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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How did you get there?

I receive many questions about my aviation career, and how I got to where I am. This particular email was interesting due to the author's fear of needing 10 years before he had enough experience to go to a major airline. Take a look and tell me what you think:  

"I am planning to get an undergrad either Business or Aviation (with the pilot license). Obviously the aviation degree sounds a ton more attractive then Business degree (interest wise). I looked through your blog, studied our previous conversations and the advice you gave me, and over the past couple of months, I realized how great it would be to fly and do something I love instead of wasting time doing something boring/not interesting for money. Of course there are people over the internet, friends and even my mom who tried to pull me away. And as you said in one of your blog "run from those people", and I'm trying my best to follow my dream.

So my question is, how did you get where you are now? From flying while doing college to B727, B737, B747 B757 B767 and now the A330... One of my biggest concern is the money to get to where you are now. Obviously opportunities and regulations have changed, but how many years was it before you became a professional major airline pilot for northwest? Flying is already expensive but studying college while flying? How many part time jobs did you have to get? :P. 

Forget about the barriers to get to your commercial license, I am frightened by the fact that even after you get hired by the regional airlines, you need at least 10 years or so before you have enough experiences to be hired by a major airline, I would love to fly for those regional airlines, but many knows that regional pilots barely able to pay their bills."

How did I get to where I am now?   
We'll get the full story one day. But today is about my principles of life.
By never saying no to a job, despite the complications. By taking every opportunity to learn. By living each day with a dream of the future, but not living in that future. Enjoying each job, and each moment. I had the attitude that when one job shut down, another was waiting in its place. 

My life was a little different because I made career choices with childcare in mind. I took a non-seniority teaching job while my kids were young. I commuted because I did not want to uproot them. But that teaching job that I sacrificed the seniority number for, turned out to open more doors, and gave me the ability to teach on the side...and for NWA.

The real question here is how many years before I got hired by NWA? I thought if I didn't have a job with a major airline by the time I was 23, I was out of luck. That was the reality when I started flying. As life would have it, I got that first job with Evergreen at 25. And exactly 10 years later, I was hired by NWA. There were many jobs in that ten year span. But it was the philosophy of not giving up that enabled me to reach my dreams. 
The point is... times today are different. We will have a pilot shortage in the very near future. I cannot believe that any pilot starting today would work longer than two to five years in a commuter job, unless they wanted to. 
How many side jobs? 
How much money do you need to live on? 
Getting to the majors is not an easy task. But if anyone goes into it with fear, and the 'what if I don't make it' attitude, chances are you won't. You need to go forward knowing what you want, while not fearing the unknown, or fearing the what ifs. If you love each day and what you're doing... loosening your tie to the end result will help you get there. 
The point is, there are no guarantees in life. What if you don't make it? Will you feel you wasted your life?  What if you get hit by a car tomorrow? What if you were on your death bed at 99 and never did what you wanted to do in your life?
Wasting your life means living in fear of the what if, 
and never following your dreams
Best of luck to all the dreamers. I say... Go for it! For everyone else... what advice do you have for our pilot to be?
Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene 


  1. "But today is about my principles of life. By never saying no to a job, despite the complications. By taking every opportunity to learn. By living each day with a dream of the future, but not living in that future. Enjoying each job, and each moment."
    What a wonderful words!
    Karlene, I really liked your story. You are a really lucky person - not only because you had good luck in your life, but because you can enjoy and be happy in every day, anything you do. I wish I could to the same even in the later years of my life, when it´ll get harder. (It´s easy to be happy and enjoy-every-stupid-little-thing when you´re in your 20's, with friends, no bigger problems, but it wont last forever...) Thanks for showing that it is possible to walk this way of life even further.

    1. Teri, I look back at the struggles... oh there were many... but they all turned out great. So in hindsight, I think the best thing to do is have faith that it works out. I love the luck concept. I tell some people my many jobs, and they say, "I'm sorry." I guess we all get what we value in life. I value experience and doing new things... and that is exactly what I got.
      Yes... we can keep the attitude in life and make it work. I was also told today that I am no longer 20, and should slow down. Perhaps. :) But I want to be 20!
      Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. Oooh Karlene... I LOVE this power you have! I just love it!!! And Mr. Pilot, follow Karlene's advice and you will be fine. Make sure you save this text in your files and read it when the same question comes back in mind, because it will. But with this advice, you will be fine. Keep it inside you and have faith, trust yourself. There's always a door opened, and doors takes you through different paths... Some paths are longer, others are shorter. But the only things that will define which door are you going to enter are: your faith, how you manage things and, as a consequence of these two, destiny.

