Archive for January, 2009

CAPTAIN SULLENBERGER: THE TIME WHEN IT ALL BEGAN

January 22, 2009

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OLD YOUNG, YOUNG OLD

January 22, 2009

HIS HOUR OF GLORY

January 22, 2009

Before ditching the plane into the river Captain Sullenberger, a.k.a. Sully, said but a few phrases which are now replicated all over the globe (actually, he had hardly any time to say more J): “We’re gonna to be in the Hudson”, “brace for impact” and (after the splash-down) — “evacuate”. Nonetheless, the phrases sound no less momentous to me than Yuri Gagarin’s “Nu, poyekhali” (Here we go!) when the latter was being launched into space on April 12, 1961, or Neil Armstrong’s famous “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I’d like to focus on a thing which can’t be overestimated, but which – for some reason – is being overlooked by the media: PROFESSIONALISM.

Professionalism implies that you know perfectly not only the core subject but also areas contiguous to it. Sherlock Holmes, for one, was an expert not only in the field of deductive and inductive reasoning, but knew British law and Anatomy, was an expert boxer and his knowledge of Chemistry was profound whereas that of Philosophy and Astronomy was next to zero. His reading of sensational literature was vast: he appeared to know every horror perpetrated in Britain. Take Captain Sullenberger: besides being a US Airways captain, he is a former Air Force fighter pilot who has spent nearly 29 years flying airliners. His sister Wilson says: “Everything there was to be flown there, he flew it.” Perhaps an even more important preparation for flying a crippled jet, Sullenberger also was a licensed glider pilot. In addition to his many thousands of hours of flying experience, Sullenberger is in the small group of pilots who specialize in the latest techniques for improving the last major cause of airline accidents — the failings of human behavior.

Second of all, a professional is an expert on details (the hiding place of the devil J). Before Sully starts a flight he wants to know everything about the weather, everything about the plane, everything about the routes and the airport. To say nothing of the details related to the technology, equipment, flying skills, etc.: a professional must have them at his/her fingertips.

Third: a professional is theoretically well-educated. Pilots do not learn the skill of landing a plane on the water surface by performing it in a true-to-life situation (too expensive J). Sully definitely trained it in a mock-up cockpit. Besides, when young Sullenberger went to school in Denison, Texas he was consistently evaluated as being in the 99th percentile in every academic category.

Number four: the emotional side. Sully knows how to behave in extreme (for his profession) situations. He loves flying, he has loved it from his teens and he logged 2,000 hours being still in high school.

Last but not least: some personal qualities.

a/Professionals know their worth. The moment the birds made both engines stop and an eerie quiet reigned in the cabin (it was “like being in a library”, a flight attendant said afterwards) the Captain took the control of the aircraft. He knew there was hardly anybody who could do a better job under the circumstances. By the way, his wife called him a “pilot’s pilot”.

b/Kindness and responsibility may be categorized as non-pivotal for professionalism. However, notice the fact that Captain Sullenberger waded in icy water inside the plane until he made sure that nobody was left aboard. He stayed on board himself until everyone else was safe. Isn’t it the personal drive – also interchangeably called energy, ambition, motive, interest or initiative etc – from which any professionalism shoots forth?

Entry for January 10, 2009

January 10, 2009

PULL UP YOUR SOCKS

The date is December 31, 2008, the time: 16:02.The sun is to remain over the horizon for another half minute. These are the last moments of the last full-fledged year when the present and the past are not yet disconnected. The year 2009 will complete 35 years of my career as a teacher of English (1974 – 1994) and a translator (1994 – 2009). It will also begin the Last Chapter to be written with a special mood, in a different hand and to a new tune. The turn in time rings the bell: John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga. After the detailed and somewhat murky prose of his first book –The Man of Property – there comes the interlude: Indian Summer of a Forsyte. And I am re-reading the lines which resonate with the moment:

His tea grew cold, his cigar remained unlit; and up and down he paced, torn between his dignity and his hold on life. Intolerable to be squeezed out slowly, without a say of your own, to live on when your will was in the hands of others…

…old men learn to forego their whims; they are obliged to, even the whim to live must be foregone sooner or later; and perhaps the sooner the better…

‘Bitter,’ he thought, ‘but I can’t help it. I’m tired.’ He sealed and dropped the letter into the box for the evening post, and hearing it fall to the bottom, thought: ‘There goes all I’ve looked forward to!’

