A fifth grader from Georgia goes to space camp and experiences weightlessness for the first time. A few years later, he's standing spellbound at an airshow. At 22, he walks into a conference room to broker the sale of a multimillion-dollar airplane and a business is born. Jamail Larkins, now 30, is the founder and CEO of Ascension Air.
It's an incredible career full of lessons learned, and if you ask him about it, he's still at the beginning. Ascension Air leases small aircrafts to pilots, who can then access a fleet of planes for a fraction of the price. It has 24 full-time employees and bases in Atlanta and Ft. Lauderdale and, with $8 million in annual revenue, it's already a success. But his vision is bigger. Larkins wants to operate in every major metropolitan area. He wants to turn Ascension into a household name.
In an interview with Mic, Larkins, who's often mentioned as one of the top entrepreneurs under 30 in the country, lays out some of the biggest lessons he's learned about identifying one's passion and turning it into a dream job. Because for so many young people who want to make an impact, the challenge is often identifying the what — what do I love to do and how do I make it happen?
1. Identify the experiences you can't shake.
Don’t waste a moment sitting behind your desk wondering, “What should I do with my life,” says Larkins. It’s the wrong question to ask.
The better question is: What experiences have you had that you can’t shake, that have had a profound effect on who you are? Build your identity around those.
Upon asking Larkins if there was a specific moment he could pinpoint, where he knew what he was going to do with his life, he laughs. He identifies a few different experiences that stayed with him instead, like going to space camp for the first time and later an airshow:
“I thought it would be so cool to be one of those [pilots performing in an airshow] ... everyone just watching me.”
He kept following his interests. After the airshow, Larkins started taking lessons. A year later, at 14, he petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to let him fly solo. The FAA wouldn’t let him (you have to be at least 16 to fly solo in the U.S.), so he traveled to Canada, where the age restrictions are looser. By then, flying was his full-blown passion.
2. Surround yourself with those experiences.
Once you know which experiences really speak to you, immerse yourself in a related industry.
When Larkins got back from Canada, he landed jobs selling flight instruction manuals and washing airplanes. He continued doing things that kept him close to flying.
“I came from an average middle-class family. I realized as a kid that if I’m going to fly when I want to fly, I’m going to have to afford to do it on my own.”
That’s when the pieces started coming together.
3. Make connections and be ready.
It’s one of the most important lessons. Larkins does everything he can to stay up-to-date on the industry and the people in it — what they’re doing, what interests them — so if he’s ever in a room, he can connect with them and be ready for any opportunity.
“Networking is huge,” he says. “It’s hard to describe how important the people you meet and know are ... and that’s really about preparation. Whatever it is you want ... you’ll never get it unless you’re ready for it.”
When Larkins was in college, a wealthy friend was interested in leasing a plane. Larkins said, “I can help you with that,” and called someone he knew from Embry-Riddle, an aeronautics school, to help him broker the deal. His first one.
4. People will discourage you, but forget them.
Don’t let other people’s hang-ups over your age, race, gender or anything else deter you. Larkins recalls walking into the conference room to seal that multimillion-dollar deal.
“The closing guy representing the company ... when I walked in, he looked at me like, ‘There’s no way that this is the guy signing the paperwork.’ Looks can be deceiving,” Larkins says, laughing.
No one knows your dream better than you do.
5. Keep your eye on your goal and don’t stop.
Big dreams can seem so far away it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin. But if you have the guts to start, with every obstacle you overcome the more you’ll want to achieve.
Today, Larkins operates Ascension Air with bases in Atlanta and Ft. Lauderdale, but he has expansion plans that put every U.S. city in his sights. It’s a daunting vision that leaves an incredible amount of work undone.
“We’ve got a really long way to go,” Larkins says. “We may never accomplish it, but it’s the goal I’m going for.”
6. Find role models and people you can learn from.
You’re not the first person to walk this path. If you need inspiration, it’s everywhere.
“I read a lot of biographies of people who have nothing to do with aviation,” Larkins says, “but are successful in their own way ... and I look at the things they’ve done and try to apply them to my own life.”
Chances are, if you do the same, your career will start taking shape and bend closer and closer to the dream you’ve always had.
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