Whatever it Takes

I take empowerment from the words: "whatever it takes". Yet in just 31 years of life I've already seen the lack of commitment many people have to their own affirmations when claiming that they will do whatever needs to be done to find success. Now I'm far from successful in my current endeavor but when it's come to making time to the pursuit of what is important to me; I do. I left my job in April and have lived a meager existence since, so that I can wake up everyday and work until I go to sleep. It's rare you'll hear me announcing this however, as the image of a man sitting on a porch and hacking away at a laptop for 12 hours must hardly seem like work to those that go into an office in the morning; yet it is infact frustrating and mundane work that has to be done in order to find success in the future. Paycheck or not, it has to be done.

 

As if the prospect of being lonely for the next year with rare visits with my family wasn't enough to make things 'uncomfortable', it's the waking up in the middle of the night in terror to thoughts of failure that are things I promise most that read this would gladly do without. Yet it's with joyful purpose that I find myself compelled to reach the end goal: to take my pain of sudden loss and give it meaning while helping others in the process as I make-up for the unconscious but nonetheless selfish inaction of taking time for granted.

 

One main instance of this was manifested over the previous four years, where I had promised my dad I would take him flying yet never made the time. Oddly enough it was me coming to terms with my selfishness and assessing where I found myself in life after his loss that opened the door to the possibilities I see ahead. It keeps me passionately driving forward while making the jars of peanut-butter that I've found most of my nourishment in lately that much sweeter; it makes the period of time that I was bald when I shaved my head for money to cover our initial operations costs a source of awkward-looking pride and not shame; and it has given me happiness in passing on a lesson to my son that my father gave to me. I'm able to see the fruits of his belief that dreams are within reach everytime he pridefully decided to introduce me to new people as "my dad who is going to fly for 100 days".

 

 

This whole adventure, no matter how many times I've sat in fear of the possibilities of failing, and doing so with a company holding my family name in memory of my father, has realistically been my dad's last and maybe greatest gift to me. He always told me that a person can do anything if they really want to. He also often reminded me of the blessings of being American because in this country we have a system where a person has the right to redefine themselves each day they wake up. It's what drove me to follow in his footsteps and become a soldier, and after many life lessons, I find myself being guided by him again as I follow a dream.

 

And while following your dreams may sound empowering, I assure you that as I sit here on this rickety porch blanketed in the complete solace of a Saturday night alone, your perspective is very important. Choosing to focus on personal triumphs over past hardships instead of loss and working towards the opportunities found in overcoming the struggles that certainly lie ahead isn't easy but I fight to keep my perspectives focused on all the silver linings.

 

I'm very fortunate to have had a father that actively looked at challenges as the opportunities that I see them today. As a child when I would approach him with self-doubt regarding an idea or task I wasn't sure about, I would often have him ask me whether it was possible to do by someone who was not me. Even when I would ignore the question and continue to present my doubts to him, he would continue to ask the question until I answered. The answer was almost always, "yes it's possible". He'd then tell me that if the answer was a yes then I had admitted that there was a way to accomplish whatever it was and that if I wanted it bad enough then I could do it and all that was left was to find a way. Or as I remember him saying with a grin, "it was you, not me, that said there's a way to do it - so find it". He was a man of few words but he always had a way of giving me guidance with my own thoughts.

 

 

How right he and his words have been. Maybe the way isn't easy, maybe you have to change things in your life and give up what is comfortable for a while; but if you desire it enough to do whatever it takes then you'll find the way. Unfortunately most of us know this deep down yet even with that knowledge we can find ourselves pushing off the things we want to do until later because it's the easier option. We've all done it and if you pay attention to the things people say you may be surprised at just how comfortable people can become with the phrases "I'll get to it someday", or "I can't right now but I will", or "I'm tired right now so it can wait".

 

These are the exact things I would tell myself when I would fly from school in Chicago to Baltimore to see my family. I had my pilot's license and could have made the time to take my dad flying over the course of four years but so often I only had the week or weekend to spend time with my son before I had to return to school the same way I arrived: coordinating a drive to the airport, a flight to Chicago, and coordinating a ride home from the airport only to jump right back into the work and training that I had just escaped from. Most of my "vacations" from work and school during the five year period were hardly relaxing yet certainly worth the effort.

 

Knowing everything I don't think most would blame me for having perpetually put off finding a rental, going out to the airport and spending the little money to be checked out and then for the flight, and finally I'd still have to hope that my father wasn't in too much pain from the permanent nerve damage he had from a previous illness. I always thought that I could wait for 'another free and less stressful' time. It wasn't until his cancer diagnosis in late May 2015 that I was empowered by the notion of my father having less than a month to live and finally sped over to the airfield and coordinated a flight. Later that day I stood at his bed side and told him how sorry I was that I hadn't made it a priority in the past but that I was going to take him flying on the way home to hospice the next day.

