I was on the phone with my mom after she saw the Hidden Figures film, discussing how despite all the challenges the women who worked at NASA faced, how they didn’t seem to get discouraged, in fact, the tough circumstances actually appeared to strengthen their resolve. Our conversation got me thinking about my own experiences pursuing the unconventional in the eighties, when the aviation industry was comprised of less than three percent of female pilots.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that there was a point during my professional flying career that I was angry and frustrated. With age and a ton of experience, I’ve grown to understand that what I felt at that time was actually pain more then anger. I say pain because back then, situations were unbalanced and dynamics were uncharted, which frequently put me at a huge disadvantage when it came to interacting with, and measuring up to, my male peers. Often times, I was required to work twice as hard, with fewer resources, and if I ever made a mistake, and I made many, the reaction was nothing short of the scene in Independence Day when the aliens were on the verge of conquering the planet. (Nuclear.) Being subjected to this type of criticism weighed on my fragile confidence, and put me even further behind the group. The biggest blow, though, was knowing how excited, thrilled, and passionate I was about learning to fly, and when confronted with the reality of what piloting was, versus what I thought it was going to be, I experienced the ultimate disappointment.
But now, when I think back on my aviation adventure, and with the benefit of my 41000 foot vantage point, I feel grateful. I understand how going through the trials of becoming a jet pilot made me fully aware of what kind of fabric I’m built from—impenetrable—and what I am capable of—anything.
I’ve grown to appreciate the fortitude I gained through learning to fly. The guts I built by trying, failing and, trying again, and the growing resilience that came with each set back. These days, I cherish the imbalance, the lack of fairness, the roadblocks, the inconveniences, the discomfort, and the experience of being humiliated and harassed. Because guess what? It has strengthened my resolve. The grit I acquired during these obstacles is one of the most important tools I used to forge forward and find my passion— the gift of being a writer.
Aviation taught me that every experience, no matter how good or how arduous, is integral in developing the essence of who we are, which inevitably leads us to our passions. Living under a microscope was taxing, there’s no buffering that fact. So I had to buckle down and be hyper-prepared every time I was scheduled to get in a cockpit, a process that forged my foundation, my backbone, the way I would approach every challenge going forward.
What if I had quit? What if I had surrendered to the hard and unfair circumstances? Would I have had the gumption to press on and experience the pleasure, satisfaction, pride, and exhilaration I feel when I’m writing? Probably not, since in its own way, writing is also challenging. Reviews of books are subject to the interpretation of the reader, and make no mistake, reviewers can be incredibly lovely, or horribly unkind. So that same resilience, determination, courage, and resolve, I was taught becoming a pilot, has served me well on my track as an author. Thanks to aviation, I’m rarely discouraged.
The next time you find yourself having a particularly rough time or in a troublesome relationship, when you’re feeling beaten down, ask yourself, could there be a bigger, greater reason for this experience that you can’t quite see yet? Think of me, about how 20 years of challenges in aviation were prep work for my career as an author. Have curiosity about the difficulties you’re going through now, and how these challenges may be preparing you for the future of your dreams.
E.L. Chappel author of Spirit Dance/Storm Makers/Coming soon: The Surge
No matter the circumstances, hard work and determination always leads to the prize.
aka The Glamorous Wife