Professionalism through Reflection

Developing desirable traits through simple contemplation


Neon pink inscription: time to evaluate, on a green natural background. Concept for motivating background, business, self-development. 3D illustration, 3D render.

In the 1980s, psychologist Ola Svenson conducted a study of drivers in Sweden and America. The drivers were asked to rate themselves relative to other drivers. Nearly 90% of Americans and 80% of Swedish drivers believed they were in the top 50% of drivers – a statistical impossibility. The challenge of self-evaluation is that we all have different criteria by which we evaluate our performance. One person may find that the ability to text and drive without incident is a great skill, while another may determine that refraining texting and driving improves their relative driving skill. Who is to determine what is safe anyway?

The year 2020 through today has been rough on the airlines, but more importantly, it has been rough on the people who make an airline what it is. Recollect your experience of the past twelve months. Did your carrier or your instructor cancel many flights during April through June, significantly reducing your flying opportunities (and therefore, your proficiency)? Did your company or flight school close down, slow down, downgrade or furlough? How did these dramatic changes affect your ability to focus on the job? Were you forced to commute or was your preferred schedule taken away from you? Has concern for your health, the health of your families and friends (including crew on overnights) taken a more central role than in years past? How has all of this affected you?

I ask these questions not to dwell on them but to bring concreteness to the nebulous concepts of threats from the virus and challenges facing the industry. The above issues are real in relation to safety. In June, I wrote We Have a Role in this Time of Crisis (June 2020) discussing how pilots can continue to play their part during a pandemic. In October, I wrote Contracts and Crisis, covering how airline management and labor unions have uniquely navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. So, how have you handled the challenges?

Before going any further, I want to cage our discussion in clear terms. Take out a pen and paper, and write down traits you desire to have, desirable traits of your peers, or desirable traits of your role models. Warren Buffett suggested that individuals should pick five traits from their favorite people, write them down and attempt to internalize them every day. So, who do you consider your peers? Who do you think of your role models? Why do you respect certain people? Is it their experience, education, demeanor, hobbies, beliefs? 

 Let’s focus on those aspiring to become airline pilots, though the following can be applied to any career, at any level. Let us assume you dream of becoming an airline pilot. You probably wrote that your role models or peers in aviation have technical expertise, a calm demeanor, excellent flying abilities, and strong communication skills. Have you demonstrated these traits in the last twelve months? Look at the traits you’ve written down and ask yourself questions like the ones below:

  • Have you continued to study and improve your knowledge while flying opportunities have dwindled? 
  • Have you sought ways to continue your general education while aviation is “on pause,” or slowed down? Have you started the hobbies you’ve always dreamed of but have never had the time for?
  • If you’re employed, have you had to explained new policies stemming from COVID-19 to customers? How did that go?
  • How have you handled confrontation? 

In short, have you turned this challenge into an opportunity? It is your job to be harshly critical of yourself. 

Even as time seemed to slow, progress has continued. Not the ideal year, but 2020 was a great time for to reflect, reassess, and recalibrate what matters in your life and your career. This year will likely offer our last respite before more years of hysteric growth, hiring, upgrades and all the associated hoopla. Take these next few months to assess your goals, progress and purpose. Think about who you want to be, not just in a professional sense, but a personal sense too.

This began with a story on self-evaluation of automobile drivers. Flying and driving are vastly different endeavors, but they share one major aspect (for now): both require a human operator. I have no doubt that 90% of pilots or aspiring pilots would rate themselves as top performers. Now ask yourself: How would your peers rate you?


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