9 Life Lessons from Chris Hadfield

I have recently finished reading ‘An Astronaut’s Guide To Life on Earth’ by Chris Hadfield and it was one of the most inspirational books I’ve ever read. What a remarkable life!

Chris Hadfield is one of the world’s most seasoned and accomplished astronauts and the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space. Amongst other things he has served as commander of the International Space Station, where he spent 5 months. He is widely known for shooting the first music video in space, where he did a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’.

Having been inspired by his book I felt I had to share some of the lessons he learned, as I am sure they are going to inspire many of you.

1. Choose Something You Love

I know that this seems as a pretty straightforward advice that many self-help gurus have given over the years but Chris has put it into a whole new perspective. 

When NASA took out an ad in the newspaper back in the early 90’s, Chris Hadfield knew that this was the opportunity he had been waiting for his whole life. Back then, resumes had to be printed out in a dot-matrix printer and as he says, he created the most impressive document to ever emerge from rural Maryland.

NASA that year received a total of 5329 applications and through a series of recruitment phases the number gradually dropped to 500, then to 100 and then to 20. Consequently, the process lasted for months and during this time although he had no idea if he was going to be selected he still kept on preparing as hard as he could. In the end he was one of the 2 that got selected.

Someone would think that this would be the end of his effort but actually this was just the beginning of a lifetime of hard work and struggle.

And the question is: How much you love what you are doing? 

2. Have an Attitude

Only those that truly love what they are doing can be really successful in it.

Chris talks about the fact that many astronauts never get the opportunity to go into space despite the endless years of hard work and training.

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.

Chris Hadfield

My take from this is to always have the right attitude and keep heading towards the right direction even if you don’t know if you’ll ever arrive there.

3. The power of negative thinking

The third point he makes is about thinking of anything that could go wrong in advance and having a plan for it. However, you can never think of every eventuality. This is not about being optimistic, which can be misleading and create blindspots. This is more about having affirmative competence and resilience. It is about having the right attitude to life and what it throws out you.

A lot of people talk about expecting the best but preparing for the worst, but I think that’s a seductively misleading concept. There’s never just one “worst”. Almost always there’s a whole spectrum of bad possibilities. 

 Chris Hadfield

4. Sweat the Small Stuff

I know that many self-help experts will disagree here because they usually say ‘do not sweat the small stuff’ but Chris’s point is quite different. For instance, he says that you always need to seek feedback and if there is no one there to give you, you still have to recall all your mistakes and work through them so that next time they will not happen again.

In space this is of paramount importance if you want to stay alive. It’s not easy for hyper-competitive people to talk openly about screw-ups that make them look foolish or incompetent.

Management has to create a climate where owning up to mistakes is permissible and colleagues have to agree, collectively, to cut each other some slack. 

Chris Hadfield

5. Working with Difficult People

Well, this is not one of the key points in the book but rather a point I focused on. Chris shares his experience of working with an arrogant and confrontational boss, who was constantly trying to terrify and belittle others. ‘He was unable to view his colleagues anything other than competitors out to destroy him’.

How he coped with it? By detaching himself. He says that the trick is to understand that the problems are his and not yours and they all stem from his insecurity.

Having experienced similar issues with a boss in the past I agree that the best way is to detach yourself emotionally until your assignment finishes or until you get a new job.

6. It’s all about Teamwork

What if your colleagues were the last people in the world? How would you treat them?

Promoting your colleagues’ interests helps you stay competitive, even in a field where everyone is top-notch. 

Chris Hadfield

Contrary to popular belief, not helping others makes it harder for you to succeed. A lot of people falsely believe that they can succeed in life by only looking out for themselves. From my experience, in the most challenging times I had the most unexpected people stepping in to help me.

Be nice and helpful to people and one day someone will be nice to you.

7. Aim to be a Zero

According to Chris you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways.

As a minus one: Actively harmful,someone who creates problems.

As a zero: Your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other.

Or as a plus one: Someone who actively adds value.

He says that when you start a new job, join a new team and are in a new environment always aim to be a zero, until you are given the opportunity to be a plus one. Unfortunately, many people, when they join a new team, they try to impose their expertise on others and show how great they are.

In addition, they don’t ask questions, make false assumptions, create conflicts and become unpopular fast. His advice is to be quietly competent and helpful, putting the needs of the group first before you become a plus one.

8. It’s not Over Till it’s Over

Don’t give up the effort before you reach the end of your assignment, project or mission. People have a tendency to relax and try less when they are closer to the end of what they have to do, which can lead to failure.

In space, this mentality can get you killed. Returning to Earth and landing safely is equally demanding with going to space. Every detail counts. Every mistake counts. You still need to sweat for the small stuff.

Never give up the effort before you accomplish what you want.

9. Climbing Down the Ladder

The final point he makes, in my opinion, is the strongest of all. I will fully quote from the book as I wouldn’t want to alter the meaning.

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 avoid being derailed by the big, shiny moments that turn other people’s heads. You have to figure out for yourself how to enjoy them and celebrate them, and then move on. 

Chris Hadfield

So, celebrate every moment in life regardless how small or big it is because every moment counts.

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