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Carole Hopson: “Reinventing yourself is not easy”

Reinventing yourself is not easy. It is navigating and learning how to adapt, learn and grow. But that’s not all, it’s applying those lessons learned to each new endeavor. Starting over makes you vulnerable. I am not afraid to start over and to say that I am new. That means that you ask for help […]

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Reinventing yourself is not easy. It is navigating and learning how to adapt, learn and grow. But that’s not all, it’s applying those lessons learned to each new endeavor. Starting over makes you vulnerable. I am not afraid to start over and to say that I am new. That means that you ask for help and that you seek mentors and assistance. It’s having courage to do something even though change is unsettling. I want to be good. Change is a step-by-step process. Someone who says I want to be President, or own my own company, play on an NBA team or lead a movement, will need to take many steps to achieve a lofty goal. So, what may appear as an eclectic path at first glance is not really that odd. Instead, a person who is doing something that is very different, is formulating their way. It appears different; because it is. I was a swimmer, you don’t get to the other side of the pool in one stroke. It takes many targeted strokes. I want to be in front of the change, not wagging behind it.


Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carole Hopson.

Carole Hopson flies the Boeing 737 for United Airlines as a First Officer, based in Newark, NJ. After a remarkable career as a journalist and an executive at the National Football League, Foot Locker, USA and L’Oreal Cosmetics, she followed her dream to become an airline pilot. Leaving those corporate jobs at the peak of her accomplishments, Carole went to flight school full time. Flying is her second love and family is her first. She is proud of her two teenage sons, and husband Michael; the family resides in Jersey City, NJ. Her passions don’t stop with family and flying — writing is devotion. Look out for her first novel in June of 2021! A Pair of Wings, published by Tursulowe Press, is a breathtaking historical fiction that chronicles the life of pioneer aviator Bessie Coleman.

Carole’s goals includes, launching her forthcoming book A Pair of Wings and seeing it become a movie. Both ventures will fuel her passion: enrolling 100 Black Women in flight school — creating a pathway for 100 Pairs of Wings.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I love this question. Truly it is hard to boil blessings down to a top three, for when you are spiritually connected to your higher power, one feels that blessings are in every small wonder and embedded in each big victory. If you force me to name three, I will pick: resilience, tenacity, and optimism. These three gifts are linked. It is hard to have one without the other. If one is resilient, there has probably been a mess of trials and challenges. Those difficulties, as the old folks say, will produce “a testimony.” A testimony means to bear witness, which is another way of saying that one has learned a lesson, and that there is a willingness to tell the story behind that lesson. Attempting a thing, in spite of challenge, becomes tenacity. If one is not a supreme optimist, then giving up seems like an option when conflict or trouble stirs. But I almost never want to give up. Optimism is like Pixie Dust, and added to learning and tenacity, one will try again, dusting off a scrape, and powdering oneself instead, with that magic Pixie Dust. Embracing another go at things with learning and belief then demonstrates resilience.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

My husband of 25 years, was a friend from my undergraduate days. Michael has become my best friend, mentor and love of my life. He says it’s okay to feel uncomfortable when taking calculated risks. My “cracker crumbs in the bed,” analogy is a metaphor for never settling in too deeply. Getting comfortable is a sign that it’s time for a new challenge. Having said that, I always wanted to fly, but it was a circuitous path because it was not a clear one. As a girl, I desperately wanted to pursue this path. But I was a Black female, who wore eyeglasses. I had never seen anyone who looked like me on the flight deck. So I had to figure out how to take a risk and make a big change. Change happens incrementally, a step at a time. Every BIG goal is made up of small steps and humbling oneself to ask for help in each phase is the only way through the maze. Even now, if I want to change jobs from First Officer to Captain, I plan on interviewing every Captain I know. I want to learn from their mistakes and their successes. The power of the interrogatory is a reporter’s primary skill, and I carried it with me from my first job into this one.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

Reinventing yourself is not easy. It is navigating and learning how to adapt, learn and grow. But that’s not all, it’s applying those lessons learned to each new endeavor. Starting over makes you vulnerable. I am not afraid to start over and to say that I am new. That means that you ask for help and that you seek mentors and assistance. It’s having courage to do something even though change is unsettling. I want to be good. Change is a step-by-step process. Someone who says I want to be President, or own my own company, play on an NBA team or lead a movement, will need to take many steps to achieve a lofty goal. So, what may appear as an eclectic path at first glance is not really that odd. Instead, a person who is doing something that is very different, is formulating their way. It appears different; because it is. I was a swimmer, you don’t get to the other side of the pool in one stroke. It takes many targeted strokes. I want to be in front of the change, not wagging behind it.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

I was at a crossroads — I had the good fortune of being a Vice President/Director of an entire training group and then, I took a job as Director of Human Resources for Logistics for a cosmetics company. I could have rode out my career in jobs like these. They were high-paying roles and I was beloved by headhunters. But I realized that what was up ahead of me, was more of the same. For the next 20 years, I would be doing something I liked, but not doing what I loved. That was enough to make me say that I was more afraid to continue in the direction that I was headed, than to take a left turn and run after what I really wanted to do.

