Fear and Satisfaction with 3 Feet to the Left

I used to think soloing a plane as a 17-year-old student pilot was the most terrifying—and rewarding—thing I’d ever done. Then I published 3 Feet to the Left, my new memoir available here about my leadership journey as United’s then-youngest captain, and during the whirlwind week and a half that followed, I quickly remembered what I knew deep down inside:

Every incredible journey begins with what feels like a perilous first step.

Perhaps you know this feeling, too. Perhaps you’ve stood in a boardroom, trying to slow your breathing as you flipped through your PowerPoint slide deck one last time before presenting to the CEO, your boss, or some other important leader in your company. Perhaps you have felt trepidation before telling your kids that you were going to move your family to a new town so that Mommy or Daddy could take a new job. Perhaps you have experienced the butterflies in your stomach just before stepping on stage with your old rock band, hoping you still have the musical chops to wow the crowd.

Friends, life is intended to be lived fully. Fear is unfortunately going to be there every single time, whispering in the background for you to quit, give up, or lay low. Please, PLEASE, for your sake and for the sake of everyone who might benefit from your work, power through it! Because what comes out the other side is incredible and powerful and rewarding beyond measure. But the choice of whether you cower to fear or push through it is yours alone. And it’s never an easy choice.

Choosing to Move Forward

Sitting at my little round kitchen table, my laptop open to my Facebook page, and the draft of my post publishing my promo video for 3 Feet to the Left, I was terrified. My fingers trembled. My heart raced. I wondered, after four years or writing and rewriting, is 3 Feet to the Left really good enough? Is it truly ready? Will my friends be excited or will they mock and ridicule me? After all, I poured my heart and soul into its manuscript. I laid bare my insecurities and my leadership failings as much as I detailed the times when I felt so proud of the job I had done for my passengers and my company. But with the click of one button, there would be no more chance to tweak and edit. With the click of that button, my story would be available to anyone, a thing that would quickly take on a life of its own.

I stood up and walked over to the sliding glass door looking out onto our back yard and the rolling Pennsylvania hills in the distance. I breathed deeply, tapping the tips of my fingers together. I thought back to that first solo flight of mine as a 17-year-old when I sat at the beginning of the runway, fearful for what lay ahead, and questioning whether I had what it takes to succeed as a pilot. Back then, my life literally depended on me believing in myself. This time, I knew the choice was similar: either I could hide the work that I was proud of, or I could publish it and let the world make its judgment. Sure, publishing a book doesn’t have the actual life-or-death stakes of safely flying an airplane all by oneself. But it does require putting one’s reputation on the line. And reputations take years to build, so I wondered, if people don’t like 3 Feet to the Left, what would that mean for mine?

And then I heard the words of Nelson Mandela and his powerful “Our Deepest Fear” speech in my head, especially when he said, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” I heard the lyrics of the chorus from Francesca Battistelli’s driving anthem “The Breakup Song” where she sings, “Fear, you don’t own me / There ain’t no room in this story / And I ain’t got time for you / Telling me what I’m not / Like you know me well guess what? / I know who I am.”

And suddenly I felt strong. This wasn’t about anyone else; this was about me.

This was about living, not cowering; this was about believing, not questioning.

So I sat back down at the table, clicked post, and immediately felt my stomach drop out from under me as one final punch from fear lurking in the background. I closed my eyes, took a breath, and then I waited to see what would happen. And I didn’t have to wait very long.

The likes and supportive comments started right away, blowing me away by the level of support and belief in me by the people in my network. As I’m writing this now, 3 Feet to the Left’s launch video has garnered more than 7,000 views and 99 shares between Facebook and LinkedIn. The book has sold several hundred copies out of the gate—in the United States, the United Kingdom, and even Germany.

But it’s the comments and emails I’ve read that have really taken me back, like these from Cranky Flier Brett Snyder’s blog post about the book:

“Could barely put it down to go to bed last night. Just finished today, and I can tell that I’m going to be thinking about the lessons from it for a long while. Great, great book, the best I’ve read in years, and one that I will be giving copies of to more than a few people.”

“Thanks for the book recommendation, Brett; the only downside is that I stayed up too late last night finishing it.”

“Ordered – looking forward to it. We’ll see if my 10-year-old aviation-nut son likes it, too.”

Satisfaction

Friends, I can’t even begin to describe what it feels like to read these types of comments. As a writer, I try my best to keep the reader engaged so the pages keep turning at a rapid clip. I want a reader to forget about his or her own world for a little while and get completely lost in mine. I want them to feel the excitement and thrill that comes with piloting a Boeing 737. I want them to experience the gorgeous vistas I see from nearly 40,000 feet above the Earth. And I want to use that vicarious exploration as a vehicle for imparting a takeaway that may help the readers of 3 Feet to the Left in their own lives as they face their own unique challenges. That a young person might read 3 Feet to the Left and become inspired to pursue a career in aviation because of the words I’ve written is something I never even really considered. It truly blows my mind to think of the lasting impact my work may have on people of all ages and places, if only in a small way.  

And yet I know those comments are just the first indication of what may await me on this new journey as an author. They were the fuel that helped 3 Feet to the Left become Amazon’s #1 Best Seller in Commercial Aviation on October 10. They were likely some of the inspiration for why travel writer and blogger JohnnyJet listed 3 Feet to the Left as his Book of the Week this week. And if I had caved to fear, none of this would have happened.

Will you cave? Or will you climb higher?

Friends, what choice are you facing right now where fear is whispering in your ear? Will you do me a favor—will you do the world a favor—and please, PLEASE ignore that voice and move forward?

Fear doesn’t own you. There’s no room for fear in your story. You know who you are. We all do. Now, it’s time for you to go do what you were meant to do.

3 Feet to the Left is on sale now!

You should keep a journal.

These were the words of wisdom from more than a few captains with whom I flew just prior to becoming a captain myself. They assured me I wouldn’t believe the things that happen during my first year in the left seat. So I kept a journal, and true to form, I couldn’t believe the things that happened to me.

Now, a little more than 5 years since first taking command of a United Airlines Boeing 737 for the first time, I’m excited to announce that the story of my first year as a captain, 3 Feet to the Left: A New Captain’s Journey from Pursuit to Perspective, is officially on sale on Amazon as both a paperback and an eBook!

While I’ll have lots to say about the book in the near future, for now, I just want to share this brief promo video I put together.

3 Feet to the Left is a story about me, but it’s really a story about all of us. Because in one way or another, we are all on our own journeys…3 feet to the left.

Come with me!