Ellen Ferrari's inspiring flight path holds some interesting lessons for financial advisors.
Being a pilot is hard, but my friend Ellen Ferrari loves to fly. Ellen started flying as a personal hobby at age 26, and within a decade she found herself flying corporate jets all over the world. Flying had turned from a hobby to a passion and then to a career.
In January 2006, she was hired to become a pilot at FedEx Express, one of the largest airlines in the world. Beginning her career as a flight engineer on the Boeing 727, she now holds the position of first officer and has been flying Boeing 727s for the last six years. Ellen is a mom, a wife, and a full-time pilot.
I guess we all have some idea of what a pilot might look like, but not Ellen--she is petite, with long blond hair and high cheek bones. She loves kayaking, water skiing, adventures, and dogs. She looks like a model.
From a work/life balance perspective, one of Ellen's favorite parts of flying for FedEx is the flexibility she has with her job. She has the ability to make her career suit her life. And she recognizes what a rare and wonderful gift this is. In 2006, she was a single parent, and over the next few years many events transpired in her personal life: her daughter was beginning college, she would become married to a wonderful man blending their families, and her mother would develop cancer.
Working with FedEx she was able to choose:
--How much money she needed to earn in any given year based on flight schedules she bid on and the plane she chose to fly.
--How she needed to balance her time between making money and being with family.
--And even how much time she needed at home vs. her love of travel and adventure.
One of the first concepts I learned from interviewing Ellen for this article is that choices improve the quality of your life. As a financial advisor, we should never let this entrepreneurial notion pass us by. One of the biggest blessings of being a financial advisor is that we have the unlimited opportunity to make our career exactly what we choose for it to become.
About a year ago, Ellen decided she was ready for a new challenge in her career, and she bid to join a training class to certify her to fly the Boeing 757, which comes with a dual 757/767 type rating.
A Boeing 757 has a wingspan of just over 124 feet and is 155 feet long. It can carry 11,489 gallons of fuel and has a maximum takeoff weight of 255,000 pounds. This beautiful plane can fly 3,900 miles with a cruising speed that is just under the speed of sound--Mach 0.80. From my perspective, being the pilot of a machine like this would carry a coolness factor over the top.
To make this job even more challenging, almost all of these flights take off in the middle of the night. There are 4,700 pilots who work at FedEx on hundreds of routes, navigating different airports, unpredictable weather, different flight crew members, cargo loading and unloading, and the noise of hundreds of jets taking off and landing.
In a single night, a symphony of work transpires. Beside one of those beautiful 757s, Ellen shows up in her FedEx first officer uniform and places her suitcase beside the stairs of the plane. As first officer, she begins every flight with a routine and a checklist. In the darkness, she takes a flashlight and she walks slowly around the plane. As she says, "FedEx has lots of eyes on every flight."
Then, there are responsibilities such as reading navigation charts, calculating take-off speeds and runway distance, reviewing air temperatures and the weight of the airplane, cockpit checks, calling for ATC clearance, reviewing the flight management systems, putting the flight plan into the computer, and finalizing the preflight inspection. (This sounds a lot like what we do for our clients' financial strategies.)
As first officer, Ellen is the person flying the plane on every other leg of the flight schedule. "From the beginning, FedEx has trained each of us to be mindful of what we do," she says. "Every action has a script. And we are trained over and over again to the point that we have standardized what actions need to be taken in most situations. However, we are very aware that routines can be a good thing, but complacency is dangerous. We are looking for that middle ground where stress is your friend--not too much, not too little."
She continues, "Flying is a magical thing. The fact that we can taxi onto the runway with 200,000 pounds of airplane and cargo, accelerate to 150 mph and make it fly still amazes me, and probably always will. Every day I am thankful to be a pilot. I am consciously aware of the responsibility and privilege I have to do my very best. The training is long and difficult, but failure is not an option. I love what I do.
"A normal month's schedule is 15 work days. As soon as I am able, I submit my requests for changes if I need them. Just this morning, I was approved to fly two extra trips this week in exchange for dropping a work day later in the month so I can attend my daughter's dance recital. The earlier I put in the requests, the more likely I am to have them approved. It's a wonderful option to be able to have my preferences considered by scheduling! If scheduling sees they have sufficient coverage, they let me make my changes. If they don't, then you just work your trip and miss something. But at least 60% of the time, I am able to make the desired changes.
"My husband, who is also a pilot, has a quote he loves: 'Do something you love, and you will never work a day in your life.' I have to agree with him on that. I love to fly. I love it so much that I do it as a hobby on my days off in my Cessna 182. I work for a great company with great people, and yes--my job is fun. At 2:00 a.m. when everybody is sleeping, sometimes I'm on the take-off roll headed who knows where. I love hearing the engines spool up and feeling the push back in my seat as we accelerate down the runway. That's something I never even imagined I would be doing a few years ago. I was a journalism major. Sometimes life has some pretty neat detours!"
Here are five lessons Ellen passed on to me that I believe every financial advisor can take away from her story:
1. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it!
2. Dreams are the beginning of your destiny.
3. Be willing to chip away at your goals for years--success doesn't have to happen overnight.
4. Always be enthusiastic about your work.
5. Never quit. A lot of people say they want to be great at what they do, but only those with determination and perseverance to push through the difficult days will make it to their goal.