Praise Effort – Build a Love of Learning!

Many people grew up in the middle of the “self-esteem movement” of the 1990s. This misguided trend perpetuated the myth of innate talent and instant success. Everyone was “special” and “participation trophies” were awarded for “showing up” rather than any effort, struggle, and achievement. The myth of “instant gratification” and entitlement replaced hard work as the modern motivator (or demotivator?). But this mythology has no place in true learning and achievement. And it certainly has no place in flight education or successful piloting.

The process of learning to fly is not easy, cheap or fast…it takes struggle, money and time. Please be honest with your inbound customers about this. They will appreciate the real story and be more likely to complete their training. Honest students are seeking challenge and adventure- not a gift. Safe aviation also requires life-long learning, humility and diligence.  As President Kennedy famously said in his Rice University speech in 1962; “we don’t do this because it is easy, but because it is hard.” And errors will happen despite our best efforts; everyone will occasionally look stupid (deal with it). Failing is part of learning and struggle is the pathway to excellence.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.

Educators must foster in their students these important attributes of struggle and persistence by correctly praising and motivating them.  Previous blogs have discussed “getting out of the comfort zone” – essential to initial learning and retaining skills. Perfectionism is a common and dangerous trap for many aviators (that OCD thing). We tend to fear “looking stupid” worse than anything; including dying painfully apparently. But errors are inevitable and we need instead to praise effort, struggle, and persistence in our students. Focusing on *process* – growth and grit – builds a “growth mindset” that creates a lifetime learner. (more)

If you examine carefully all your heroes in aviation, none were actually “born with the talent.” Every single “aviation hero” worked very hard, failed many times, and incrementally climbed the ladder of excellence. So please do not “sell the myth” of instant success in aviation; this builds entitled, scary pilots, poorly equipped to face the real challenges of flight. There are always plateaus and disappointments and our perfect planned flight will similarly probably never happen either (can you tell it was a “challenging” week flying😎?) Stay strong, fly safely (and often).


Join SAFE and get great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight!) Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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