Unless you have spent the last few years living on Mars you probably have heard of astronaut Chris Hadfield. Not only was Hadfield the first Canadian to go up in space but he is also one of the most popular individuals on social media – whether through his Twitter stream where he posted incredible images of Earth from space or through his live Q&A sessions with children when he was on the International Space Station. More importantly, Hadfield has played a very important role in rebuilding the image of NASA –something that took a serious beating post the Atlantis tragedy.
Among other things, Hadfield was a fighter pilot, a test pilot, and the head of Operations at NASA… Oh, Hadfield is also an incredibly talented musician – his version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity was the first music video to be shot in space and ended up garnering 12 million + views on YouTube in the first week alone. (It is a must watch!).
In ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ Hadfield chronicles his life from childhood to the defining moment of his career – his stint as the commander of the International Space Station (ISS). When one is as accomplished as Hadfield it can get very difficult to write an autobiography without coming off as a little cocky but Hadfield is so humble and grounded that I had to remind myself just how successful he has been!
The parts about space are interesting – particularly the bit about reentering the earth in a Soyuz capsule (or what can be basically described as a giant metal ball of fire) and also the difficult process of the human body to adjust to life on Earth after an extended period of time space. However, the best parts in the book really are when Hadfield muses about all that he has learnt from his stint as an astronaut both in space and on the ground. There are a few that are generic – the importance of preparation, hard-work, sweating the small stuff but the ones that I found the most interesting are as follows –
Enjoy the process and not fixate on the goal– Although the defining moment of an astronaut’s life are the days he or she spends in space, this is actually less than 1% of the time taken to prepare for the visit. The odds of actually going into space are also quite grim (you could prepare for months together and find that the launch gets delayed due to bad weather) that it’s important to actually enjoy the process of preparation and learning on ground.
In short, the single minded pursuit of a goal should not be destructive.
If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting up to feel like a failure most of the time.
Invest in other people’s success – It might seem very counter-intuitive to invest in the success of your peers but as Hadfield points out, investing in others could mean that there are people to help you survive and succeed in a time of crisis. This is especially important while up in space, but also down here on Earth.
Do not be an a**hole – In Hadfield’s opinion, astronauts only wanted other astronauts they could collaborate with on space especially in difficult situations. Anyone who was unpleasant to work with had basically ruined his or her chances of going up to space.
Aim to be a zero – This turned out to be one of the best takeaways from the book. The power of creating a positive impact by being neutral. In Hadfield’s own words –
“In any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value. Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset guarantees you’ll be perceived as a minus one, regrardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform
Needless to say I highly recommend the book either if you are interested in space or if you just want to read something different and inspiring.