My guest for Episode #15 of “My Favorite Mistake” is Rico Racosky, a retired 737 pilot for Southwest Airlines, who previously flew jets in the United States Air Force — fighter jets ( (F-16 and A-7) and transports (C-141).
From his bio:
“Rico grew up in a small coal mining town full of self-doubt and lacked a clear direction in life. Along the way to living his dream of becoming a fighter jet and airline pilot, he developed a strategy for clear and effective decision-making that launched his entrepreneurial path, and he’s now determined to share his strategy and impact as many people as possible.”
In today's episode, Rico shares his “favorite mistake” regarding a choice that he had to make during his Air Force career. We also talk about his “Just 2 Choices” framework that was developed through his time in the cockpit — he's the author of the book Just 2 Choices… It's Your Life. In the episode, we also talk about his choice to not become an artist (and Mark's similar life choice to not become a musician). We also discuss the importance of good decisions as a pilot and how sometimes we need to prevent mistakes instead of just learning from them after the fact. You can get some free downloads related to his book at www.Just2Choices.com/radio.
You can listen to the episode below. A transcript also follows lower on this page.
Additional Video of Rico:
Here is a talk he gave at a Harvard event:
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Automated Transcript (May Contain Mistakes)
Mark Graban (0s):
Episode 15 Rico Racosky, retired Air Force pilot and retired commercial aviation pilot.
Rico Racosky (8s):
I never, never would have dreamed that would have led to something better. And at the time it was just such a disaster.
Mark Graban (19s):
I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at myfavoritemistakepodcast.com. Thanks for listening and now on with the show. And I'm really excited. We're joined today by Rico Racosky. In his career, he was first off an Air Force fighter pilot.
Mark Graban (1m 0s):
He is also a recently retired airline captain, and I will try to avoid making bad jokes about our podcasts, having an on-time departure or an on-time arrival. You do not need to buckle your seatbelt before listening. Rico is the author of a book called “Just 2 Choices,” and we're going to also have a chance to touch on that today. So Rico, welcome on board. How are you today?
Rico Racosky (1m 30s):
I'm doing fabulous. Thank you Mark. It's an honor and a privilege. I really, really appreciate the opportunity to chat today and I love the title of your show, is perfect.
Mark Graban (1m 38s):
Well, thank you. I hope the line for security wasn't too long getting into the podcast.
Rico Racosky (1m 44s):
Well, we did have some challenges didn't we?
Mark Graban (1m 48s):
So looking back, you know, your work in your career, you know, as, as we talk about here on the podcast, what would you say is your favorite mistake?
Rico Racosky (1m 56s):
Well, that was my, my favorite mistake that has really contributed to even writing Just 2 Choices book is that growing up, I was interested in art and aviation and I started off going to art school as last minute, got a call from the Air Force for a opportunity to have a flight school slot and having, oh, let's just say a strong interest in both travel and in flying low and fast and, and, and flying fighters. When, when I went to flight school, I had, it was the night before we made our decisions to put, to put in our, our choices for which jets we wanted to fly. And it's called your dream sheet and the Air Force, you write down which airplane airplanes you wanted.
Rico Racosky (2m 38s):
And I was all set on going fighters right up to, I was on my way to bed that night, the night before we had to have the sheet turned in and I switched over to transports. Now, the reason I switched over to transport's was that I'd already had about two and a half years in the Air Forece as an aircraft maintenance officer in the transport arena. And I was looking at creating, you know, staying in the military and making that a full-time career. And so I, I chose to go the career path because if I switched over from fighters, I'd have lost such a say about three years worth of seniority, so to speak in the military.
Rico Racosky (3m 19s):
And, and, and so I chose to, to it's a last moment to go head over and actually just fly transports. And after I made that particular choice and I got the assignment, the assignment I wanted for flying transports, and it was time to go to school for transports. By that particular point in time, I just had an enormous amount of regret, enormous amount of, you know, pain actually on into why I made that particular choice that way, because I really, you know, I really preferred that. Let's just say it was probably 60, 40 flying fighters over flying transports.
