Mindset Five: Playing for Fun and Love

Sam was always laughing at himself, his students and most anything else that caught his eye. He said that flying is the only occupation that has such serious consequences for failure, yet is so much fun. A passion for flight is more powerful than rocket fuel. Love what you do, and you’ll do it more and you’ll do it better. Love, laugh, learn. It is no surprise that Peter Pan — the boy who never grew old — could fly. An atmosphere of play is prevalent in all the great fighter squadrons. It’s not just children and fighter pilots who learn best in a relaxed, supportive and fun atmosphere — adults do too.

Brains as balloons

Using your brain to fly?

If something isn’t fun, if you don’t make it fun, then what is it? Boring? Deadly dull? Scary? Serious? It certainly will become nothing that any sane person wants to do for any lengthy amount of time. So make it fun! Force some fun into the situation by whatever means necessary. As Mary Poppins — another childhood character who could fly — said, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Some successful airlines know this powerful truth. Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines is famous for good-times. He once arm-wrestled another CEO for use of an advertising slogan while smoking a cigarette and drinking shots of Wild Turkey bourbon. Fun is one of the five core values at JetBlue Airways. We can safely suppose that the original astronauts had a little fun in their shiny new Corvettes on Cocoa Beach late at night. Wally Schirra, the only astronaut who got to fly in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, noted that, “Levity is the lubricant of a crisis. We resort to jokes, pranks and good natured kidding to relive tension, stress and boredom.”

For sale sign

Dale A. Gardner holds up a ‘For Sale’ sign outside the Space Shuttle.

It sounds trite to say make flying fun, to make aviation a game, but actually for a concept we all understand 'game' is mighty hard to define. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein has pointed out that finding anything at all that is a common feature of all games is actually really difficult to do. Some are fun, some are not. Some involve multiple players; others do not.  Some are competitive; others are not. It really is hard to define what it is that holds the category of 'game' together (Wittgenstein, 1953). But we all know the difference between a game and work.

To play a game you must know the rules. Play is fun creative learning. It’s the start of taking knowledge and really getting comfortable with it. It is exploring the limits. It’s taking a skill out for a spin and seeing what fun we can have with it. Rather than boring routine work, if you have fun you take game play to the limit. Interesting stuff happens at the limits.

The World Gliding Championships are only held every two years or so (the latitude in the timing is due to the latitude in the locations. Summertime soaring is at different times of the year in the Northern and Southern hemispheres). Ingo Renner won the world championship an incredible four times. In the film Running On Empty, about the 1987 contest, he said, “I just fly for fun. I fly for fun and every flight is a great deal of enjoyment. However winning is good fun in itself.” He added later, “I don’t fly against fellow contestants. I just fly for myself.”

After a lifetime spent at the limits, legends like Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover and Bud Anderson still loved flying. I’ve seen them at air shows having an absolute blast. They lap up the fun and the passion and the love from the crowd. In an extraordinary career of almost 70 years Bob Hoover never tired of flying. He says — “if you enjoy something you’ll always be better at what you’re doing.”

I was signing copies of my aviation quotation book at the Oshkosh EAA AirVenture show in the late 1990’s next to triple ace and test pilot Bud Anderson. A real honor. A young kid, maybe 20 years old, came up and asked the legendary WWII pilot if he still got excited when he flew a Mustang. Bud looked right at him. His old eyes lit up. His cracked lips swept up to a smile. Then he yelled, “Hell Yes!”

bud Anderson

Bud Anderson, F-104 Starfighter test pilot.

Maybe the only special thing we need is a love of flying. It will propel us through the ups and downs of training. If you have the excitement, you can keep working on all the flying skills. you’ll never stop learning and loving. Squadron Leader Ian Smith, the commanding officer of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight gets paid to fly Spitfires and Hurricanes and a Lancaster bomber. Before this assignment he flew the Jaguar and spent three years in the Red Arrows. His secret for getting a dream flying job? “You need passion, to be of a singular mind and have total determination.”

David Davies was a Royal Navy pilot before becoming a test pilot. He ended up as the Chief Test Pilot of the UK’s Air Registrtation Board, and was intimately involved in testing new types including Concorde and the B747. He wrote the classic book Handling the Big Jets: The significant differences in flying qualities between jet transport aeroplanes and piston-engined transport aeroplanes (Davies, 1971) that is still relavent for transport flying fifty years later. In its concluding chapter he wrote:

The demand of jet transport flying can best be met by enthusiasm. Personal enthusiasm for the job is beyond value because it is a built-in productive force for thouse who have it do not havve to be pushed into practice and the search for knowledge. Enthusiasm thus generated its own protection. This is the frame of mind which needs to be developed for the best execution of the airline pilot’s task. (Davies, 1971)

This idea of course works for most other activities. Dr. Curt Tribble, a leading cardio-thoracic surgeon, discussed the need for passion and fun in the operating room in an interview about surgical training:

It is such a long program, four years of university, four years of medical school, seven to ten years of formal training in cardiac of heart surgery before you are even remotely ready to be independent. You are not even ready to be a master surgeon, you are just ready to be on your own. It is such a long process that if the process is not fun, if it is not stimulating or exhilarating, then you can’t really do it. You shouldn’t do it. You won’t become your best unless the process itself is a fun thing to do. When we perform our best, especially in very difficult operations, we look forward to coming into the room together. We know we are going to be able to do that operation. We are excited, we are juiced. We get into a groove. It is a fun room to be in. That is the environment that we have to be in to do our best work. That is the environment that I demand for myself. (Tribble, 2001)

They were lots of jobs that career counselors with their personality and aptitude tests told me that I could do, but that I never pursued. Weather forecaster was one, nuclear engineer another. I just don’t have the interest or passion to enjoy doing any of those things long enough to get good at them, to make the time worthwhile. If you don’t just love the idea of being a pilot, if there is no thrill to being aloft on a magic carpet ride, if you’re not already adoring about flying in some deep private place inside; this may not be the game for you. If you want to be an airline pilot for the money or a military pilot for the glory or a private pilot for the girls — you are going to be disappointed. You may get some of what you seek, but you will not be a good pilot, and you will not really be happy.

But what if you used to love flying, yet now the exciting roar of the relative wind has dimmed? We can encourage our own delight and joy, which in turn will fuel our inner fire ten-fold in return. Attend an airshow. Visit a museum full of neat airplanes. Read a book by Bach or Gann or Morgan or Saint-Exupéry. Fly a kite. Get a tailplane endoresement. Help some scouts earn their aviation badge. Teach a ground school. See an Imax space movie. Take a balloon ride. Connect again with the enchanting awe of flight. Fly a friend for the first time. You can find the passion again, water the roots and let the flower bloom.


One of my flying fun injections, getting typed in the TST-14J jet sailplane.

I know this works. I’ve gotten bored with flying the same plane on the same routes every week. So on my days off from being an airline captain, I’ve worked as a line-boy at a Wisconsin gliderport. I’ve flown to Puerto Rico to write a magazine article on a guy that owns the first thirty feet of an old TWA B-727 and is turning it into a huge personal flight simulator. I’ve searched and found photographs of the first airplane I flew on as an excited six-year old, resplendent in all its multi-hued 70’s glamour. I found the most exciting ride in Orlando was getting my seaplane rating at Jack Brown’s. Worked for a while as a writer on the move Living in the Age of Airplanes. Studied aeronautical engineering classes. Had fun flying hang gliders on the beach next to LAX, done a tandam paraglider flight off the Torry Pines cliffs. Got some dual instruction in little light sport trainers, a T6, and the Concorde simulator with a former British Airways check airman. Every time we do something like this, the excitement and love for flight grows stronger. As does the appreciation and knowledge and skill. I think I remember the lessons learned when I’m having fun, and in fact psychologists have experimentally determined that that we remember things more accurately that have pleasant associations (Matlin, 1979 & Bower, 1981).

Dave English in Concorde

Me again, about to fly the Concorde simulator.

