We had the good fortune of connecting with Heather Pierce and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Heather, can you share a quote or affirmation with us?
My favorite affirmation is a bit lengthy, but my favorite all the same. I try to repeat it to myself once a day, especially when I feel scared or unsure about things. It is: “All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation only good will come. I am safe.” I like this affirmation because many of the decisions I have made in my life require a lot of risk. The kind of risk where, if things go wrong I could lose everything, but if things go right, the outcome is a big step ahead. Those kind of decisions are what define my future. It’s exciting to look ahead and see potential, but the reality is that you have to take risks to reach your goals. Scary risks. And the fear that tags along with the decision making can stop growth completely, if you let it. An example of this was when I was running my clothing business, Raya Hanon. I absolutely loved it, it was my passion, and I was very successful. Raya Hanon Swimwear was inspired by my world travels and was featured in many major magazines like Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and The Swim Journal. However, I made some poor business decisions due to inexperience and had to decide how to take the next steps in my future. I knew I didn’t want Raya Hanon to die, but I also couldn’t afford to keep it going at level that it was at at the time. So, I decided to take a break and find a way to accomplish financial stability and a flexible schedule so that I could stabilize my company. I took a big risk and went back to school and became a commercial pilot. School was a tough road. I was working as a flight attendant, had to abandon my love of clothing design, take out a student loan and live with 8 other people in a two bedroom apartment, which is all I could afford at the time. Times got tough, but repeating the affirmation, “All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation only good will come. I am safe.” kept me moving down the path I had chosen. Fast forward a few years and I LOVE my new career. Flying planes is amazing, I work for a great company, and my profession gives me both financial freedom and a lot of time off. It took some time and a lot of hard work, but I am now in a place in my aviation career where I can direct my attention back to Raya Hanon stronger and more focused, knowing I have the safety net of a fantastic career behind me. I risked everything years ago, all that I had built and worked for, to get to where I am today. The affirmation is dear to me because it helped me believe in myself and stay the course. It calmed me down so that I could think clearly. It helped me realize that, even when I was in my darkest place in life, motivation to KEEP MOVING FORWARD and having faith that it is not all for nothing can be all you need to make your dreams come true!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Until my clothing business is officially back up and running, my main focus and career is a commercial pilot. I fly an Emb135/145 aircraft, a small regional jet, for a small airline primarily out of the west coast of the United States. I recently upgraded to captain at my airline. I love my job and I feel proud of myself for getting this far. I feel excited for the challenges that I will encounter as a new captain and I feel especially excited for what I have yet to learn. That’s something I really appreciate about this profession, it never gets boring and there is ALWAYS something new to learn. I’ve already talked a little about why I became a pilot. My clothing business was suddenly not doing too well and, though I loved flying as a flight attendant, I wasn’t able to financially support myself and my business in that profession. I needed to find another avenue and I’m glad that flight school became an option for me. Even after the idea came to me to start flight school, I almost didn’t because I thought I wasn’t smart enough and I didn’t have the money. I was living in Ecuador at the time, and going back to school meant leaving home. I had also recently experienced heartbreak. At the time, I was engaged to a man that I had known for almost a decade. We had been waiting for my work to grant me a leave of absence so that we could get married and, after almost a year of getting denied a leave, my request was finally granted for two months. Unfortunately, a week after getting the good news, my relationship ended and I was at an all time low in my life. Luckily, my mother and some pilot friends coached me into considering flight lessons and I took the two month leave and some money that I had saved up for the wedding to get my private pilot license in Eau Claire, WI. I figured, smart enough or not, I have nothing more to lose now and I know I don’t want to stay in this sad place, so the time was now. I stayed with my mother through the two month leave and she dropped me off at the flight school at 8am every morning, then picked me up at 5pm after work each night. I was able to get my private pilot license, the first pilot certificate one can achieve, in 5 weeks time. After that, I knew I could do it. I took out a student loan to pay for lessons and got 7 more pilot certificates, including my commercial license and instructors licenses, within 8 months. After that, I returned to my home in Ecuador and went to flight school there, getting all my Ecuadorian pilot licenses up to multi-commercial Within 2 months. Then I started looking for jobs. My intention was to find a pilot job in Ecuador and stay there. However, balancing work as a flight attendant, going through flight school, applying for pilot jobs and going through the interview processes ended up getting the better of me. I had pushed myself so hard that my health was failing. Also, two days before my commercial multi check ride, the propellers broke on my airplane, causing my check ride to be pushed back two weeks, resulting in my ineligibility to continue the interview process for a major airline in Ecuador that I was hoping to work for. On top of all of that, I ended up getting banned from the country for 9 months due to some mishandling of paperwork and had to return to the United States, where I hadn’t