I recently had lunch with my friend – a pilot. He had a stopover in Bangalore, India, where I am currently working on the business I started, Career Journey International.
We found a cool bar, enveloped in palm trees and soaked in sun.
I asked him about the challenges of flying: keeping concentration for many hours, being responsible for all the people on-board. It must be really hard?
‘Nah, we switch on autopilot and the plane flies itself,’ he shrugged. ‘We just take off and land.’
I was surprised. Apart from the first and last 20 minutes of the flight, the pilot is only there in case of emergency. And to turn the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign on and off.
It got me thinking: I know a lot of people who live life like the pilot on a long haul flight. They go to university, travel a bit and then look for a good job. Starting can be a challenge – getting used to the 9-5 – but soon they adapt.
And then what?
Well, they’re on autopilot.
They catch the same tube, from the same station, to the same office, at the same time, to do the same work and speak to the same people – every day.
Autopilot has its benefits. It’s safe. It’s easy. It’s comfortable.
But is comfort such a good thing?
I used to work for a big consulting firm…
I won’t identify them, but the name begins with an ‘A’ and they like to talk about ‘high performance’. A lot.
At the time, I thought, like most of my colleagues, that they wanted to us to work 24/7 and weren’t bothered at all about our personal comfort. It was only after I left that I realised that the opposite was true.
They paid good salaries and showered us with gym memberships, health insurance, clubs and socials. They made us comfortable – and dependent on them for the continuation of that comfort. That way, we would continue working for them, making the big money for the big bosses.
‘A’ quickly came to stand not for ‘Accenture’ (oops!), but for ‘Autopilot’.
Most big corporations work in this way.
They indoctrinate you into the company culture and into a lifestyle for which they are primarily responsible. This can make it pretty hard to leave – that’s the nature of the comfort zone.
My new colleagues and I left jobs as consultants and doctors to start Career Journey International and Medic Journey International. Both brand new start-ups, both with extensive operations in India. The same India that was, for a long while, the only country on the planet that the mighty Coca-Cola couldn’t crack.
The move was our two fingers to the comfort zone. And we are very proud of the fact that both of our companies provide a platform for other graduates and young professionals to do the same.
Career Journey International provides packages for people to go and live in Mumbai and Bangalore in India, working in their sector of choice, for 1-3 months. It can be the launch pad for an international career, a chance to experience a new culture – or even a springboard into the entrepreneurial haven of the emerging markets.
We’ve had people write for 500,000 circulation newspapers, regularly attending fashion shows and red carpet events; publish books with editorial credit on the front cover; and abandon the UK to start a new life in India.
I should be clear: India is crazy. The culture, the geography, the people… the traffic! But it’s also wonderful and astonishing in precisely the same ways. Living and working here, I am being shaken out of my comfort zone every day; as are the participants on our program. And it feels good!
Basically, my job is to provide culture shocks.
Because, sometimes, that’s what you need to stay alert, stay alive and keep on progressing – in your career and in your life. Actively seeking out new challenges and shunning home comforts is a pre-requisite for anyone looking to achieve something out of the ordinary in this ever-changing world.
But I want to come back to my friend, the pilot. I think I might have done him a disservice by making it sound like he doesn’t really do anything. So let me set the record straight.
He also told me that whenever he gets the chance, he switches off the autopilot. And then he really does fly all those people, and he really is responsible for their safety. Is it riskier? Yes. Is it harder? Yes. Does it require all his skill and concentration? It does. And which does he prefer?
Well, what do you think?
It can be easy to get sucked into life on autopilot. Sometimes, it’s not you who knowingly flicks the switch. Big companies can be sneaky like that. But my sincere advice would be to turn it off – at least once in a while.
Otherwise, how do you know if you can still fly?