Excerpts from the book of Chris Hadfield
See, a funny thing happened on the way to space: I learned how to live better and more happily here on Earth. Over time, I learned how to anticipate problems in order to prevent them, and how to respond effectively in critical situations. I learned how to neutralize fear, how to stay focused and how to succeed. Astronauts are taught that the best way to reduce stress is to sweat the small stuff.
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.
Astronauts have these qualities not because we’re smarter than everyone else. It’s because we are taught to view the world—and ourselves—differently. But you don’t have to go to space to learn to do that.
It’s mostly a matter of changing your perspective.
However, success, to me, never was and still isn’t about lifting off in a rocket (though that sure felt like a great achievement). 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. You can’t view training solely as a stepping stone to something loftier. It’s got to be an end in itself.
The secret is to try to enjoy it. I never viewed training as some onerous duty I had to carry out while praying fervently for another space mission. Training is hard and fun and stretches my mind, so I feel good when I persevere and finish—and I also feel ready to do it all over again.
In space flight, “attitude” refers to orientation: which direction your vehicle is pointing relative to the Sun, Earth and other spacecraft. If you lose control of your attitude, two things happen: the vehicle starts to tumble and spin, disorienting everyone on board, and it also strays from its course, which, if you’re short on time or fuel, could mean the difference between life and death.
In my experience, something similar is true on Earth. Ultimately, I don’t determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal.
In a crisis, the “why” is irrelevant. I needed to accept where I found myself and prioritize what mattered right that minute, which was getting back on the ground ASAP. There would be plenty of time later to try to figure out the why.
If you’re focused on the wrong things, like the bee in your helmet or whose fault it is that the g-suit came unplugged, you are likely to miss the very narrow window of opportunity to correct a bad situation.
Forward planning was an easy way to show the people who made it possible for me to do my job that I didn’t take them for granted. Making a flowery toast afterward, thanking your nearest and dearest for all their support, just won’t cut it if, again and again, you’ve passed up opportunities to show appreciation in real time.
My point, though, is that saying thank you every once in a while just isn’t enough when you’re demanding that other people make real sacrifices so you can pursue your goals. It’s not only the fun, showy things like vacations that get the message across. You also have to be willing to do what you can to create the conditions that allow your partner the freedom to focus single-mindedly at times.
Prioritizing family time—making it mandatory, in the same way that a meeting at work is mandatory—helps show the people who are most important to me that they are, in fact, important to me.
Over the years, I’ve realized that in any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly 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 almost guarantees you’ll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform. This might seem self-evident, but it can’t be, because so many people do it. Sometimes the motivation is over-eagerness rather than arrogance, but the effect is the same.
Loneliness, I think, has very little to do with location. It’s a state of mind. In the center of every big, bustling city are some of the loneliest people in the world. I’ve never felt that way in space. If anything, because our whole planet was on display just outside the window, I felt even more aware of and connected to the seven billion other people who call it home.
If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time.
Personally, I’d rather feel good most of the time, so to me everything counts: the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers and also the ones that no one knows about but me.
The challenge is avoiding being derailed by the big, shiny moments that turn other people’s heads. You have to figure out for yourself how to enjoy and celebrate them, and then move on.
What we do in space is serious, yes, but it’s also incredibly fun. It’s not just about the epic EVA but the M&Ms dancing merrily inside the package, colliding colorfully in weightlessness.
Life is full of so many small, unexpected pleasures, not just in space but right here on Earth, and I think I see them more clearly now than I used to because microgravity insists you pay attention. Weightlessness is like a new toy you get to unwrap every day, again and again—and it’s a great reminder, too, that you need to savor the small stuff, not just sweat it.