I always tell people to take a discovery flight…not I wanna be a jet pilot. Go see if you can live in a little plane that weighs less than a minivan, because you will be there for several years before you graduate to jet pilot.

Dreams and dreamers — the difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is a dream with a date on it…then once you start, you get momentum, and then once the momentum is in your favor, there is NO stopping you!

Let’s say you throw out a wish: “I want to make 1 million dollars,” but the first bonus is only 5,000 dollars. So you get frustrated, impatient and then quit. A dream is like this — amorphous. But once you start putting definition to it, you create steps to achieve your dream. If you see the 5,000 dollars this year as a stepping stone and reinvest it in your business, your career, your education, then 20,000 dollars next year and 100,000 dollars the next…then 500,000 dollars will follow and the 1 million dollars is not so distant. A goal is a dream with a date on it, and every BIG goal has many little steps. It’s incremental.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

There are disciplines that become strengths — second language, solid math, writing and the power of the interrogatory. These are all useful and transferable skills that are in demand in a world where new relationships are formed every time we start a new trip. There is the technical part of the job, which is embedded in our standard operating procedures. This is indisputable. But there is also the notion of what we call Crew Resource Management (CRM). It’s a fancy way of saying that we pilots must get along with one another while on the flight deck — we don’t discuss politics, religion or sex at 36,000 feet. You see, most people get nervous when they start a new job. They get a new haircut, a new pair of shoes, and a new suit to make the best impression, perhaps even practicing introductory conversations on their way to work. But each time we go to work; it’s a brand new crew — Groundhog day every time. But it’s not trite, because there is a lot at stake. Being a police reporter demands communication skills, while these were honed in a corporate environment, a bonus was not having a thin skin, while communicating. I gained from being a police reporter, living in a corporate environment and leading inside of volunteer organizations. As a pilot we communicate with our fellow pilots, flight attendants, passengers, ground crew, etc. We have to listen, clarify and get things right. We can’t be so thin skinned when criticized, that we don’t gain from the lessons. Learning is the experience and distilling those lessons becomes a requirement.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

The 100 Pairs of Wings project is an initiative aimed at recruiting and training 100 Black female pilots. We have gotten a head start on the project, with a donation from General Atomics. We are seeking to raise 5 million dollars. If each woman pays for her own private pilot certificate, this is the first step in a seven- or eight-stage process, this ensures “skin in the game.” We will be able to assist and make flying a reality.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Captain Albert Glenn — Although I never stopped flying, as a stay-at-home Mom, I had to build flight hours before I sought an airline job. Captain Albert Glenn, ret. Fedex invited me to build time in the plane that he owned. He told me to come down to Memphis. Before we left the parking space, he had me put out my hand, and into it he put three keys — one to his pick up truck, one to his home and one for his airplane. “I am headed to India for 17 days, you can bunk at the house and fly with some of your students — go be the mentor that you want to become.” I flew with three young black women, and that experience taught me that in order to be great, you have to lend a hand to someone else. Flying Girls Video

Captain Jenny Beatty — When I finally decided to pursue flying,I went on a fact finding mission. I was an executive at Foot Locker, who slipped away to check out this world of pilots at a Women In Aviation Convention. There, I met a woman at one of the networking events. She befriended me and on the last day of the three-day convention, she gave me a gift. She presented me with an elegant coffee mug. On the front there was a picture of Bessie Coleman, the same one that is on my book cover. On the rear, were two paragraphs that talked about her life. I was stunned. I had never heard of Coleman before. I, a college graduate, with a masters degree from an Ivy League university, considered myself well read. Yet, I had never heard of Bessie Coleman. I decided to write a book to tell the world who this extraordinary woman was. And the woman who gave me the mug, Captain Jenny Beatty, became one of my best friends.

First Officer Randall Rochon — There is a lot of work that goes into a major airline interview. Randall helped to prepare me with technical questions and an HR-style mock interview. Randall was a remarkable guide, he is a respected and trusted colleague.