Another way to fan the inner fires for flight is to take some pictures. Don’t be shy about taking lots and lots of photographs of the airplanes and the people. Don’t get caught up in trying to get some ‘hero’ or ‘action’ shots while flying — a camera is still the most dangerous thing in the cockpit for the undisciplined — but capture some aeronautical memories. Over time, looking at these pictures you will be as love-struck as couples looking at their wedding album.

A friend of mine is part of the pilot recruitment team at our airline. So he has reviewed a lot of logbooks and talked with a lot of pilots. One of the neatest experiences was a candidate who had taken a photo of himself standing next to every airplane type he had ever flown since he was sixteen. This photo went in the logbook. So now the logbooks he bought to the interview showed a kid next to a Cessna, then a fantastic journey into adulthood with bigger and faster airplanes.  Late teens and light twins. Battered pistons of all types as a commercial pilot and flight instructor. A proud new uniform next to a small turboprop. A few extra pounds and the first jet. A few gray hairs next to a B-747. What a journey, what labour of love. His logbook should be published as a book. He got the job.

Airline recruiters — knowing something of the long boring flights, the horrendous early mornings and other myriad dangers ahead — look for passion. It will power a pilot though the groundschool and the bad times. Did he build plastic model airplanes as a kid? Did she volunteer for the safety committee at her last airline? If you want to do this flying thing for a while, if you want to ever be good, you need to know how to enjoy it.

If you can laugh, if you are following your heart, then whatever bad things may happen, you can continue to thrive. From a long learning plateau to the worst things in the world, fun and love will get you through. Fun and love are on the inside, part of our inner game, and can be taken by no one and no thing.

We all know pilots with loads more flying hours that us. I’m at 19,000 hours and that’s low time compared to some of my airline pilot peers. However, the pilot with the most hours aloft didn’t fly for the airlines. Roger Stradley flew a Piper Super Cub over Yellowstone National Park, spotting wildlife. He logged over 65,000 hours. In 2010 Roger told AOPA Pilot magazine:

I never get bored. It’s something new, something different every day.

A couple of years later, in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle newspaper he said:

It's just really a good job. I haven't gotten rich but I sure enjoy my work.

Roger Stradley

Roger Stradley, Mr. 65,000 hours.

Adventurer Audrey Sutherland put it this way in her 1978 book Paddling My Own Canoe:

The only real antidote is inside. The only real security is not insurance or money or a job, not a house and furniture paid for, or a retirement fund, and never is it another person. It is the skill and humor and courage within, the ability to build your own fires and find your own peace.

Olympian Mary Lou Retton said “each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and keep it lit.”

If you keep your funny fascination for flying, if you truly believe in the rightness of being a true pilot, if you love being one with the wing, in harmony with the sky, all the work will be worth the time and energy. You will have the power the achieve greatness. As scientist George Washington Carver explained, “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.” The wing, the wind and the mind don’t give up their secrets easily, but love them enough and you will see the inner patterns.

Research supporting the idea of passion producing excellence date back to the 1800’s, with Francis Galton investigating what he calls 'eminent creators.' He found they were capable of performing huge amounts of highly laborious work. These high-functioning individuals were observed to be — urged by an inherent stimulus” that was seen to be the major factor in determining their success (Galton, 1869). Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote that happiness cannot be attained by waiting to be happy, but that it can come as an unintended consequence of working for a goal greater than yourself. Excellence in airmanship is a good example of such a goal.

Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California at Davis has found the same explanation as Galton for highly productive creators: “These individuals are driven by huge motivational forces that far eclipse the impetus behind less accomplished colleagues…. Geniuses cannot spend so many hours without an inherent passion for what they do” (Simonton, 1994). The lesson is clear, keep your passion for flying alive, polish your inherent stimulus, have fun. Another study looked at the differences in psychological predictors between elite and non-elite performance in Olympic athletes. It found that even at the Olympian level, the more elite performers started by being more motivated (Mahoney, 1989).

Dave English

Me, Dave English, fun meter at eleven in a Grob 103 sailplane.

