19th November 2020

Being playful and allowing a childhood dream to take flight

By Maxine Burrell

My parents always encouraged my sister and I to experience the world. They wanted us to be open-minded, to understand that the way we lived wasn’t the only way to live.

I grew up in the Middle East and travelling was a big part of our lives. We were always visiting somewhere wonderful. That’s when my fascination with flying started.

Back then, it was still possible to go into the cockpit and meet the pilot. British Airways had a children’s flying club, the Junior Jet Club. I remember taking my logbook to the captain for him to fill in the flight details. Being in a plane was the most exciting place to be. Flying offers a unique view of the world, putting everything into perspective.

As a teen, I contemplated joining the RAF. After passing the assessments, I got to the final stage, the medical, but unfortunately, allergies held me back.

I explored being a commercial pilot but was worried that by making it a job, flying would lose some of its shine.

Instead I became an engineer and then an accountant. Now I’m a coach. I’d been a sports coach in my teens and loved it. I’ve always been people-person. People have always shared their frustrations and aspirations with me. I’m known for my ‘tough love.’

Permission to take off

A significant birthday brought with it an incredibly thoughtful and generous gift from my partner: flying lessons.

I would spend three months in San Diego learning to fly a Piper Cherokee, which still uses the same engine design as a WW2 Spitfire.

I was lucky to have been given a generous nudge towards my dream, but don’t let that be your default. Nudge yourself! Remember that you certainly shouldn’t wait for permission from anyone else.

I was surprised how anxious I was given my excitement. I went into it with confidence, almost child-like in my belief that I could just fly but then the adult kicked in. I knew that whatever decision I made in the air would determine if I made it back down to earth.

I thought ‘I’m never going to be able to fly without someone next to me.’ Eventually something shifted. Reminding yourself of what you will achieve and how you’ll do it will help you persevere. Remember everything takes practice!

More than a pilot’s license

The experience revealed how I liked to learn. A bad experience with one aggressive instructor really spoiled things for me. I lost that joy.

Then I met Kristina, a seasoned pilot and instructor. She was kind and smart and she brought home to me the importance of finding an instructor or support that is tailored to you and your needs. It’s the same with coaching.

She said, ‘you must find the fun again’.

So, we flew out to different air fields and visited their cafes. We conducted an extensive pancake sampling expedition of California. I flew in America’s big skies, observed the scenery and landmarks. It was just about flying and finding that sense of fun again. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Learning with Kristina had nothing to do with objectives, certainly not at the start. It was about rediscovering that passion, trusting myself and drawing on all my life experiences. We are still very good friends.

It was wonderful. In the afternoons, I studied on Ocean Beach, the sound of the waves in the background. I could also immerse myself in one of my other favourite hobbies: people watching. It didn’t hurt that it was also home to the best burger place in the area, Hodad’s!

My sense of joy restored, I continued to build my technical knowledge: pre-flight planning and checks, refuelling, navigating, emergency procedures and radio communications.

After nine exams and a three-hour flying test, the plane was back on the runway and I had passed.

What my examiner stayed with me. He said, ‘This is just the beginning. Now is when the real learning starts. The responsibility of the machine and of human life rests with you.’ Learning shouldn’t stop when you get a certificate.

A few months later, I was thrilled to be able to fly in Africa with my partner. It was incredible.

Reinforcing my sense of self

Through play and experimentation, I established a stronger sense of self-belief. I was learning in a very male-dominated environment which was so harsh it bordered on bullying.

I could have given up. However, my mum says I have the determination of a dog with a bone and she’s right. I know I can do anything. Adopting a mindset of experimentation - that setbacks are part of the process, strengthened my confidence.

Achieving your dreams isn’t easy. It takes time and work. The setbacks are frequent but through this experience, I know for certain that I can build resilience and cope.

More than anything, I know that by continuing to engage with a sense of play, I can maintain that childhood wonder that was sparked in me as a child.

i-Coach takeaways

1. Take some time to think back. Right back.

Reflect on those moments as a child in which you felt excited, curious and free. What were you doing? This could provide you with a good clue for an activity you might want to rediscover as an adult. If you struggle, ask a sibling, parent or friend. Look back at photos, school reports or old videos.

2. Don’t wait for permission

As children we wait for the grown up in the room to give us permission. It’s a dynamic we take into adulthood. You are the grown-up in the room, so give yourself permission. In the same way, don’t hold out that someone is going to treat you to a fabulous gift, whether it’s flying lessons or an online class, get into the habit of enabling yourself.

3. Figure out your learning style

Take some time to think about your learning style. It’ll help you to find an appropriate instructor who can offer you the most effective experience. Reflect on the style of your favourite teachers or leaders, when did you learn something and have fun at the same time? i-Coach can help you establish your learning style [let’s link to learning to learn] and the kind of support you need to flourish.

4. Once you decide, act.

Channel some child-like impulsivity. Once you decide what you want to do and how you like to learn, book a lesson immediately. In between the decision and the action, we run the risk of letting fears build and talking ourselves out of it. Don’t give yourself the time to.

5. Play offers more than fun.

Recognise the huge additional benefits of play. Play brought friendship into Max’s life. It took her to new geographies, tasting new food, observing new landmarks and people. The stuff of a rich life, a life you love.