Rico Racosky (3m 59s):
And by, by making that switch, it just, I just felt I'd made a really, really big mistake in my life and, and fast forward through the rest of my life. The beautiful part about it is that with all the work that I've ended up doing with like just two choices and some other books that I've written that world travel as a transport pilot for six years before I switched over the flying fighters in the military was just an enormous gift that I never, never would have dreamed that it would have led to something better at the time. It was just such a disaster. And I know for some people it might be kind of hard to relate. You know, I'll just an airplane, that's understandable, but it's something I grew up with as a kid, all my life on the fly and knowing the distinction between those two different kinds of flying.
Rico Racosky (4m 50s):
It was really, really a painful time. And that went on for, for probably a couple years, till I was till I started to see all this, something better that was being, that was coming out of it. So I've had several of those kinds of things. And I think you probably have a similar approach to things, Mark, and a lot of guests, a lot of folks listening have this similar kind of an approach, which is there's always going to be something good. It seems like that comes out of something that at the moment seems like a disaster, or it seems like it's, it's not going to work out or you're not going to be able to recover from it. And so the gift to me has always been to, you know, the, just two choices approach I can, I can complain, or I can look for the, you know, the silver lining, so to speak.
Rico Racosky (5m 38s):
And, and I think that really put me on that path for making sure I always look for the best opportunities to come out of something, even though at the time, it didn't seem like the best thing.
Mark Graban (5m 47s):
I mean, look, there are often career choices or transition points that, that we go through. I mean, just, you know, share a little bit about my background. I'm an engineer. I started my career focused on manufacturing for the first 10 years of my career. I thought that was going to be my entire career. And then 15 years ago I had the opportunity to start doing similar process improvement, consulting, work in healthcare. I, I, you know, and I thought, well, this could be a mistake, but I thought, well at, at the least I'll learn something from that experience so that I could take back into, I can get back onto my primary career path.
Mark Graban (6m 28s):
The thing I couldn't predict is that, you know, 15 years later, what I thought might have been a temporary detour into healthcare, turned out to be more of, you know, kind of more of a sustained change. So I think, you know, sometimes when we make choices and I'd be curious to hear your, your thoughts on this, like when, when making a choice or as you know, it, we'll, we'll talk about your book, just two choices. Maybe you can help with that framework a little bit. What, how, how do you help evaluate choices when you're really uncertain about which one is the best for the long-term?
Rico Racosky (7m 6s):
Well, I, I kind of look at it as, and that's why I call the, Just 2 Choices book. And again, that's why I mentioned my background in art. It's a visual, there's a diagram that has, if you, if you were to take your hand and put your hands about 90 degrees and, you know, take the peace sign or a V sign with your fingers and, and turn it horizontal. The, the upward vector of the index finger, you know, is the choice it's going to take you in, in, let's just say the positive direction and the, you know, the, your, your middle finger pointing down is the choice. It's going to take you in the opposite direction or take you in a direction of what you necessarily don't want. And so that's how I look at. And I, that's a great question because thinking back on it now to that day in flight school, the just two choices moment, right?
Rico Racosky (7m 54s):
When you make one, and there are only just two choices, that's why computers are binary. Everything's a zero or a one it's not zero and one. And so, you know, when you energize one choice, you de-energize the other, so you kind of get a double benefit. And so what I chose to energize in the longterm that I thought was a it's a time when I had to make the choice to turn the paperwork in was the choice that of a career in the military was going to be my long-term goal. And prior to that particular point, I hadn't really, I was thinking about promotion. I was thinking about upward movement within, within the Air Force. If I stuck with having been an aircraft maintenance officer on, on transports on two different kinds of transports.
Rico Racosky (8m 39s):
And then I went and flew, you know, the bigger transports, there was also a thing called the C-17 that was coming out at the same time, a new transport jet. I could be, you know, initial, probably an initial pilot on the C-17, all of which translated militarily into promotion, you know? And so I decided to actually say, I'll go the promoted route. And so that was the long-term choice. It's just that after I had made the choice, which, you know, I started to have those second thoughts. So to answer your question, and, you know, the vector that goes up in the upward direction, which I call choice. Number one did have that long-term factor in it at the time I made the choice.
