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Mindful : October 2018
Flying High, Staying Grounded In a culture like the mil- itary, no one wants to be told, “Hey, you need help.” When I was in that go-go-go mentality, I know I didn’t want to hear, “ You need help slowing down.” People would say that I was making my unit weak or “just mak- ing people feel good.” My answer was “Is there a problem with making peo- ple feel good? If they feel good, they’re going to per- form better.” So I focus my message on performance. We all can use more tools and resources to get better at what we do. Mindful- ness is another resource to make you even more badass or more high-performing than you already are. That resonates with people. How did you introduce mindfulness to your squadron? I started by just exemplify- ing the behaviors of a mind- ful leader—someone who took care of herself, who was present in conversation. By Victoria Dawson • Photograph by Jeff Wojtaszek Jannell MacAulay knows a thing or two about the hard-driving life. A com- bat veteran and former commander with over 3,000 flying hours, MacAu- lay served in the US Air Force for 20 years before retiring in June 2018. But her hard work and ambition eventually led to burnout. 14 years into her career, she began doctoral studies on human Do you remember your earliest encounter with yoga or mindfulness? Around 1999, I took my first yoga class, and I didn’t like it. My mind didn’t stop moving—it just kept accelerating through my worries, my to-do list. I felt that slowing down with yoga would be detrimental to my performance. You were more comfort- able with hard work? My parents—my dad, a retired police lieutenant, in particular—instilled in me a drive for hard work. My father used to tell people I was going to be a submarine warfare commander or a fighter pilot. In the 1980s those jobs weren’t open to women, but I had no idea about limits. I just knew that if I worked hard enough I could achieve my dreams. And that approach worked—until it didn’t? That message from my parents was incomplete. Somebody looking at me from the outside might have thought, “Man, she’s successful.” But inside I was really struggling. What happened? My husband was on a one- year deployment in the Mid- dle East. We had a two-year- old daughter, a house, a dog. And I was responsible for a flight-training unit. I was trying to be perfect and I was completely burned out. I had been flying for 13 years, but I still hadn’t realized that I needed to secure my own oxygen mask first. When the Air Force sent me back to school for two years, I started studying how we can perform better under high-stress situations, like combat. The research was compelling, and the idea of slowing down to speed up intrigued me. Mindfulness became my oxygen mask. The idea of slowing down seems antithetical to the military mindset. performance and encountered self-care practices like yoga and mindfulness. What began as academic research soon became a personal practice and, ultimately, a professional crusade: She brought mindfulness to her squadron and then to some 2,500 members of the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirt- land Air Force Base in New Mexico. 38 mindful October 2018 walk the talk