Like many high school graduates, I had no idea what I wanted to do in college.
I jumped from one career field to the next looking for the “cool” job.
One day, I googled “highest paying job” and I came across airline pilot as a career.
“You get to travel the world, meet new people and get a six-figure paycheck!” the websites proclaimed.
Who wouldn’t want a job like that?
I wanted be the James Bond of the skies. Meet a woman in Paris, then have lunch in Rome and a nightcap in Berlin.
I moved from my parent’s house in San Antonio to an apartment in Waco in August of 2012 to attend the pilot certification program at Texas State Technical College.
The apartment wasn’t too bad. It was a first floor unit, about 550 square feet, which I shared with a roommate. It was complete with leaky faucets, stained carpets, a drafty door, neighbors upstairs who stomped around at all hours and a road outside my front door other students used as a drag strip. I had no parents telling me what to do, no rules to follow but my own and no responsibility. But I was also alone, with no friends and the closest relatives more than a two-hour drive away.
When it came to flying, I loved it. It was new, exciting and challenging, at first. But the program, the extreme responsibility began to burden me.
I had class every day, and after that, a training flight with an instructor, but my downfall wasn’t from the program, rather a lack of sleep.
With all the extra time on my hands and unable to sleep, my mind began to race with thoughts of home. Add that to a rigorous training schedule and watching plane crash videos in my classes and that equaled insomnia. Every night, I lay awake growing anxious about the day to come.
How am I going to make friends? Is this what I really want to do with my life?
Also, did I forget to mention pilots are required at minimum a six-hour night of sleep? I was getting about one or two hours a night. I was exhausted most days. I ducked out of flights and retreated to my apartment. After a spell of almost 36 hours without sleep, it was time to throw in the towel.
I returned home defeated and ashamed. The insomnia continued for two months. I sank into depression and went to a physician who diagnosed me with “anxiety disorder.” Soon after, I attended counseling. After a few sessions, he told me, “Just because you couldn’t do one thing doesn’t mean you have to give up on everything else.”
These words and our sessions inspired me to get my act together. I went back to school and discovered what I had always loved to do, write.
So, did I drop out of pilot school? Yes.
Did I continue to suffer with depression and anxiety? Yes.
Does all this make me a loser? No!
If anything these events allowed me to understand myself better. I learned to love myself wholly and to love others.
As William Ernest Henley concluded in his poem “Invictus,” “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”