If all this is too much of a hassle, then cockpit chores will always be boring to you and you will always be functioning well below your potential. You will be unhappy when flying. Mastering something — tennis, the piano, crosswind landings, whatever — requires spending a lot of time on the plateau of the learning curve. Which is an OK place to hang out. Really. That’s just the way it is. When a student complained about something Sam would smile and mutter “Nichi nichi kore kōnichi.” It’s a Japanese Zen proverb that translates as “every day is a beautiful day.” We should come to enjoy the plateau. We should come to relish the storms and the crosswinds. Otherwise we will get bored and go putter around at something else. Without laughter, the endless journey of mastering flight might be too boring and painful to endue. It’s part of the game. If it was easy it would be no fun.

Hindus, when they read about the creation of the universe, do not see it called the work of God but rather It is called the play of God; the Vishnu-lila (where lila means play). Hindus have the pleasure to look upon the whole manifestation of all the universes as a play, as a sport, as a kind of dance.

Sam told many students that the work of flying is so hard when you have to, yet so easy when you want to. Make your vocation your vacation he'd whisper. Don’t just do something, do it enthusiastically. Stay loose, have fun, especially considering that medical studies have shown that laughter boosts levels of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers) and suppresses levels of epinephrine (a stress hormone). This is in your control, this is a part of the inner art. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found that “being in control of the mind means that literally anything that happens can be a source of joy” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Ultimately, fun and love are under your control.

One thing I didn’t have to write down as it immediately stuck deep in my head when Sam said it, is the difference between magicians and pilots. Magicians see how the magic trick is done, they see the mirrors and slight of hand, and it is all more trick than magic. Pilots, even after a lifetime in the air, still experience the magic of flight. There is no trick. How exciting is that?

When we approach everyday routine flying in the spirit of magic play — that is, fully, joyfully, and primarily for its own sake — we will realize not only playful pleasure but also the best results, the most enduring success. Everyday becomes fun, as we enjoy living and flying fully. Humor lightens the load, and broadens our perspective. Life is not a race, but a joyous journey to be savored every 1,000 feet of the way. We can laugh, love and naturally lift ourselves and all we touch up into the present moment. Boy this is fun!

He who binds to himself a joy
Doth the winded life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

William Blake

We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.

Michael Jordan

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.

L. P. Jacks

The best part of one’s life is in the working part, the creative part.  Believe me, I love to succeed…. However, the real spiritual and emotional excitement is in the doing.

Garson Kanin

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

Jalaluddin Rumi

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.

Julia Child

I am going to try and just have some fun. I do my best when I just have fun.

Serena Williams

That is the way to learn the most… when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.

Albert Einstein

I take my job seriously. I want to please people and I want to please myself. At the same time once I start singing I enjoy the hell out it. It’s like playing a game. It’s what I’m supposed to do.


Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons …. You really climb for the hell of it.

Sir Edmund Hillary

I play for the love of the game. I think about having fun and what a pleasure playing tennis is. That seems to relax me and allow me to concentrate on playing my best.

Evonne Goolagong

In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time’s continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world’s ordinary miracles. No mind or heart hobbles. No analyzing or explaining. No questing for logic. No promises. No goals. No relationships. No worry. One is completely open to whatever drama may unfold.

Diane Ackerman

Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and sits softly on your shoulder.

J. Richard Lessor

The happiest people I know are devoted to something bigger than themselves.

John Glenn

Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your objective. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.

Helen Keller

Lord, make me see thy glory in every place.


Only one who bursts with enthusiasm do I instruct; only one who bubbles with excitement do I enlighten. If I hold up one corner and you do not come back to me with the other three, I do not continue the lesson.


Love what you do. Believe in your instincts. And you'd better be able to pick yourself up and brush yourself off every day.

Mario Andretti

The thing I’ll remember most about the [Space Shuttle] flight is that it was fun. In fact, I’m sure it was the most fun that I’ll ever have in my life.

Sally Ride

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.


