Life Lessons Learned from Hang Gliding


As you may or may not know, I’ve been taking hang gliding lessons for the past few months. Because my time in Northern California is quickly coming to a close and it will be much more difficult to learn how to hang glide back in Michigan, I took a half day vacation this past Tuesday and headed down to Milpitas; I had two of the very best (and longest) flights that I’ve had to date. I was at the top of the 50 ft training hill all morning and learned a ton about steering and pitch! Being in the air for 20-30 seconds gave me much more time to try new things and to get feedback.

I was with two other students and while they were flying and hauling the glider back up the hill,  I considered some of the many parallels between hang gliding and life in general.

It’s hard to recover from a bad launch: When you launch a hang glider you’ve captured a lot of energy. Ideally a pilot uses this energy to navigate and stay aloft for a while (my instructor doesn’t even take out his glider if he’s not going to stay up for at least an hour). When I have launched my glider when it wasn’t balanced I always end up taking much shorter flights because I have to spend a lot of my energy correcting the glider in the air vs. doing it correctly on the ground. In life and business, I’ve found that doing something successful on your first time out of the gate is really important. When I bought my first house I paid fair market value. I also didn’t have to do much to the property except move in and get some house mates. This positive experience is responsible for my continued interest because it did something far more valuable than making money: it built my confidence such that I believed that I could do it successfully. Now when I purchase a property, it’s almost always below market value and has a 5 or 6 figure rehab budget. This type of project would be terrible property to start one’s real estate investing career one. Thus far I’ve been training on a 330 sqft glider. I’ll work my way down to a 170 sqft one. In life it’s important to aim for a perfect launch and to do that you should set yourself up for success by starting with training wheels.

Which naturally leads me into the idea of how timing is everything. Launching when the wind is working against you is not only foolish but can be dangerous. With any new venture you can have the best idea or plan in the world. And it could fail miserably only because you didn’t wait that extra minute, day, week, or month. Obviously you can’t wait forever, but if possible consider your timing.

Wind and luck are helpful. But you can get off the ground with no wind and if you work hard enough you can create your own luck. A hero of mine is Warren Buffett, and I have heard him talk about the fact that he considers himself lucky. That said, he also explains how important it is to be looking for those opportunities: open enough oysters and you’re going to find that flawless pearl. Kiss enough frogs and you may just find your prince/ss.

Always keep your eyes on the target. There’s a funny clip from Fraiser where he is trying to learn how to ride a bike as an adult…the problem was that anything he looked at he rode directly into. In hang gliding anything that you focus on you tend to head straight for. It’s a natural tendency that the things we think about most are the areas in which we tend to direct most of our focus. Make sure that you surround yourself with the things that are important to you.

Challenges and mistakes provide rapid growth opportunities; because the only way to learn things are from mistakes we have a very important choice: will you learn from mistakes that others have already made or will you have to make them yourself in order to learn? Learning from the failings of others allows you to sidestep the consequences of those mistakes and get a jump start towards making the next level of mistakes to further your learn. We often hear successful people say that they stood on the shoulders of giants. You should do the same thing whenever possible. One really easy way to do this is to read widely. You can’t learn everything from books, but you can sure get a long way such that you’re miles ahead of someone that has never read about a subject. This allows you to delve right in.

Coaches and mentors are helpful but ultimately you’re the pilot of your life. Everybody has their own opinions and usually they’re willing to share them with you. There’s a saying which I’m fond which is “sometimes free advice is the most expensive kind”. I seek out the opinions of a variety of individuals, but I weight what they have to say based on how much I respect what they’ve become and what they’re doing. So somebody that says it’s impossible to make money in real estate but they have never owned any causes me to be very circumspect about whether they actually know what they’re talking about. Someone that says travel is a great investment and brings them a lot of happiness and they have traveled around the world for several years is someone that I would trust. The main point appears to be only seek the advice of those that you wish to become like and ignore the advice of those that you do not want to be like.

It’s imperative that you have fun because real success require a ton of work which is un-achievable if you’re not having fun. One way to make sure that you keep having fun is to do it with friends vs. doing it alone. You create excitement and joy which then integrates into a reenforcing cycle!

