Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reflections on Doubt

Trail to Forester Pass - 13,280 feet
Sometimes my path seems very much like the trail in this photo. What is immediately ahead is relatively clear, but the trail disappears in the distance, I have no perspective to tell me how much trail remains, and the goal is hidden around the bend.

The path is lonely also. There are only about 617,000 active pilots in the US population in 2011. Of those, 62,000 are in California and approx. 13,214 of those have a commercial rating (my current milestone).  A pretty small number. Want to feel lonelier? Be a female pilot. Only 41,316 women pilots in the US, 4,766 in California and, drum roll, only 860 of the women pilots hold a commercial rating. That number is smaller than the count of people in my high school student body and faculty. In other words, not many. Interestingly enough there are almost as many female flight instructors, 753, in California as there are commercial rated female pilots (or 87%). Get lonelier still... be a forty-something tech worker, runner, mom, wife, adult-onset aviator.

Any path is hard when you feel alone. Make the path itself long and winding without a clear outcome in sight, with only a dream to guide you and no one beside you. I expect it is quite normal to have the occasional doubt in that situation. After a particularly rough flight, like my last one, I get some doubts. What am I doing? Why? What's the point? Will I be able to, eventually, trade my high tech career for flying? Am I kidding myself thinking that I can? It seems a bit harder because there isn't exactly a well known career track for 40 something female pilots that don't have a four year college degree who don't plan on going for a job with the airlines.

I remember my good friends who say whenever I set my mind to something, I will accomplish it. And I do know, in spite of my most recent performance at the controls, I absolutely can finish my commercial license training and earn that commercial pilots license. I have no doubt of that. I'm not certain what the next step will be after that milestone. Like I said, there isn't a well beaten path after CPL and definitely not after CFI. All I know is I don't want to stop.

Then again, it is very much like me to forge my own path. I didn't follow a conventional route into the career I'm in, the man I'm married to, the place I live, etc. I didn't come to flying on the conventional routes either. This wasn't something I've always dreamed of doing. I just found myself at the controls of a small plane for no reason I ever could have imagined and fell in love with it. I don't need to follow a conventional route for my new path either. I will just have to have faith and trust my heart.

I know this path is right for me, even when I have doubts. When I look out the window of a commercial terminal and watch the captain and first officer of the jet parked at the gate going through their checklists I feel a sense of kinship and a longing. Or when I think of my solo flight around the desert southwest this summer; the daily rhythm of pre-flight, flight, post flight care of the plane, flight planning, care of self, and sleep; I know flying is where I belong and what I was meant to do. I guess doubt is another part of the journey, some light to moderate chop of emotional turbulence for me to ride through perhaps.

Something else I realize as I write this. I shouldn't think of these phases or goals of my flying necessarily as destinations. Instead I should think of them as waypoints on my journey. A journey that won't stop until the day I stop flying and being part of the aviation community, hopefully a very very long time from now. There are many and varied options in aviation far beyond the standard airline pilot everyone thinks about. Who knows where I will visit or how long I'll be there? One of the very cool things about aviation is, a pilot is not limited to only one type of flying. CFI and contract pilot for instance. Freight, traffic watch, aerial photography and sight seeing. Corporate, charter and business aviation too. I certainly won't get bored. As my CFI said to me a long time ago, the CPL doesn't guarantee anything, but it is a ticket to the dance. This is a dance I most definitely want to attend :)

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