Be kind, be determined, be gracious and oh, meet your hero…

Whoever said, “Never meet your hero,” clearly never met Benét Wilson.

Honestly, I feel like it was in the stars for her to be my mentor. It was December 2016 when a little light bulb turned on in my head… “Maybe I can combine my love of planes with my passion for writing,” I thought. I needed to find a professional, someone who was actually doing what I hoped to do… and a few simple Google searches led me to the Aviation Queen website.

I reached out to Benét via email, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone and she gave me some crazy awesome news: she wanted me to contribute to her blog. A few posts in, she saw enough potential in me to recommend me to Airways Magazine’s Chris Sloan, who promptly brought me on as a contributing author. I wrote on a variety of topics and even got to take some pretty awesome trips—I was having the time of my life and was so incredibly gracious (and still am) for the complete and utter selflessness that both Benét and Chris showed in taking me under their wings and helping me as I learned to fly (no pun intended).

You all know how this story ends… I left the nest. Just a few months after this journey began, I was offered a job with the greatest aerospace company in the world: Boeing. My husband Scott is finishing up his last two semesters at the University of Minnesota, so for now it’s just me and our two cats down in Chitown. It is certainly hard to move to a new, big city by yourself… but I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything.

Each morning I bid farewell to my sweet, fuzzy friends, and I begin my one-mile walk to work. And each and every time I approach my office building, I stop briefly to look up at the big Boeing logo amidst all the other skyscrapers, and each and every time I just can’t help but crack a smile. I do the same each evening as I head home, except the sun is usually setting and the big logo is glowing against the dusky sky. Now I truly feel like I have more than just aviation in my blood—I have Boeing in my blood. I am proud, honored and humbled to say that I bleed Boeing blue.

Meeting Benét couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time either, as just yesterday FIRST—an international nonprofit that inspires K-12 students to develop STEM skills—announced that Boeing had donated $1.5 million to support young innovators. Another thing that makes FIRST awesome? Their focus on mentorship… showcasing firsthand the important role mentors play in learning, dreaming and doing. It wasn’t until my own journey began almost a year-and-a-half ago that I realized what a crucial role a mentor could play in my own life… Benét helped me to learn, she supported my dream and she cheered me on as I chased that dream.

Lucky for me, Benét is still on my team today—she is someone I can talk to, someone I can depend on and someone who supports me. I am so proud to call her my friend.

So here’s to you, Benét. You are an amazing person. Your smile is infectious. You make me want to be a better person. And as I hard as I try, I could never truly repay you for the ways in which you’ve helped me. In my opinion, no one deserves a lifetime full of blue skies and tailwinds more than you do.

Lights will guide you home…

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Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

I have always loved the song “Fix You” by Coldplay. It’s one of those songs that speaks to me, but I never really knew why – am I trying to fix someone? Is someone trying to fix me? I didn’t know, but it’s becoming a lot clearer these days.

I started singing the song in my head while my dad and I were sitting in a plane out on the tarmac at Chicago O’Hare Airport, getting ready to fly back to Minneapolis after a 10-day trip through Europe.

It was dark out, and the bright runway lights enticed me as they always do. And in that moment, just as the song popped into my head, I realized I was home. And I wasn’t just “home” as in back in the states, I was home in Chicago.

When you try your best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

My life, just like everyone else’s, has been filled with ups and downs. There have been tough times and feelings of hopelessness; there have been good times and lights at the ends of many tunnels.

During college, living with a toxic combination of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and disordered eating took its toll on me. My body and my mind were always tired, but I pressed on and did my best to power through class, homework and exams. I was working hard, but I didn’t know what exactly it was I was working toward.

After graduation, the future of my career always felt uncertain. I had met the love of my life, which brought so much needed happiness into my world, but I still didn’t know what I was doing – I didn’t know what my purpose was here on planet Earth.

I worked in newsrooms, I did communications for a nonprofit, I did website work at an energy company and most recently I found myself writing for the Minnesota Department of Health – where I currently still work. All these jobs had profound impacts on me and helped shape me into a better person, but I had no idea what my end goal was, and I didn’t know what these experiences were preparing me for.

High up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
If you never try, you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth

A few years back, I fell madly in love… and in case you’re wondering, my husband and I met more than seven years ago, so no, it wasn’t with him. Don’t worry guys, it’s not scandalous… I was out for a run near Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, and was blown away when and airplane lifted off right over my head. I was hooked. I quickly realized how “right” this all felt though… I mean, my parents met as flight attendants, my dad was in the Air Force… aviation was in my blood from the start.

I began reading about the physics of flight and watching documentaries on airplanes. I found myself out at MSP multiple times a week taking photos of the planes, and before I knew it, I was identifying many of them from decently far away. I was learning a lot and, more importantly, this was bringing me joy.

Almost a year ago, I had an “aha” moment… “Why can’t I combine my passion for aviation with my journalism degree and my love of writing?” Simple answer: I can. I reached out to Aviation Queen Benét Wilson, an aviation journalist who has inspired me in so many ways. And that decision to ask someone for help, proved to be so worth it.

Benét critiqued my writing and helped me to develop my skills and get my name out there. She also introduced me to Chris Sloan, the managing editor at Airways Magazine. Chris, too, helped me in more ways than one, he suggested topics for me to research and write about that I never would have thought of on my own. As a contributor to Airways, I was improving my industry knowledge, becoming a better writer and making connections out the wazoo.

