The Old Woman Who Wanted to Be a Pilot

Little girl dreaming of becoming a pilot

I would like to tell you a story that led me to a principle that I have used over and over again in my life.  The story begins in 1979.  I had just received my M.S. degree in Counseling from the University of Wisconsin – Stout.  I began applying for jobs where I could use my degree.  I also took the Wisconsin test for state employment. 

I did well on the state employment test and after an interview process, I was hired by what was then the Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations (DILHR) as a Manpower Counselor 2.  I was officially a counselor in the Work Incentive Program (WIN).  I would be in charge of the WIN Program as well as a number of other programs including, Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP), Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program (IRAP) and the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA).  I would have offices in two counties.  One office was in Ellsworth, Wisconsin in Pierce County.  The other office was in Hudson, Wisconsin in St. Croix County.  I was then living in River Falls, Wisconsin which was almost dead center between my two offices. 

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Each day my job consisted of basically trying to help people find employment.  Depending on their ages, genders, skill levels and aptitudes, I had a variety of resources to help them find a job.  Some of my resources included, employer incentives, apprenticeship training, on-the-job-training, education benefits and a variety of tools to help my clients gain the needed skills to find and seek employment.  I also had a large data base of employment openings that were furnished daily by the head office in Madison, Wisconsin.   

My counseling program at Stout was led by a grand educator named Evelyn Rimel.  She was dedicated to the counseling program and would do anything she could to help her students learn the skills they needed to become good counselors.  Dr. Rimel was born in September 1911 and died in August 2009 one month shy of her 98th birthday.  She was a remarkable woman.  The following poem which she wrote expresses her ideas and goals in life.  She was 42 years old when she wrote this poem and numerous people will vouch for her devotion to this vision.

aac54f3a-b1b5-11de-9fb3-001cc4c03286.imageI’d like to think when life is done,

That I had filled a needed post;

That here and there I’d paid my fare,

With more than idle talk or boast;

 That I had taken gifts divine,

The breath of life and womanhood mine,

And tried to use them, then and now,

In service to my fellow man.

Evelyn received many awards during her lifetime.  When she died she was the oldest living and longest-serving member of the American Association of University Women, a national organization to which she belonged for more than 75 years.

Evelyn was the prime mover in the counseling program at Stout and no one who was accepted into the program could ignore her influence on what they would learn.  For instance, employment and school counselors are taught to use many tests such as the GATB, SATB, Kuder Richardson and Strong Campbell to help profile job applicants and identify their strengths and weaknesses.  Dr. Rimel would hear nothing about weaknesses.  She told us that these tests were only pointers and not conclusive evidence of what someone could or could not do.  I still remember what Evelyn said but at the time it seemed very theoretical.  I would not learn the real meaning of her message until I met this client who came into my life a year or so later.

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The year was 1980 and I was in my office in Hudson when an older woman came in to see me.  She asked if I could help her find a job.  I was 34 years old at the time and it was early in the year 1980.  The economy was not doing so well, and it was difficult to find decent paying employment in our area.  I asked her to take a seat and how could I help her?  She told me that her name was Margaret and that her husband had recently passed away.  They had raised four children and she had been a stay-at-home mom.  She had no schooling or formal training beyond high school.  She was 68 years old and did not have enough money to live on.  She needed to find a job to supplement her social security income. 

FYC.adviser.0020-16x9-1-1024x576I asked her if she had any idea what she could do.  She replied that she did not.  I suggested that she take an employment aptitude test to see what kinds of work she might find interesting.  It was all very theoretical to me, but I could not imagine what kind of work I could find for her in the local area that would pay enough for her to live on.  She did not have any current job experience and no goals for a career.  The aptitude test was simply an effort to do something even though I did not believe that I could help her much.

She agreed to take the test which I then administered.  When she had finished the test, I told her that I would need to have the test scored.  We setup an appointment for the following week to meet again.  I sent the test in to be scored and the results came back before our next appointment.  When I reviewed the results, I was incredibly surprised.  I even laughed at the findings of the test.  The test showed Margaret’s highest aptitude to be that of an airline pilot.  I laughed because in 1980 there were few women finding employment in the commercial airline industry as a pilot and even fewer who were 68 years of age.  Not to mention, a woman with no prior flight experience or military experience.  Back in the 80’s, many commercial airline pilots came from the ranks of retired or former military pilots. 

I chalked Margaret’s results up to a curious irregularity in the testing results or an anomaly that could probably not be explained.  I was not willing to put any credence into the test and totally ignored Evelyn’s caveat about using employment tests as pointers and not as conclusive evidence.  When Margaret arrived at my office for her appointment we sat down to discuss her results and what our next steps might be.  I started the conversation off by a dismissal of the test findings.   “Margaret, these tests are frequently not accurate.  This test showed your number one aptitude to be that of an airline pilot.”  She looked down at the floor and then up at me.  Speaking directly into my face, she solemnly said, “When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an airline pilot, but my parents and teachers all told me it was impossible.  Girls could never be commercial airline pilots.”    

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I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation that day or whether or not I ever found a good job for Margaret.  What I do remember and will never forgot was my narrow mindedness and smugness.  I had totally written off the possibility that Margaret could ever be an airline pilot. 

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I mentioned at the start of this story that I gained a principle from this episode that I have used the rest of my life.  The principle was this:  I would never ever tell anyone, client, student, relative or friend that they could not do something or be something.  From Margaret, I realized that one of the things that holds us back are other people who tell us what we can or cannot do.  I have previously told the story of my spouse Karen who was advised by her high school guidance counselor that she could never be a nurse because of her low science aptitude scores.  Karen ignored this “helpful” advice and spent over 55 years in the medical field as a registered nurse and nurse manager. 

 “Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it.  You do what you want, what you love.  Imagination should be the center of your life.”  —Ray Bradbury.

 

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    Jul 22, 2021 @ 05:41:15

    Nice.

    Like

    Reply

  2. jeanmoe
    Jul 29, 2021 @ 10:26:24

    I enjoy all your blogs, but this one especially hit home. I had a conversation with my doctor who specializes in oncology/hematology, and we got on the subject of professions. I mentioned to him that I would have loved to have been a doctor and had the opportunity to save lives, but I convinced myself that I was not smart enough and this was unattainable. I was quite taken back when he told me that he was in awe of me and that there was no doubt in his mind that I could have made a very fine doctor. I guess I will never know, but I am sure of one thing, he made me feel like a million dollars!!!
    He has brain cancer now and I pray to God he is able to cure himself.

    Like

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Jul 29, 2021 @ 16:35:06

      People always underestimate what they can really do. Too many people telling us what we cannot do.

      Like

      Reply

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