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Pilot Zohrab Grigorian: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

Your thoughts can make you sick, or they can make you well. I think that’s an important concept to grasp. Becoming mindful of this and of the thoughts that race through our heads every day can provide us with better physical, mental, and emotional health. Knowing, understanding, and practicing this can lead to more serenity […]

Your thoughts can make you sick, or they can make you well. I think that’s an important concept to grasp. Becoming mindful of this and of the thoughts that race through our heads every day can provide us with better physical, mental, and emotional health. Knowing, understanding, and practicing this can lead to more serenity in your life, more peace, more calmness, more certainty and clarity, which translates to better relationships and a better feeling and appreciation towards life. When you’re there, anything is possible!


As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zohrab Grigorian.

Zohrab is a father, husband, professional pilot, entrepreneur, strategic operations consultant serving the general aviation sector of our air transportation industry (www.volaree.com), and a seeker in the realm of personal growth and transformation. He currently helps the private air charter community streamline and scale their operations for effective and sustainable growth, navigate aviation regulatory requirements, as well as architect and build business organizations for fellow aviation entrepreneurs. Zohrab is working this year to launch a professional development segment within his consultancy which is aimed at delivering transformative change to the air transportation industry, and beyond, through personal growth, peer collaboration, and quality management.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Since my early twenties, I knew that I had a passion for helping people and saving lives. I also had a strong passion for aviation. I went to an aeronautical university out of high school and studied aviation, then I went on to the airlines to fly as a professional pilot. During that time, at the insistence of my father, I ended up enrolling in a graduate program that transitioned into a pathway towards attaining my MBA degree. I wasn’t sure how to merge aviation and business but, in the course of my MBA curriculum, I was inspired to do more than just fly airplanes. About a year after I finished my MBA program, I ended up leaving the airlines to work on my air tour business with a little plane that I still own today. That business led to me starting a private air charter company (FAA Part 135) and eventually into what I do today, business coaching and operations consulting. I find peace and passion in continually working on myself to evolve and grow, and I am now working towards transforming my consultancy out of process analysis and management and into professional development.

I want to help people; I find passion and excitement in that work. My goal is to transition more into working on growth and development projects at a personal level, both within and out of the aviation field, to help people realize their full potential. In aviation, I aim to take the work of personal growth and transformation and apply it to crew collaboration and safety initiatives, with the idea of achieving a highly proactive level of safety aimed at saving lives throughout the emerging air transportation industry.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I like sharing my passion for aviation. In my air tours business, I had the joy and pleasure of offering “introductory flights” to people who wanted to experience the thrill of flying an airplane for the first time. Those flights were the toughest on me because I put a lot into them to explain everything and make sure my guests were comfortable and left the experience with some new knowledge about airplanes and what it takes to fly them. I’d be drained after a day of introductory flights, but I would also feel happy and fulfilled while delivering the service and while reflecting on my work at the end of the day. I made some great connections while doing that work, some of which I still keep up with, and I also had the opportunity to fly with some celebrities in the Los Angeles area. It was hard work that burned me out at the time, but looking back at it today, I’m so glad I was able to create that experience for them. I think it made a lot of people happy, and it makes me happy thinking about that.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

I think work culture is reflective of a “leader’s” ability to lead, and I think that “ability” is not learned — it’s found. Also, anyone at any level of the team has the potential to be a “leader.” Being a leader is not a title, I feel, it’s deeper than that. If you’re truly passionate about whatever you’re doing, that passion shines through on even the toughest of days and it allows one to act with purpose, compassion, and empathy. With that in mind, I feel fantastic work culture is a byproduct of a strong passion for, and clear communication of, the goals that are set, tasks at hand, the values we hold, and of the vision we’re working to achieve, for the benefit that is greater than one’s self. That passion and communication need to start at the very top of the organization and work its way down through the management ranks and the employees within them. With common passion and clear communication, excellent organizational culture will shine through at all levels.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

In my MBA studies, I had the opportunity to read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. In reading that book, and while exploring “Leading Change” by Kotter as well as a textbook on the principles of quality management, I discovered my passion for change initiatives, transformation, and evolution (personally, and at an organizational level), and the application of quality principles. I hadn’t realized I had this passion while in my undergraduate studies and life leading up to this point. I feel it’s “Good to Great” that got me thinking about growth and evolution. It took me out of the professional flight deck and into the role of helping entrepreneurs in aviation to achieve their vision, mission, and goals through consulting, coaching, and the strategic application of regulations and policy to architect, build and scale aviation business organizations.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

As I think about this, I’d like to clarify the point from which my responses will originate. What’s relevant to me is the “state of being mindful of your own thoughts” from which, in my opinion, serenity will become present and dominant. From that space, being mindful is being conscious and aware. This includes conscious of your thoughts, aware of contrast, resistance, and your feelings and emotions — before they affect your mood. I’m still learning this application for my benefit, growth, and transformation, but I can tell you there’s a paradigm shift in your approach to life when you learn to become mindful, conscious, and aware.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

Your thoughts can make you sick, or they can make you well. I think that’s an important concept to grasp. Becoming mindful of this and of the thoughts that race through our heads every day can provide us with better physical, mental, and emotional health. Knowing, understanding, and practicing this can lead to more serenity in your life, more peace, more calmness, more certainty and clarity, which translates to better relationships and a better feeling and appreciation towards life. When you’re there, anything is possible!

