An Airplane Won't Fly on the Moon: The Gift of Resistance

An airplane won't fly on the moon. The first issue is air: both pilots and airplane engines need to breathe air to work, and the moon doesn't have any air. But let's say the pilot has a space suit, and the engine compartment is pressurized, and there's a system to deal with the exhaust.

An airplane still won't fly on the moon.

And that doesn't make sense. Flight is tough on Earth because of Earth's gravity. Our planet is constantly tugging on us toward its center. The moon has way less gravity than Earth, so it should be a lot easier to take off.

Plus, most of the work in going fast on Earth is fighting resistance from the atmosphere–cars, bicycles, sprinters, and airplanes all spend a lot of energy just pushing air out of the way. The moon doesn't have any air to slow you down.

Low gravity and no friction; the moon seems to have the perfect ingredients for flight. But no matter how high a pilot pushes the throttle, an airplane on the moon will just sit there, expending lots of energy for no gain.

The problem is obvious: an airplane's propeller produces thrust by moving air, and airplane wings create lift via friction. The same atmosphere that creates resistance also creates motion and lift. An airplane has to struggle against the atmosphere, because it can't fly without it.

Just like us.

I was talking to my friend Jacob this week. He's done the best, most meaningful work of his life during those times he's struggled the most. His most painful experiences are the ones that have changed him the most, and given him the most personal growth.

It's incredible how true this is in my life. I've always tried to do everything I can to manage risks and minimize pain. I'm great at it. And whenever I engineer some multi-year oasis, I become a stagnant person–comfortable, but static. Happy, but shallow. It's not worth it. The view from the corner office can't compare to the passion of the street.

Fighting difficult situations, coping with pain, and working against adversity are the sunlight, rain, and soul for human growth. We don't like any of those things, of course. Most of us want an easy chair, a flat screen TV, and a cold beer. But running until it hurts makes us faster. And a low bank balance makes us motivated. A strained relationship is not one we take for granted.

We're most willing to take risks when we have nothing to lose. Somehow, success is a burden for most people. We become too attached to what we’ve gained to do the work that helped us get there in the first place. Those moments when our house of cards fall down are freeing because taking a risk isn’t so costly.

I've learned to savor those days when everything goes wrong, and those seasons when life is the most difficult. Climbing the mountain is what leads to the summit–that point when we can look out at the world from a new vantage point, with a satisfying ache in our bones from taking that difficult path.

The teacher in Ecclesiastes says it like this:

Everything on earth
has its own time
and its own season.
There is a time
for birth and death,
planting and reaping,
for killing and healing,
destroying and building,
for crying and laughing,
weeping and dancing,
for throwing stones
and gathering stones,
embracing and parting.
There is a time
for finding and losing,
keeping and giving,
for tearing and sewing,
listening and speaking.
There is also a time
for love and hate,
for war and peace.

Death makes way for birth. Reaping is impossible without planting. When you face the hard parts of life, find hope in the growth to come, and the work you can do thanks to that resistance. Like an airplane, you were meant to fly into the wind pushing against you.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

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