Rico Racosky (9m 22s):
And, and, and then you just have to ride it out. You know, there's nothing you can, unless you got a crystal ball, you know, you're, you're psychic, you just gotta ride it out, you know? And does that help in terms of what you were asking?
Mark Graban (9m 37s):
Yeah. Well, and you know, I'm thinking of one other question that comes to mind. Was there a, was there conflict, do you think between, let's say your, your heart and your head, like, was your heart in, in, in flying fighters, but your head said, well, the rational better choice, as you were saying from a career perspective was to switch the transport. Was, was, was it like that? Or was it something different?
Rico Racosky (10m 7s):
You know, I think that that's a, that's a, I think a good way to describe it. I think if I look back on it now, and especially having been blessed to have been able to switch over to flying fighters, which is a rare, rare, rare thing, you know, once you've gone to transport route, you have been able to switch over and do that and having flown F-16s and it's, you know, it, it definitely is where my heart is, you know, is in the speed and the, the kind of precision that goes into all the thought process of, you know, aerial engagements and, and those kinds of things.
Rico Racosky (10m 49s):
I think that is much more of my, you know, my nature over the, you know, over, over transports, although I do, I do love world travel and I, you know, and there's fabulous, fabulous people. I wouldn't trade wouldn't trade it. It's just that to answer the question. Yeah. The heart is, is probably more in that, in the fighter range.
Mark Graban (11m 13s):
So as you're going through, you described, you know, that, that, that years of regret, what was your strategy for sort of, you know, trying to manage that regret or cope with it was a matter of reminding yourself why you made that choice to switch in the transports, or what, what else did you do to sort of just help manage your, your feelings about that?
Rico Racosky (11m 35s):
Well, at first, because I had been in the Air Force for about two and a half years as a non flyer, I kind of knew how the system works. So at first I tried to, I tried to work within the system to get them to change the assignment. And, you know, if, if you believe in divine intervention, every, every call I made to the different fighter, people coordinated those kinds of assignments in different ways. I like, I just like, just missed the cutoff, you know what I mean? He was like, ah, if you'd have called last week, we could have switched you. So I think it kind of made me kind of laugh and say, well, I guess, you know, there's more to this than, than what I was done up in what I'm seeing, because it was, it was, there was, there was several phone calls or just, just, you just missed it, man.
Rico Racosky (12m 24s):
And so, so that, that kind of settled things in, but that was my first response, you know, for switching. And then, I mean, for, for dealing with, you know, the situation and the stress and the, the conflict within myself. Yeah. And then I'm overall, I'm a positive guy. So, you know, it wasn't serving me well to stay in a negative state. So, you know, it was one of those things where I had just two choices idea, didn't come too many years later, but basically I was using my just two choices, the Just 2 Choices process to sort it through and to help myself continue to choose, to feel better and incrementally better about the outcomes. And like I said, you know, going all over the world, not a bad gig, you know, and especially with the way the military and to the keys, you know, and says, call us if you got a problem, but get this stuff there.
Rico Racosky (13m 18s):
You know? So yeah, it was, it was very, very tremendously rewarding.
Mark Graban (13m 23s):
Yeah. Now you, you had mentioned earlier your, your interest, if not aspirations in arts did looking back and, you know, maybe, you know, again, weaving in your chest to choices framework, you have this choice of pursuing arts or pursuing aviation. Like I can share a little bit more about myself, like growing up as a kid, I was really into music. I played drums and percussion, and I was really serious about it. And I, I had a choice of pursuing music or pursuing engineering. I chose engineering and like, I don't have, you know, pain or, or regret over that.
Mark Graban (14m 3s):
But I was curious, like, how do you look back at your choice? And again, if you can explain it in the, just two choices framework that might be good for the listener
Rico Racosky (14m 14s):
Well, and adjusted it. The one thing I did know was, I mean, you know, even as an 18 year old kid, the one thing I figured out was I'm not going to get another, you know, it's rare to get another opportunity to go, you know, fly for the military. And so, you know, art was something that, it seemed to me that if flying didn't work out, I could always go back to doing art or, you know, or pursuing art. And so that's what drove that that's really what drove that decision. I'm from a small coal mining town and steel town in Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania. I'll tell you just a couple hours from Pittsburgh. And I, you know, I, that I, you know, I knew intuitively and it goes, I'm glad you asked the question Mark, because intuitively I knew that I always wanted to travel.
