Many of my earliest childhood memories are daydreams of flying around the sky like a bird. I would lie in the grass, look toward the sky and imagine what it would feel like to soar high above. As Leonardo da Vinci famously wrote, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” Unfortunately, I was not born a bird, and I lack the ability to actually fly by myself. Luckily, the dreamers who invented airplanes gave my dreams real wings.
Fast forward a few years to a summer day as I sat aboard a flight headed to Chicago from Phoenix. I was about seven years old at the time. Our plane sat on the tarmac for an hour or so due to thunderstorm activity at our destination. This was pre-9/11, so the captain invited all of the kids on board up to the cockpit. I remember sitting in the captain’s chair of that United Boeing 757 thinking that was the coolest thing I had ever done. As I explored all of the buttons and controls, and looked out of the cockpit windows, I remember realizing in that moment that I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up. I wanted to be in the left seat of that Boeing 757 every day. The excitement from that experience continued throughout the remainder of the flight, and it was all I could talk about for the course of my trip. I spent much of the rest of my childhood researching and exploring a career as an airline pilot.
As dreams often do, becoming a pilot eventually took a backseat. As high school graduation approached, I began to make what felt like “more practical” decisions. I didn’t think I would want to be on the road and away from family and friends for days at a time, and I didn’t like the thought of being away from home on holidays or special events. I enrolled in college, chose Finance as my major and graduated.
It didn’t take me long after starting my first “real” job out of college to realize that perhaps working a corporate 9-5 desk job wasn’t for me. The office I worked in wasn’t far from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. I sat next to a window that overlooked planes taking off and landing. Childhood wasn’t as far behind me as I might have thought, and I often found myself staring out the windows daydreaming and watching the airplanes, probably a lot more than I should have been. For the first time since high school, my desire to fly resurfaced, and I began to consider that I may have gone down the wrong career path.
Around this time, on another flight from Chicago to Phoenix, I found myself staring out the window the entire flight. I realized that I really did love flying, and really could envision myself doing this for a living. There was something beautiful and peaceful about being able to see thousands of stars from an airplane window miles above the Earth’s surface. To the very core of my being, I felt like I had found my calling.
When I shared this with my sister, she quickly introduced to me to a co-worker of hers who had just finished earning his CFI certificate, and he took us up in a single-engine Piper. It was my first time in a small plane, and my first time being at the controls of an aircraft. This experience of actually flying an airplane, something I had been dreaming of since I was a small child, was everything I imagined it would be, and so much more. The feeling of getting to do something I had been longing to do for so long was indescribable. I was on cloud nine.
After my first flight, I began researching some local flight schools to determine my options. Unfortunately, flight school is very expensive, and I was a broke, recent college graduate. In 2011, loans for flight schools were few and far between. So, I started to save what little I could. I put this dream on the back-burner in the hope that my desire to fly might fade away, and somehow I would be content to work in Finance. I was able to suppress this dream for a while, but it wouldn’t stay asleep forever.
As I continued down my career path in Corporate America, I always felt there was something missing; I never quite felt like I was where I was meant to be. I kept finding myself drawn to all things related to airplanes, flying and aviation. I often found myself looking towards the sky to watch the planes fly overhead, or hiking to the tops of mountains to watch the airport in action. I had tried to convince myself that flying wasn’t what I really wanted, because it was such a hard and expensive dream to achieve. I had hoped the desire would go away, but it hadn’t. The desire to fly for a living kept returning, each time stronger than the last. I began to save every extra penny I had in hopes that one day I might finally turn my dream into a reality.
After years of saving, I finally had enough money to pay for private pilot lessons. However, it would take losing my grandfather in 2016 to finally act on my dream. My grandfather lived his life telling others, “Do what you love and do it well. If you don’t love it, it isn’t worth doing.” After all these years, it finally hit me that I was chasing what I thought I was supposed to do, and not doing what I was meant to do. If I didn’t live my passion, then I was never going to be completely happy.
Life is too short to put off your dreams. After a long and emotional conversation with my boyfriend, he surprised me by scheduling a discovery flight for me at the local flight school. It was time to turn my dream into my reality. After my discovery flight, I signed on with the school to complete my private pilot certificate and I’ve never looked back.
It hasn’t been an easy road to get to where I am today. Working towards my private pilot certificate is not always easy. I don’t always want to go to my lessons, nor do I always want to study. The amount of progress, or lack thereof, can be frustrating at times. However, at the end of the day, there is nothing else I would rather be doing than pursuing this life-long dream.
As I look forward to the day when I pass my first check ride, and I can officially say that I am a pilot, I imagine that it will be one of the best days of my life thus far. I get chills just thinking about it. All of the time, money, heartache, blood, sweat and tears will be well worth it once I officially earn my wings.