“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”
It’s amazing where our life can take us, if we can remain determined to follow our passion, regardless of obstacles in our way. It’s been a few years since I was fortunate enough to play a role in breaking barriers in aviation as the first female commercial airline pilot in Africa, but my excitement for life, and for following my passions, hasn’t changed one bit.
Passion, enthusiasm, and a deep trust in things always working out for me, have been essential elements for living a fulfilled and happy life. Being excited about life is what keeps us engaged in the journey – and ready and open to explore new chapters as they reveal themselves.
My journey to becoming the first female commercial pilot in Africa happened almost by chance. I was 22 years old, newly returned to Africa after two years studying photography in Germany in the wake of my father’s death. My uncle owned our family’s photography business in Walvis Bay, Namibia (then South-West Africa), and he asked if I’d take some aerial photographs of Walvis Bay. This innocent request completely changed the course of my life.
To say the flight was exhilarating was an understatement. The spectacular views of Walvis Bay at sunset, the new perspective viewing it all from above, and the sensation of flying for the first time in a small aircraft all melded together in a kind of sensory overload; I literally felt my body come alive. Without knowing or expecting it, I had stumbled onto the purest sensation of joy I had yet experienced. I was totally hooked on the sensation of flight.
That newly-discovered passion for flying changed everything for me. I became determined to follow that feeling of joy – though at the time I didn’t have a definite destination in mind. The relentless pursuit of that feeling of joy uncovered the next step for me, and then the next, and so on. Ultimately, I went on to earn my instructor’s rating and eventually my commercial license.
Whenever we are faced with new challenges which sit outside our comfort zone, self-doubt can easily find its way into the mind; my experience was no different. The process of qualifying for progressively more difficult qualifications was daunting, and with my limited schooling – I left school at 15 to work in the family business when my father fell ill – I was intimidated. Luckily, with the help of great mentors and my fierce determination to succeed, I was able to achieve my dreams.
It is often said that the road to success is more of a windy road than a straight line – this was certainly true in my case. Though I ended up a professional pilot, I had to navigate many twists and turns in pursuit of my ultimate vision of flying commercially. Whether it was instructing terrified beginners or working as an air hostess for a local airline, every step, though not always glamorous, took me closer to my goal and kept me motivated to push on.
When I finally got my opportunity to fly for a South African airline, I felt ready – but the world wasn’t quite ready for me. My prospective boss, though supportive of my breaking the glass ceiling of African aviation, was worried that the airline’s customers might not be so welcoming. He agreed to hire me on the condition that he could survey his clientele for 3 months. Hundreds of surveys went out; only one came back negatively. One client commented that a woman’s place was, and I quote, “behind a stove”. Luckily my new boss had a sense of humor – we laughed it off together, I was hired, and together we made African aviation history.
Since those days, my life has taken many more twists and turns. I was passionate about flying then, but I’ve remained just as passionate about exploring what’s around the next corner, too. I’ve remained committed to the ideal that the degree of fulfillment and happiness we feel in our lives is directly related to the enthusiasm, courage and determination we show in pursuing these passions. Now, in my sixties, I feel so fortunate to be able to explore this new amazing journey of being an author and speaker, inspiring others to live up to their full potential and follow their passions; it excites me as much as anything that I have accomplished so far.
By Kucki Low