lived in almost 10 years. I thought it was all for nothing. Then my life took a different path and led me to a much happier place than I thought possible! My pilot career in the US started as a flight instructor. I didn’t have a place to call home, so I took the highest paying instructor job I could find, which was in LA. About a year later, I applied for a job at a small, Part 135 airline and was lucky enough to get the job as a first officer. It took me about two years to upgrade to captain. That’s where I am today. It was not easy to get through school. Besides the moral support of friends and family, the only thing that pushed me along was the knowledge that I didn’t want to end up in the same bad place I was in my life before I started flight school. I knew I needed a change and refused to take a step back. Another challenge I had on my aviation journey was being female in a male dominated industry. Though most are supportive and welcoming, there are still some that don’t feel comfortable with a female presence in the cockpit. Comments like, “Women can’t make good decisions under stress and therefore shouldn’t be pilots.”, “The more women in the workplace, the more drama there will be, so they shouldn’t be in the cockpit.”, “Women aren’t welcome in the aviation community, so you should just quit now and not waste your money.”, “The only reason you got the job is because you’re a woman.” or “the only reason you pass your check rides is because of a pretty face.” are just a few of what I’ve heard over the years from instructors and coworkers. It used to bother me, especially in school. Mostly, because I didn’t expect that kind of sexism in the work place to still be a thing, but it is. My advice to those that face the same kind of issues is to tell them as composed as possible that those kind of comments aren’t welcome. I’ve found that that takes care of most issues. Or, just ignore them if it seems that confronting them will escalate into a conflict. Some people aren’t worth the energy it takes to fight. Just know that your success is because you’re worthy and you earned it and keep moving. Prove your place with your professionalism, knowledge and confidence. The small mindedness that some people have will be enough to trip them up in the long run. If anything, the challenges I have faced have taught me to be more patient and more mature. It has taught me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I have learned not to listen to the criticism of others, but to keep my eye on the goal and go for it. I’ve learned to have unwavering faith in myself and my ability and I continually learn humility, as each day I find room to grow. I have learned that sometimes people just need a little push to get started on the journey to their dreams, and I hope that I can be that push for some people in the future. I want people to know that women only make up 8% of pilots in the United States, and 5% in the world. I want those numbers to change and see more ladies in the skies! I want people to know that it is a challenging, yet rewarding profession that is absolutely worth everything that is put into it. I couldn’t be happier with my choice to pursue a career as a pilot.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
If I had a friend visiting, I would most likely take them to explore as many different restaurants as possible! I absolutely love food and enjoy exploring a city through its culinary arts. La Jolla is one of my favorite places to restaurant hop and it is so beautiful as well. Besides eating, I would take them on some hikes. Being outdoors is a necessity to me, I’m outside as much as I can be. I would most likely target hikes with sea caves or beautiful views of the coast.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
As cliche as it sounds, I’d like to shout out my mother! I’d also like to shout out a fellow pilot. They really are the reason that I am where I am in my career. Years ago, when my business started falling apart, I remember calling my mom in tears almost daily. I was working so hard as a flight attendant and in my business but, because I had lost some money in some poor business decisions and I needed to work so much as a flight attendant to pay my business loans and bills, I could no longer focus on my business and was basically working myself into debt. It was a scary place and I didn’t know how to get out. My family had experienced a lot of financial difficulties, so my mother or other family members could offer no financial support. I felt like I was drowning. One day, my mother met me for lunch and I cried to her the same sob story. I loved my job as a flight attendant, but it didn’t pay enough to allow me to keep my business afloat. My mother listened, like she always did, then said, “Well, you can quit your job and work in an office. Work 9-5 and work your way up in the corporate world…” After years flying as a flight attendant, that kind of routine sounded like torture to me. Travel is more than a hobby for me, it’s a way of life. I knew I would be miserable if I couldn’t do it every day. “No.” I said. “I can’t do that.” “Well,” she said. “what do you like to do? What makes you happy?” I replied that besides designing clothing, traveling made me the happiest. She said, “well you can’t make money traveling, Heather.” Then, after a few moments she said, “Actually, you could become a pilot.” Believe it or not, after growing up with my mother being a flight attendant then years of working in the aviation industry myself, I had never once considered becoming a pilot. As a woman, it had never been brought up to me as a possible career choice and, frankly, the idea had never popped into my head. Female pilots were, and still are, very rare, so I suppose it didn’t occur to me as a possible career choice. And that was it. The light bulb went on in my head and I started asking the pilots that I flew with if they recommended becoming a pilot. Most were very supportive and gave me great guidance. One of them being Erik Fischer, my second shout out, who became a sort of mentor to me when I started flight school and talked me out of quitting more times than I can remember. I know without either of them, I wouldn’t be where I am today! Thank you mom and Erik!
Instagram: @blueskyheather , @rayahanon