We don’t always end up where we intended in life. Sometimes, we are made to divert long before reaching our final destination. Other times we may complete the journey only to find the airport is closed on arrival, forcing us to divert at the last moment.
Whether it’s some kind of emergency or our own health that forces us to come back to earth, the reasons are often out of our control. Sometimes, however, we divert because we realise the flight we’re on isn’t taking us where we want to go. We admit the journey itself isn’t what we wanted after all.
This can be a difficult decision to make when you’re already cruising at a comfortable level. A level that you worked hard to reach. The thought of coming back to earth and climbing back up again can be off-putting. Any decision to divert – especially if the possibility of continuing exists – shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I’ve had thoughts about diverting from my profession for a while now. A decade of long-haul flying has taken its toll. I realise that another decade in this job might cost me significantly – if it hasn’t already. The risk to my health is something that plagues my mind.
I haven’t left yet because, well, I’m also scared of what might happen if I do. I’m scared about what a career change might mean for my children, for the quality of life I can provide for them. I’ve also been comfortable.
My job – pre-pandemic, at least – has been decent. It’s not only paid the bills but allowed me to have a wonderful lifestyle. I have traveled the world many times over. Outside of work, at least, it has given me everything I wanted. Although I despise flying through the night, I do enjoy flying aeroplanes.
For all of the above, I told myself to keep going. To grit it out and get my command first. Achieve that, collect my four bars, and then move on. That way, I’ll have achieved everything I wanted and still have time left on the clock to pursue something else.
I figured this would also allow me to work towards a second career in my spare time – to make for an easier transition before I close this chapter of my life.
That was the flight plan.
Unfortunately, things have changed. The journey has become much more turbulent. The ride is approaching unbearable. The forecast at destination is looking increasingly dicey too.
Hong Kong’s strict zero cases policy has come at an extreme cost for the aircrew. The government has handed us a prison sentence. If we break that sentence – for so much as going outside to get some fresh air – they may well send us to prison.
The burden on our mental health has been immense. To give you one statistic: our crew body spent over 73,000 days in isolation last year. That’s the equivalent of 200 years in prison.
The truth is, there is no life here for aircrew at the moment. So long as this madness persists, there is no escaping it either. Getting home is an impossible task because of the quarantine restrictions coming back in.
We’re boxed in. The choice is to either stay and endure or leave for good – to divert sooner than intended. At the moment, I’m weighing the cost of security in the form of a pay cheque against my mental and physical health. Also, against the cost of not leaving a place I feel an increasing dissonance towards.
But what is the cost of one’s aliveness anyway? What is the price of feeling free? Must we not make enormous sacrifices for it? Do my children not need that more? Do they not need to see me make those sacrifices even? To understand if you value freedom, a pay cheque can often work against you.
The truth is – you know it – the decision in my heart has already been made. Right now, I’m in the process of formulating a plan before I execute my diversion – just short of the destination I had in mind.
I am scared.
I realise it’s ok to acknowledge that. But, like Winston Churchill once said, you have to be willing to leave the shore to explore new oceans. Of course, that’s going to leave you stranded at sea for a while.
But, that’s exactly what an adventure is. The human spirit can only be made in adventure. Provided I back myself to navigate the tricky waters ahead, I believe I can teach my children something that no amount of money ever will: what it really means to live.
There is no greater reason to divert than that.
You can find AP2’s personal blog here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com
You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com
Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot