By Ayandola Ayanleke
Tracy Atobatele is a Pilot in training and an entrepreneur who was a VIP Flight Attendant for four years. Tracy had always wanted to be a pilot but she had quite an inspiring journey getting there.
“For as long as I could remember, I had wanted to become a pilot but I had financial constraints. So I decided to look inwards and thought about the things I could do, things that I wanted and that made me happy. And one of the things I thought of was sewing. After my training at a sewing school just after NYSC, I opened my business named, Rita and Nathan, named after my parents. Starting and continuing in it gave me a really good feeling. But the highlight of it all was when I participated in my first Lagos Fashion Week. That was a really good experience. I saved enough from my sewing for Cabin Crew School and became a flight attendant for four years. The job was very fulfilling as it built and grew me. I was able to save as well as get support from family and friends to enroll in flight school and here I am now.
“A painful part of the journey that I remember was when I had the opportunity to go sit for an examination in South Africa to qualify for a scholarship to flight school. But I lost it because I couldn’t afford 400,000 at the time. I almost gave up but I was encouraged by my mother. In retrospect, I believe it was a blessing because I don’t think I would have been able to handle the gift as I am able to now due to growth.”
She readily admitted that the road has not been without its challenges. “The number one challenge is financial; flight school is really expensive. Also, flight school is literally blood, sweat and tears. As a perfectionist myself, I had to learn to accept certain let downs because instructors will test you beyond your limit and you can’t let it all get to you.”
“Another challenge is being a female in a male dominated environment. Apart from being one the few females, as one of the even fewer black females, it can be quite tasking. Your instructors see you as emotional and you are tested differently as a result of that. The belief that women are the weaker sex and so can’t handle certain things like their male counterparts is really worrying. Aside that, you find people throwing the discouragements of ‘how will you cope with marriage and children?, ‘maybe you should get a less demanding job’ at you. Those things can get at you sometimes. Furthermore, combining my business and flying can be really demanding but you just have to keep forging ahead.”
In spite of the above, Tracy is the first to say she is living her dreams as she relived her first experience flying. “I remember crying towards the end. The two times I shed tears were when I first went on air and when I flew solo (without an instructor). I had a good instructor my first time flying. He was firm and pushed me beyond what I felt was my limit. The instructor for my solo flight was different because I switched school. I didn’t know I was going to fly solo till my instructor told me it was time after we ran a couple of laps. I was skeptical at first but he insisted and assured me. Usually, people experience the traffic controller calling their instructor because the students messed up on something. But I had a smooth ride and after I landed, the lady at the tower remarked that I did a good job. I cried when I heard that because it took me back to the journey leading here. The journey made it special and worth it because of the wait.”
When she was a flight attendant, she had an amazing time interacting with passengers. “In my four years as a flight attendant, I only had one experience of one client being upset with me. I learnt to be respectful, confident and empathetic.”
However, Pilots do not really interact with passengers except during briefing – which some come out to do and some don’t – and shaking hands with passengers after the flight – some do and some don’t. “I do know though that there are always different reactions when the pilot is female, ranging from excitement and mostly, fear, then respect and appreciation after the flight.”
She mentioned the Bahamas when she was asked the best place she has ever been to. She mentioned enjoying the hotel particularly. “One thing that caught my attention was that despite the fact that the hotel had numerous staff, every single one of them was nice and courteous. The people were also really warm as well. It was an all together awesome experience for me.”
The entrepreneur spoke about interacting with sewing at an early age because her mum had a sewing machine and it was close to her bed; that aroused her curiosity. Then she had the opportunity to attend a primary school where she took needlework. The seed was sown and germinated when after NYSC she had to look inward to find something else since flying was not possible at that point.
On whether she thinks flying and sewing has any impact on each other, she has this to say, “I think sewing prepared me for piloting. I will say sewing taught me patience that was absolutely necessary for piloting because in piloting, you come across situations that warrant patience. Also, sewing and shoe making requires heavy detailing as with all manual craft. So also piloting requires thinking on your feet and being really careful. Both work for me as there are things from piloting I take to sewing and vice versa. They are two things I love doing and I am blessed for them.
Tracy, whose motivation is God, her family and the desire to succeed, juggles both ventures successfully by being an early riser and planning her day ahead.
Advising anyone who will want to pursue a career and an entrepreneurial endeavour, she asserts, “You have to be ready to put in the work. Do it for the right reason. I don’t believe money is not important, so do it for money but not for greed. Do it because you love it and for fulfillment. Don’t let one endeavour suffer for the other; learn to balance them by delegating. Surround yourself with people you can trust to put your best interest in mind. Also, bear in mind that you might lose friends as a result of your success, understand it’s no fault of yours. Above all, be prayerful, talk to God about all you want to embark on and you will be fine.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read more articles.