Brandon Hardin: Unrestricted Climb

Chairs, umbrellas and towels are gathered while the sun sets on South Beach.  From the wooden boardwalk that runs like a pulsing vein along the beachside, a tide of jetsetters rescinds from the cooled sand and flood Ocean Drive. The moon has a direct light from the edge of the horizon to the hem of the Miami shore. The sound of each wave resonates in harmony.  Washed ashore, gazing from atop a wooden receptacle, Brandon Hardin enables the energy of the city to set in.  From first glance, you would not assume his industry and background. However, if you look again, his attention to what appears to be an endless ocean, showcases his optimism, questioning the impossible. The blueprint he followed to get where he currently sits, exhibits his ability to comprehend a detailed-checklist that ensures the safety of his life (and the lives of others). His self-assurance displays the composure needed to control a machine that soars thousands of feet in the air.  Ask Brandon what he does for a living and with a southern mellow undertone, he’ll reply with a single word, “pilot.”

Originally hailing from Knoxville, TN where he is currently based, Brandon has produced a fulfilling career. Coming from a different walk of life, his aspirations and motives for doing what he does is a result of a particular objective. His aim is to make those who came before him proud and to give back to those who follow.

Read on to discover the steps he took to manifest his dream job, how he manages the high demanding lifestyle, and advice on how to achieve your personal goals when faced with adversity.

What is your official title?

“Pilot” (Air National Guard)

Where did you go to school?

Middle Tennessee State University

Where did you work during college?

I was a front desk clerk in my college dorm, I worked in the multicultural affairs center and I worked at Motel 6. During the summer, I worked for temp agencies making brake caliper’s for Corvettes. Anything that would help me stay afloat, I was open to doing it.

Have you always wanted to be a pilot?

It was my true passion from the beginning. For as long as I can remember. If you would have come to me in the 2nd grade and asked me “Young man, what do you want to be when you grow up.” I would’ve said a Pilot.

If you would have come to me in the 2nd grade and asked me ‘Young man, what do you want to be when you grow up.’ I would’ve said a Pilot.

Would you ever consider switching careers?

I’m always open for business ventures, but I do get a lot of joy out of flying. Whether I’m flying professionally or at my leisure, aviation will always be a part of my life.

IMG_2926-EditIMG_2930-Edit Describe a typical day for Brandon Hardin.

A typical day? Well, I’m a night owl. Normally, I go to work in the evening. I don’t have any kids at this point. I really enjoy spending my mornings and afternoons to myself.  My day usually starts with checking the weather. A big part of aviation is interacting with the environment. It’s so dynamic that you have to really take the time to comprehend every aspect of it. You could imagine, taking a machine that is very complex and adding it to a compound environment comes with several risk. This is why checking the weather every morning is critical. Understanding the weather, reviewing the patterns and fronts are essential to survival. I’m not big on breakfast. I’m not a huge breakfast guy. I’ll grab a bowl of cereal and make sure I add my daily fruit intake. As oppose to breakfast I really look forward to lunch; now that the weather is warming up, I’m all about my grill. I like to have my local butcher provide me with a few nice cuts of filet mignon wrapped in bacon. I have a few single cuts that I keep marinated in the freezer. For lunch, I’ll throw one on the grill with a few baby potatoes. Somewhere in-between breakfast and lunch I’ll attack my chores like cutting my grass, tending to anything that may need to be fixed around the house. I follow-up with making sure my uniform and boots for work are in order. I recently purchased an investment property that I just finished renovating that was taking up a lot of my time  I like to spend any free time I have left before work relaxing and watching movies. I like to fly in the evening; as a guardsman I get to set my schedule which I believe is one of the best benefits. On top of that, I fly two or three times a week which is always mind-boggling and very enriching. I set back sometimes and think in awe of my daily routine, it blows me away to think about what I do on a day-to-day basis.

