One thing I have learned in the short time I have been a member of the PR world is that this world is fast and furious – part of the appeal for me. With all the happenings for clients, prospects and internal agency work, it is rare to find a unique way outside of the PR world to better yourself. Lucky for me, SHIFT is an agency that gives you that opportunity. Every year, they offer an amazing incentive called “Cultural Reimbursement.” Essentially, this is a program where you get to do something crazy, unique, new, exciting or whatever makes your heart flutter. Something that enriches your life culturally and while there have been some AMAZING submissions within the SHIFT family, this year I was fortunate enough to win the best cultural outing. What did I do? Fulfilled a lifelong dream and pretended to be Maverick for a day! Okay, so I didn’t get to shoot anyone down, but I did go skydiving at sunrise followed by an afternoon flight around Austin… where I was in the pilot’s seat! There may have been some BBQ in between the activities, but that’s normal for Texas.

With an early drive, I suited up and put my life into a complete stranger’s hands, as he was literally holding me for the flight! While I didn’t have that momentary question of “Am I really about to jump out of a perfectly functional airplane?!” before jumping out, I barely had a second to think at all. Woosh! We jumped and the air was swirling around me and I couldn’t hear a thing aside from my heart beating in my chest, then suddenly he looked at his altimeter and before I knew what happened, it was silent. He pulled the shoot open and I heard a peaceful quiet I have never heard before. Slowly we turned to see the view that is the true definition of breathtaking. I had always imagined skydiving to be a constant adrenaline rush, but it was calm and serene.

After the morning’s adrenaline rush, and with a belly full of BBQ, I was off to the Austin airport where for the first time in my life I would be getting behind the control column of an aircraft to fly. My fascination with airplanes is no secret, I had always wanted to be Maverick from Topgun, but sadly I do not quite have the flowing hair and skillset that he did. So, when the opportunity arose for me to have my first pilot’s lesson, I jumped faster than I did out of the first plane. During our initial discussion and safety check, my instructor learned that I have a strong aviation knowledge set which lead to him giving me more control. He called into the control tower and we were granted permission to go. I was not aware I would be given the opportunity to perform the takeoff going into the situation. Before I knew it, we were flying over Austin and I was still in control. We flew out to Lake Travis just west of downtown and loop around for about an hour before going back to the airport. In this moment, I learned that I will be performing the landing. We landed safely with a smooth touchdown to the ground. I emerged having accomplished one of my top five greatest bucket list items – thank goodness my instructor took my phone hostage and got photos because I’d never be able to put into words the joy I felt in the sky the way that smile does.

When it was all said and done, I made my decision for what to choose for my cultural reimbursement based on a childhood dream and my ‘try anything once’ mentality on life. What I didn’t expect was the lessons I would learn from these experiences that relate so well to my career. In PR, you have the be willing to take chances. For SHIFT this is one of our seven values: FEARLESS. I certainly had to be fearless when jumping out of an aircraft knowing there was a minimal chance the shoot wouldn’t open. I had to be POSITIVE that it was worth the risk, another SHIFT value. In taking both my life and the life of my instructor into my own hands, I had to be CONNECTED with him at all times and communicate throughout the process. He trusted me to be HONORABLE in my aviation knowledge prior to the flight, which gave him the confidence to allow me to do the things I did. Through the development of this idea, I had to be both CREATIVE and SMART. In the end, I made a vow to myself that I will be DEDICATED to getting my pilot’s license one day. In doing something to better myself outside of the office, I wound up finding the ultimate learning experience for the seven SHIFT values and ultimately gave myself the experience of a lifetime that motivates me in my life both personally and professionally.

Danni Ball
Account Executive



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