Flying out of the ashes: 5 ways tragedy can make you tougher

Life is full of surprises, and sometimes, the unexpected can hit you hard. Challenging times can put you through the fire, whether it’s a personal loss, a health scare, or a career setback. Greg Coker knows that as well as any man.  

As an attack helicopter pilot among some of the best pilots on earth, Greg faced many changes before he could fly with the 160th (SOAR) Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Flying any aircraft in this extraordinary unit is one of the greatest challenges for an aviator in the US Army.  However, Greg was one of only a handful of men selected to fly their attack helicopters.  During my recent Unbeatable podcast interview with Greg, we both talked about the training and the capabilities that make the grease-pencil crosshairs on the bubble of the AH-6 Little Bird helicopter the deadliest weapon on any battlefield.

Few pilots on earth will survive the multiple years and millions of bullets fired to become a fully qualified Little Bird pilot.

Despite all the obstacles Greg had to overcome to fly that helicopter over the heads of America’s greatest warriors, his biggest challenge came after being shot down over an enemy camp in Iraq on 19 March 2004. Barely surviving the crash, Greg dragged his co-pilot to safety before the helicopter burst into flames.  Determined to fly again, Greg refused to let tragedy end his career as a pilot. The unbeatable Greg Coker endured 47 surgeries and years of rehabilitation to rise out of the ashes and return to the sky as a Little Bird pilot.

During the brutal recovery process, Greg often heard that he would never fly again. However, he refused to give in to his circumstances.  Greg was determined to get stronger and become a better pilot through the many challenges he faced, proving he was fit to fly again. 

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or defeated in the face of adversity.  Greg could have given in to the obstacles and remained on the ground for the rest of his military career. However, he decided to embrace the challenges and let these experiences make him tougher and more resilient.

Many people face obstacles that hit them like a heat-seeking missile. At those moments, you have two options next… You can get beat by your circumstances or choose to bounce back stronger because of them. If you refuse to wallow in self-pity, there is an upside to adversity.  Here are some benefits to getting back in the saddle when life rears back and bucks you off the horse:

1. Become mentally tougher: Being unbeatable is about bouncing back from tough times, and the more you do it, the more mentally tough you become. Every time you overcome a setback, you strengthen the mental muscles that make it easier to handle future challenges.

2. Embrace Life More Fully: Tragedy can be a wake-up call to appreciate the people and things you may have taken for granted. Greg’s short prayer while his helicopter was on fire around him was for his family, his friends, and the warriors on the battlefield. Obstacles can give you a newfound appreciation for the most important things in life.

3. Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills: Greg had countless challenges to overcome before flying again.  Adversity forces you to think outside the box and come up with solutions to problems you may not have encountered before. By developing resilience, you can improve your problem-solving skills that can be applied to all areas of your life.

4. Strengthen Your Heart: Challenging experiences will change you.  It can help you develop a greater sense of empathy for others who are going through similar challenges. This can lead to stronger relationships and equip you to help others through their problems.

5. Grow Your Confidence: Greg didn’t lack confidence before his crash. However, there were no guarantees that he could ever fly again. Overcoming tragedy can give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence. When you realize you can handle difficult situations, you’re more likely to take on new challenges and pursue your goals more confidently.

No one likes adversity.  However, there is an upside to facing it head-on. Although it’s tough to see the positive side of adversity, remember that these experiences can make you tougher and more prepared for the future.

Focusing on how to fly out of the ashes after difficult situations allows you to emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and be better prepared for the future. So, embrace the challenges that come your way, and let them make you better and stronger for the future.

Listen to my whole interview with Greg HERE

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