Matt Shawver- Helicopter Pilot

Loving What I Do

When my parents told me I was having a little brother, I was sitting on the floor playing with a lunar module. I remember wanting to get it to work, more than I wanted to have a little brother.

I didn’t want to go to college, I wanted to go into the Marine Corps. My grandfather had bad times in WWII and on his deathbed, asked me to not go [into the service] before I went to college. I studied history and philosophy. I didn’t have plan. I thought, ‘For once in my life I will do something someone else told me to.’ When I was around 22, I considered a masters, but I was done with school. One of my professors mentioned that,
I’m not enthusiastic. He asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’

Music. I’m a bass player from middle Tennessee, a town called Murfreesboro. They were turning out guys who were going to work in the music studios. I’ve played everything from swing in nursing homes, to hip-hop, funk, disco, and up-tempo blues. I hate country.

Tired of being poor, I landed a job in finance for 12 years for America’s oldest bank. But I eventually got restless. I wasn’t miserable…I just wanted to do something else. I worked as hard as I could, and went home. It wasn’t a lifestyle, it was just a job.

One day I saw an ad where you got a chance to manipulate the controls and fly helicopters.

I now work for Boston helicopters after flying tours for a few months in Myrtle Beach. I’m angling for a job in Las Vegas.

What made you decide to finally realize your lifelong dream?

I can remember watching Snoopy getting shot down by the Red Baron. I always wanted to fly…always attended air shows. I didn’t always want to be a helicopter pilot, though. An airplane is like a car whereas a helicopter is like a motorcycle, you have to drive it every second. You can’t put it on auto pilot.

What were the specific obstacles that you faced?

Flight training is very expensive, around $55,000. It’s about the same as getting a Master’s degree. I had to keep my job at the bank and come home and study every night. Two or three days a week I would fly. There was a 100 percent commitment. I was consumed by it.

Now I have a job and a social life.

I didn’t think I would ever get through it. I almost quit after I had only five hours in. The secret is you have to be a little better the next day.

What helped you get through them?

I was in the finance and it greatly colored my view. These were people who talked about money all day and worked in it for 50 hours a week. I decided that I didn’t like money very much. It became a goal not a tool. Money is a tool. It’s like building the Ikea chair. How? Don’t spend too much time worrying about the obstacle In the way, figure out how you’re going to go around it, over it or through it.

Every year there was one of us who became a scuba diving instructor or something like that. There was always 1 or 2 outliers saying, ‘I will give this up and go teach.’ I admired them. So I thought, I’m going to do what I want to do. What’s important to you is not important to me.

I would fly after work and at night. It was good for me as a pilot and my career. When I went to work the next day, they would ask, ‘Did you see American Idol last night?’ ‘ I flew over your house last night.’ I was already mentally preparing for the next thing.

Were there people that tried to discourage you? Who were they and what did they say to you?

There were plenty of people.

Eighty percent of the people thought I was mad. I was paid well, had excellent benefits, and it was America’s oldest bank.

How did you feel when you finally accomplished your lifelong dream?

It felt empowering as though I can do anything. If a job opportunity comes up and I have to learn Arabic, I will learn Arabic. It makes me feel that if I can do one really difficult thing I really care about, I can do many difficult things.

I don’t look down on people. They are missing out on the biggest thing in life – doing something difficult. It is more fun to try and fail and try and fail and try and fail.

I couldn’t wait to teach someone else to fly. When I got a tour job, I decided I was going to be the best I could possibly be. It didn’t matter that I had a headache, had to go to the bathroom, whatever. You have to be funny and make sure they had a great time. I want them to say, ‘That guy was great, I could let him fly me home.’

It’s about loving what you do and doing the best you can at it.

What advice would you give to others contemplating finally living their dream?

Do it.

Stop thinking about why you can’t, think about how you’re going to. Just because you can’t figure it out today, doesn’t mean you never will.

If there are parameters, then how will you overcome them?

Remind yourself you’re in it for the long haul. You will stay after it as long as it takes.

You wouldn’t take this kind of effort in something you didn’t care about it. If the goal is to do something, the doing is the satisfaction.

I value it because of the sacrifices I made to get it.

I’m not smarter or gifted than the other person. I just wanted it bad enough.


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