First Officer Andrea Weeks — Andrea is a love. For eight years, she continued to call and write me and tell me that I should apply to the regional airlines. I interviewed and got the job. During the nine weeks of training, Andrea sent me care packages every other week — aromatherapy, fruit, candles, tea, a coffee mug. This one said, “She believed she could do it, so she did!” Then Andrea interviewed and was hired by United. When it was time, and I had built the requisite flight hours, she encouraged me to join her at United and she wrote me a letter of recommendation — attesting to my dogged persistence.

Captain Ray Evans — Maybe one of the best instructors I have ever had. He is all in. Professional, always studying, and he is renown not just at United, but in our industry as THE subject matter expert on the Boeing 737. He is excellence personified at United Airlines and in our industry. I have leared many lessons from him.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

My children have an example of what a working mother, who dedicated time to them, followed by pursuing a career looks like. When my eldest son was in pre-school and the children were asked what their parents did for a living, Joshua said that his father was a banker and his Mommy was a “pirate.”

I showed up for pick up and I had some explaining to do. Arghhhhh! We all still laugh about that to this day. I learned that my children were less interested in our occupations, and more interested in the time that we spent together. Being a Mom has been one of the greatest joys of my life.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

I rarely struggle with believing in myself. But because I am different from the average airline pilot, in both race and gender, I have often had to prove myself again and again. But competence and excellence are their own remedy.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

Years of investment — both in professional organizations that I volunteered in and worked in feverishly, and as a Mom, with my community of Moms. I was a stay-at-home Mom for 14 years. Just days before I started my job as a pilot at United Express, my eldest son had broken his leg. It was a severe break and he was wheelchair-bound. Schooling had to be done at home, by teachers whom the district would send to our home. My husband’s full-time job took him away for long hours and the family friend who was supposed to be a part-time caregiver had to be moved into a full-time role. It was expensive and challenging on many fronts. On the day I left for training, rain poured for hours. I will never forget the tenacity of my eldest son. He was outside in the rain, playing wheelchair basketball. Telling this story will enrage some moms. How could she leave? She’s heartless. At 50, I had a decision to make. We had wanted my husband to retire, but financially, we just didn’t feel secure enough — it was a difficult choice. But one that I discussed with my husband and children. They all agreed that it was now or never for me. I came home from Houston to New Jersey every chance that I could. I prepared meals before I would leave and froze them, I would go back to class on Fedex, so that I could spend the day with my family and then crawl into class by the 8:00 AM start. It was a challenge, but it was what I wanted. I have a friend who says that every treasure is surrounded by dragons — in this case, family, passion for flying, time and energy were the treasures. Each required protection and I did my best. The simulator sessions were grueling, as it was a vertical learning curve going from slow piston aircraft to .8 mach speed jets, but I relied on that support network that I had built and nurtured — both as a professional pilot and a parent. My mentors were just a phone call away. Cpt. Ray Evans stopped by with a roller bag and tested me and a classmate. “My work here is done,” he announced as we passed his test. He wheeled away from us, but truly, he was only a phone call away. We had sufficiently answered his questions about every button and switch on the overhead panel. Phew!

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

When I left L’Oreal Cosmetics, I was making six figures a year. My first flight instructor job paid 17 dollars/hour. But I had never been happier professionally in my whole life. Money is not happiness. Satisfaction and self-worth are my measures of both success and self-respect.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Planning and Decision making — Start here.

Organization — Critical for long-term success.

Communication — You can never over communicate about the important things.

Time — Keep moving. You can make many things, but you can never make more time.

Money — Try to start with some. It will go fast. Decide and spend well. Save and fundraise as soon as you are able. When you get backers, keep them. It’s not just their money that counts, it’s their belief in your mission that lasts.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I feel so strongly about so many important causes. Homelessness, shelter pets, clean drinking water, recycling and fair and equitable education tug at my heart. But I believe in focus. Where you invest your maximum energy, there will be maximum return. I believe that 100 Pairs of Wings is a movement that people can identify with, get behind, support and grow.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

WOW! Let me start my list:)))

David Rogier, Masterclass

LeBron James and the I Promise initiative it fits with what I want to do

Sir Richard Branson — he is an icon in the aerospace and STEM world

Isabelle Wilkerson — She has single-handedly chronicled the Great Migration

Oprah — Her dedication to education, women’s issues, great movies and books makes me swoon.

Ron Howard — Remarkable storyteller

Ava Duvernay — Remarkable storyteller

Jurnee Smollett — an actress who would make Bessie proud

Michelle Obama — I would like a blurb on my book from her.

Barack Obama — I would like a matching blurb on my book from him.

David McCullough — Wrote a book entitled The Wright Brothers. He took all of us along on their pursuit.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://carolehopson.com/

Youtube channel

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you!!

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