I was so, so glad I found something that brought me so much joy. It was that one piece in my “happy life” pie that was missing, and now it was there. I kept working and learning, traveling and exploring… just trying to figure out what I was going to make of all of this. I knew that someday I wanted to find a full-time job in the aviation industry, whether at an airline or a manufacturer… I just didn’t know.

Another thing I didn’t know, was that the opportunity to work full time doing writing and communications in the aviation industry was about to present itself… a lot sooner than I had ever expected.

Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from mistakes

After years of uncertainty… years of ups and downs and years filled with (yes) plenty of mistakes, I learned, I grew and I found my passion. On day one of the trip I just took with my dad, I accepted an offer to work in communications at BOEING.

Wait… did I just say that? Someone pinch me, please.

YES. It’s true… in December I’ll be setting up shop in Chicago to begin this new journey. It’s amazing. Of course, there will be hurdles… as my husband will be up here in Minnesota finishing his last year of school, before joining me in the Windy City. Our love is rock solid though… so I know we’ll be fine. He is over the moon knowing that I have this opportunity, and his love is truly what helped me to realize that I was (and still am) capable of anything. So… I finally know why that song speaks to me. No one was trying to fix me, and I wasn’t trying to fix someone else – I was trying to fix myself, and I think I’m slowly but surely doing just that.

It was more than 10 years ago that I first began dealing with mental health issues and constantly feeling hopeless for what the future may hold. Who would have thought that in my upper twenties I’d fall so in love with these huge, flying machines, and that in the end, those guiding lights would be runway approach lights, and home would be this city that’s always held a special place in my heart.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

See you soon, Chicago.

The phrase “Never meet your hero” is a lie… a big, big lie

AirwaysI read about airplanes and I’m happy. I write about airplanes and I’m happy. But when someone else reads what I write about airplanes… that’s the ultimate – an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and success.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: aviation is in my blood. With parents who met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines and a dad who spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, I was bound to love planes… right?

Well, sort of.

I was fortunate to travel quite often as a child, and boy did I love it. But it honestly wasn’t until I was 28 years old that I actually caught the “aviation bug.”

I had been out walking near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on a crisp fall day, not really realizing how close I was to runway 17/35. I heard a bit of a rumble… and the sound was very obviously getting closer, and closer. Before I knew it, a plane departing on runway 17 was lifting off the ground directly above me – it seemed so huge and it felt so close… like I could reach up and touch it.

I was hooked.

I found myself out at the airport constantly just to watch the planes come and go. My heart pitter-pattered with each departure. And landings? Don’t even get me started. I’d watch ever-so carefully until those back wheels hit the runway and the puffs of smoke dissipated in the plane’s trail… I’d feel this strange sense of satisfaction.

Nothing in my life had made me feel more like a child than the miracle of flight. It instilled in me a sheer sense of wonder – I constantly found myself in awe that something so huge could fly so high. I wanted to learn more.

I began to study the makes and models… big and small. I listened to air traffic control feeds and began to understand their lingo. I started to pick up on the approach and departure paths for the various runways. Heck, I learned the phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot … well, you get the picture.

I wanted more though… and I felt stuck.

It was last December when I decided to go out on a limb and reach out to someone who seemed to be doing exactly what I hoped to be doing myself someday. Benét Wilson is a well-respected aviation journalist with a wealth of knowledge on the industry. She is affectionately known as the “Aviation Queen” and runs an aviation/travel consulting firm by the same name.

I felt like it was a longshot, but it couldn’t hurt… I sent her an email. I told her how much I loved aviation and I told her about my educational and professional background. I said I didn’t know where to start but that I too wanted to write about planes… simply put, I needed help.

And to my surprise, within a couple weeks she had written back to me and wanted to speak to me on the phone. She wanted to help me. Benét Wilson, THE Aviation Queen, wanted to help ME. I kind of pinched myself and wondered what good deed I had done to deserve this.

Before I knew it, she was reading my work and offering edits and suggestions. I even got to contribute to her blog. I was ON “Team Aviation Queen” – seriously… I was starting to think that the big guy upstairs had me confused with someone else because I KNEW I hadn’t done anything to deserve this kind of help and support.

And after a month or two of working with Benét, she suggested submitting a story of mine to Airways Magazine on my behalf. I pitched an idea – how smaller aircraft manufacturers are “competing” with the big guys: Boeing and Airbus. She liked it, so I wrote it.

I was a little skeptical… I mean – how could Airways possibly consider running one of MY stories? The only published work on the topic of aviation that I even HAD was my own blog and the few stories that were up on the Aviation Queen blog.

Benét submitted my story to their editor on a Tuesday morning, and the next day she called me to tell me that they loved it and would be publishing it.

I died. I went to heaven. I came back to earth and then died and went to heaven all over again.

That Thursday afternoon my story was published – one of the top stories on the front page of the Airways Magazine website. It felt amazing to know that people who are really engrained in this industry were reading my work. I can’t explain how happy I was to know that I actually had a shot in this industry.

I won’t lie – chasing your dream really is a lot of work. I have a full time job (a great one) that has NOTHING to do with aviation, which means I spend a lot of my free time reading about the aviation industry to grow my knowledge base and work toward becoming a true “industry expert.”

But I love it. I wouldn’t trade this for ANYTHING. I really feel like this hard work and dedication will pay off in the end and that I will find a career in aviation journalism someday.

They often say “never meet your hero” – but my story is a perfect example of why that advice doesn’t always hold true. Now Benét isn’t just a hero to me because of what she does for a living, but because of the kindness and selflessness she showed (and continues to show) by taking a chance on me.

I could never thank her enough.