Rotor & Wing International

The Psychology of Special

Another job title and another painful battery of psychological testing.

Another job title and another painful battery of psychological testing.

I’ve never asked or even wondered why I must endure these grueling and self-flagellating tests, but the older and more insensible I get, the more I have to question their effectiveness. (After all, I passed them, so they can’t be that accurate.)

So that leads me to wonder what a few brainy tests and an hour spent crying to a professional headshrinker can really tell about how well a person will blend into an organization, perform on a daily basis or react during the most difficult missions.

A lot, I think.

I’m a little strange in many ways. Okay, if I’m going to be entirely honest, I’m very much strange in a lot of ways. I don’t have the space to describe them all here, so I’ll stick to the topic of psychology tests for now. So here it is, my big psychological reveal.

I actually enjoy those tests and the time spent examining my quirks with someone paid to drip napalm across my fragile ego. Those moments spent in self-evaluation are better to me than a dozen self-help books. In truth, I think we should all be required to empty our psychological suitcases at least once a year to examine what’s still packed in there and to let some fresh air breathe into all those dirty socks.

There’s nothing wrong with some self-study. If you want to grow as a person, you must be willing to take a critical look at yourself from time to time. Be proud of what you’re doing well, but focus on how you can improve the areas in which you’re not doing as well.

So how am I failing? Again, I’m limited by a word count here so we’ll just skip to what I’m doing right and save the space.

My biggest psychological success seems to be that I fit into a box. Seated beside my wandering psyche is the entire pack of special operations aviators who have been created very similarly. That’s not by accident either. We’re all evaluated and hand-selected by a critical team that looks for people who all look alike (psychologically speaking). So we’re recruited for our ability to mold ourselves to think, act and react alike — like dogs and their masters. We are resilient, calculated risk-takers. We’re intelligent, professional, adaptable, competitive, self-reliant and especially self-critical.

But what we are not is different than most other military aviators. We might exhibit a bit more of the extremes in our behaviors, specifically in the competitive and self-critical regions, but there’s research that says most professional pilots are relatively similar.

Who am I to argue with research?

In a time when promotions are becoming more scarce, and retirement isn’t exactly guaranteed, how does one stand out when we’re all so similar?

By being something more. By taking that critical look inside to find your strengths and to build upon your weaknesses. By fighting to stand out. By outworking others. By motivating others to be better. And by being special.

Being something more than just the norm isn’t easy. It isn’t always enjoyable. It doesn’t always make you popular, garner you more attention or get you more friends. But it will eventually be noticed and it will be rewarded.

For all of you still waiting on promotion results, I can only hope that hard work and dedication is rewarded. There will be a lot of good people who are passed over and some who must make some very difficult career decisions, but we must all hold faith that the most worthy will remain afloat.

Whether you are selected for promotion or not, remember that we are all cut from a special cloth just to become military pilots. We have dreamed a little bigger, risked a little more and tried just a little harder.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”