Orville Wright Didn’t Have a Pilot License

Jake Wilder
Sep 30, 2020 · 4 min read

It turns out he didn’t need one.

Orville and Wilbur Wright didn’t have pilot licenses when they made their historic flight in 1903.

When pilot licenses came out in 1927, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics, William MacCracken Jr. offered the first one to Orville, even waiving the fee and exam. Wright declined. He said that he no longer flew and he didn’t need a license to show that he was the first man to fly.

The Wright brothers didn’t need someone’s permission to change the world. They had passion, commitment, and creativity. They had a desire to try and a willingness to fail. It turns out, this was enough.

It’s easy to get caught up in qualifications. It’s easy to think that you’re not ready because you don’t have enough experience or the right certifications.

At the age of ten, you were an artist and an author. And if you ever set up a lemonade stand, you were an entrepreneur.

No kid hesitates to paint a picture, write a story, or sell unreasonably priced sugar water for want of some external validation. They do it. And they figure it out as they go.

If you’re doing something new, then by definition, you’re not qualified to do it. If you’re doing something challenging, then it’s natural to be uncomfortable.

We just need to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Certifications, licenses, and qualifications all serve one purpose. They’re tools to build confidence. They give others confidence in our abilities. And they build up the confidence we have in ourselves.

They’re not a guarantee. We all know bad drivers that somehow passed their driver’s test. And there’s at least one certified federal judge that isn’t fit to adjudicate a traffic court. But in a general sense, they’re a means to build confidence.

But this confidence can be a trap.

Relying on confidence limits you. It keeps you from stretching too far and trying something new. No one’s ever fully prepared to start a new company or step in front of a group and lead for the first time. If you’re waiting for confidence, you can end up waiting your whole life.

Now, I’m not too interested in getting on a flight with a pilot that doesn’t have a license. And there’s no way I’m going to have an unlicensed doctor operate on me or my family. So yes, in some areas you need that certification.

But in many others we use it as a crutch. It’s an excuse to not put ourselves out there. It’s a rationalization against doing something that we know will make us uncomfortable.

What do you want to accomplish? Where are you holding back because of a lack of a qualification? Maybe it’s a crazy idea. But is it crazier than two guys in a bike shop inventing human aviation?

If we let confidence drive our decision to step forward, we’ll only test ourselves in situations where we’ve already proven ourselves. If we’re looking for confidence, it’s no wonder we hold back when we’re in a new situation. We’ve never given ourselves a chance to develop any.

Carol Dweck showed that we continue to grow when we see these challenges as a lack of skill (which we can gain) rather than a lack of talent (which we cannot). Talent is rarely the problem. We build skills by starting. And learning as we go.

Before our fail fast fetish, the trailblazing physicist David Bohm authored his 1968 essay, On Creativity, where he described our main barrier to committing to new challenges,

“If one will not try anything until he is assured that he will not make a mistake in whatever he does, he will never be able to learn anything new at all. And this is more or less the state in which most people are. Such a fear of making a mistake is added to one’s habits of mechanical perception in terms of preconceived ideas and learning only for specific utilitarian purposes. All of these combine to make a person who cannot perceive what is new and who is therefore mediocre rather than original.”

The prescribed innovation never happens. The sure experiment isn’t really an experiment. And no true challenge comes without some level of risk. So the answer can’t be confidence. It needs to be courage. We need courage to take that uncertain first step.

Because that first step will always be uncertain. So no amount of confidence will give us the security that it will turn out alright. We need to decide if we want this badly enough to risk that.

That first step will always be uncertain. But it’s only when we take it that we can move forward. As writer Dani Shapiro told Debbie Millman on Design Matters,

“I’ve got to dive in. Only by diving will there be water underneath me…hopefully. And there’s no way of knowing until you do it.”

Stop worrying about your own qualifications and experience. Stop waiting for some license. Find something worth doing. Then do it.


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Jake Wilder

Written by

Enemy of the Status Quo.



A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Jake Wilder

Written by

Enemy of the Status Quo.



A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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