Ex-Black Hawk pilot tells Missoula businesswomen: Take control of your own destiny

“My entire future changed because I was willing to believe in myself,” said Elizabeth McCormick, a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot who now delivers her motivational messages to audiences at home and abroad. (Courtesy photo)

As women nationwide speak out against inequality, harassment and violence, a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot brought her message of empowerment to the Missoula Businesswomen’s Network on Saturday.

“Your future is your responsibility,” Elizabeth McCormick told several hundred women and a handful of men at the group’s annual meeting. “It’s not up to anyone else to do the work for you. It is all on you.”

McCormick learned the lessons she shared on one of the world’s toughest proving grounds – cracking the male-dominated corps of pilots who fly the U.S. Army’s Black Hawk helicopters.

From her first moment in the recruiting office to the days before her final exam in flight school, McCormick faced down the men who tried to deny her destiny.

The litany of belittlement and harassment was designed to break her spirit:

“Little girl, don’t you know flight school is really hard?”

“You are wasting my time.”

“You don’t belong here. You shouldn’t be here.”

“A monkey could fly better than you.”

On top of that came the words of her internal critic:

“You’re not good enough.”

“You’re not smart enough.”

“You don’t deserve this.”

Her salvation? One week with a flight instructor who was actually willing to teach her to fly the helicopter. And a fiery resolve to achieve her goal.

“My entire future changed because I was willing to believe in myself,” said McCormick, who now delivers her motivational messages to audiences at home and abroad.

It took immensely hard work, an ability to change the negative words in her head to positives, and – finally – a few tears to achieve her goal.

“I am not going to let that person define who I am,” she told herself time and again after a demeaning encounter.

“So lesson No. 1,” she tells her audiences now, “is believe in yourself. Absolutely, without question, believe in yourself. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, who believes in you? That passion, that commitment, that’s what people want to be a part of. It’s a choice, it’s a choice to feel that way, to act that way, to be that way. We can all have that.”

As a Black Hawk pilot, McCormick flew air assault, intelligence missions and transported top government officials. Since leaving the military, she has worked as a global contract negotiator, marketer, motivational speaker and – most recently – the host of a new network television program about veterans.

“It’s all for a reason. What you go through, it’s all for a reason,” McCormick said Saturday in Missoula, her first visit to Montana.

Women facing a barrage of naysayers must continue building their confidence day after day after day, she said. “When we’re confident, we’re more competent.”

“I’m really tired of average,” she said. “We’re on a mission of excellence here. It’s time for us to live in excellence.”

McCormick recounted her hellish six weeks in flight school, where her initial instructor clearly did not want her to succeed. She very nearly failed – and, in fact, “ugly passed” the final flight test.

But it was a pass, and she went on to be a top Black Hawk pilot.

“When things get hard, you show up and bring your best,” she counseled.

And sometimes, that means showing up day after week after year after year.

Practice, McCormick said, doesn’t make perfect. It makes permanent.

“We have to be more intentional, more deliberate about everything that we do,” she said. “Practice makes permanent.”

Start every day with personal words of affirmation – McCormick suggested making it part of your morning teeth-brushing.

She provided each luncheon attendee with a postcard of suggested affirmations. Pick 5 to say to yourself each morning – hers or ones you write yourself:

“I am successful.”

“I am loyal.”

“I am ethical.”

“I am organized.”

“I am an activist.”

Then set your goals for the next 12 hours, and get to work.

“Know where you’re going,” she said. “Set clear objectives and goals for your life, your business and your family.”

Goals set – whether short-term or long-term – and you know where you are going and what you need to do to reach your intended destination.

“There’s no neutrality in momentum,” McCormick said. “So everything you do needs to take you closer to your goals. Anything that doesn’t is taking you farther away from your goals.”

Above all else, take care of yourself as your first priority, she said.

“To have a higher level of performance, you have to take care of yourself at a higher level,” she said. “That’s what optimal performance is all about.

“Lead yourself first, then lead your family, your business and your future.”

More information about McCormick, her dozen-plus books, her military career and business successes can be found online at this link.