It all came to be in my final year of college. As graduation neared, my idealism gave way to panic as I realized I was now to join the masses of young people just like me with unbridled optimism, creativity, and an ambiguous liberal arts degree. All of them looking for work. I also had a mountain of debt, was from a lower-middle class family, and certainly did not have the financial means to go to graduate school. My spirit began to sink. I saw my future before me: working temp-agency jobs, selling my soul just to be able to pay off the loans that I took out to pay for what recent grads were calling a "worthless degree." So I did what any sensible, rational person in my position would do. I became an international flight attendant.
It was mid-April in 2010, and
between writing a final paper and downing my third sugar-free RedBull, I caught bits and pieces of the kitschy Gwenyth Paltrow film, A View From The Top, where she plays a small-town girl trying to become a flight attendant. . In a flash of naïve inspiration, I Googled "flight attendant jobs" on the Internet. I filled out four or five applications for open positions. I finished my paper, went to bed, and forgot about the whole thing. The day before graduation, I received a
phone call from one of the airlines I had applied for, an Irish company hiring
for a new American base. I passed a short phone interview. After completing successful face-to-face interview, extensive background check, and drug test, I was offered the job, which I took without hesitation. Roughly three weeks after graduating, I was on a plane to Dublin for training, my new home for the next
I had only ever traveled by
plane about a half-dozen times in my life. I had never been to Europe, or
really anywhere outside of North America. In a few short weeks, I went from
being down-and-out to feeling that the world was big, and promising again. I
still didn't know where this next step would take me, but it was going to pay
my bills and let me see the world. I would probably never have such an opportunity again.
I threw myself into my new world. I visited and saw plays in the theaters I had read about in my college textbooks. I went to some of the most famous art museums in the world. I went to drag clubs and rooftop bars in Spain, had a brief romance with an older man in Ireland, and met celebrities while working in the first-class cabin. My schedule also allowed me to do something that I had missed a lot during my undergraduate years: read for pleasure.
I had always had interests in
psychology, religion, sociology, and history, and always felt that there was never enough time to take all the classes that really interested me. Armed with a library card and an e-reader, I consumed books and ideas with a passion. I sometimes spent hours talking to passengers about what they were reading, or what was going on in
their country, or just gaining their perspective on America and the American
experience. I wrote almost everyday, about everything and anything that I saw, or inspired me.
It was not all freedom and
glamour. I knew eventually I would have to move on, look for a career, and provide for myself beyond the level of just survival. Often, I would be sitting in a gorgeous five-star hotel in Madrid, eating sandwiches I had made on the plane and brought with me because I couldn't really afford to eat out. I rarely saw friends because I was usually away on weekends. I was often lonely, felt directionless, and sometimes doubted my choice to begin my career this way.
Passengers could often be extremely intriguing and wonderful people, and could also as often be ungrateful, entitled, and shamelessly rude. In reality, my job mostly entailed serving re-heated dinners to travelers and then picking up their trash. At times it was as much a lesson in humility as it was an incredible adventure.
Today, after just securing a
job with an international travel sales and consulting company --a job that promises stability,
growth, a 9-to-5 work day and a real paycheck, I look back on the year I spent in the air, and realized that continuing education doesn't always involve textbooks and a $40,000 price tag.
At 35,000 feet, I learned the true meaning of "higher education."