Switch to manual

Image via NASA

Before John Glenn died of old age at 95 he almost died more than 9,000 times. That’s how many hours he spent in experimental aircraft. Add in his normal sorties and the hours he spent in orbit and re-entry and it would seem that he took unnecessary and unacceptable risks for the sake of his pride, his country, and science.

One time he really almost died happened in February, 1962 when he was high in Earth’s orbit. His capsule had automatic controls but Mission Control told him to switch to manual to test out a few things.

He did.

After he switched to manual he couldn’t switch back.

“I went to manual control and continued in that mode during the second and third orbits, and during re-entry,” he said. “The malfunction just forced me to prove very rapidly what had been planned over a longer period of time.”

He almost died. But he didn’t. And he went on to become a U.S. Senator and the oldest man in space. Why?

Because he was willing to switch to manual and was ready for what would happen. When problems arose outside of accepted parameters he accepted them and dealt with them.

Every post on Medium these days tells you to follow your dreams.

Don’t.

Switch to manual instead. Get out of the automatic systems that keep you fed, comfortable, and sleepy. Escape, even for a moment, those systems that are holding you in a cradle of pleasure.

Dreams are life in automatic. You float from idea to idea, meeting to meeting, and you feel bloated and burnt out and tired even though you basically walked into an office, ate lunch, and walked out. Your dreams are your body’s way of saying “Look, there’s a better way.” The problem with dreams is that they’re evanescent. You can’t follow a ghost.

Maybe you’re rewarded for being in automatic. Glenn was, at first. He was rewarded by not risking death.

But reward goes away and in its place you get trouble. Your goal as a human is to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled. And you can’t be healthy, happy, and fulfilled on automatic.

I know how hard it is to flip that switch. I spent 20 years trying. My friends helped me flip it recently and I’m still tumbling a little but it will get better.

The result is that I can now look at myself critically and see what to fix. The result is that I can make and share, and build toward my own goals, not someone else’s. The result is that I know that when the time comes and I have to flip the switch again back to automatic that I know there is another way, that I don’t have to make the jump if I don’t want to.

Running your life on manual isn’t easy but it’s been done over and over and over again. Try it even if it means you force yourself to write a few thousand words a day or work on learning something you never knew. Expand that day by day and you’ll eventually have the training it takes to defy death, to spend hours in uncertainty, and to find the place where the solid earth turns to sky and take the high road.

John Glenn did it. We can, too.

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