Back in March 2006 I decided to take the leap to flying knowing it would be rough emotionally and financially.
To date I've still earned less than I did before taking that leap (excluding per diem). I'm happier though. I began dreading going to work in that cubicle. I don't dread going to work at my airline.
Not everyone can take a huge leap to a new career. If I was single it would have been much more difficult. My wife has supported me financially and emotionally. Over the last year (as I am nearly topped out on First Officer pay) I've been able to contribute a lot more to the family budget. We live an average life. We live just under our means, save a lot and carry zero balances on our credit cards. I drive a 10 year old car that has long since been paid off.
I enjoy going to work....for the most part. My wife and I got used to me being gone for a few days at a time. When my daughter came along it got a little harder. Nowadays my daughter says, "Daddy has to go to work in the airplane!" She knows when I drop her off at daycare she won't see me for a few days.
The rewards have been great. My wife and I have traveled a lot. We spent an awesome week in Tokyo, weekend getaways to Cabo San Lucas, Toronto, Vegas, San Francisco, New York, St Louis, Portland, New Orleans and more.
I've flown home hundreds of grandmothers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, moms and dads.
I still get emotional when I see a family holding banners welcoming home a soldier.
I've also flown several hundred young men and women holding a yellow folder.
At first I had no idea what the yellow folders were. Years ago I was dead heading when I asked a young man where he was headed. He had a yellow folder in his lap.
He was headed to basic training. The yellow folder had his orders inside.
Since then I've noticed the yellow folders more often.
Last night as passengers got off the plane I noticed several young men and women carrying the yellow folders. During the walk to the hotel van I saw them lined up, looking a bit overwhelmed , waiting for instruction.
I should be a Captain in the next 18 months or so. Lots of movement is predicted at my airline. I'm in no rush to move to the left seat as it will be more stressful and my quality of life will take a hit. For now I am content with where I am.
Our family budget allows us to live a nice life, I can buy tech toys every now and then, I have weekends off to spend with my family and I get to do something I enjoy. This career is great, but for me the greatest rewards aren't found on my pay stub, it's the people and experiences that are the most rewarding.