The famous words of my Aircraft Performance teacher in flight school. He was always telling us to prepare for the worst conditions (be that snow, rain, ice, anything that makes aircraft performance worse) and hope for the best! In 2020 and 2021, I am finding this sentence is fairly applicable to life in general!
It’s nearly been a year since the pandemic hit Europe. I remember this time last year news was reaching us that the aviation sector in China was shutting down and there were whispers of lockdowns happening over there in an attempt to manage the spread. Did I think one year on, I would still find myself sitting in my flat with no work? No. I thought at worst I would only have a few months of little to no flying.
The pandemic has put me in a strange situation where, for the first time in my life, I do not have anything specific to do. This has meant I have struggled to set myself goals, to be motivated and seeing where my life is going is difficult too. As an athlete, you become so used to having goals, motivation and a direction in life; so this is a new and slightly scary concept! Nonetheless, I manage by living very much in the moment (something my Grandma taught me). I take each day as it comes and don’t put pressure on myself to feel I have to do anything specific. As someone who has been used to an entire life of routine, discipline and hard work, this has been hard to accept and sometimes I have punished myself for exhibiting this behaviour. But over time, I have realised living in the moment is what works best for me during this pandemic.
However, in September I realised that if summer 2021 is not busy for the civil aviation industry, it has the potential to collapse in a way we have not seen before. If this happens, I will find myself facing a significant halt in my flying career and probably will need to come to terms with facing another career change, a mere six years after putting my previous career behind me. I have never been someone to sit around and wait to see what will happen, and I am certainly not going to let this situation be the exception. So of course, I began investigating.
When I retired from Alpine Skiing in 2015, I had no interest in keeping that door open. I completely closed it because at the time it was the best way for me to cope with my transition out of competitive sport. However, since my graduation from flight school in 2017 (when I received an email from a member of the IOC who was researching where the first generation of Youth Olympians were five years down the line) the door has gradually begun to inch open again. About two years later, I received an email from TASS inviting me to be a panellist at their annual conference and later to join TAAG, the door has opened even more. Now (oddly thanks to the pandemic) I’ve flung it wide open.
In a bid to prepare myself for a worst case scenario of losing my job, I have been investigating my strengths. What am I good at? What makes me stand out? What do I enjoy? My immediate answer was art and writing, but that is very hard to make a career out of. You need contacts and connections, which I don’t have access to. During the pandemic I have often found myself in a reflective state and casting my mind back to my athletic career, along with looking at the journey I have been on since. Due to my own experiences, specifically the struggles and limitations I faced, I have known for a while athlete welfare is something I am passionate about. I reached out to TASS to discuss possible paths for me should the worst case happen. I discovered the area which most interests me is lifestyle support and I am now aiming to do the TALS qualification when a course next becomes available. In the meantime, it was recommended to me to gain experience working with athletes in an NGB setting. I reached out to Snowsport England and I am now working voluntarily as their Performance Lifestyle Advisor for Alpine Skiing. My role currently involves participating in athlete & parent meetings, assisting the Alpine Manager with the team and providing input towards the regeneration of the Pathway Programme.
Although I do not know what the next year or so has in store for me with regards to where I am going with my life, there is one thing I am sure of. As a pilot, I am not directly qualified to do anything else (I also do not have a degree). However as a pilot-athlete, I would say I have a fair number of skills I can bring to the table, regardless of where life takes me next. Whatever happens in the short-term future, thanks to my experiences of being an athlete and the subsequent transition out of sport, I believe I have the resilience and creativity to adapt to what lies ahead and weather any storm ahead. Ultimately I will be ok.
My Takeaway Tips:
- Self Kindness - “Be Kind. Think First. Have Fun.” (Jeff Shiffrin, father of Mikaela Shiffrin). When I look back on my athletic career, I sometimes get hit by a wave of pain because I realised how unkind and harsh I was on myself. As athletes, we tend to get overly focused on results and outputs goals that when we do not achieve what we are looking for, we can be hard on ourselves and forget to be kind.
- Be flexible and adaptable - entering this pandemic, you, like me, may have had a clear path ahead of you. Now it is hard to know where we are going next and what lies ahead. That’s ok! Just go with the flow, do things in the moment that your future self will be thankful for and be open to the idea that when the path becomes clear again, it may not be the same as the one you had in mind prior to the pandemic.
- ‘Your Best’ - one thing I have come to appreciate as a pilot since transitioning out of sport (and wish I had appreciated as an athlete!) is that ‘my best’ fluctuates from day to day. Today, I may not be as good as I was yesterday, but that is ok! On the rare occasion I do fly at the moment, I have learnt to not put pressure on myself by having high expectations because I know right now ‘my best’ is lower than ‘my best’ before the pandemic when I was flying regularly. As long as I go and do ‘my best’ and I am safe, that is all that matters. Similarly with sport, when you do get to compete again, do not expect ‘your best’ to be the same that it was before the pandemic. If it is, great! If it isn’t, that’s ok too! Adapt the concept of ‘doing your best’ to the level that your best is now.