Evolution of an author, part 3

Unlike my husband, who came from a long line of engineers, knew he wanted to be an engineer, earned undergrad and graduate degrees in engineering, and then began working–and still does work–in engineering, my path to becoming a writer was long and winding, full of twists and unexpected turns.

website windy road

The first two parts of this post span from my childhood love of reading, to earning college degrees in both journalism and aviation, to working in sales. When I realized that my career path had led me far from the professional dreams I once envisioned for myself, I decided to make a change and took the bold step of quitting a lucrative sales job to forge a new career path on my own terms.

website culinary         website wedding-planner

I had a small fling with running my own event planning company. Operating under the name Imagine Events, I helped one company plan an anniversary event, one couple plan a wedding, and one businessman market his culinary creations. Meanwhile, I began working as a flight instructor for a small Baltimore-based flight school. The owner was jaded and cranky. He sat in the flight office watching reruns of Law & Order all day. The airplanes were questionably maintained and the business was poorly run. One particularly memorable day, one of my students stalled the plane and flipped us into a spin over the Chesapeake Bay. But, no matter. I was back on track–writing and flying again–and flying out of BWI alongside the big guns was even more thrilling than nose-diving toward the bay.

FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2008, file photo, planes taxi on runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.  According to an Associated Press analysis, airplanes spent a record 23 minutes and 32 seconds, on average, taxiing between gates and runways during the first nine months of 2015. That’s the highest since the Bureau of Transportation Statistics started tracking taxi times in 1995 and a 50-second increase over last year’s average. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

  website spin

Not surprisingly, the flight school eventually folded, and the event planning work slowed to a trickle. But in a lucky turn of events, I stumbled upon another unlikely, yet seemingly dream-job combo, and was hired by a Maryland-based publishing company to write and edit a high-end aviation newsletter. Problem was, it was a technical newsletter, one that focused solely on an aircraft’s communication and navigation systems. I routinely rode the Metro into Washington D.C. and tried to stay awake during numerous snore-inducing conferences on topics I had no knowledge of and no interest in. I was a pilot, not an engineer or IT professional! Ultimately, the job was short-lived. I learned a lot and liked my colleagues, but I was frustrated with the work and bored to tears with the content, and the two-hours-each-way commute was the icing on the cake.

website conference  Gridlock traffic is pictured on highway 395 as people evacuate Washington after an earthquake August 23, 2011. An unusually strong and shallow 5.9 magnitude quake hit the U.S. East Coast and Canada, shaking buildings, forcing evacuation of office buildings in several cities and delaying flights in New York. REUTERS/Jason Reed   (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT TRANSPORT)

Paying my dues as a flight instructor, however, had not only helped me continue building my flight hours, but also to build connections within the industry. While debating my next professional move, I was contacted by a fellow pilot who was flying a King Air out of Martin State Airport for a private company, and they were in need of a co-pilot. I got the job.

website martin state   website King air   website martin state runways

We flew several times a week, often heading to Buffalo, New York, or Salisbury, Maryland. While I felt fortunate to have landed the job, flying the King Air was eye-opening. With it’s sophisticated flight deck, the plane practically flew itself. My role felt more like that of a systems operator than a pilot. Going from single engine Cessnas, Pipers and Bonanzas to the twin turbo prop King Air was oddly and unexpectedly a bit like switching from a little sports car to a mini van. It felt like driving a bus. And there was no jet-setting to be had. During our downtime, we pilots sometimes managed to escape for mini excursions to Niagara Falls and Ocean City but, more often than not, were were left to kill several hours at the airport, feasting on vending machine food, monitoring weather, filing flight plans and twiddling our thumbs.

website niagara falls     website vending machine

The moment of reckoning came when I got an offer to interview with US Airways. The position was for a pilot to fly Salisbury-based commuter aircraft. Nothing glamorous, but a step in the right direction. A foot in the commercial airline door. But I wasn’t sure I wanted it. My time flying the King Air opened my eyes to the fact that, for me, the more complex the aircraft, the less I enjoyed flying. And the vision I once had of traveling the world as a commercial pilot had faded over time. Life–and, more to the point, love–had caused that lifestyle to lose its formerly shiny appeal. I no longer wanted to live out of a suitcase, sleep in hotels, be gone for days at a time. I enjoyed evenings at home and dinners out with my husband. I enjoyed teaching kickboxing classes after work and swimming with the master’s team on Saturdays. And, as much as I am loathe to admit it, I could hear that maternal clock quietly tick-tocking away. As low pilot on the totem pole, I knew I would have the worst schedules and least desirable flight routes for many years to come. I wanted to be home with my family for holidays, birthdays and weekends. I also knew I wanted, someday, to be a mom. And not that a pilot can’t also be a mother, but I wasn’t sure, given the demands of that particular profession, that I could be the mother I wanted to be.

website USAir commuter planes

website maternal clock

But I could definitely be a mother . . . and a writer.

I turned down the offer to interview with US Airways. But as that door gently closed behind me, a new one was opening.



Evolution of an author, part 2

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It has been more than two years since my last post. But, fear not! It is all part of the journey.