Flawless execution is often a result of exhaustive practice. When I see something done very well, it becomes very alluring to me. But peel back a few layers of the onion and you usually find that the individual or team that did so well rehearsed it so many times that it became habit.

There will always be people that are better than you. And plenty of people who will never be as good as you currently are. You’re usually not competing against any of them; typically you are own competition. What the means is that to focus on others is simply a loss of focus when you should really be focusing on becoming the best you can. Worry less about what others think and more about what you’re capable of becoming.

Nobody likes paying for advice. But sometimes to not do so is not only foolhardy: it can be downright dangerous. If I had just grabbed a glider and jumped off a mountain I would likely have killed myself; instead I’m paying for lessons to be taught how to safely pilot a glider. I tend to be an extremely frugal individual, and I hate paying for materialistic things because they depreciate in value so quickly. But when it comes to learning a new skill or having a new experience, I’m happy to pay because I know that over time the value of those experience will continue to increase. See Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk for more info; or read his book.

Often times you need to build your confidence to keep pace with your skill set. If they are not at the same place your ability is equal to the minimum of the two. Mathematically: ability=min(confidence, skill)

Insight comes from intuition which is developed from the experience you have and the environments you’ve been exposed to. If you can, expose yourself to as many new things as possible and put yourself in as many new environments as you are able to manage. Then, once you have developed good intuition, trust your gut. If you haven’t developed said intuition then it is important to trust the facts and rely on the advice of others that are more intuitive than you about the subject at hand. Once you have expanded your paradigm you will be able to perceive things that others miss. This will also allow you to make connections between disparate topics (hang gliding and life) and then use the learnings from one to extract new insights about the other.

Course correction is important and instantaneous feedback is imperative because over compensation takes away your energy and diverts you from getting to your goal. In a glider the longer you stay out of control the more difficult it is to get back on course. Making small micro-corrections is the best way to ensure that you stay on the correct course. Life is like that too: if you find you’re doing something counter-productive, make a change as soon as possible to prevent it from growing into a larger problem.

The only person that can teach you anything is you. Great teachers present an opportunity to learn but you have to want to learn what they offer you. I believe the best way to learn something is to teach someone else. For me it forces me to focus, and I have internalize the material before presenting it as being something worthwhile for others to learn. This is one of the many reason I started his blog 🙂 Also I’ve found it helpful to work with others that are at different levels than you. This allows you to learn both from being taught and from teaching which is a principle of the Montessori pedagogy. Plus all too often we only see learning as us not knowing something and having to figure it from someone else. So our perspective is only us looking forward. Working with someone else forces you to look backwards and expands your own perspective.

I tend to be a risk seeking individual when it comes to business because if I fail all I lose is money. But when it comes to hang gliding, I’m very risk-adverse. This is because if I make a mistake while flying several hundred feet in the air, I could lose my life. Thus I’m happy to accept slower progress for increased safety. But when you’re not dealing with losing your life, sometimes safety can hinder your progress. It is up to you to decided how you weight different options and were the fulcrum should be placed on that scale.

Always reflect on how well (or poorly) you did. Criticize yourself first and then allow other to add in what they saw. Not only does it steal someone else’s thunder of pointing out mistakes (to which you’ll be much less receptive than if you recognized it yourself), but then you aren’t told things that you already know. You only hear from others the things that you hadn’t thought about or even considered. Everyone has things that they know they don’t know. These are okay, because it’s like a game of minesweeper where you’ve already identified the bombs. It’s the things we don’t know that we don’t know that can be really dangerous!

Added Sunday, October 27: There’s always a different perspective from the pilot’s seat. When I watch others pick up a glider to get ready to launch, it always looks like they have the glider’s nose too high in the air. But when I’m in that position, it always feels like I have it too low. The difference is the angle from which one is looking. Many times in our lives we see other people (friends, family, managers and executives of our companies) making decisions that don’t look entirely correct. While you can offer your advice, it’s important to be considerate of the possibility that things just look differently from where they’re standing.

If you are in the Bay Area and want to try out hang gliding, I highly recommend my instructors Mike and Robert. Check out his Yelp reviews.

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