There are a lot of guys who say they want to work harder and be the best, but they never pay the price. I love paying the price.

Tom Brady

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.


Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.

Mark Twain

There are many points on the compass rose. I had to locate the few that were meant for me and head for those that summoned me with a passion, for they were the ones that gave meaning to my life.

Richard Bode

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.

Joseph Campbell

You are what your deep driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?

William Blake

Everything good proceeds from enthusiasm. The sense of “I really want to know how this turns out” will drive you on through many long nights of no results. Whereas the feeling of “I think I ought to do this” dries up pretty quickly.

Brian Eno

To the dull mind nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The real secret of joy in work is contained in one word — excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.

Pearl Buck

There is no cure for birth and death, save to enjoy the interval.


When I’m not flying, I’m thinking about flying. All my life is around flying. It’s my job, it’s my hobby, it’s my passion.

Nicolas Ivanoff

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein

There is an expression — walking with beauty. And I believe that this endless search for beauty in surroundings, in people, and in one’s personal life, is the headstone of travel.

Juliette De Bairacli Levy

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Paradise is where I am.


We do not stop playing because we are old. We grow old because we stop playing.

George Bernard Shaw

Remember, the best pilot is the one that is having the most fun.

Jocky Sanderson

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.

Paulo Coelho

Believe in the simple magic of life, in service in the universe, and the meaning of that waiting, that alertness, that “craning of the neck” in creatures, will dawn upon you.

Martin Buber

Of all the unhappy people in the world, the unhappiest are those who have not found something they want to do.

Lin Yutang

Work without love is slavery.

Mother Teresa

You have to want to play it all day, every day to get to the top.

Monica Seles

Every time I step into an airplane is an exciting time for me. I obtain focus and a sense of purpose and mission, and I am very, very happy. I know what I have to do.

Harrison Ford

To be happy you must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passion, and learned your place in the world.


Do what you love to do and give it your very best. Whether it’s business or baseball, or the theater, or any field. If you don’t love what you’re doing and you can’t give it your best, get out of it. Life is too short. you’ll be an old man before you know it.

Al Lopez

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.


It had never gotten old for him, flying. Never gone boring. Every engine start was a new adventure, guiding the spirit of a lovely machine back into life; every takeoff blending his spirit with its own to do what’s never been done in history, to lift away from the ground and fly.

Richard Bach

That’s the key to success, isn’t it? It has to be fun.

Monica Seles

This is the real secret of life—to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize that it is play.

Alan Watts

If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.

George Mallory

The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.

Logan Pearsall Smith

Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.

Jiro Ono

It’s really your love of it that sets you apart. I didn’t have a life for 15 years, all I did was breathe and live and eat aerobatic flying and racing and aviation. It’s everything that you do. To be great in this, you have to be 100% committed.

Michael Goulian

I love golf. Money and applause have only been incidental. What is important in the challenge of the game. Golf really excites me when the course is difficult and challenging.

Jack Nichlaus

If you’re looking for a formula for greatness, the closest we’ll ever get, I think, is this: Consistency driven by a deep love of the work.

Maria Popova

Relish every moment, every step of the way, and be content where you are. If all you care about is B-777 Captain, then you are in for a miserable life. If you fly for the joy of flight, it will be the greatest career imaginable.

Eric Auxier

Let yourself be silently drawn by the pull of what you really love.

Jalaluddin Rumi

He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

St. Francis of Assisi

you’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

Steve Jobs

You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.

Merce Cunningham

I think the zone is really being in harmony with what you’re doing. Wanting to do it, wanting to do it for the right reasons, not for money or for greed or for power. That doesn’t get you in the room.

I think love is the secret. I think it’s love that gets you in the zone. I really believe it. If you really love to do what you’re doing and you want to share your skills with the people watching you and those around you and love the course and just can’t wait to play it, and it’s going to be fun, then I really believe that you can play some great golf.

Johnny Miller

Every time I fly, I experience another dimension of existence, no longer tied to the earth. I feel free — free of gravity, free of everything. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.

R. A. 'Bob' Hoover