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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.