In part one of this post, I reflected on the role reading had played in my formative years; starting with being read to, learning to read and, eventually, loving to read. This love of reading went hand-in-hand with a knack for writing, though I never considered writing as a potential career. Instead, I enrolled in college as an “undecided” student and eventually declared aviation as my major. I wanted to do something unconventional. I wanted to fly planes. I wanted to live in a big city and travel the world. I had no idea what I wanted.

website plane-cockpit_1862051i

But what if I couldn’t fly? What if an accident or some other unforeseen circumstance caused me to lose my medical license and rendered me unfit to fly? Alternate aviation-related careers didn’t appeal to me, so I decided I needed a back-up plan. Journalism was it. 

website OU logo      webite E W Scripps

Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism was one of the top journalism schools in the country. My plan was to major in aviation and minor in journalism. But that idea went the way of most best-laid plans. An associate’s degree in journalism was not an option. In the School of Journalism, it was the full bachelor’s degree monty or nothing at all. Conversely, an Associates of Applied Science degree in aviation would provide all the credentials I needed to become a licensed commercial pilot and flight instructor. A plan began to take shape. Maybe I could be a flying writer? Maybe I could fly myself to a specific event or location and write about my experiences there?

Students in the journalism school had to choose a specific focus area. I chose advertising. Professors enlightened us on the economics of advertising and subliminal messaging. We wrote copy for imaginary products and created jingles. We learned how to trick the general public into thinking they needed to have something that, in reality, they did not need at all. I was good at it. I hated it. (This theme would rear it’s ugly head in the future when I began my first job in sales. But more on that later.) So I switched to public relations. To which my father replied, “You have no idea what it’s like to work with the general public.” Wise words spoken by a wise man. Yet heed them, I did not. I proved reasonably adept with public relations–writing press releases, cultivating media contacts and creating newsletters, brochures and press kits–and I liked it better than advertising, so I forged onward. Eventually, I secured internships with a fitness center, a jewelry store and a real estate company.

website cornwell jewelers      website court street apartments

The internship I did not secure, however, was with United Airlines. Half way through my senior year, three of my fellow aviation students and I were flown to Denver to interview for the highly coveted internship. I loved flying but I didn’t live and breath aviation. The internship went to the guy that lived and breathed it. I was disappointed but not devastated. In my head, it was a huge loss. In my heart, it was a win because, at the time, I was only a few months into a new relationship with the man who would become my husband. We both knew, instinctively, that if I’d gotten the internship and relocated to Denver for the remainder of my senior year, we likely would have parted ways. But, since I didn’t get it, we stayed together. We now have three daughters and have been married for more than 22 years. Sometimes things happen for a reason.

website wedding     website anniversary

website Ock   website vineyard

Instead, I landed an internship with DHL Airways. After graduation, I moved to Cincinnati to begin the next part of my journey: learning the nuts and bolts of how an international transportation company operated. A perk of the position was getting to fly “right seat” on any of the overnight transportation flights. As such, I routinely took advantage of this opportunity to act as the unofficial co-pilot on the flights to Roanoke, Virginia, where I could then visit my future husband at Virginia Tech where he was pursuing his master’s degree in engineering. I was learning a lot, but writing only a little.

website DHL logo

website DHL plane

At the conclusion of my internship, DHL offered me a position as a sales representative in their Richmond office. My alternatives were to work for a small marketing company in North Carolina–in what would have been a rare combo of writing and flying, as I would have transported the small four-person marketing team to various events in the company’s Cessna 172, but my direct report was a chain smoker and I likely would have succumbed to second-hand smoke by now–or return to Maryland to resume my position as a flight instructor, working a lot but earning only a little. I accepted DHL’s offer. 

DHL then surprised me (and not in a good way) be relocating my position to Baltimore. As my start date approached, I was involved in a car accident that left me with a shattered left foot and a sprained right ankle. It would end up being one of the worst years of my life. No offense to my parents (who are the most wonderful, loving, supportive parents a girl could wish for), but I was 23-years-old, living at home, hobbling around on crutches, and working as a salesperson in Baltimore, a full five hours away from my soon-to-be fiance. How had I drifted so far from my love of writing and my dreams of becoming a jet-setting pilot?

website Baltimore city

As with my academic foray into advertising, I was good at sales but I didn’t particularly like it. While DHL was hands-down the best international shipping option, our competitors had the clear advantage domestically. My attitude was this: if people want to use our transportation services, great! If not, that’s okay, too. I despised trying to “convince” businesses to choose DHL for their shipping needs. But this attitude didn’t hold me back and, by my second year, I was ranked as the number two sales representative in the entire Southeast Region. I felt like a superstar. I was promoted to sales executive. I was offered the larger, more lucrative Norfolk territory, which meant my husband and I could relocate to Virginia Beach if we wanted to. I’d always dreamed of living on the coast, somewhere I could walk or ride my bike to the beach. (Had I done so, I probably would have succumbed to skin caner by now.) But I missed flying. And I missed writing. I did not like sales and I was not pursuing my passions. I’d started reaching out to public relations firms in the Baltimore area and was shocked to learn that I was already earning enough in sales that switching to PR at that point in my career would have been a huge financial step backward. And so, I reasoned, if I was going to take a pay pay cut anyway, it might as well be on my own terms.

To be continued . . .