A Flight Attendant’s Time

It had been over two years since I left my international airline career— and a salary of $25k— to pursue the much more lucrative opportunities sprinkled amidst the hustle of private aviation. And, I had “done it.” I had “made it” (if ‘making it’ is even a thing.) The result of success? I was exhausted.

I had worked hard to establish myself as a corporate flight attendant; taking a minimum wage job to initially break in. I struggled through rejection, a broken ankle, and many disappointments and self-doubt. I could not deny the fact that moving from commercial aviation to the very different world of working on private jets had been worth it. The choice was more than ‘worth it’— and not only from a monetary perspective. I had proved how strong I could be. How determined I was. How I knew nothing and yet learned; not everything, but enough to make it to the next day. I learned that I, or anyone for that matter, can do anything in life if they want to bad enough. I understood that impossible always encapsulates possibility. 

Even when I did not believe in my abilities, I pressed forward. In instances, I was bullied by pilots or short-changed on pay. There were times that I cried after flights and felt loneliness so deeply, while cocooned in the darkness of another hotel room, that I questioned if my heart could ever feel whole here; in such a fluid and dynamic career. Many times, the dream that I fought so hard to design felt crushing. Why does loving something or someone have the potential to break us so? 

I had loved the job and the schedule but before realizing what was happening, my workaholic nature had me walking a precarious tightrope towards burnout. If it was true that my first motivation to be a corporate flight attendant was to work 3-5 days per month and use all of the free time available for writing, kitesurfing, adventuring— all-out living— when and where did I take such a wrong turn? 

I had gone from below the poverty line as a flight attendant to making over six-figures a year…as a flight attendant. I find this unbelievable and am humbled by the reality. Whatever ‘wrong turns’ I had made has paid huge dividends. I’m lucky in that regard. I have beyond the ‘American Dream.’ Blessed on blessed on blessed, and yet, I am ‘out of place.’ Although my schedule has shifted, I’ve lived so much of the past three to five years of my life ‘away.’ All I had going for me was the next destination that I was going to. I wrestle with a deep sense of gratitude for the job— that I believe is more of a gift from God than anything I deserve— and a sinking sense of sadness. For, time is not mine, and I am not free. 

I was (and am) always on call, and although lucky with the trips that I work, the colleagues I fly with, and the work lifestyle I live, I constantly watch the pilots and other flight attendants and wonder if they were created differently than me. I wonder if living on stolen or sold time doesn’t affect them the way that it ties me up in knots. Did they feel anxiety for living always on call or guilt for missing important family events? Were the exotic destinations and this ‘cool’ job enough? Did the investment of time and hard-work to achieve success in aviation make walking away too difficult? Did pay always become most important in the end?

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Maybe, if I was more experienced, with twenty years in the industry, I would finally get used to a trip going from three days to thirteen days. That canceling plans with a boyfriend or a date would no longer bring up disappointment or frustration. That I could actually plan a day in my life and know my plans would stay. I get the sense that, if that’s what I want, I need to switch careers. Or, I need to accept that this is the best life I’ll ever get (and I don’t even deserve to have it this good). 

Milan, Italy

I value time and freedom to an extreme degree and found myself utterly confused that I would give away both…for what? Money? Stability? Security? Status? Those are all wonderful entities and essential for existence, but was selling my time to someone else’s travel schedule the way I dreamed of living the next ten years of my life? Isn’t that life, though? You make trades and sacrifices; barters and bargains. To retire at sixty and then travel a bit. That’s the accepted route. Do I have a right to even ask for more because isn’t this just the concept of what working and jobs and a summary of ‘The American Dream?’ Isn’t that just how it is, and besides, I have it so much better than how it is.

The previous ten years had been full and fantastic— going from around five countries visited to over fifty. I made the best decision to be attached at the heart to Flight Attendant Life and that was the absolute best choice. I met incredibly smart and inspiring men and women. Fell in love and said goodbyes. I grew beyond what I imagined possible, and growth truly is life. If you can travel; GO. Do it. If you can’t travel, figure out how you can. The future I envisioned for myself out of college is not even close to what happened. I ended up where I needed, and I do trust that my path will continue to unfold. The path continues its unfolding if you continue to step forward with faith. I don’t want to be attached in the same way to my job. The shift I feel in my priorities is foreign; possibly steeped in fairytale and not reality. 

I joke with my family that my spirit age is that of a five year old. I say that this is proven by the fact that I love Unicorns, mermaids, sparkle, hot pink, GELATO (this must be emphasized as I would be screaming the word right now if we were talking as my love for the Italian delight is sooooo deep and soooo global) and dress up as a flamingo at pool parties while all of the gorgeous LA women my actual age (and not my spirit age) opt for sexy leopard print thong swimsuits. Yes. I relate to the kindergarten kind, and I’m ok with that for two reasons. One: It makes life fucking fun, and two: The little girl in me is unable to conceptualize adult realities. She simply believes in magic. She doesn’t understand the phrase, “That’s just how it is.” “I can’t do that.” “There is NO such thing as Unicorn Dreams.” Fuck that. There are Unicorn Dreams.

and flamingo dreams, too.

There are NO boxes in her world. The world hasn’t yet had time to teach her about ‘the way things are.’ Search out the part of you that is so naive and so full of magic; that part that ALWAYS questions the way things are and sees the possibility of what life can be. Please. How sad that we so often listen too intently to the limitations and parameters in our heads and around us; from people we don’t even like, respect or admire. What would you become if you just stopped listening? 

I’m in a phase of desperately wanting to believe— believe that there is a job and role and place where I belong. It’s not that I don’t believe that being a flight attendant fits me. It does. It’s the best job in the world, and maybe that’s why I’m so conflicted. If I hated it, leaving would be easy. Stepping into the next struggle would not take a second thought. But, when you feel like you have so much to lose, let go of, and replace, it’s not as easy to jump. I know I always tell you, Darlings, to jump, but it’s scary as hell. I’m scared. Questioning. Uncertain, but also full of life. Joy. I don’t know what else to do, so I choose to trust God in this:

“He can do anything you know— far more than you can ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams.” —Ephesians 3:20

Magic

I don’t remember the location that I found myself when I had the following thought, but I was somewhere foreign; fighting with the push/pull I have towards the schedule I committed to and the secret dreams I never feel like I’m committing enough to. 

“Everything that I want out of life right now cannot be bought.” 
I cannot buy someone to love me; to want to be in a relationship and to want to be with me. I cannot purchase a literary agent’s attention or publisher’s favor. I cannot make anyone buy the book that I will write. Money does make it possible to take flight lessons, but it will not pass a check ride. It’s amazing how money can solve many problems and how powerless it is in others. Someone rich once said something like, “If money is your biggest problem, tell me something more interesting.”

Try to buy peace.
Try to buy love.
Try to buy time.

Private jets are often bought and sold on the premise that, if you own a jet, you are essentially buying time. You are buying productivity. The thing is, I’ve seen these billionaires. They can spend more of their time on these jets than anywhere else. I admire their work ethic. I respect their ambition. I am humbled and grateful to work in their sky offices, but I wonder if they ever get tired. I no longer want to spend 90 percent of my time on a private jet. As a corporate flight attendant, you just can’t say that. That is where I should want to belong.

My desire for ‘time’ fights the wonderful world I exist in. I value it most and appreciate it immensely. I know I have the luxury of more time than most who work nine-to-five, but the difference is that Monday-Friday is known. Vacations are planned. Dates are set. My time has a tendency to feel borrowed, stolen, and sold; living on the edge of interruption. It’s strange to say all of this because, I want this job. It makes so much possible. I also realize that I could lose everything tomorrow, and if I did, it would feel like the worst breakup imaginable.

Saying I would “miss” my existence as a corporate flight attendant does not even begin to describe how hard it would be to NOT fly. I can’t imagine life without aviation but am simply challenged to live on someone else’s time. I have no idea where this leads me, so I keep doing it. I keep choosing the interruptions because if that’s the worst of this career, it’s still fucking good. I’ll live at the pace life dictates (until the moment another pace makes more sense)— on this beautifully stolen and borrowed time. It’s a dream job, but it doesn’t have to be the end dream, right?

About the Author Kara

Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.

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