I inherited a trait from my parents that closely resembles workaholism, but takes a right turn and shows up just a little bit differently. When it rears its head, my eyes grow big and busy, my lips turn up to the right, and I appear to be having a dynamic conversation, except no words are verbally exchanged…and it’s just me and my mind, shooting the sh*t. If I give in to that excited feeling, then off I go.
And off I went when this flared up last Sunday in Washington D.C. during a 2-hour tour of the National Air and Space Museum. I stood beside my dad and sister, listening to a super-passionate tour guide jog us through 230 years of invention, starting with a simple but highly ambitious human desire: to lift off the ground.
I listened as this spritely man told the story of Otto Lilienthal, the bold German lad who pioneered aviation as the first person to be documented taking flight.
You see, in the 1890s, Lilienthal built a glider, along with a 50-foot hill nearby (close to Berlin). For five years, this determined man dragged said glider up said hill, kicked off and (kind of) soared into the air, enjoying more than four hours of flying time with jumps that lasted about 12 seconds each. (What a dude, right?!)
Fast forward and picture my family listening anew to the story of the Wright Brothers: two hard-headed smarties from the U S of A, who essentially decided to make aviation their conquest because they got bored of monetizing the printing press and fancy bicycles, their first two successful endeavors. The two are credited with inventing and flying the first true airplane in 1903. The brothers had no traditional background in anything to do with aviation; in fact, they started their research by writing the Smithsonian to express their deep belief that human flight was possible, their intent to make it happen, and their request for all the books they should read to become experts in the physics of flight.
“I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help on the future worker who will attain final success.” — Wilbur Wright
Then he and Orville, his big bro, did the damn thing. They didn’t reinvent; instead built on invention. They used the materials they had — like bike parts! — and the insight of people smarter than they were in the field, and they stayed married to their dream without letting the details mar the journey. And in the final days before the one that made history, they took turns in the pilot seat: whoever happened to be flying when it worked would be flying when it worked.
(This is where my iPhone memo notes pick up in tempo. So excited by what people are willing to do in their relentless pursuit of passions, and by the integrity they prove they can keep along the way.)
There were tons of brave souls and audacious folks who came after the Wright Brothers, each adding a crazy new layer to the story of dreams coming true, but I’ll end with the one that — ahem — landed the plane for me and my red-hot idea flurry:
Let’s talk about Bessie Coleman.
Born in 1892, Coleman, an African-American woman (also of Native American descent), grew up during a time that was…well…less glamorous than today for women who want to blaze trails. She started her career as a manicurist, and did what she had to do to save up and become a pilot. Unfortunately, no American flight schools would admit a black woman, and she couldn’t find a pilot to train her. But like those who came before her, she was not taking “no” for an answer, so she hopped over to Paris and earned an international pilot’s license like it was a no brainer. When she returned home in the 1920s, “Queen Bess” earned a living as a civilian aviator by performing in airshows, which brought her to her untimely death (at 34) when she peeped out the airplane window and got hit by a runaway wrench.
I share her story not because it’s an epic tale of success but because her legacy only began with her life. Amidst all her dream-chasing, Bessie Coleman justified the exhausting path on a long and windy Yellow Brick Road by always thinking of Oz. She said…
“Did you know you have never lived until you have flown?”
And those who knew the feeling started flying clubs, fought for the right to become pilots at home, and carried her legacy through the years.
I write this because I get those big eyes and full heart and crazy-excited feeling when I think about how awesome (truly) it is that everyone who’s reading this does know that life is for the big, bold living. This community is my favorite community because the people in it don’t take no for answer. We’re purpose-driven, go-getting, heavy-hitting bada**es, all here to live life at the highest elevation…promising to give everything we’ve got to our pursuit of the things we want and to stay real with who we are, on every step of the journey — on the ground or way above it.
We’re inventing together, and we’re each in a pilot seat of our own.
If this gives you that frenzy, too, then register to fly with us, wouldya?