Rico Racosky (14m 59s):
I knew that I always wanted to see more than, than my hometown, and I love my hometown and I love my relatives. And, you know, I love, I love the people I grew up with. It was just, I mean, my high school friends just fabulous. It's just that, you know, I just felt there was something bigger out there in the world, and I wanted to see what it was like. And so all of that rich aspect TA tap, you know, is what helped that just two choices moment to be the choice when the, when the aviation opportunity came to, to, to do that. So, I mean, how about you? I mean, what, how, what, what was your choice point there that drove the drove the one direction
Mark Graban (15m 40s):
Always meant to being influenced heavily on this by my father who is an engineer and, you know, music, music would have been, I have friends who are professional musicians and it is a really tough living. And, you know, I had the opportunity to continue enjoying music as a hobby, you know, so I was in the marching band. I was very heavily involved in music through college and, and that's dwindled. I still have a pair of drumsticks here in my office, but yeah, I mean, I, I think, you know, part of that, no regrets is like, I, I think I, I don't, I didn't have the passion and what I had learned at well, what I learned enough, like when I was a senior in high school and I was taking private lessons with a graduate student at the University of Michigan, this, this is really what sealed it.
Mark Graban (16m 37s):
I had enough talent to do really well and to be the best drummer in my high school and to enjoy playing with minimal practice. Yeah. I enjoyed performing this graduate student from Michigan basically opened my eyes to the fact that if I did not love being alone in a practice room for hours upon hours every day, then I was like, yeah. Okay. No, that's, that's not for me.
Rico Racosky (17m 7s):
Yeah, no, I hadn't thought of it that way. That's a great way to, that's like, I can relate to that very, very well.
Mark Graban (17m 14s):
And, and, and I think that's different than saying, like, I mean, like I'm not lazy, but, but, but that idea of being such a so alone and having to be that dedicated to that craft was, you know, I decided that was not for me. And I think that was the right decision.
Rico Racosky (17m 32s):
Yeah. And so, you know, the thought that crosses my mind, I like what you're describing the thought that crosses my mind is how far am I going to, how far do I want to take this? Maybe that's not accurate, but I mean, it seems like, you know, at the time, how far do I want to take my art? How far do I want to take my aviation? You know, so I would, I wanted to take my aviation as far as I could take it. And now, you know, the layout of the book has a lot of art and graphics in it. And so now I'm satisfying. I'm satisfying that artistic side side of myself. And the great part of it is there's just so much more I can do. Actually, I, I think the favorite thing that I look forward to is just two choices is being able to do animation of a lot of the topics that I'm working on my either myself doing or having input into doing it.
Rico Racosky (18m 24s):
But, you know, the technology wasn't there back then to be able to, to step into that. And so now it's almost like the aviation gave me that springboard and it, you know, and interface with technology and those thoughts. And now the art has kind of caught up to being able to graphically design, 3d models of, of, of what you see, you know, 3D models of choice and, and, and just two choices. Yeah.
Mark Graban (18m 51s):
I, if you have, forgive me one, one more question about aviation. I'm curious about before we'll, we'll, we'll talk a little bit more about the book again. So, you know, one of the themes on the podcast here is, you know, learning from mistakes and that we all make mistakes, and it's a natural part of, of life and our professional realm, but, you know, clearly in aviation, there are a great number of mistakes that could end up being deadly. So I was wondering what your thoughts are about preventing mistakes and some of the things that aviation does to, to, to be so effective at preventing major mistakes.
