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Getting Cocky

"Hmm, this'll be interesting," I thought to myself. I was a solo student glider pilot on the downwind leg of the pattern abeam the usual touchdown spot. It was a gorgeous morning, my practice flight had gone well, and I had judged my pattern entry at just the right altitude. There was just one problem: the other glider parked on the runway at the approach end preparing to take off. The tow plane was nowhere in sight, however, and there were two people standing next to the glider, apparently helping the pilot. It seemed unlikely that he would clear the runway before I needed to land.

In an airplane the situation would clearly call for a go-around, but I was flying a glider—there would be no go-around for me! Fortunately, there was a large open field off the approach end of the runway that made a suitable alternate landing area. I planned to land in the field and extended my downwind leg accordingly. Soon I was touching down in the dry grass and bumping along the uneven terrain propelled only by momentum. I even managed my energy well enough to swing wide past the glider on the runway and coast to my tie-down spot. Sweet!

A few minutes later back in the office, I met up with Rick, a champion soaring pilot and airline captain.

"That was some sharp airmanship out there," he said with a smile. "Good work!"

I swelled with pride. "Well, I just aimed short and left myself enough energy to coast on in!" I answered.

His smile faded slightly and after a brief pause and a nod, he headed back outside. I realized belatedly that a simple "thank you" would have been a better response to his compliment.

I also noticed something else. Underneath my budding pride were the seeds of doubt. Even though my performance that morning was legitimate grounds for an increased confidence, my lingering doubts prompted me instead to respond with cockiness.

As I progressed in my training and gained more experience, I came to notice a clear difference between cockiness and confidence: they feel very different. Cockiness is loud and blind—and always masks underlying doubts. It just doesn't feel good. Confidence, on the other hand, feels quieter, simpler, and more matter-of-fact. It doesn't make a big deal of itself.

Furthermore, it's situational—dependent on context. It's true that as I gain experience, confidence comes more quickly and easily and I trust that it will. But true confidence is not a blind, blanket belief that I can do no wrong. It's the feeling that comes of operating within my comfort zone or stretching just a little beyond it.

That stretching allows me to gain experience and expand my comfort zone so that I can be legitimately confident in a wider range of situations. And that just feels good.

So nowadays when someone compliments me on my flying, I just look them in the eye, smile, and give them a sincere "thank you."

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