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#19: How long do you hold on to a decision?

By 2023-03-24March 26th, 2023No Comments

Just because a coach tells you that in the ABC of Freedom, C stands for commitment, that does’t mean you can’t change direction.

On the contrary: You should be looking at your life from the observer’s seat once in a while and asking yourself whether you are still on the right path.

That’s why – and I have to be honest here, I haven’t found a good translation for the English version of the book yet – in the German version, A stands for ausmisten, tidying. In order to commit, you have to let go of other things.

Saying yes to something always means saying no to something else.

Maybe you were one of those kids that gets interested in something new every week. Curiosity is great, trying things out is part of life. But perhaps, after you started your 42nd hobby in as many weeks (with all that new, expensive equipment), your parents said, “Enough! You have to make a decision now.”

That’s what I mean by commitment: making a decision and going through with it: for a month, a year, ten years.

In the beginning, there is the excitement that drives you up the learning curve. It’s like being in love.

That’s what happened when I learned Russian. The Cyrillic alphabet came easily to me because I had learned the Greek alphabet in my childhood fascination with astronomy – the two are very similar. There were the easy-to-understand loanwords: riuksak is a backpack (German: Rucksack), piuree is mashed potatoes (German: Kartoffelpüree), and in Russia there really is a Schlagbaum (a German word for turnpike or gate)! You can imagine that learning was fun with such fast results.

With so much motivation, I was able to cope well with the increasingly demanding syntax, but then the great driving force behind the desire to learn the language disappeared. The European Space Agency finally put out a new call for astronaut candidates – all western astronauts learn Russian – and I was three inches too tall. Although I met all other requirements for an application, this banality left me out of the race.

At the same time, I had another hobby I had also found through my desire to fly to space. In order to train exploring new worlds and working together perfectly as a team under demanding conditions very alien to humans, the astronaut candidates go underground. With climbing equipment, protective clothing and childlike enthusiasm, they explore extensive cave systems.

If you’re not flying to space, you can still go caving with alpine clubs. From rope training on a tree in daylight, I went into the first small caves. Over time, the expeditions became more extreme, culminating in a 15-hour traverse of a cave system along the Verneau, a river in the French Jura that meanders underground for a distance of 12 kilometers.

On some days, I’d like to repeat the ordeal simply because it’s so demanding. I’m equally interested in the multi-day expeditions into cave systems in the Alps that are kilometers deep.

But caving is different from Russian.

Learning the language is one of the things I haven’t given up forever. I hope that I will soon be traveling again in this country with its friendly people who appear so hard on the outside but are so warm at heart.

On the other hand, I don’t see myself heading back underground in climbing gear.

I am full of gratitude for the unique experiences and a team spirit unlike any I have ever experienced in the cockpit. Aviation is very forgiving of mistakes, it has to be. The cave is much less so. The feeling of my comrades having my back and I having theirs has forever changed my life.

And yet: my heart is no longer in the cave. I know this isn’t my world anymore.

In my decision making I was always very cerebral, this is what gets results in the cockpit (with a few exceptions: I’ve written about intuition and gut feelings). But I have learned to listen to the feelings deep within me.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” For me, therein lies the answer to the question of letting go.

Your heart is the key to freedom!


Yours, Ulrich

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