Rico Racosky (19m 30s):
I think you summarized it real well. That's exactly, you know, that's exactly what aviation safety is about is, you know, think first of the other consequences of, of the choice that you're about to make. And, and, you know, somebody asked me one time, he said, well, do you fly an airplane with just two choices? And I said, that's the only way to fly an airplane is just two choices, because you're either making the jet perform within the parameters. It's meant to perform with him, either just using the simplicity aspect of, of air speed or altitude or direction, you know, navigating it, it's either on course or it's off course. And then, you know, and to what degree then are you going to allow the jet because it's under your control for anybody who's flying, any human is flying it.
Rico Racosky (20m 19s):
How, how far are you going to allow the jet to go either off altitude off air speed, too fast, too slow, you know, too fast in terms of fuel consumption, let's just use the simplest of simple thing aspect of it, or, you know, or off navigation miles off course, or not very far off course. And so that very much, what you just described is, is a great way of describing what, what goes on in aviation all the time. I mean, it's, it's just two choices and where are you going to catch that, that aspect that allows the, keeps the air, the situation from exacerbating to something that is, that could be, that could create a lot of problems.
Mark Graban (21m 4s):
And, and it seems like there's, you know, from, from what I've talked to other pilots about, there's a lot of, obviously there there's training and there's focus on communication and teamwork and breaking down hierarchy. And, you know, my work in healthcare often brings me across hospitals and surgeons who are trying really hard to learn from aviation because of the advances in safety and, and, and you know, how the, how the track record has gotten well, never, you know, not perfect. The track record has gotten so much better over recent decades. And I mean, it does seem like a, on another level when there is a really bad event, there is a strong focus on
Rico Racosky (21m 47s):
Yeah, yes, I'm learning from that particular event and pulling it apart, you know, and, and I'd say one thing with aviation and healthcare is, is, you know, our use of checklists is, I mean, you know, whether you're putting the person on the moon or, you know, you're, you know, you're just flying by yourself. It's, it's the checklist really, really drives, you know, keeping things as tight as possible. And of course the next, when I say tight as possible, meaning that you're going to be within the parameters of the performance of the airplane that allows you to fly safely and minimize the risk of, of, of something catastrophic happening. And, and yet there's still that human factor that is if you're kind of a person who really doesn't have the personal discipline to care about the checklist, then you're probably not a person who would be a good person to fly with, because it's all about being able to have that personal discipline.
Rico Racosky (22m 46s):
But then that goes to engineering that goes to, you know, that goes to music, you know, that's that same kind of discipline idea applies to those things, too. And as they're just through choices, moments, every one of those, you know, what level am I going to participate in this music? What level am I going to participate in this engineering? Or am I going to participate in this flight? You know,
Mark Graban (23m 9s):
So again, as we wrap up here, I guess we're starting to, you know, we'll prepare for arrival. What, what, what led to your, your writing of the book, Just 2 Choices, who, who is the book for? Is it about choices in like really broad choices in our everyday lives? Or who's the typical reader that you wrote this for?
Rico Racosky (23m 35s):
Yeah. It's, it's, it's for, you know, broad choices and, and everyday life, although I'm starting to tailor it, you know, toward the business side of things as well. And in terms of trying to have the just two choices philosophy, as well as the visual itself, you know, if you're a CEO of a company and you want to make sure that your vision and your mission are understood all the way to the frontline level, then the just 2 choices model is a way of being able to translate your vision and mission into just two choices. So at the front line, the people who are eyeball to eyeball with, with your customers are making the kind of choices that you want them to make that are consistent with the vision and mission of the company.
Rico Racosky (24m 20s):
But overall, the book itself is, is a, is a general thing because it's actually was burst in a lot of ways, not they're just your aviation visuals, you know, cause when you look in the cockpit, there's no, there are, are hardly any words they're just visual. She fly by graphics and, you know, you know, your references to all your performances and stuff, by looking at a visual, without having to say anything, you know, exactly where to move your controls and stuff. And so that's how the just two choices is laid out. But there's another factor to that. And that factor is that I kept, I was working a lot for about 15 years with kids on elementary school kids on goal setting, teaching a process called dreams, plus action equals reality. And for many years, I'd say, Hey, look, there are just two choices, which choice of action you're going to take.