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

I tend not to focus on upheaval and uncertainty. I work hard to focus on me and what I can control within myself and from my actions, thoughts, and approach to life and its circumstances. It’s important to understand life doesn’t happen “to” you. Life happens “for” you or “with” you. I believe we were placed on this Earth to create and benefit from our journey of creation. I believe we are each one part of a larger whole and that we are all here to benefit from one another — not to destroy one another. As you take that approach, you’ll soon realize that destroying what you believe to be the “destroyer” only leads to more destruction. When you realize that, for example, you’ve become mindful. And when you embrace that mindfulness, live it, create from that space every day, bask in the feeling of love for life, joy for living, and eagerness for more creating, you’ll find serenity.

When you understand principally understand and practice this, you’ll soon realize there’s no need to feel any other way besides being happy, joyful, and abundant. I associate the feeling of abundance with the feeling of serenity. They’re not the same, but I feel you can’t experience abundance without the feeling of serenity. What I mean by abundance is in the application of life. When you have faith in the universe and yourself, anything becomes possible. The feelings of uncertainty and all the other feelings of fear and lack no longer exist at that point of mindfulness.

To get there, I feel, takes some work. I hate to say that, because “work” sounds hard or maybe unachievable, but it’s not. It involves work because you need to challenge yourself. You need to challenge who you’ve become. You need to challenge your fears, your depression, and your ego. You need to stop playing the victim and start taking responsibility for your life and the circumstances surrounding it. You see, for every feeling, there is an equal and opposite feeling. Take anxiety, for example. Isn’t the feeling of anxiety pretty similar to that of excitement? Your heart pounds, your stomach might be in knots, you can’t wait for something to happen. Right? These are two very similar feelings. When the shock of reality for this COVID-19 situation hit me, I too became anxious and I wasn’t able to sleep because my heart was racing, and my chest felt swollen and it was hard to breathe.

I wasn’t sick — but my thoughts were making me sick. I knew that I can’t continue this way…how would I pass my first EKG for my pilot medical!? Thinking of that made me even more anxious. Then I realized, maybe I’m excited. Maybe I’m excited to wake up and create my day. Maybe I’m excited to rest and start a new day where I get to speak with like-minded entrepreneurs and help them find solutions to their problems. Well, as I started thinking of that, I realized that I had a smile on my face, and I started to relax and fall asleep. The work continues, though. I have to work at it every day. We’re not made to be this way, but our upbringing, the feeling of lack, societal traits and norms even, render us to become limited in our thought. I like to use meditation and I do it in the mornings as soon as I wake up. The gym too, and working out, has been a great source of mindfulness and serenity for me. It was hard when the gym closed down. That was the week that I lost it. But life goes on and I now look forward to waking up and working out with 5gal water jugs in the living room. 🙂

Having said all that, I think we need to realize here — if we are truly seeking mindfulness, serenity, personal growth, and evolution — we cannot continue on the same paths of feeling those feelings that bring about perceived-negative emotions. We need to make some changes. Some thoughts surrounding those changes, and what’s worked for me so far, are:

One:

Start by acknowledging your feelings and your discontent with them. You have to know and accept that “status-quo” for you is not OK and that you’re not happy with what “status-quo” is. You need to realize that you want to change something about your life — whatever it may be. I think this is the most important part. You can’t change if you’re not ready to embrace change. I tried for many years with no real results. Honestly, I made a conscious and steadfast decision to make a change in my life and to not look back in mid-November of 2019. I’ve been working at it since.

Two:

Next, I like to wake up early, at least earlier than what “normal” is. That means I have to sleep early. Well, since we’re not socializing now, there’s no better time to try this! Sleep early, wake up at 4 am or 5 am. Ok…to do what?

Three:

Glad you asked! To get up at the time you promised yourself you would, follow-through, take responsibility for your actions, be grateful for doing so, and then create your day. I do that by waking up with the thought of being mindful. I do not touch my phone in the mornings anymore. I make neither others’ problems my problems nor others’ feelings my feelings. Wake up, get out of bed when you’re ready (without falling asleep again first), do what needs to be done in the bathroom (but with haste and purpose), then do something that feeds your mind and soul. I start by putting in my earbuds and listening to meditative content on my phone (without checking my texts, email, or social media). I try to sit or stand for about 15-minutes (or so) and listen to serene music or sound waves and I meditate. I’m still learning about how to do it. My focus, in doing this, is on working to become present and to let thoughts pass through — not stay and affect me, but to pass through my mind. I think of it as clearing my mind of the day’s garbage.

