I never wanted to be a pilot...
I never wanted to be a pilot. I always thought it was something for boys, or something a dainty girl like me wasn’t meant to do….Ha-ha dainty. Yeah. Right. Who am I kidding? I was a tomboy through and through, and I have the scars to prove it.
Even so, flying planes was never in my realm of possibilities. While all the other kids knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, all I knew was I wanted to go out and play.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t lazy! In fact, I was getting pretty good grades…though, in an African home you can’t bring home bad grades and expect to survive the beating you would expect to receive!
While everyone had an idea of what they wanted to be, all that ran through my mind was, “what is all this ‘When I grow up’ nonsense!? Let’s go climb a tree or something. Looking back, I was avoiding the inevitable. So one day, to my absolute chagrin, I was cornered.
There we were, you know, counting stuff in a math class, when the teacher decided to ask the class that awful question I had successfully avoided up until that point. (I was 10 years old at the time). And so it began, thankfully, at the opposite end of the classroom. One by one, every mini-human answered with enthusiasm.
Engineer. Doctor. Pilot. Nurse. Closer. Closer still….Drat! What do I want to be!?!? What am I going to say? Accountant. Teacher. Mechanic. Panic…Mouth went dry. It was almost my turn to answer. And then….I had to say something.
“Actuary”, I muttered.
Huh? They were dumbfounded. What the fudgy brownie is this girl-child saying!? (You know, because 10 year olds didn’t cuss)
“Actuary”’ I now said with confidence. I was standing there, smug, thinking, “These children know nothing!” (re: John Snow, Game of Thrones). Truth is, I didn’t know what it was either. My brother had mentioned the term earlier that week and it stuck with me.
All I needed to know was “an actuary is a math guy”, and that was enough. There were only 3 in Kenya at the time, and they were all men! That guy was planting seeds in my mind. If he couldn’t be an actuary then I would. Broham was living vicariously through this poor toddler-sister-child I suspect.
Back to that classroom. I reveled in their shock and awe. How could she give such a great answer? That’s what I thought they were thinking. Until some bully-child (there is always one of those around) shouted, “She doesn’t know how to say the word ACTUALLY!”. That must have been the loudest roar of laughter I ever heard, from all 41 of my classmates. They really died (of laughter). I stood there, defiantly, and when the laughter died off? I said it again for good measure, “Actuary”. That was my final answer.
Thirteen years later, I was looking for a job to achieve this “actuarial dream”. I got sucked in to doing something I wasn’t 100% settled in. My heart was pulling in another direction but I had no idea where it was pulling me. That internal conflict led to a diabolical conflict on my plate. I took it out on food! I really ate my emotions. They went from my heart to my plate, from my mouth to my hips. And my hips really lied! Chei! Things had to change! First in line? Change professions.
So what DID I want to be when I grew up? Had I grown up? Oh no! Had I failed at this game of life already?? (Insert panic here) So I did the only thing I could as a millennial.
I asked Google. I sense the collective eye rolls from Generation X. Don’t judge me!
“What should I do with my life?” I got too many vague answers. I needed to get specific.
“What is my personality type” As women sometimes we grow up conforming to other’s expectations, so I needed to answer this for my self honestly
“Career types for “x” personality”. And the search engine suggested a list.
Actuary…Really? That’s where I am now. My brother was clearly on to something
Auditor….ummm…how about no?
And on and on it went. I was sure I was going to punch myself in the face if another mathematically inclined career came up.
And there it was, PILOT.
Cue the angels singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah and the light of God shining upon me.
That moment of clarity was short-lived as I grappled with my reality. I can’t afford it. What about the degree I just got? Will my family approve of this career choice? Can I actually do this? Can lady pilots have husbands or children?
I decided to get out of my comfort zone quick, fast, in a darn hurry and figure it out.
The risk was worth it. I was fortunate enough to be a beneficiary of a sponsorship program run by an airline in my country that:
Took me out of the country - that was my very first time in a plane
Funded me fully
Gave me a job thereafter
Of course I had to apply for it and seek all the information, it didn’t just magically happen, although it kind of did. This was nothing short of a miracle/blessing/the universe letting me prosper/manifestation of vibrations or whatever you want to call it. I claimed it as my blessing.
I am a woman. I can do a “man’s job” and still be ladylike and beautiful. Your dreams ARE valid, no matter how late they come to you.
However, you must step outside your comfort zone, listen to your heart, believe in yourself and banish all doubt.
You can do it. You are ABLE. You are worth it.
Wanjiru Gichaga is a pilot, adventurer and all round life lover. She hopes to inspire others through her story. So, here’s a free pass to a glimpse into the chronicles of a lady pilot trying to steer her way through life, love and all the other good things.