Regaining Lift

Most of us experience stalling at some stage in our lives. In our attempts to be all we can. In our attempts to climb as high as we can, as fast as we can.

The problem is, like an aeroplane, we can only climb so fast. If we pitch the nose up too high, or carry too much weight, we run the risk of stalling. And if we do, then we’re only left with one choice.

Just like an aeroplane, the only way to recover – the only way – is to point the nose back towards the ground. You have to sacrifice height in order to regain lift. 

For many of us this is the last thing we want.

When we’ve had our eyes on that optimum crushing level – that perfect enviable position we wish we were at in life – we find it hard to let go. We become so fixated on that place we lose all sense of what’s actually going on, what actually needs to be done in the here and now. 

Of course if you keep pitching up in desperation – if you refuse to accept your situation – well, then, the results can be catastrophic. 

Towards the end of 2019 I found myself in such a stall. I was mentally and physically exhausted. The relentlessly busy rosters and regular night flying had taken its toll. I also needed help navigating depression.

I’d known for some time I needed help, I just didn’t want to admit it. So in desperation I kept trying to pitch the nose up. Of course it only made things worse. I only found myself in a deeper stall.

Eventually I conceded. I acknowledged the stall and pointed the nose down. I asked for the professional help I’d ignored getting for years.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Shortly afterwards the pandemic gripped the world and I suddenly found myself with an abundance of time at home. All of which gave me the perfect opportunity to keep the nose down. To utilise my support systems. As a result I spent the first half of 2020 at home, resting, writing, reading and being with the people I love.

It was exactly what I needed to regain lift. 

By June, when I finally went back to work I felt ready, like the heavy fog that had shrouded my mind had lifted and I could fly once more. It’s just that, this time, the whole world had stalled. Little did I know just how long that stall would last. A year on I still don’t. 

What followed were a series of professional setbacks. The biggest of which came when my company consigned our sister airline to the history books. A fifth of our workforce went jobless overnight. Those of us lucky enough to still cling to our jobs in aviation, were forced onto a new contract in very friendly sign-or-be-sacked kinda manner.

Fast forward to the present day and my coworkers are still fearing for their livelihoods. Many of them have family who live abroad they haven’t seen for well over a year. I’m one of the lucky ones with my family here in Hong Kong. On top this the lack of flying means many of us are rusty. The added stress isn’t helped by quarantine or the ever changing medical/testing requirements. I haven’t even mentioned the fear of contracting the virus itself.

This week I actually got to fly. To give you an idea of the times, the Captain and I flew an empty passenger jet to Hanoi and back. We carried nothing but a bit of cargo in the belly. On arrival into Hong Kong we were made to test for COVID, then wait 3 hours for the results before they let us go home. We were the lucky ones. Many of our other colleagues flying to higher risk destinations and/or with passengers on board are made to quarantine for 3 weeks in a hotel room before being allowed home. 

All the above has made the job more demanding that it has ever been.

Yet, despite this, flying to Hanoi and back was some of the most fun I’ve had in an aeroplane for a number of years. I believe that’s because this pandemic has given me something from being forced to point the nose down for the past year and a half. What I believe it really takes to recover from any stall in life: perspective

I became a pilot to fly aeroplanes and travel the world, but that’s not why I get in an aeroplane anymore. I’ve come to realise those motives alone aren’t enough anymore. They don’t generate enough lift.

Now I fly, above all else, to help the world. To make sure the few passengers who need to travel get home to their families safely. To help transport critical cargo where it needs to go. To keep my company afloat. I fly not just for me and my family, but for the man or women sitting next to me and their families. I fly for all those who lost their jobs. I fly as part of a rich and proud aviation heritage during what is arguably its most difficult hour. 

It’s like that story about three bricklayers who were asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

I’ve transitioned from the second bricklayer to the third. I fly with a far greater passion derived from a deeper meaning that’s been given to this profession – to all things – during this time. Ultimately that’s what I believe pointing the nose down allows you to see. It reminds you what it’s all about. Why you even get up in the morning. 