Four:

My next action is exercise. Up until the gyms closed, I’d be there. I exercise from home now, of course. It’s not the same, but it works. I’ve found that when I skip this part, I feel unaccomplished — like I’m missing something. I also like to listen to thought-provoking content while I work out. I have my typical preferences, but I also like to explore. I do this on YouTube. I try not to listen to music in the gym anymore but somedays that feels natural and my head needs to rest, so I let it flow. I think it’s important to do what you feel is right at that moment. Be present with yourself and listen to your instinct — don’t suppress it. If your instinct tells you to go running, then you should go running and you shouldn’t try to force any other outcome. It doesn’t have to be exercise. Do what comes to mind that makes you feel accomplished, worthy, abundant, and serene.

Five:

One more thing that has worked for me is to write down my thoughts. I keep pads of paper and pens around so that I can write down my thoughts. I write down my business ideas and plans as they come to me in one pad, and I write down my thoughts, feelings, goals, what I like, what I dislike, and so on, in another pad. Some days I get lost in productivity and I forget what happened. I use my notepad to recap my day in those cases. It helps bring me clarity when my mind is clouded, especially at the end of the day. At the end of my day, I meditate for a few minutes again and think about being grateful. I also listen to some more content that I’ve set aside for bedtime. This primes my mind to be conscious and mindful of where my thoughts go. I find that when I don’t do this, my morning and the resulting day is more challenging for me to get through.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Frankly, I think the first step is to help yourself. “Put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others.” 🙂 There’s some truth and sense to that. Further, I’ve found that forcing an action, or trying to “fix” people, just doesn’t work. So, the second step in my mind is to not approach “giving support” as an opportunity to control an outcome or to “fix” someone. The next step is to stop and listen to them; hear their message and acknowledge their concerns. I think that’s an important aspect of supporting those you care for. We need to show compassion and empathy for others. Listening and acknowledging people is a good place to start.

Beyond that, my approach would be to offer support to people by reminding them that these times will pass, and this is a time of temporary contrast in our lives. We get nowhere by feeling fear or anxious about that contrast, so try to flip those emotions into thoughts and feelings that are more self-serving and try to find some benefit out of this temporary time of contrast.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

I like YouTube. There are abundant resources on YouTube. There are a few different sources that I rely on, teachers, that I have found through YouTube. I’d be happy to share those resources and who has benefited me, but I’d prefer to do that privately. Your readers can reach out to me directly if they wish.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Where you place your attention is your point of attraction.” “Your point of energy is your point of manifestation.” “What you focus on, you become.” These are paraphrased in my own words, yes, and taken from some of the people who I listen to daily for inspiration, motivation and to help me find peace. These words help me to remain grounded and regain consciousness of my thoughts and feelings. For example, if all we focus on are the words, or the feelings surrounding the words, “lockdown” or “shelter in place” or “coronavirus” and so on, we become entrapped by those thoughts in our mind and, as we allow ourselves to focus on those thoughts and feelings that don’t serve the greater good, we become confined, constrained, restricted, and stressed to the point that those feelings turn into emotions and moods that have potential negative impacts on our bodies and health.

It took me about a week to overcome the initial shock I had when I realized that our lives had changed as a result of COVID-19 and its impacts. For a week I was unconsciously drowning myself in fear and anxiety to the point that it affected my heart rate and ability to breathe normally. I felt my conscious-mind was clear, but I knew my subconscious was running out of control. When I realized I just need to live life normally, as I do and feel great about doing so, as I normally feel, and just let whatever happens around me to happen around me — because I can’t control it anyway — that’s when I was able to tap into my subconscious program and get it rewired a bit to have it better serve me for the long-term. Knowing that we’re going to get through this, everything is now and will be alright, things are working out for us, and to let go of things that we simply cannot control, allows us to regain consciousness of the present moment and think forward from that place to create a self-serving future rather than creating self-destruction.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think our schools, at least the ones that I have exposure to, need to do a better job of training our next generation on how to function effectively and cohesively in this world we live in. I think our kids need to be rewarded for dreaming, imagining, and creating things that are outside the proverbial box that is our education system. I feel our kids need to be guided effectively to explore themselves. There should be qualified guidance delivered to our kids for them to experience guided self-reflection, mutual compassion, and some of the principals and teachings that make up the arena of personal growth and transformation. I also feel our schools need to deliver effectively a means for them to grasp the concepts of money and finance. We’re doing a disservice to our communities and the world by not teaching our kids financial education by real, qualified people, from a young age. That’s utopian, in a way, but I think the world would be a better place if teachings of finance, abundance, and consciousness were the norm.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

I mostly use LinkedIn and Facebook:

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you for the opportunity and thank you for making this platform available for seekers to find benefits!

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