A couple of weeks ago my girlfriend presented me with a book that she thought I needed to read. The book was by Canadian astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield and is called An Astronaut’s Guide to Live on Earth.
At first I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. Sometimes I joke to friends that I’ve come to terms with mediocrity so I wondered, what could Col. Hadfield, one of the most accomplished astronauts in the world have to teach little old me. It’s not like I’m going to become an astronaut or anything! Well, it turns out quite a lot. From reading this book I have to admit that my interest in space and in science in general has been aroused. Whereas I may have been intimidated by thoughts of “rocket” science and space engineering before, I must say that Col. Hadfields approach to learning, life, family and career have a lot to teach. Just as the saying goes, how to you eat an elephant? Answer: One bight at a time. It’s great to get the insights of one of the worlds greatest ever astronauts and learn about his approach to achieving his goal of going to space. From deciding he wanted to go to space at age 11 to being the commanding officer on board the International Space Station, the reader learns about his journey and how in order to progress he had to “sweat the small stuff”, work hard, be a team player, continue learning and set milestones. Admittedly, I do read success books from time to time but this book really is packed full of every day wisdom and is one that I think young people who may be just embarking on their studies or careers would do well to read.
I have done my best to distill some of Col. Hadfields wisdom. While every page of the book is loaded with useful insights, the following are some of the lessons that I took. No doubt if I read this book again in 5 years time I may draw out different lessons altogether but either way here goes:
1. Be competent. This is one of the most important qualities to aspire to whatever we are trying to do in life. After all, before we can ever master something we must first become competent:
“Competence means keeping your head in a crisis, sticking with a task even when it seems hopeless, and improvising good solutions to tough problems when every second counts. It encompasses ingenuity, determination and being prepared for anything”.
2. Never stop valuing learning and education. Astronauts are described as being perpetual students, always preparing for their next test. Well, while we may not all be preparing to go to space, we do live in a world where the rate of new information and knowledge being created is so fast that this creates pressure to remain literate in our chosen professions. Also, while it’s important to keep developing ourselves, learning shouldn’t be viewed as a stepping stone to more money or a promotion, it should simply be an end in itself. And not just that, learning should be fun!
3. Success. While it is important to set goals, be careful not to hang your sense of happiness and self worth on these goals. Sometimes no matter how much effort you put in, there may be other variables involved that you simply can’t control. That old cliche of success being a journey rather than a destination comes to mind:
“…success, to me, never was and still isn’t about lifting off in a rocket…..Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launch pad.
4. Be prepared. Dib dib dib! If you have spare time use it productively to be ready….. for whatever it is you might need to be ready for. This might be for your job, or it might be for your life:
“What else could you possibly have to do that’s more important? Yes, maybe you’ll learn how to do a few things you’ll never wind up actually needing to do but that’s a much better problem to have than needing to do something and having no clue where to start.”
Funnily enough, Col. Hadfield uses the analogy of learning to play Rocket Man by Elton John, on the off chance that he might get to play it with Elton in concert. For my part, I’m not much more than a strummer on the guitar and some other instruments but whenever I get time I try and practice. I always think to myself, whatever I can play now, imagine all those minutes being added together, how much better will I be in 5, 10, 20 years? Will I ever get an opportunity just to play a song at a big party in 20 years time and if I do, how grateful will I be for all those 5 minute practice sessions that enabled me to play that song and seize that moment!
5. When you do prepare, take a conscious and methodical approach and keep your goals in mind.
Well, there’s far more wisdom that can be distilled from this book but 1. I don’t want to get into trouble for breaking copyright and 2. I think this post is long enough.
I think that this is a book that everybody should read, no matter where you are on your journey in life.
You can follow Col. Chris Hadfield on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Cmdr_Hadfield
or on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/AstronautChrisHadfield