Lessons Learned From the First Female Thunderbird Pilot

Recently, I attended a continuing education conference in Nashville. The keynote speaker was Nicole Malachowski, a retired US Air Force officer and the first ever female pilot to fly as part of the Air Force Thunderbirds squadron.

I love gutsy people!

Beyond opening the door of opportunity for women to fly for elite units like the Thunderbirds, Nicole flew 26 combat missions while in active service.

Her speech was filled with great life lessons, several of which I think apply to business and investing.

During airshows and practice demonstrations, the Thunderbird pilots perform extremely high-speed maneuvers sometimes flying within 1-2 feet of one another. In many cases, you can’t even see where your teammates are. You must be in the right position, and you must trust that each of the other pilots is in the exact right position as well.

This requires an extreme level of trust. You must trust that the mission enables everyone to succeed, and you must trust in the skill and experience of your fellow pilots. You are literally trusting with your life.

In business relationships, particularly when it involves investments and finances, a successful outcome is premised on a high level of trust.

Many of you have been working with me for almost 24 years. We have navigated through the dot-com bubble, the financial crisis, and Covid’s impact on the financial markets.

Your financial plans are designed specifically for you and are meant to be resilient to even the most challenging economic scenarios. They consider your financial circumstances, your tolerance for risk, and your retirement time horizon.

We sincerely appreciate and deeply respect your extreme level of trust in us. We promise it is justified and we will continue to provide pro-active and continuous communication as good team members should.

Nicole also mentioned her scariest experience when flying with the Thunderbirds. This experience taught her one of her biggest life lessons.

This experience occurred during the leadup to the squadron’s “Diamond Formation,” one of their riskiest maneuvers. During this leadup, Nicole encountered a high level of air turbulence.

Her instinct was to grab the controls as tight as she could to “fight” the turbulence. This led to a series of rapid decisions and overcorrections that almost took her plane entirely out of proper formation, risking her life in the process.

When getting together with her fellow pilots afterwards in the mission debrief, her most experienced teammate suggested she do the opposite the next time she encountered turbulence. She should loosen her grip on the controls and not fight the turbulence.

Her life lesson was to not fight what she couldn’t control.

In investing, you are guaranteed to go through periods of market turbulence. Some of these experiences will be much more severe than others. Oftentimes, it is tempting to grab the controls tight and fight this turbulence.

This can mean selling your investments when the level of turbulence is high, waiting to buy back in when the level of turbulence is less. While following this type of strategy can be psychologically comfortable, it leads to a similar set of decisions that Nicole experienced.

When is the best time to get out? If you got out at the right time, when should you get back in? You’ll need to make this decision several times over. If even one of these decisions is incorrect, it can throw you well out of formation with respect to your financial plan.

We have worked as teammates to put together an excellent and durable financial plan. History suggests that staying consistent with this plan will provide the best long-term result.

Thank you so much for your relationship, particularly during more volatile periods like we are experiencing currently. Please reach out to me, Patty, or our newest team member Tyler any time and we look forward to reaching out to you as well.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.