Truth Overcomes Lies
Probation at Southwest lasts for one year. Every captain a probationary pilot flies with writes a critique of his or her flying ability, attitude, and professional appearance. By the time my probation ended, all my critiques were above average except for three who were condescending and hypercritical before we ever flew together. In spite of these outlier experiences, Southwest lived up to the reputation that had first attracted me. I flew with many great pilots. From them I learned much more than how to fly a 737. I learned what it means to be a good captain.
When my probationary time finally officially ended. I started to breathe easy again. I was confident in my ability to fly the 737 and was feeling good about my new job as a first officer. Having faced bullies and survived, I believed I could successfully overcome whatever challenges might lay ahead. Unfortunately I would soon have the opportunity to put that belief to the test.
When I was a junior pilot, my chief and assistant chief drilled me with questions about my safety record. It was rumored that they were trying to claim that I lied on my application and that I didn’t really have a clean safety record. They could have asked to see documents from the Navy that showed my perfect safety record, but they refused to look further. The chief pilot fired me and told me to surrender my ID badge immediately. My name was being dragged through the mud, and my stress and humiliation were profound.
Dean was away for new-hire training at Southwest, so I went to my parents’ home in New Mexico. My parents had been with me every step along the way of my career, and they were as crushed as I was. For weeks my head throbbed constantly, and my stomach ached. I would open my Bible and read, mostly from the Old Testament, just to remember that not every story is fair, but there is still goodness in life. This was an incredibly hard time, but it wasn’t without purpose. I was surrounded by the love of friends and family who reminded me daily of who I was apart from my career.
One morning when I woke, God cleared my head. All right, I sensed Him say. No more tears. Time to fight. I couldn’t wallow in disappointment any longer. If I did, I’d be in danger of getting wrapped up in bitterness and resentment. I just had to decide that some of the tactical training I’d learned wasn’t only for the military world I’d left behind. It was time to meet with attorneys. I wanted my job back, and I wanted to be left alone to fly.
My case was brought to a hearing with four jurors, and I’m thankful for those who came to my defense. When it was over, they agreed I had not lied on my application. I was a safe pilot, had always been a safe pilot, and they immediately offered me my job back. I was exhausted. After all this turmoil, I’d won, but now I wasn’t sure I wanted to claim the victory. My personal and professional reputation had been publicly smeared. Yet this job would allow me to give back to my family. Flying for Southwest was a good job. I was already trained for it, and work was work, and life was life. It’s nice to be able to enjoy work, but that would never be the reason why I lived and breathed.
I called Southwest and took my job back. I took comfort in the fact that truth will outlive a lie, even if the process takes a long time. Five years later, at the age of thirty-nine, I upgraded to captain, a position I’ve held for almost two decades. And I love my company. Over the years Southwest took steps toward change, becoming one of the friendliest, most wonderful aviation companies in the world. Not because we as a company are perfect, but because we strive to be.
How do you define yourself apart from what you do?
Have you ever had your integrity questioned? What happened?
What can you do to depend on God and His Word when your circumstances are challenging or your future seems uncertain?