Like many kids when I was growing up I wanted to be an astronaut. I probably took it a few steps further – I really got into astronomy, dragging my dad out of bed at 2am to with the telescope so I could see Venus rising next to the moon in the night sky or something similarly exciting.
When I was in elementary school, I used to go to the library and read a book on the Air Force Academy. It was my bible and my holy orders were to get accepted to the Academy, become a fighter pilot, then become an astronaut. I wanted to fly the Space Shuttle. I wanted to fly T-38’s with “NASA” on the tail. I wanted to go to Mars. As it turns out they don’t let kids with 2.something GPA’s into the Academy and apparently, “hanging out at the mall,” isn’t considered a leadership activity. Clearly, I didn’t have The Right Stuff.
So, I’ve always been incredibly interested in what it takes to become an astronaut. These are people that obviously have enough of their act together to be able to succeed at the highest levels.
Just think about it – if you could apply the success strategies of an astronaut, you could likely achieve anything, wouldn’t you?
In 1979, author Douglas Adams wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to give worthy star farers a manual for getting around the universe. In 2013, Astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield, penned An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth to share the success principles of astronauts.
- The first thing to understand about lessons from an astronaut is that every path has its twists, turns, obstacles and road blocks (Hadfield 2).
- The second thing to understand is that when you have a destination in mind, NOW is a good time to start the journey (Hadfield 4). Hadfield decided to be an astronaut when he was 9-years-old and started making decisions based on that goal. While still too young to learn to fly or join the military, he got into the habit of asking himself questions like: would an astronaut eat his vegetables or have potato chips instead? Sleep in late or get up early to read a book? (Hadfield 4). Life’s big goals are achieved through a series of small decisions along the way.
- Third, Hadfield didn’t just like the thought of being an astronaut – he liked the process of becoming an astronaut. This is frankly the key to the whole thing and was the 1st of my 3 principles in my own TEDx speech – you’ve got to love the mission if you want to succeed.
He became a better pilot because he loved flying (Hadfield 5). He didn’t worry that is life was going to be a failure if he didn’t become an astronaut but wanted to be ready and wanted to keep moving that direction in case it happened (Hadfield 6). He realized that things are never as bad (or as good) as they seem (Hadfield 10).
You will spend most of your life in the process rather than in the reward. Think about it. You go to high school for four years (the process) and it takes one day to graduate (the reward). You go to college for four years (the process) and it takes you one day to graduate (the reward). If you were to become a pilot, or go to law school or med school, it could take you up to ten more years of your life (the process), then you’ll be awarded a diploma, or wings or fangs if you went to law school, and graduation will take one day (the reward). Hopefully by now you’ll enjoy the benefits of the reward, but if you don’t enjoy the process you’ll be miserable because in order to maintain your proficiency, you’ll continue to read, study, train and learn about your profession, or else you may be kicked to the curb.
I think about the Navy SEALs. When they are going through training, their instructors stress that their experience in BUD/s is not just a one-time event – being a SEAL is a lifestyle. So it is any worth endeavor, whether that’s accountant, fighter pilot or chief fry guy at McDonalds. Whatever you want to do, enjoy the process or go find something else.
Hadfield didn’t let his job title define himself, nor did he concern himself with things beyond his control. As a Canadian citizen, when he decided he wanted to be an astronaut, Canada didn’t have a space program. Pretty much only Americans and Russians went into space at that time and when the first Canadians went up, they were mission specialists, not pilots. But that was beyond his control and a problem to be addressed later. For the time being, he focused on making it through flight school, being a solid pilot and eventually was accepted to the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School.
“It wasn’t all clear…I’d already committed to trying to follow the typical American path to becoming an astronaut…even if I never became an astronaut, I knew I’d feel I was doing something worthwhile with my life if I spent the rest of it as a test pilot,” — Hadfield (11).
If you’ve ever watched football, you understand that sometimes victory or defeat all comes down to one play. It’s 4th and something and the team either makes the first down or the touchdown, or they are stopped and the game is over. However, in life, it’s dangerous to think that our entire life comes down to “one play,” particularly when so much is beyond your control. In any worthy endeavor, there are always times when someone else has a decision to make about your future, but that decision is usually only the end of the line, if YOU decide it is.
When Hadfield was applying for test pilot school he was originally selected to attend France’s version, but at the last minute, due to politics between Canada and France (something completely beyond his control) France decided to give away Hadfield’s slot to a pilot from another country (Hadfield 10). However, that turned out not to be the end of the story as the USAF picked him up very shortly after that. Sometimes 4th and goal, is really 1st and 10. It’s that sort of perspective that allows astronauts to succeed.
See Hadfield singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity, a video that went viral and have over 19-million hits on YouTube.
Hadfield, Chris. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. New York: Little, Brown and, 2013. Print.