And call me crazy, but for the first time in a while I feel a glimmer of hope. Now that I’m fully vaccinated, with a slight uptick in the amount of flying rostered this month, with genuine talks of opening up travel bubbles… 

Of course I’m aware you have to be very careful with hope. Often the light at the end of the tunnel is simply another train coming at you. And if it is, so be it. I’m ready.

Still, I do believe this time we might actually be at the bottom of this stall. That we might finally have the energy – the perspective – to start the slow ascent towards bluer skies. Back towards a new, more sustainable, cruising level. I, for one, can’t wait for the day I look back down the cabin and see the plane full of happy travellers once more.

I, for one, am more than ready to do my part, to help make that happen. 

(Thanks for reading everyone. I’m curious to know what stories you have of stalling in life? How did you deal with it? What helped you recover? Let us know below. Wishing you well.)


If you like to read more of AP’s perspective on the world from 40,000ft, then please check out his personal blog here:

34 thoughts on “Regaining Lift

  1. Life is an ongoing recovery process. Right when you think you’ve got it under control, something or the other slips out of your grasp. Pain and progress are all about rediscovering yourself and the joys that keep you going. Like you said, ‘finding your calling’. I wish you all the best and hope that the world can eventually heal and move forward. Times are difficult.

    1. Thank you Terveen Gill. You’re not wrong. That’s why I try to be careful with hope, especially when attaching it to something over which I have no control. I wish you all the best too 🙏

  2. AP, Your personal account is beautifully written and inspiring. <3 Thank you for posting it.

    Robert and I got covid19 over a year ago and are suffering the effects of long covid, but I am recovering and feeling better every day. Since I am feeling better, I may be able to help Robert, who also had a few complications, feel better too.

    Throughout the cardiac symptoms, severe digestive problems, kidney infection, and other complications I experienced, the wonderful bloggers on WordPress helped me maintain a positive outlook most of the time. Now, cleared by the cardiologist, digestive problems improving, and fully vaccinated, I can feel my life returning to normal. I look forward to seeing family members once again. 🙂

    Hope you are able to continue forging ahead with your career. Glad you are finding new perspectives and motivations that make work meaningful. Continue to enjoy your career and your family life in good health! <3
    All the best!

    1. Cheryl, thank you. I am sorry to hear about your health issues but very pleased to hear you’re on the mend. Your resilience and positivity is inspiring. I believe what everyone has given you on WordPress is exactly what you have given them. Wishing you and Robert good health and brighter skies ahead. 🙏

  3. This reminds me of the annoying warnings the flight deck gives us in maintenance when we’re testing various systems. STALL, STALL, STALL…PULL UP…ENGINE OIL! Sometimes many of them play together, creating a symphony of monotonous voices. I guess life can be just like this sometimes.

  4. Good words brother. Someone once said “God is my copilot”. Remembering that He’s in the right seat of this flight called life sure helps smooth the turbulence and pull out stalls we will be inevitability encounter on the journey.

    1. It’s nice when we’re not stuck by ourselves. I prefer having a copilot than flying solo. Thanks brother! 🙏

  5. I am hoping I can regain lift one of these days… it has been a long ride downwards… In 2016 my mother died and my father was diagnosed with cancer one month after her death. One year later almost to the day my father died. In the aftermath, I bought a house by myself and started to “recenter” and then in a whirlwind I still can’t quite comprehend, my life went from single, never married to married in 9 months (Nov 2018). And for reasons known only to God, because it certainly was never, ever in the realm of my imagination, one year after our wedding, I was in a courtroom seeking an annulment which was granted in January of 2020. I felt betrayed and tossed aside. And then the pandemic hit and took away every communal grounding point in my life – the church – my 3 performance choirs – the symphony – and for a while even my coworkers. I was deemed an essential worker and have never worked harder or more in my life than I have this past year so I missed out on the pause that this pandemic granted – but surely was lavished with its isolation – which was the worst thing that could have befallen me at this point in my life.
    I just turned 50. Never could I have dreamed I would have no idea what on earth I am here for at this age and stage of life – but I don’t! What is my why? What are my dreams? I have no answer except to make it through the day.
    My faith is strong and I do believe that the challenges I faced earlier in life prepared me for the ones I am facing today – but then I think Good God, what else do have in store for me that requires this kind of training???
    I appreciate your thoughtfulness in this piece. I so want to have a calling again. What once called me by name, spirit, and imagination no longer seems to recognize me nor I “it”.
    As one who is slightly terrified of flying, it gives me comfort to know there are pilots like you in charge.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Erika. I’m sorry to hear about all your difficulties. One curve ball after the other. I’m happy to hear your faith is keeping you afloat.