 

 

Looking back now, I vividly remember him hearing my plan and jumping straight up in his hospital bed as he used what was probably the last of his limited energy to excitingly shout, "REALLY?! That's awesome Joe!". I was so happy to see him that happy and I reaffirmed his excitement by adding, "Yes dad, we're going flying even if I have to carry you to the plane".

 

Feeling overwhelmed with bitter-sweet joy I decided to step out of the room and as I shut the door behind me I looked over to see my mother crying. As she towards me she said, "I'm sorry Joey; you can't do that. He can't go flying. Everyday is a gift right now and we don't know how long he has. I'm so sorry". And as selfishly as I wanted to think she was wrong, I knew she was right. If we stopped to take him flying, he would have certainly had to be carried to the aircraft.

 

Not taking my father flying is something I will forever regret yet it wasn't that final attempt at the hospital that has haunted me. My real regrets are instead metaphorical short scenes that play in my head with my father asking me in a playful way, "hey when are we going flying?" to which I would respond, "soon dad, I promise". Finally he would say the exact same thing he always did, in the exact same understanding and hopeful voice: "I'm looking forward to it, son".

 

But his boy never did take him flying.

 

In my head life always seemed to move too fast and there was always so much to do. I think we all do it sometimes. We act as if there will always be more time later. But how much extra time does the average person set aside during a day for things lacking priority or urgency? There's always something that needs to be done. The cancer took less than a month and a half to take my father away. It felt like I blinked my eyes after getting the news and in a microsecond I was transported to a hospital room where I'm trying to reassure him that we'd be getting to do one last thing together as father and son. But life said we couldn't. The time I thought we'd always have was gone. The clock was expiring and the final seconds were solely ours to say good bye.

 

 

On July 1, 2015 at 06:54 - I watched my hero and best friend pass away. As we all held him one last time I finally understood the only truly important thing in life is our relationships with one another and the meaning we take from this crazy and often fucked-up adventure. No possessions or excuses for missed opportunities to become closer are important in the end. Ultimately, we get what we choose to receive and that's it.

 

 

So what is it that you want, is it possible, and how much do you want it? It's yours to take if you want it enough. No lifestyle comfort can ever be enough to make-up for what you gave-up if you decide to settle.

 

I refuse to settle. I intend to atone for my disregard to the gifts of past opportunities and embracing the painful lessons learned by meaningfully embracing my time ahead. It's possible to do something great for others while serving an industry that I love. And when I'm successful, I know my dad would be proud knowing that his boy took the pain found in the void of his absence and helped others.

 

When people look down on me for 'being too much of a dreamer' or scoff at the ludicrous notion of planning an attempt to break the Flight Endurance Record, it's they who I feel sorry for; not me. The calculated aims of what myself and now a whole team of people believe is possible is the essence of what aviation is. It's the premise behind an industry that now unites the globe.

 

It is possible. It's possible to fly for 100 days without landing in an envelope of safety that mitigates most of the initially perceived risks; it's possible for a flight to showcase aviation to an aviation-apathetic public that has not seen anything like this in recent history. It's possible to inspire and generate curiosity to explore something different; it's possible to use the visibility of the flight and facilitate a multiple-organization joint venture to fundraising for a cancer research program that has shown real advancements in sending terminal cancer patients into remission; it's possible to do all of this with a group of people who share a common admiration for flight, and finally it's possible to accomplish this in the most basic of aircraft that I am going to name after my father - so that finally a son can take his father flying.

 

So now a question for those reading this and one that I found myself asking when considering this large undertaking. Is what you want it possible? For myself the answer was: Yes - and I hope you find the same conclusion. Yes this is possible and the thought of not going all in to do something with such beautiful and meaningful implications would be the ultimate spit in the face to the gifts I once again find bestowed upon me. I'm able and present in mind and body and there is a way to do this. It has been far from easy at times but there have been so many great people that have helped me to get to even here - sitting on a rickety porch typing this to you.

 

 

So with all my gifts in hand I promise that I will not quit. I will continue to take the paths that get myself and our team to where we need to go. It is with the greatest hope that I leave you with this: You should, too. Because you can, too. Because it's possible, too.

 

Whatever it takes.

 

"...still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." - Paul Simon, The Boxer

Whatever it Takes Whatever it Takes Reviewed by Joe Burlas on October 16, 2016 Rating: 5