24th March 2014.
A young and arguably naïve young woman enters a sterile meeting room with 5 others, suited and booted in anticipation of the upcoming judgement. The woman, wearing lipstick for the first time, has her hair slicked back in an uncomfortable bun, hair spray sticking stubbornly to it so that not a single strand would make an untimely solo appearance and ruin her chances. In all four corners of the room sit 4 equally smart individuals in matching uniforms, standing in silence with their clipboards and pens at the ready. Her heart is racing and she feels sick but takes her seat with a warm smile and prepares herself. She knows this is only the beginning.
This was the first of a three-part (or two, depending on success) assessment to become a flight attendant. During that group interview 6 years ago, I thought of myself as a mature and intuitive woman. I had been to university and due to some miracle (and a great deal of hard work) I had obtained a First-Class Honours degree.
Having also worked from the age of 15, I had experienced various industries already: hospitality mostly, but also training, admin and insurance. I liked to think I knew myself and how to deal with and read others.
Even though I didn’t have a great deal of confidence in myself that day, I was extremely thorough: I had written SIX pages of notes about the airline and my relevant experience in preparation and had found myself practising my answers in the mirror on multiple occasions. With hindsight, that was a little OTT but the old adage my dad had instilled in me for many years played on repeat in my mind:
Prior planning prevents piss poor performance!
Once my acceptance e-mail from the airline arrived, I was ecstatic, but also extremely nervous: I happened to be afraid of flying! (But that’s a topic for another time…)
My career in aviation was about to take off (excuse the cheesy pun) but little did I know, my life as cabin crew would change me in more ways than a better tan and a fuller passport.
Learning to love my quirks!
Before working in aviation, I was afraid to be unashamedly myself. And this feeling followed me to my crew lifestyle initially.
During a group exercise at the training academy, we were asked to describe ourselves in 30 seconds and then other members of the group were to write one word on a piece of paper to describe you. The only criteria was that the word had to be positive; we wanted to uplift each other. One girl got ‘stylish’, another guy ‘funny’. Hardworking, helpful, genuine; the compliments were rolling in and it was wonderful!
I also had a number of words given to me and I am certain some were probably lovely; however, to this day the only word I distinctly remember is ‘quirky’ – and I remember immediately feeling a little ashamed. What had I said to make people think I was ‘quirky’? To me, that meant I was weird. Was it the fact I love animals and said just as much in my monologue? It left me with a great deal of embarrassment– ‘now they think I’m a weirdo’.
But I wish I knew then what I know now about self-confidence.
Being crew means coming into contact with people, both colleagues and passengers, of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, religions, interests & personalities. It is an incredibly diverse work place, and dealing with many (sometimes stressful) situations truly helps you discover what kind of person you really are.
It is also unique in that you rarely work with the same people twice – every single flight introduces a new crew, a new manager, a new flight crew.
Yes, you read correctly. A new crew. Every. Single. Flight. And yes, creating new working relationships every time you go to work can be exhausting.
BUT, meeting and working alongside new people every day has had a wonderful effect on me personally. Crew have many of their own quirks: interests, passions and traits each as unique as the next. And each crew member (in my own experience) is completely unashamed to have them.
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”Oscar Wilde
Being around a community of people, day in and day out, who are unapologetically themselves and are pre-disposed to making others feel great about themselves too, has helped me to realise my own self-worth. I now accept my quirks, because they make me, me.
Growing more self-assured
Up until the start of my career as cabin crew, I had often put the opinions of others before my own happiness. Afterall, making others happy would in turn make me happy, and it still does! But it often stretched far beyond this; I would go over events in my mind because, for example, I forgot to shake the hand of the lady at the end of my interview and that OBVIOUSLY meant I would never be offered the job (yes, that’s really what I thought).
Coupled with considerable naivety meant I was ill-prepared to deal with my first long stint away from home as crew.
I was invited by two others to go wakeboarding during a trip to Singapore and I immediately thought one thing – HELL YES! I had never done it before but I wanted to make the absolute most of my first trip to this wonderful country. All except one of the crew decided not to come, but that was no drama; four of us were still up for it. I was so excited!
Although, I ended up being terrible at wakeboarding, it was the most fun I’d had in ages.
One thing I neglected to mention there was that the two people that invited us to go wakeboarding were flight crew.
I was completely unaware that while myself and Theresa were face planting the water as we fell off the wakeboards, much to the amusement of said flight crew, grand assumptions about what this excursion meant were being made.
So? You may ask. Exactly.
But when one crew member informed me of this at the bar that night, my innocence and naivety meant I broke into tears: how could this be? I don’t want people thinking this of me! It’s not true! Does this mean I can’t go wakeboarding now? I did very little for the rest of the trip.
“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone.”Maya Angelou
It was a few weeks later when reflecting on this trip with a fellow crew member that I realised something. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you work or what you do, people will always make assumptions, rightly or wrongly, about others: it’s part of the human condition and our innate curiosity. It was up to me to care less what others think and care more about living my life to the standard I set for myself, staying true to myself and making sure I enjoy myself in the process.
I’m still working on it, but I’m a far cry from the fragile young woman I used to be, and that’s in no small part due to my invaluable experiences as cabin crew.
Being comfortable alone
Travelling on a global airline’s destination network takes you to places that you never dreamt of going. And you would assume that cabin crew are always willing to explore the sights and sounds of a new city. However, the reality of the lifestyle often means that catching a few winks of sleep is sometimes more a priority than exploring.
When starting out, I was full of boundless energy and could never understand why the crew didn’t always want to explore. (Now, I understand far too well the realities of jetlag!)
Without anyone to do anything with, I would simply do nothing. I was afraid to go for breakfast and eat alone in a restaurant, I didn’t want to catch a bus in a foreign country alone, I was fearful of going on a city tour alone. It was silly, and limiting, but indicative of someone who had never had to do that before. The only thing stopping me from doing these activities was myself and my fear of the unknown.
“It’s easy to stand with the crowd. It takes confidence to stand alone”Anon.
Over time, as I grew in confidence with the help of my colleagues and family, I started venturing out alone in new countries: eating alone, hiking alone, helicopter riding alone. Sometimes, I now even prefer it that way!
This new found independence and confidence has had positive impacts not only on my experiences during layovers, but on every aspect of my life: holidays, dealing with medicals or disruptive passengers at work, even shopping!
There are so many ways this lifestyle has grown and changed me for the better, too many for one blog! Being cabin crew has helped shift my perspective on what it means to be true to yourself and the importance of accepting your ‘quirks’ in all their glory. I will be forever grateful to this lifestyle and the people within it, for helping me gain confidence in my own skin.