    1. Alex, Thank you so much for the incredible comment. And I promise to use my powers for good. :) How we look at life is the key to everything in life. Success and failures.... alias opportunities.

  3. Thanks for writing this Karlene, it reminds me exactly of what you've told me so many times. You have to go into these things with the right attitude.

    I really liked this passage you wrote:

    "The point is, there are no guarantees in life. What if you don't make it? Will you feel you wasted your life? What if you get hit by a car tomorrow? What if you were on your death bed at 99 and never did what you wanted to do in your life?
    Wasting your life means living in fear of the what if,
    and never following your dreams"

    Thanks for writing that Karlene, you're an inspiration to us all,
    Swayne Martin @MartinsAviation

    1. Swayne, Thank you so much for the great comment. I am you glad you liked that. I hear so many people say they want to fly, but "what if" it doesn't work. They feel they have wasted their life. Look at the enjoyment you're feeling with your flying right now. Will you ever think that was a waste? One day you may decide to travel a different path, but you cannot take away the excitement of today...because you love today. And... speaking of which... tomorrow is your happy birthday! So enjoy!!!

  4. Karlene, you make a very valid point which I would love to point out: we must live in the present, to enjoy what we are doing now, and not to be living or thinking about what will happen in the future. Worrying is a very destructive force and it takes the life out of a person and a person out of life. That is why the present is a gift. It's also a treat to read your story - it is such a source of strength not only that it gives me a kick in the rear end to call my instructor again ;)

    As always thanks for the NWA shots.. I remember seeing that livery at Detroit a couple of times.. Always bringing back those memories.. (of course when the A330s were purchased and DTW-AMS was one of the first to be switched from a 747 to an A330..)


    1. Hi Jeremy, Yes... we must live today. Each moment. I always say there is no sense in worrying... if it happens later it does. Deal with it then. Take action today, and live today. I am so glad you like the photos. I wish I had taken so many more. Why didn't I have a digital camera 30 years ago? lol.
      Thank you so much for the comment!

  5. I had that "what if I don't get a job" attitude when I finnished high school and had to make the decision to go for that pilot career or not. I choosed not to and ended up as a IT architect. Now, almost 20 years later I regret that decision realizing that I problably was totally wrong. I have had a good career in the IT business but is about to give that up for a pilot career. I'm studying ATPL-theory at the moment and will be done with my CPL/ME/IR in mid 2014 at the age of 40... Stupid or not, well we just have to wait and see!

    / Staffan

    1. Staffan, You know exactly what I'm talking about. But you know... there is a post coming up about how to build flight hours on the 26th. And... I mention hour someone could start at 30 and have a career by they time they are 40. But... depending upon finances, and current job, someone could apply this process at 40 and be there by 45... leaving a 20 year career. What if you had a 10 year career by starting at 55? Depending upon your age, it might not be too late. :)
      Thanks for the great comment! And sorry you took the wrong path. But one of those things you won't truly know until the end of the game.

  6. I think I'm repeating myself, but; I'd rather regret something I did, than regret something I didn't do.

    Simple as that :) I love flying. I want to do it for the rest of my life. I would love to get a job with a major airline in Europe or the US (when we get the green card issue out of the way, that is lol)

    I know I will have to go through other jobs before that. Like right now I'm working in retail. It has nothing to do with aviation in terms of the products I sell, but it is something I thoroughly enjoy. I look forward to go to work every day. Even though this job is something that I won't be doing for many years, I believe it is important to live in the moment and accept that. I do.

    The career path I have chosen is a journey, not just something that needs to be done in order to reach the end goal (whatever that may be...) It's about how I handle challenges that arise, grabbing (and creating) opportunities along the way.

    You're story is an inspiration to many, including myself. It is possible, if you want to make it work. Combining a life with kids, college and flying is something that has been done in the past, and will be possible in the future.

    We all choose different paths. In this industry, I don't believe there is a right way or a wrong way. It's about making your own path and enjoy the journey as you progress through your licenses, ratings and experience.

    1. Thank you so much Cecilie! It's all possible... and each journey unique. I too feel repetitive at times, but this is one of those things we cannot say too often. So... we'll keep shouting from the rooftops how important it is to live your life without regret!
      Thank you for the great comment!

  7. Interesting that you ran this today. Yesterday one of my blogger friends (I can't remember which one) wrote on the same subject, although not specifically about flying. This Youtube video was embedded in the post, and I think it says volumes:

    1. It's an important subject. Yes... I've posted this video before. Swayne Martin, and inspiring young man had sent it. It's a great video. I really appreciate you sending it again. Maybe we all need to remember this... and we can't shout it enough. Thank you so much for your comment!

  8. Karlene,

    My advice when talking to folks about their dreams is to try to steer them into something else. I have sat at the dinner table with young people and their parents. During that conversation, I present every objection I can think of to dissuade them from following their dreams. I asking all the what if questions and generally attempting to get them to change their mind.

    Focusing on a career in aviation. I would list all of the things that can go wrong. All of the negatives that our career has and how much money it takes to get started. I tell them about my path and how I am just lucky. I tell them about the near misses, the miss-steps and all the other horror stories. I talk about my friends who died in this job. I talk about those who have shown up for work only to find their carrier has just closed the doors. I talk about bankruptcy, strikes, management and irritable Captains. Then I talk about how hard the job can be, dealing with delays, weather, lack of fuel, re-routes, and passengers.

    At the end of the conversation, they are still willing to follow their heart. Then I congratulate them and attempt to build a concrete path they can follow. I don’t try to talk them out of their dream, I am exploring them to find if this is really a dream or just something that sounds cool. If I can change their mind sitting at a table, then I have saved them a lot of heartache. If they really want to live this career they are fully informed and will be more likely to continue after spending the significant amounts of money.

    I would suggest this person pursue a career in business. Develop the next big thing, make Billions of dollars and then learn to fly because they are semi-retired. If they love Roman Noodles, being tired all the time, over worked while being under paid. Then a career in aviation might be the ticket. If the writer wants to seek a second opinion or more information, I am always willing to talk. Good Luck.

    1. Rob, excellent advice. I think the problem with young people is they have a hard time envisioning the future. They want guarantees. There are none. This career is for the adventuresome spirit. The unknown cannot cripple them. If they have to know... then this is not it. But if they love it, and follow their heart... go for it. All the rest doesn't matter. Life... it's just a game. Play fair! Have fun! Enjoy the journey!

  9. I flew that Braniff 747!!! It has been so many years. I am a CEO of a telecom carrier now, but ill always cherish my flying days. The only thing i wanted to add is as it was when i first got hired by Braniff and is still true today is the military supply of pilots who,ll always be preferred by US Airlines.

    1. Oh... how awesome. What if you are in that picture??? The military... yes, that is the best way to get into this field. Unfortunately for me, I was a bit too early before they allowed women to fly. Usually I'm a day late and a few dollars short... this time I was a year or so too early.
      I hope you read my novel! :)

  10. Lovely post! As a drifter worrying about becoming a "what if" person, this is a nice reminder of things I already know, but should be making a stronger effort to live them day by day --- I'll take some with me, against the odds.

    I think the hardest thing for many people, myself included, is to grasp the step-up nature of following your dreams. Some people can go straight to cruise altitude like a 777 would. Many people need to take steps, a la 747. Sometimes, the steps are along some of your strengths, but you fail to seize them, because you struggle to see a viable road. A friend of mine is demonstrating this step-up process quite beautifully; it really is inspiring in itself! I hope to find that step.

    As always, Good Stuff, Thanks :)

    1. Wow. Thank you. I love that you are taking some of it with you. Makes me smile and gives me fuel to press on. We all have those days of... "it's too hard... what if..." And it's nice to know there's always a word that helps. Reminds us to remember what we know.

      What we know is that tomorrow will be here before we know it. If we understand and embrace the step up plan... don't climb to altitude before our weight and conditions can handle it...we will reach our cruising altitude and have a successful flight.

      It's all good. Every flight level along the way.

      Thank you so much for your comment!!!


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