“Embracing Change” was the first Lunch and Learn, a bimonthly in-house speaker series in which Guerrero Howe employees talk to their coworkers about the stories and experiences that brought them here.

Claire Mahoney talked about starting in Purdue University’s aviation program, realizing being a professional pilot wasn’t for her, and starting a successful sales career that gave her the freedom to nurture a life outside of the office. Here are five takeaways from her presentation:

1. Trust your training.

One of the lessons the aviation program emphasized was that not to rely on senses alone. Claire had to log flight hours to qualify for certification, and she learned how quickly senses and instincts can deceive a pilot. There were days she flew that, while walking to the plane, she couldn’t see a foot in front of her because of the fog. And it wasn’t any better thousands of feet up.

In one exercise meant to drive this lesson home, Claire had to fly while wearing blinders—goggles that prevented her from looking out any of the windows. She had to rely on her airspeed, attitude, vertical speed, and heading indicators, as well as altimeter and turn coordinator, instead of her own eyes.

Every professional faces adversity, and we may be tempted to rely on our instincts or emotions to pull us through. But we’re trained and prepared for those moments for a reason. That training can be the difference between flying safely and flying blind.

2. Be honest (and fearless) with yourself.

Claire grew up next to a major international airport and was very close to her father, who loved trains, planes, and automobiles. In some ways, she felt destined to study aviation. Claire’s father was very proud of her decision to become a pilot, a typically male-dominated profession.

But while logging those flight hours, Claire realized something about herself: though she wanted to make her father proud and had wanted to be a pilot for years, she didn’t feel like she fit in with her classmates. Claire is a talkative, social, extroverted team player, and the hours of logging solo flights were starting to take their toll. Simply put, she was lonely up there, and she wasn’t enjoying herself.

Claire was 20 years old when she realized that being a pilot wasn’t what she wanted—and it wasn’t an easy realization. She had to let go of an image of herself she had pursued since childhood, and she needed to accept that she wanted to spend her life doing something else.

Claire wanted to pursue a career that allowed her to stay close to the family and friends she loved. She decided to let go of what she’d thought she wanted, and focus on what she really needed.

3. There’s a lot of value in being there.

When Claire learned her father had been diagnosed with melanoma, her anxiety about her studies suddenly seemed unimportant. Claire moved back home to be with her family. She found her first postgraduate job at Majellan Jets, a startup in Massachusetts, and it became the catalyst that sparked her love of the sales environment. It also taught her the value of finding a career that didn’t crowd out the other elements important to her life.

After two years, Claire’s father lost his battle against cancer. Claire remembers thinking, “Imagine if I had been flying some silly air route and not around for this difficult time.” But because she had been honest with herself about what was important to her, she’d taken a job that did keep her close to her family.

A career is more than 9 to 5, but it also doesn’t need to dominate your life. There is no such thing as work-life balance; it’s about understanding every important element of your life and giving each the attention it needs.

4. Courage takes many forms.

It takes courage to decide to make a professional switch after you’ve nearly completed your coursework in a highly competitive program. It takes courage to decide to move home when a family member is sick. It also takes courage to stand in front of a crowd, albeit a small one, and be the first speaker in a new program.

Claire showed us all of these types. She set the bar high, and we can’t wait to hear another Guerrero Howe employee’s story.

(Photos: Sheila Barabad)