…taking a machine that is very complex and adding it to a compound environment comes with several risk

How do you deal with the stress of having to fly every week?

A big part of life is mental, if you properly prepare yourself mentally you can take on just about anything. That’s why I take time to relax and focus on my mindset prior to going to work especially on a flying day. Once you strap yourself inside the jet you have to be in the right mindset you can’t let anything outside of the jet affect you, rather you have issues with your family or issues in your relationship or anything affecting you mentally you have to leave it on the ground. It’s such a dynamic environment that requires you to be ahead of what’s going on. You have to be able to think through any scenario, scenarios that may not even happen, but you have to be prepared at all times. You have to be completely focused on the task at hand in this career field when you are doing the type of jobs my coworkers and I are doing. Once we all step into that briefing room we have our game faces on and everything else falls to the wayside. In aviation, you have to be prepared mentally at all times if you want to be effective. A big part of my day is getting myself ready mentally for the mission at hand; especially if it’s a flying day.

What advice could you offer to those who are thinking about joining the military?

Stay focused. If aviation is what you want to do, you’re going to have a bunch of setbacks. This field is still primarily dominated by a certain gender and race. With that said, you get more visibility. Not only are your accomplishments amplified but your mistakes are amplified as well. As a man of color or woman you have to be mentally and physically ready to deal with any setbacks that come your way. People are going to tell you that you can’t make it and people are going to tell you that you are not good enough but you have to push through it. When I was in undergrad, the director of the flight school at that time told me that he didn’t think I would make it and actually told me that I should consider a different career path. That hurt because I invested a lot of time and effort. I came to the realization that a lot of the things outside of my power and control were holding me back. Moving forward about 8 years ahead, the same guy that questioned my focus and ability to excel in this career field actually had to sign my commercial certificate. He was now working at the FFA field office in Nashville, TN and I had no idea but he immediately recognized me. Although we didn’t discuss it, I could see it in his eyes that he knew I made it and for him to have to sign my certificate is easily one of my fondest memories. This is the same guy that told me a few years earlier I wasn’t going to make it. It was fulfilling because things like that help propel you into the next stage of your career. Knowing that even though people are going to doubt you, tell you no and tell you that you’re not going to make it, through all of that, it’s still possible. With the right mindset and drive, it’s still possible to not only achieve but perform at the highest level.
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What type of personality do you believe is necessary to succeed in your industry?

You have to be secure in yourself. Its mind numbing when you set back and think about the amount of responsibility aviation places on your shoulders. You are controlling a multimillion dollar aircraft, you have dozens of lives in your hands and you’re in an ever-changing environment. An environment that could hurt you if you don’t have command knowledge on your surroundings. This can become overwhelming if you are not confident in yourself and your abilities. I read once that real strength comes from knowing your weaknesses. If you don’t have the self-discipline to be aware of your own abilities and inabilities, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, it can have serious repercussions. In aviation everyone at this level are all on top of their game, guys who finished at the top of their class. All my coworkers are very sharp and they keep you on your toes. When you surround yourself with the best, it pushes you to become the best. A lot of people say pilots are cocky and for the most part they are but if you review the resumes of these guys in this industry their resume usually backs up the way they feel about themselves. When you work in an environment where your decisions or inability to make decisions can be the difference between life and death you run into a culture of guys who are very secure in themselves, in the things they say, the actions they make and the image they portray.

What is the best moment of your career so far? 

The most fulfilling part is not the actual flying, but that I am able to travel and immerse myself in several different cultures. The best moment had to be traveling to Souda Bay, Greece. Traveling is important. It causes you to step outside of your boundaries. If you only have an individual view of the world that you conjured up from oneself, then your view is obscured. It’s important to see the different perspectives from different people around the world. To put yourself in people’s shoes who are completely different from your own, forces you to develop a bigger picture of the world and of yourself.

What was one of your greatest challenges?

My combat tours in Afghanistan.

What about the greatest reward?

