How Do You Know It’s Time to Go?

Lisbeth Business, Essays, Life

lisbeth after f15e ride 1994

After a ride in an F-15E at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, NC, in 1994

How do you know it’s time to go? Or if it’s time to stay?

That’s the real question—in business and in relationships. I was reading “The Harsh Truth on a Clean Exit” by Jon Gilson, and it reminded me that the decision to exit is a tremendously difficult one to make.

In the Air Force, we called it “pulling the handles”—because you literally had a set of ejection handles on your ACES II seat in the cockpit of an F-15E fighter jet. There were certain rules for aircrew members that dictated when to pull those handles and light the explosive cartridge underneath their buttocks.

For example, on one jet crash I investigated (I used to do that in my former life as an aircraft maintenance officer— walk through aircraft wreckage with a team and try to figure out what happened), the rule was to pull the handles if you passed below 10,000 feet above ground level and the jet had entered “uncontrolled flight.”  This term meant that what you were doing was no longer effective for maintaining safe flight. It was likely that your jet was headed for impact with the ground. In that scenario, you were supposed to pull the handles and save yourself.

I’ve often thought this might be a good analogy for life. In relationships — whether they’re business or  love or friendship– some of us ride it into the ground, and some of us do it often. We are convinced that if we just keep trying, we can save whatever it is that we’re clinging to, even though our actions no longer seem to affect the course we are on. Sometimes, we can save it. And sometimes we can’t. The really difficult thing is figure out if it’s even possible to be a hero, or if your ego is about to get you killed.

In the USAF, each aircrew had extensive training, experience with crash simulation, a checklist, and radio communications to help with these decisions. And, in the F-15E, the pilot had a Weapon Systems Officer in the backseat to consult with as well. In life, we often have no checklist, no partner, and we try to make these decisions alone on limited information. That’s probably not very smart. Better you should find help. Consult. Ask. Evaluate. Figure out if you have entered uncontrolled flight. And then decide.

And, if it’s time to pull the handles, pull them … and live. Or take the chance that you can maneuver the aircraft out of a flat spin, make changes, and return to level flight before you hit the ground. It’s your aircraft, so it’s your decision.

The worst thing to do might be nothing. Good luck.


Lisbeth Business, Essays, Life

« »