Being Unconventional~Do the Sacrifices Outweigh the Benefits?

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This past week I went to Daytona Beach, FL. Back to my alma mater to verify some facts for my third young adult book. Being in Daytona always unearths droves of emotions; Excitement, sadness, fear and hope. The good and the bad memories of choosing a nontraditional career. Each time I visit, the town changes, the campus where I learned to fly evolves, familiar faces are long gone. A few, however, have remained or left and returned. They are the exception more than the rule.

Each visit is an adventure. One necessary for two reasons. First and foremost, the university still excels in recruiting industry professionals who are on the cutting edge of technology. Information I need as a writer. But second and equally important, is an opportunity to reconcile with the past. A test to see if I’ve come as far as I think I have.

When I learned to fly the culture was different. Organically out of balance due to the shear number of people like me training to be pilots. My experience was amazing, thrilling, terrifying, awful and sometimes disheartening. I gained insight about myself I’m not sure I would have understood without the benefit of these unique experiences. As a result, I became courageous. Challenged the limits set by others and in my own head. I developed guts and felt a sense of bravery I never knew I possessed. When circumstances got tuff, and at times they were beyond heartbreaking and unfair, I coached myself to suck it up and resist the urge to quit. Pushed and did whatever it took to stay the course. Because if I remained, I was certain the next person like me to climb into the cockpit would benefit. Just like the advantages I reaped by the flyers before me, the original trailblazers. Now I wasn’t the first in this business of flying, not even close. The ladies who flew in WWII were bold enough to step up to that monumental challenge. But if you buy into the estimation that twenty years equals a generation, then “us” flyers in the ‘80s would be considered “3rd-Gen.” In many of my flying jobs I would be the first. Others, the second or the third, but on all accounts one of the few, and in order to survive, I relied on the fundamental belief that the path I walked would benefit the sky girls who followed. As I got older, I learned that great strength is forged from adversity. A process that includes massive sacrifice.

Was it worth it? You might be wondering, since I frequently get asked this question. The simplest way to answer, is this.

During one of my STEM talks at a local high school, amidst a discussion of why it’s important to not only stay in math and science classes, but to commit to understanding fundamental life skills being taught through equations and experiments, a student raised a hand. He asked if I would mind taking a few minutes to share my experience in flight school, and after I did, he raised a palm a second time and asked a follow up question. “Ma’am,” he said and cleared his throat. “What can we do, I mean as men,” he glanced at his classmates. “To make things a little easier for girls who choose to go down unconventional paths?”

Those of you who know me, realize I’m not much of a crier; fewer still, are times when I’m left speechless. But at this moment, in this classroom, filled with 18-year-old boys, in the 47th year of my life, on the 29th anniversary of receiving my pilot’s license, I stood without a wisp of air in my chest. Yes, friends. Yes, it was all worth it.

The most glorious gifts come in the most unexpected moments.

E.L.Chappel author of Spirit Dance/Storm Makers/Risk

It only takes one to make a glacial shift.

Forever grateful,

The (Glamours) Pilot.

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