Rico Racosky (25m 2s):
Is that acting that take you closer to what you want or is it going to take you further away from what you want? And so I kept saying just two choices over and over again. And that kind of evolved into a book of the book that we have that's there today because I was going, Oh, all of life is just two choices, no matter what we do, our health, our wealth relationships career, every moment we just have to, as you, as I was listening to Karyn's broadcast, you know, it's the little choices that they all add up to the big results and everything in life. And, and so pay attention to the being in the moment and making the choice now, and then you won't have to make a drastic choice later.
Mark Graban (25m 44s):
And as I saw you talk about there's, there's a video of you speaking at a Harvard group and I'll, I'll post the link to that in the show notes. But you know, I think about the choices that I'm going to have ahead of me this evening. I have a choice to exercise or not exercise. I have a choice of eating something healthy or not eating something healthy. I also have a choice to go sit and watch the hockey game instead of exercising. Maybe I can figure out how to do both, but there's two choices, right? As you frame it, a choice that takes us to our goal of let's say health or a choice that takes us away from that goal is, is the, the summer it seems to come across, right?
Rico Racosky (26m 29s):
Can I add one thing there? Cause you just inspired another thought here. The other thought that comes to mind is what you'd talked about with Karyn Ross, you know, and I'm I'm of the similar philosophy, which is all right, I'm not going to go do an hour workout, but I am going to do something I 10 or 15 minutes, and I'm still going to watch the hockey game. You see what I mean? Or I'm going to do sit ups while I'm watching the hockey game or you see there's. And so it's the incremental stuff that allows us to create those new habit patterns, you know, that build the momentum. That's the shift in the long run, you know, have that big shifts. And so I'm, I'm I'm right in sync with you guys, when you guys were talking about that, that particular subject.
Mark Graban (27m 10s):
Yeah. It seems like maybe the final thing I'll share lots of little good choices. Prevent the need for a really difficult, good choice down the road.
Rico Racosky (27m 22s):
Yes. The big high OCHA at the last moment. Yeah.
Mark Graban (27m 27s):
Yeah. So again, our guest has been Rico Racosky author of “Just 2 Choices.” Rico, how can people buy the book, learn more about the book connect with you online?
Rico Racosky (27m 39s):
Well, well thank you, Mark. Just go to Just2choices.com And actually I got three free downloads. If you get just2choices.com/radio, even as a podcast slash radio, you can get the, you can get that welcome and chapter one for free, and then you can also get the, just two choices diagrams that you could actually cut out and paste around your house. One of them will show you how to make positive choices toward new and better, a new and better direction as to getting into the, getting hooked back into your same old choice that gets you into that frustrating place where, well, not just you, but any of us into those things.
Rico Racosky (28m 21s):
Or if you're thinking about whether you should go after something or not go for it, there's another visual, just two choices visual there, and you can just download all those at just2choices.com/radio.
Mark Graban (28m 35s):
Well, great. Well thank you Rico and thank you for those giveaways. And I'll, I'll put the link to that in the show notes and encourage everyone to go check that out. So I feel I haven't been as I haven't been flying as much recently because of the pandemic, but my brain is making me say something. My brain is making me say something like, I know you have a lot of choices of where to come on as a podcast guest. So thank you for choosing My Favorite Mistake. To our listeners, I know you have a lot of choices about what to listen to. So thank you for joining us here on My Favorite Mistake. I don't have a loyalty program. Maybe I'll I'll have to look into that.
Rico Racosky (29m 16s):
Well, there you go. There we'll go. That's a great idea. That's a great idea.
Mark Graban (29m 23s):
So again, Rico Racosky. Thank you for being a guest. Thank you for being a good sport with my attempts at airline talk.
Rico Racosky (29m 31s):
Well, it's an honor a privilege, Mark. Thank you for having me on the show. I really, really appreciate it. God bless you. Thank you.
Mark Graban (29m 37s):
Thank you. Thanks for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to pause and think about your own favorite and how learning from mistakes shapes you personally and professionally. If you're a leader, what can you do to create a culture where it's safe for colleagues to talk openly about mistakes in the spirit of learning, please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast. Our website is myfavoritemistakepodcast.com. See you next time.