There’s lots of training that comes with being a pilot. How to take off. How to land. How to fly from point A to point B. Lots of obvious stuff. But there’s a whole other set that’s less obvious – the “what to do if things go belly up” (potentially, literally) bit. It turns out, a fair amount of flight training is spent on this stuff – emergency procedures. 

When you do emergency training you do all sorts of fun things. Pull the throttle back to 0% throttle, wait for the wings to lose lift, fall from the sky and recover. Or better yet, near an airfield, pull the power and glide into a landing (or…often…add power to help get yourself to the runway because you screwed it up). 

The obvious problem with all this training: you have no idea how you’ll react when there’s a real emergency.

I was once departing out of an airport in the Washington DC area. Climbing out, at about 4,000 feet, my engine went rough – and I only had one engine. After feeling a serious jolt of adrenaline race down my spine, I pushed forward on the control stick (probably a bit too hard, if I’m being honest with myself). A few seconds later, the engine smoothed out.

In the words of the booming voice in the movie “this is *not* a test.” And when things got real, it turned out, I did the right thing. Good to know. 

We all have some kind of self image – how good we are under pressure. How nice we are to others. How good a teammate we are. The list goes on. But the experience above reminded me that we just don’t know how we, and others, will react until things “get real.” 

So is there any way you can ensure you’ll react the way you think you will when things do indeed get real? I think three things can help:

1. You can never train enough. Said another way – never stop learning. And when you learn, you need to integrate the learning into your go forward model. In one ear out the other won’t help much when you’re making decisions more on instinct than anything else.

2. Put yourself out there. It’s trite, but it’s important. Get yourself into uncomfortable situations. Push yourself. If you do this recreationally, you’ll have lots more opportunities to get to know yourself than when things really count.

3. Evaluate your performance. After that stressful period. That fire drill at work. That difficult team situation, ask yourself if you performed as you thought you would, or whether you fell short of what you’d expect of yourself. If you fell short, then think about why and try to fix the behavior next time around.

Knowing yourself – not the idealized you, but the real you – is critically important both for happiness and success. If you keep learning, push yourself into uncomfortable situations, and take time to evaluate, you’ll likely get to know the real you just a little bit better.