The greatest reward to me is the pride I see in the eyes of my mother when she looks at me. I know how hard she worked and what she wanted for me in life. Out of everything, when I speak to her, the pride that she has when she looks at me is the greatest gift I have received.  She is one of the best influences in my life.

Out of everything, when I speak to her, the pride that she has when she looks at me is the greatest gift I have received.

Your involved with philanthropy and several charity groups, how did this come about?

I knew I would always come back and become a Mentor and give back. It was a no-brainer to become a Big Brother in Big Brothers Big Sisters since I was a mentee when I was younger. Even though, I always wanted to be a pilot I was lucky enough to have a Big Brother, who was in aviation. My little brother Triston is an awesome guy and a very smart kid who grows up in a single parent household and reminds me a lot of myself. It’s very fulfilling when I’m around him and hope he would say the same thing about me.

Why would you say Big Brothers Big Sisters is so important?

Mentorship as a whole is important. Big Brothers Big Sisters is just an avenue to get quality mentors in the lives of mentees. I think especially in the African-American community Mentorship is the missing link that limits us as a culture. We have to look at our accomplishments and then turn around and give back. As a child, there was no one who I could lean on and help guide me in the career field that I was interested in and tell me how to make it into a reality. Mentorship gave me that roadmap. They put someone in my life that I could look up to and say if he did it, I can do it too. That’s what a lot of young man and women in our society are missing. We tell them you can be whatever you want, you can do whatever you want, but no one is ever there to tell them how. One of the greatest effects we can have is to reach back and provide that blueprint for the younger generation and show them how to get there and then pat them on the back and tell them they can do it.

If you could go back 10 years what advice would you give to yourself?

Stay focused you’re on the right path. Just study more, read more and dig deeper. Above all else, stay focused and remind him that all the work and setbacks will pay off.

You now own a house and just purchased a second home as an investment property. Did you find the process difficult?

It was fairly easy in the market that suited me. I didn’t want anything too big. I was lucky enough to find something that I am able to maintain at this time. The toughest thing with the process was finding a finance company to finance the property. After the market crashed it’s tough to find a finance company willing to work with you. However, it really paid off since it’s currently a renter’s market. It’s almost like polishing off a jewel. I bought a mediocre property that I was able to fix up. To see it in the beginning and to see it now is rewarding. I was able to do 80% of the work with my own hands. I took the time to research and watch videos online on how to renovate the property. The first step is to get a detailed assessment of the property along with a building or property report. You want to learn the type of construction used across the different parts of the property. From there I learned how to commence ceiling patching, plastering and flooring. The adventure has been very educational. Just diving into it not knowing if I was going to sink or swim ended up being a cool experience for the last 3 months.

When renovating your property how do you decide where to invest the majority of your finances?

In rental property, you can go broke while trying to make it as pleasant as you possibly can. I wrestled with the fact that I was not going to be living there and trying to design it according to my standards. Your tenants are not always going to have the same upkeep that you would in your own personal property. You have to think about the bottom line which is making a profit. I struggled with this, I had to come to terms with not always trying to buy the most expensive items. Keep in mind that this is not for you but for consumers and you have to build a home for a broader crowd.

Why do you think In The 10th is important?

Because society as a whole already has their perspective of the African-American male which in my opinion is incorrect. We have to let ourselves know first and then the rest of the world know that the African-American male can’t be boxed, cannot be contained and cannot be alligated to their prejudices. It’s a shame, how the majority views us. It becomes a set back because when we walk into a room we are already fighting against those prejudices or stereotypes but we are bigger than that. We have to know that we are not the preconceived notions of what they believe we can and cannot do._20140530_152354_Fotor

Brandon Hardin is In The 10th…

Favorite way to relax?

I like to watch movies.

If someone were to create a movie about you what would the title be?

Unrestricted Climb.

If you could have lunch with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?

Martin Luther King Jr.




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