Growing up in the 1950s, I always thought that a conventional college education was a prerequisite for success in life. As I got older, especially when I became a father and had my own children, I began to broaden my perspectives. I saw young men and women who did not complete college, but still go on to become major successes in life. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were two prime models.
Why were they successful? For many reasons, one of which is that each had a clear goal and a burning sense of mission about what they wanted to do and achieve in life. Gunjan Saxena, born in 1975, is another example of a person who is driven by a mission that animates everything she does as long as it fits with her ultimate goal, which is to become a pilot.
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl is an inspirational film that begins by dramatizing Gunjan’s childhood experiences in India, which were the catalyst for her desire to fly a plane. Looking up at the sky and seeing an airplane captured her imagination. When she flies on a commercial airline with her family, a kind flight attendant brings her to the cockpit where she views the sky from the pilot’s perspective. This leaves an indelible impression on her young mind. From then on, her only desire is to pilot a plane.
That career path is not easy for Gunjan to take. It requires lots of financial support and getting very good grades in school. Moreover, there is gender inequality in the aviation profession and little public support for training female pilots. Furthermore, she is challenged by not meeting the height criterion of the Indian Air Force and by being overweight. The latter challenge can be addressed with a weight loss regimen. The height deficiency cannot be easily solved. How Gunjan deals with these obstacles is a testament to her grit and determination to achieve her life’s goal. Assisting her every step of the way is her father who does not want his daughter to give up her lifelong dreams. Gunjan persists and eventually is given a chance to prove her value as an Indian Air Force helicopter pilot in the Kargil War.
Gunjan Saxena finds her unique purpose in life as a pilot. Jewish tradition believes in the importance of discovering one’s life mission. Rabbi Dov Heller writes: “Each of us is here to make a unique contribution to better the world. In addition to our unique personal mission, we also have a universal mission of being a light unto the nations as being part of the Jewish people. Understanding our universal and unique personal mission engenders a sense of purpose and drive; it is one of the keys to living a meaningful, energized life. A person charged with a purpose is free from boredom and looking for distractions to kill time. Living with purpose also has a curative power. A person with a mission is liberated from the psychological malady of self-absorption and frees him from envy, competition, and hatred of others, enabling him to love and help others.”
Gunjan Saxena follows her dream and makes a difference in the world around her. Specifically, as a pilot of rescue helicopters, she saves the lives of many soldiers wounded in battle who owe their survival to her heroic actions on the battlefield. Moreover, her becoming a pilot made it easier for other women to join the Indian Air Force and become a critical part of the Indian military. Her story testifies to the value of finding one’s unique mission in life, one that fulfills your own aspirations and also makes the world a better place.