I know that I am a bit late to the party when it comes to talking about Chris Hadfield's book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, but I just finished it and enjoyed it so much that I really wanted to share a few of my favourite parts and themes of the book with you. I was fascinated by the fact that he wanted to be an astronaut even when Canada did not have a space program and there was never going to be an opportunity for him to go to space. I also loved reading about his experiences in space, and had no idea that the astronauts on the International Space Station are essentially lab rats. But there were three major themes and stories that really captured my attention in this book:
1. Hadfield had the desire to become an astronaut when there wasn't even a possibility for him to become one. Canada did not have a space program until many years after he had began the work involved to become an astronaut, but he decided that it was his dream and, as impossible as it was, he knew that there may be a chance some day and he had to do all of the preparation involved for him to even be considered. This is a theme that pops up many times in his book, and one that I never thought about before, it is preparing yourself for any situation that may come your way regardless of if it happens or not. This is the life of an astronaut. They have to consider all of the possibilities and situations that may occur while they are up in space, and even here on Earth, and be prepared for anything. But this kind of training can be applied to anyone. It is vital in life to have some sort of plan in place and to be thinking ahead at all times. You might not necessarily know how the situation may end up, or have it incredibly strategically planned like an astronaut, but at least you know which direction you are headed and have some idea of how to keep yourself on course.
2. At NASA everything is scrutinised down to the last detail and evaluated and talked about over and over because if it isn't then someone could get hurt or die. There was a situation that Hadfield was in where an instructor warned the more inexperienced people training to take what the more senior people training have said with a grain of salt, because even though people like Hadfield sound like they know what they're doing sometimes policies and expectations have changed. At first he felt insulted by the situation, but then he stopped to question why the instructor would say that, and decided to learn from the situation instead. This is a lesson that I have learned recently, and it's a difficult one to grasp. It means that you have to put your pride out of the way and know that the person that is evaluating you is not judging you or trying to make you feel bad about yourself, they are trying to help you and make you better at your job or whatever it is that you are doing.
3. The most important theme from Chris Hadfield's book that really got to me is something that he describes as aiming to be a zero. He states that "over the years...you will most certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who created 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." (p. 181-82).
I had never thought of personalities and our contribution to the human race in this way before, but it is so true. We can all think of someone that we have known, or know of, that have been in the plus one and minus one categories. A lot of them are people that we admire and aspire to be, or people that we avoid because we can't handle their minus-oneness. This is one of life's hardest lessons to learn: how to be humble, and it is one of the most important lessons that is weaved throughout the book, popping up again and again.