      I tend to believe our calling always changes as we grow/depending on our life circumstances. It is never fixed. Nothing in life is. My only thoughts are keep looking. Often our biggest struggles lead us to our most important callings.

      I sincerely hope you find you yours. Wishing you well, AP2 🙏

      1. Thank you!! Somedays we can only see the difficulties we face and miss the glimpses of grace that are showered upon us as we make our way through the muck. Today I am embracing the grace and looking up!!

  6. I love your use of your profession to create an analogy for something we can all relate to. Brilliant! It makes me wonder – what are the instruments that helps us know when we are about to stall in this analogy? Our friends? Our health? Our attitude? Our faith? Because there are times that we all need to believe in something bigger than ourselves in order not to crash and that question seems like a question for another post! 🙂

    1. That’s a very good question. And indeed a post worthy one. I’ll give it some thought. I think our intuition tells us when we need to back off or let go. It’s our ego that always wants more and more. Wisdom is knowing which one to listen to at any one time. I suspect those who only listen to the ego are more liable to stall. Of course if you have an addiction and/or are distracted, our friends and family (copilots) are the ones who need to step up and tell us – even if it hurts our pride. Otherwise I’m sure our health will eventually start screaming STALL STALL STALL just like the bells and whistles in a flight deck. Thank you wynneleon for your kind words and thoughtful question. Wishing you well 🙏

  7. Hey AP😃

    This is such an insightful post. I love the aeroplane analogy! So uplifting 😉

    I’m happy to read that you’ve risen above the fog. These are uniquely challenging times and to hear that one of us has found their rhythm is inspiring enough!

    Stay well, buddy!

  8. A really insightful post. COVID has been a time of changing perspectives and learning resilience for so many. I love the aircraft analogy and how our work can be redefined in a more meaningful way. I live in rural Australia and feel blessed that I got to spend lockdown on our country property. Speaking of aircraft, we live in a flight path where interstate planes fly overhead, It was so strange during lockdown not to hear a single plane. I am a work in progress especially with my blog. Keep up the good work.

    1. Nature is a wonderful thing to have on your doorstep during. I have a local park I walk around everyday here that has helped keep me sane during lockdown. We are all works in progress – always. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey. That’s the important bit. Thank you for leaving such kind comments. 🙏

  9. In a certain world view that I very much agree with, stagnation is considered the most unwanted state of being. Energy piling up instead of flowing is simply bad for a system. Any system. It is simply the feature of life, of existence to flow, and to change from one state to another….
    I sense optimism and the beginning of a new process in your words;
    I read “change”… 🙂

  10. Ten years ago, starting my first ‘real’ job after graduating from university, I was a little excited, but much more apprehensive. While working for the next six months I became more and more stressed, not from the work but other factors in my life, I started sleeping fewer hours, until eventually I was sleeping three hours a night. I stalled hard. My mental and emotional wellbeing had tried to drag me up, but had pulled the brake and I went into an uncontrolled freefall.

    Thankfully I found a caring GP and they strongly recommended I took time off work. Each time I visited them, at some point they would ask “And do you think you’re ready to go back to work?” There was no pressure, it was simply a question asking me how I felt. When I finally did say yes, a year later, it was a surprise even to me.

    That year I took off work I spent playing video games, reading books, and playing ultimate frisbee. But most of all, I struggled to find the strength to believe getting out of bed any day was worth any effort. Realising I needed to let go of what I thought I “should” do, and just be who I was at that time was important.

    Letting myself fall back into being me.

    Thank you for sharing such a meaningful part of your story, and encouraging us to do the same.🙏

    1. That’s beautiful Hamish. Thank you for sharing your story too! I love how you put it, “Letting myself fall back into being me.” The great paradox is that real change is only found through acceptance. Wishing you well Hamish 🙏

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