I remember the day clearly, but the date is a little fuzzy. It was a cool, late-autumn afternoon at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. It was the afternoon that would alter the course of my life forever. Before you get worked up thinking this is a life or death situation, let me give you some background.
Shortly after I graduated from college with a degree in finance, I moved back East to pursue a career in business. I had been working a little over two years for a development company based just south of Boston, MA. My job required me to travel frequently, and this particular day found me in Phoenix. I enjoyed my job, but something was missing. If I wasn’t on the road, I was in the office around 7:00 AM and working madly to catch up with emails, voicemails, and the myriad tasks I performed as a financial analyst. I would usually work through lunch and finally turn the lights out around 7-8:00 PM. Weekends were usually spent fielding phone calls and emails from my home if I wasn’t in the office. I felt a lot like a rabbit chasing a carrot – a carrot that was ever so slightly out of reach.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the work – it’s just that something was out of place. For months I analyzed every aspect of my job to figure out which piece of the puzzle was lost; which piece was keeping me from completing the picture. I found the missing link on the bright, fall afternoon in question.
Up until this point, I knew I needed a change of pace. I had looked into going to law school, business school, and everything in between. Nothing really piqued my interest until I asked the standard question every high school guidance counselor asks: “If you could have any job in the world, but not get paid to do it, what would you choose?”
“Fighter Pilot!” This answer kept coming to my mind over and over. But I was nervous to leave my job. I crunched the numbers and figured I’d be taking a 67% cut in pay if I joined the military as an officer – and there was no guarantee I’d be a fighter pilot. The lower pay was a brick wall that kept me from acting on my desires to take to the skies in a grey, missile-laden aircraft. Little did I know that all it would take to shatter the brick wall was 10 minutes on a jetway waiting to board a Delta flight from Phoenix to Boston.
A group of accountants was ahead of me in line that day, laughing and trading work stories as the Boeing 737 slowly filled with passengers. Their plaid short sleeve shirts tucked into their khaki pants matched almost identically what I was wearing on that occasion. I noticed their leather clad laptop briefcases could have easily been mistaken for the one I was carrying. One of them was on the phone chatting happily about an analysis he had just finished performing while the rest were discussing a new project with an enthusiasm normally reserved for planning vacations. It was at the precise moment when one of them said, “I can’t wait to get back to the office to analyze the cost structure!” that I had my zen moment.
It was a completely ethereal moment where everything around me stopped. I knew, in that exact moment, that I would do anything I could possibly do to not be those guys. I realized in that instant that I didn’t share their love for all things finance – or for “business casual” clothing. I couldn’t see myself sitting at a desk 10 years from now staring at the same numbers, having the same conversations, doing the same thing day in and day out. It was in that single, surreal flash of nirvana, that I decided to quit my career in finance and join the United States Air Force.
That day was 11 years ago this month. Looking back, do I regret giving up a promising career with a fast-growing company? No, I have never once doubted my decision or wished I had continued in my path. I loved the company I worked for and enjoyed the people I worked with. I still try to keep in touch with them to this day. In spite of the initial, mind-numbing decrease in income, the Air Force has slowly increased my pay over the years and has taken good care of my family and me. Even with all of the deployments, TDYs, exercises, and “qweep”, I stand by my decision to become a military pilot.
I have spent nights staring up at the stars above and down at the city lights below through NVGs. I have experienced the awe of an unrestricted, max performance takeoff in the world’s premier fighter jet. I have felt the crushing power to sustain 9 Gs and the ability to cruise faster than the speed of sound. I have fought the nerves associated with a night tanker intercept in the weather and have felt the thrill of leading a Large Force Exercise. I have flown all over the world and have seen some amazing places I would have never known existed had I not joined the military.
So, was it worth it? You tell me! I will forever be grateful to those accountants who showed me what it’s like to love your job – and who gave me the courage to quit mine.
By Tally One Editor Rob Burgon