answers for just about two hours.
And this is what I learned:
1. Be humble. He never seemed to think much of what he did or bask in the glow of his accomplishments. He thought, “ok I checked that off now on to the next step.”
2. Acceptance. Chuck Yeager faced death numerous times. He believed if something bad was to happen it was going to happen whether he liked it or not. There was nothing he could do about it so he refused to waste time thinking about something he couldn’t control. “Put it out of my head, erase the thought.” Then focus every faculty he had on getting out of the perilous situation he found himself in.
3. Have humor. He used good humor during traumatic life events. Mr. Yeager was shot down over France in WWII. As his plane disintegrated around him he thought, “well I don’t have to worry about punching out!” He evaded German capture for three days in the woods. “No German could catch a West Virginian in the woods!” He was taken in by French resistance fighters who helped him make his way to neutral Spain and from there he was traded back to the U.S. in exchange for fuel.
4. Make your own luck: Prepare. He would ask himself, “How can this plane kill me?” When testing an X1 jet he realized if he had full fuel and made an abrupt landing the gear would collapse. However the fuel release was battery-powered. He knew if something happened to the battery and he was unable to dump fuel he wouldn’t be able to get to the ground and land safely. So he jerry-rigged a back up battery source for the fuel release switch, just in case. Sure enough one test flight that very problem happened… he lost battery power and had to land. He was able to dump fuel and land safely because he was prepared.
5. Practice. Practice. Practice. During off duty time his buddies would go out drinking and blowing off steam. Chuck Yeager would stay and fly. Over and over and over again. “The only way to stay alive is experience,” he said.
6. Seize the moment. Some things we just can’t control. He had 20:15 vision as a young man and still 20:20 in his 80’s. He was in the right place a the right time. But when the military started taking pilots with only high school diplomas instead of college degrees he seized the moment, took the test and went to flight school.
I thank my family and higher power for my gifts and effort to use it for good and not for evil.
I have courage in the face of uncertainty and focus every minute that I can on the path that is meant for me.
I laugh when the paint spills, the shelves fall, the pets make a mess. I smile with honor when love dies.
I am lucky and I learn.
I write. Over and over and over again.
When my moment comes, I will be ready.
What is YOUR favorite lesson from Chuck Yeager? Share with me, I’d love to know.