SINGAPORE, Aug 14 — For many years, I harboured dreams of being a pilot. I took all the right steps to arm myself with a commercial pilot licence, because I thought this would be my career trajectory for the foreseeable future.

But then, the unforeseeable happened — the Covid-19 pandemic.

It struck at the worst possible juncture for me. The financial devastation it wreaked across the aviation value chain was unprecedented, most notably for airlines as international travel came to a near complete standstill.

To my dismay, all of my job applications to airlines that flew in and out of Singapore were rejected.

When Singapore went into the circuit-breaker period, I believed that it would be lifted in just a few months.

But as more reports predicted that the pandemic would be long-drawn and that global air travel might not recover until 2024, my hopes for a quick recovery were deflated.

I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and felt a deep sense of regret and disappointment, as all the years I had invested into flying did not bear any fruit.

Flying into a storm

Growing up, my family loved going to the airport for meals, where I watched aircraft take off and land at the viewing gallery.

Seeing my interest at such a young age, my parents always made it a point to bring me to the open houses by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), which further piqued my interest in aviation.

Since then, flight has been a constant feature of my education journey. I knew that I wanted to fly some day.

As I got older, I went on to pursue a Diploma in Aviation Management and Services at Temasek Polytechnic in 2010. At the time, I was also a member of the Singapore Youth Flying Club, which broadened my horizons to the world of aviation.

Over a six-month period, I learnt basic flying manoeuvres, how to take-off and land, and had close to 20 hours of flying time.

The most memorable event was when I was given the opportunity to make my first solo flight. I got immense satisfaction from that experience.

Upon graduating in 2013, I applied for the RSAF but was unsuccessful. I did not take this blip too seriously, as I knew I still had the time to find relevant opportunities in the coming years.

After completing my National Service, I went on to further my studies in 2016 where I took up a bachelor's degree in Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, graduating with a commercial pilot licence in late 2019 at the age of 27.

The author took up a bachelor degree in Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, graduating in late 2019 at the age of 27. — Picture courtesy of Theodon David Teo
The author took up a bachelor degree in Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, graduating in late 2019 at the age of 27. — Picture courtesy of Theodon David Teo

Turning point

All the years of trying to earn my flying stripes did not prepare me for the rude shock of the pandemic. It was a period of uncertainty and I had no other direction to take.

I felt bitter, as if life had treated me unfairly.

But my family was always there to lift me up. My dad, in particular, was by my side in my most fragile moments.

He told me not to give up on myself, that everything would always turn out fine and gave me the assurance that he would support me regardless of the choice that I would make.

I was also aware that I was the eldest of three siblings, and I had to be a role model to them. I knew I had to pick myself up and move on, either by learning and developing new skills, or pursuing a different career path.

So, I started becoming a freelance trainer at secondary schools, where I taught aviation-based subjects and conducted STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workshops that gave students a taste of the aviation industry.

In the interim, I also took on a swab assistant role for a year from July 2020 with the Health Promotion Board, where I was deployed to migrant worker dormitories.

It turned out to be an unexpectedly humbling experience. After interacting with migrant workers who had to leave their home countries to take on manual labour work under the sweltering heat, the experience gave me the perspective I needed — my situation wasn’t that bad after all.

I then learnt about Workforce Singapore’s Careers Connect centre and decided to seek assistance from a career coach to build up my confidence in my full-time job search.

Through this, I had greater career clarity as I identified data analytics as my area of interest and also learnt more about my transferable soft-skills such as being organised, detail-oriented and having strong mathematical knowledge.

My career coach helped narrow down alternative career options that suited me, giving me tips on customising my resume and also going through rounds of mock interviews to better prepare me.

Eventually, I found an opportunity at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in July 2021 as an assistant system engineer, where I am now, helping to enhance and develop applications that manage the loyalty program of a major airline client.

I am grateful that they have given me a chance even though I did not have the necessary educational background. My investments in taking up part-time courses on web development and Python programming language over the past year had paid off.

In fact, TCS saw my aviation background as an advantage. Upon my request, the company posted me to work with their aviation client, where I finally have something to offer to the industry that I have grown to love.

Being flexible, open-minded

For the immediate future, I am putting my flying dreams on hold.

I am now taking courses in upcoming digital technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and big data. Having taken my first steps into the cutting edge of the IT industry, I believe that there’s more that I can learn.

I have learnt that an unexpected turn of events may disrupt our plans and jolt us out of our comfort zones, but every mistake or detour we may encounter are great life lessons.

When something does not go according to plan, we have to be flexible, remain open-minded, and adapt quickly to the circumstances.

The constant support I received from my family and friends kept me going during the toughest and darkest period of my life.

There are some things we can only learn in a storm. Some setbacks force us to take a path we would never have considered, but could ultimately end up better off. I have learned to be more grateful for what I have, instead of what I don't. — TODAY

About the author:

Theodon David Teo, 30, is an assistant system engineer at Tata Consultancy Services