…He closed his eyes. A feeling that he would never open them again beset him; he let it grow, let himself sink; then, with a shiver, dragged the lids up. There was something wrong with him, no doubt, deeply wrong…

The stable clock struck the quarter past. The dog Balthasar stretched and looked up at his master. The thistledown no longer moved. The dog placed his chin over the sunlit foot. It did not stir. The dog withdrew his chin quickly, rose, and leaped on old Jolyon’s lap, looked in his face, whined; then, leaping down, sat on his haunches, gazing up. And suddenly he uttered a long, long howl…

But the thistledown was still as death, and the face of his old master…

And then.. quite a different read: Michael Willard’s Approaching 60 at 80 MPH. Yes, we are members of an endangered species, being in the Yellow Leaf Period of our careers. And the going is getting rocky. We are stereotyped and put in the same square box, regardless of our achievements.

Michael Willard’s book The Portfolio Bubble: Surviving Professionally at 60 was written to enlighten and encourage those of us aged 60 and beyond to choose a more enlightened and useful path – should that be our desire – and to convince that age is an advantage, rather than a detriment. We have a few more skills to hone, and a few more dreams to chase.

You have trained all your life for the final stanza, whether it is the average 16 years beyond age 60 or whether you boost that norm to 25 or more years on this globe. There is no denying that you have many more years in the past than the future holds. It stands to reason that you will want to make your last match a victorious one.

You can’t do this from the vantage of the bleachers. Also, you can’t do it by setting your sights so low you are handling assignments easily mastered at a younger age. For one thing, this is a prescription for being mustered out of whatever field you have taken this comfortable perch in. Michael Willard calls those at sixty “portfolio warriors” and says they must have a set of skills that sets them apart from the enthusiastic and ambitious younger crowd.

For this reason, the author treats the individual as a brand, and warns that when one becomes 50, it is necessary to have accumulated portfolio talents.

When we are younger we put more stock in material things, such as electrical gadgets or an evening out with a gaggle of people. Now the journey is more solitary, and we enjoy the simpler assets of life, such as good music, an evening in instead of out, our books, and quiet time with our family. This inspires rebirth. This adds impetus to an awakening as one enters the “portfolio zone.” The portfolio warrior is in pursuit not of a routine, but of ideas and inner happiness and the age of sixty plus should be a time to recapture with little exertion those moments we might have missed.

Your career must be reinvented. The portfolio man has to be the consummate professional, and cannot be seen as the aging buffoon. As the author says, he is not suggesting less relaxation during this period, only that we redirect our energy to what we really want to be doing in the so-called third stage of life. If managing our financial portfolio provides significant challenge and achievement, and we can do this while sipping martinis and watching As the World Turns, more power to us. Just don’t fall off the couch, the author adds jokingly.

How about John Galsworthy? May the volume rest on your book shelf – for you to take it down from time to time, leaf through its pages and do some random reading. And to hear the wonderful music of Old Jolyon’s Indian Summer.

Entry for January 08, 2009

January 8, 2009

“…make us gods, which shall go before us…”

It has been just reported that a German billionaire Adolf Merckle took his own life. The reason: his company was caught in a so-called short squeeze after betting Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen’s stock would fall. Merckle lost at least 500 million euros on the bets on VW stock. VEM lost “low three-digit million euros” on VW stock, the company said in November.

Somewhat earlier, in December, a French investment manager and the co-founder of a firm that raised money in Europe to be put into Bernard Madoff’s fraud-hit scheme – Rene-Thierry de la Villehuchet – also made away with himself in his office. The reason: $ 1.4 billion had been lost.

The first suicide of the credit crunch was a British millionaire financier Kirk Stephenson, who helped start Luqman Arnold’s investment company Olivant Ltd. Last September he killed himself by jumping in front of a train on at a railway station in Taplow, 45 kilometres west of London.

When I told my wife about the German’s death, she ironically remarked that it might have happened because the former billionaire had had no money to pay for his meal. I agreed with her. The golden calf starts devouring his slaves. A well-known example is two books (rather popular in mid 1950s) by the Russian writes I.Ilf and E.Petrov The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf – about swindlers who were ready to go any length to get enriched. A classical example is the Bible story from Exodus 32, when the people made themselves gods of gold and worshiped them.

Adolf Merckle, an honest businessman, who took over the family company in 1967 at a time when it had 80 employees and 4 million deutsche marks in sales, could have done a better job by climbing in the mountains (“his only luxury”, as the newspaper reported) instead of throwing himself under a train. However… If he had been able to do it, he wouldn’t have been a billionaire.


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