I'm a gifted high achiever who wants to be a flight attendant

Will it be a waste of my education if I do what I really really want?

By Cary Tennis
April 4, 2006 1:58PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

Like many other 20-somethings, I don't know what to do with my life. I went to an expensive famous private school for my undergraduate education, got a master's while working at a big, well-known company, doing something very responsible and professional with a comfortable, if not lavish, salary. As a product of gifted programs and always being told "You're so smart," I always thought that I would do something Very Important with my life. I realize now, of course, that that's not so easy to come by, and that while others might ooh and ahh at my company's reputation and all, it's really not very satisfying to me. Frankly, I'm bored.


So on a whim, I applied online for a job as a flight attendant. One thing that I love deeply is travel -- not just the visiting places, but the actual act of going there, the airports and the airplanes and all. So I thought, hey, why not? I never expected to get it, but somehow I did. I've been offered a spot in training, after which I will be hired.

Now I'm faced with a decision. Do I take this job or not? I want to take it, but I am afraid what people will think. Most of my friends think I'm crazy to do it, that I'm wasting my education and my mind, etc., that I'm "too smart" for the job. I haven't told my family, but I'm sure they'll feel the same way, that I wasted all that money on school to do something that doesn't even require a college education. I'm afraid, deep down, that they might be right.

And yet, I don't really want to do those things that I'm "smart enough" to do, the things that apparently my education was meant for. I'm under no illusion that being a flight attendant is all glamour and easy fun -- I've had quite a few candid conversations with those who actually do it, and I understand what it's like with the low pay, long hours, etc. But it's something that, quite simply, I want to do. I want to have a fun, unpredictable job for once. I want to do it now, while I'm young and single and without kids or a mortgage.


I know you can't make this decision for me, but I would appreciate any insight you can share that might help me in reaching it.


Dear Undecided,

I think you should do it. You want to do it, so you should do it.

I don't know if I can offer you any insight. It's more sheer enthusiasm. I feel like standing under your window singing "Do it! Do it! Do it!" I maybe should feel some nuance, some wizened concern, but I don't. All I feel is ... I feel like cheering.


I admit that I am in a rather reduced state and that rather than looking for a problem to solve I have instead been looking for a solution I could applaud. But what's wrong with that? I feel in my gut that this is the right thing. Will you allow me that?

Could you possibly waste your education? A "waste" would indicate that your education was of no value in itself. Your education is worth what it is worth regardless of what you do afterward. That's what we always used to think of education, anyway -- that it ennobles the soul. It allows the mind to grow, so the mind can work right and help you make the right decisions, which means if you get done with all that education and you know deep down that now it's time to become a flight attendant, then that's probably the right decision. If you didn't have the education maybe you'd think, Oh look at me, I'm just a lowly flight attendant, I have no education and no future, this is all I'll ever be. But no. You've got the ribbons and the medals. You can call the shots. And this is the shot you're calling. More power to you.


Do what you love. Allow yourself to love what you do. And when the love ends, then you can leave. It won't kill you. What an adventure!

Wanting is knowledge. Someone asks us what we want and we say, Oh, I don't know. I don't know what I want. But the truth is we do! We do know what we want! It's just (isn't it?) that what we want isn't the thing we ought to want or want to want or are supposed to want or think we want. It's what we want. It's the potato we want in a store full of ripe oranges. It's the comic book on a shelf full of Shakespeare -- and why are we supposed to not want that? Because wanting is the deepest story of who we are; wanting is who we are more than getting. Getting can be fate or accident: You wanted to be an actress but were forced to be a stenographer because that was what was available. Getting can be an accident for which we are not responsible. Getting can be circumstance. But wanting is pure. Wanting is who you are.

I too am thrilled every time I board an airplane; I am thrilled to stand at the curb of an airport pickup lane, watching the shuttles and the vans full of pilots and flight attendants and all the rest; I too love to watch the planes fly over. I too have wondered what it is like to wander the sleeping aisles, the only one awake traveling through the sky. Observe the traveler. Stand over the sleeping traveler, watching over him, thinking of all the things you know and all the things you could do, but knowing that you are doing the thing that was strongest in your heart. You wanted to be high in the air watching sleeping bodies, preparing the coffee, standing in the galley thinking.


So I applaud you. I applaud you. I applaud you.

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