Here's an interesting question that popped up recently: In what do you invest a life and call it a wise investment? If we say "making money," everyone's going to boo and hiss. What about building a career? More boos? Maybe creating a business, raising good kids and leaving behind a reputation that will be fondly remembered? A few limp claps from the audience. Some quizzical looks. It's getting complicated, isn't it?
This thought process was started by an email in which the writer asked whether it made sense to change careers and get into aviation. The writer's frustration was palpable. He was tasting success where he was but, to paraphrase a quote from philosopher/mythologist Joseph Campbell, he was now in midlife and had made it to the top of the ladder only to find that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. His question: Would I be wasting my time by getting into aviation?
Interesting question,"… wasting his time by getting into aviation." Most of us would instantaneously kick out a strong, "No way would you be wasting time!" But, what if we give it a little more thought?
Deciding what to do with the one and only life we're given is a toughie. Many of us are still grappling with that decision, even though we have much more sand in the bottom of the hourglass than in the top. We're still struggling with, "What do we want to be when we grow up?" Then, we realize that we're grown up and still don't know what we want to be.
The conventional wisdom is that if you go with your passion, you'll be successful. Or at the very least, you'll be happy. However, just because you're successful doesn't necessarily mean you're happy. But, if you're happy, that often meets many folks' definition of being successful.
The answer to the email included some hard realities that we need to face about aviation (or any narrow, passion-based career for that matter): If you go with your passion and invest your life in aviation, there's the off chance that you'll be income limited—especially if you want to be a pilot. It's unfortunate, but aviation is one of many passion-driven pursuits that aren't known for kicking out huge amounts of income except in very narrow, hard-to-get-into niches (flying big iron, airlines, etc.). This is because people are willing to work for less, just to be doing something that they really love, so the pay standards are sometimes lower. This isn't always the case, but it happens often enough that someone thinking about changing directions has to realize that they may not be making enough money that they can realistically afford their own airplane. Or flying when, and how, they want. They'll be paying their bills okay (usually), but it takes more than that to afford an airplane.
If you're flying on a daily basis, you're sitting right where your passion says you should be. So, is it such a bad thing to be absolutely loving every minute of your working life, even though you're underpaid? An odd thing about passion: With enough passion, money seems less important because passion gives you an uncanny ability to do more with less, and this includes airplane ownership. While owning an airplane of any kind can be brutally expensive, it's sometimes entertaining to see the clever methods whereby an airplane and hangar somehow become part of a working pilot's life. Whether it be forming small clubs, soliciting partners, building their own bird, rebuilding a worthless wreck, whatever, the passion that dragged them into aviation in the first place sustains them and shows them a way to ownership.
Another well-known fact about having a passion for what you're doing is that it modifies your view of time on the job: Since you love it, you're willing to invest more time in it, and that's often what drives people to the top of their field, whether it's flying or widget manufacturing. The stories about passion for a career making up for lack of experience and education and resulting in outlandish success are rampant.
Then there's the other side of the argument: You take a non-aviation job that pays much more than you'll ever make in aviation to give you money to fly. If that's your goal, then there are a million ways to go: being a doctor or lawyer come to mind. Or a shipping magnate. A sheikh. Or maybe a movie star. Given a choice between all the foregoing and being a plumber, or something similar, grab your pipe wrench and go for it. At least that way you'll have the time to spend the money you're making. Plus, you'll always have work even though the passion may not be there.
Truth is, if you become a success in any other field, you may spend your work days doing something you aren't crazy about. However, you'll be able to imbibe in aviation when, and how, you want because you'll have the money to do so. But, you won't be spending your days doing what you really want. It's a tough decision and, yes, reality is often unfair.
The best of all worlds, obviously, is to find (or invent) a career of any kind that you truly love that also kicks out enough cash and free time to let you feed your aviation habit when, and how, you want to. And, yes, those do exist. But, you often have to create them yourself.
The following was supposedly found on a hangar wall in Orcas Island, Wash., (I'm suspecting a Bach or Gann source, as they are/were locals). It describes the perfect life we've been talking about. Or at least the perfect way to look at life. And it does a beautiful job of describing how some of us live.
"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure. His mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he's doing and leaves others to determine if he's working or playing. To himself, he always seems to be doing both."