We all have a little fear in our lives, especially when we’re getting ready for a big moment. To break free from it, it all really comes down to preparation and knowing how to handle every single possibility. In Colonel Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, you’ll learn how to prepare and think like an astronaut without having to leave the planet.
Colonel Chris Hadfield is afraid of heights, yet he’s been higher than most of the people on planet earth will ever go. Hadfield had a long journey to becoming an astronaut — and YouTube sensation — but through hard work and dedication he achieved a dream he’d had since he was nine years old. Not only did he become an astronaut, he also became the first Canadian to walk in space and command the International Space Station. In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Hadfield tells his story of becoming an astronaut and what it really means to be one. Yet by the end of the book, you’ll feel like you know Hadfield — or at least his perspective — along with how to apply an astronaut’s perspective on work, learning, and solving the problems in your own life.
Who This Book Is For
This book is for anyone looking to reduce their stress level by changing their perspective or the way they go about their work. You’ll learn that finding all the ways something big in your life can go wrong — and preparing for each possibility — will eliminate the fear or worry that comes along with it. If a man can strap himself to a 4.5 megaton bomb and not be worried, you can certainly find a way to remove the fear of giving a presentation or starting a big project.
This book is also for anyone who thinks astronauts and space programs are cool. You’ll learn a lot about the ins and outs of astronaut life, so if those types of things don’t get you excited, this book may not be the best thing for you. Most, if not all, of Hadfield’s lessons and tips are related to how astronauts do something. If you don’t like space, science, or astronauts (what’s the matter with you?), consider this a mild warning.
What You’ll Get
Along with the tale of how Hadfield came to be one of the most popular astronauts of our time, you’ll also learn a thing or two about life. You’ll learn that it’s OK to sweat the small stuff, aim to be a zero and support your team, and how important it is to focus on heading in the right direction. As he explains in the book, astronauts spend far more time on the ground preparing, testing, and learning than they actually do performing “astronaut things”. Hadfield breaks the book up into three sections, each relating to the experience of going to space and coming back down. Here are some of the lessons you’ll find in each section:
Part I – Pre-Launch:
- An explanation of what it means to “think like an astronaut” and change your perspective.
- What attitude means to an astronaut — orientation of your spacecraft — and that you can’t look at training only as a stepping stone.
- That sweating the small stuff and negative thinking is good. It helps you prepare for all the ways things can go wrong.
- Early success is a terrible teacher and reduces the chance that you’ll know how to prepare when you need to.
- Promoting your colleagues’ interests is beneficial to you too.
Part II – Liftoff:
- The days right before a launch are the most peaceful because nothing has been left to the last minute. Big moments of your life should be the same way.
- When you’re heading full-speed toward a deadline or destination, you’ll arrive breathless, scanning your to-do list, and not fully focused on the task ahead.
- Having a plan of action, even if it’s comprised of mundane things, can help you adapt to a new environment.
- Sometimes you’re better off just trying not to mess up anything or make things worse. If you try to make your mark, you will, but likely in a bad way.
Part III – Coming Down to Earth
- The very last thing you do on a mission is just as important as the first thing you did. Maybe even more important.
- If you only count your biggest, shiniest successes, you’ll set yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time.
One Trick You’ll Take Away
Hadfield’s space-worthy musical talents — that over 24 million people have witnessed — may seem like a strange aspect to focus on, but this story encapsulates the biggest lesson I drew from the book. Preparing for every possibility, no matter how big or small, is only to your benefit.
Hadfield has played in several bands and is known to be handy with a guitar. When Hadfield participated in an airshow in Ontario that overlapped with an Elton John concert, organisers tried to get the music superstar to cross-promote it. The chances of that happening were slim to none, but Hadfield wondered what the most extreme thing that could possibly happen: Hadfield getting asked to play “Rocket Man” with Elton John onstage.
So Hadfield learned and practised the song just in case. In the end, Hadfield went to the concert, and even got to meet Elton John, but was never asked to play. Still, Hadfield doesn’t regret being ready:
That’s how I approach just about everything. I spend my life getting ready to play “Rocket Man.” I picture the most demanding challenge; I visualise what I would need to know how to do to meet it; then I practice until I reach a level of competence where I’m comfortable that I’ll be able to perform. It’s what I’ve always done, ever since I decided I wanted to be an astronaut in 1969, and that conscious, methodical approach to preparation is the main reason I got to Houston. I never stopped getting ready. Just in case.
Ask yourself: what’s your “Rocket Man?” It’s OK to ask “what if” and prepare for it. You may never encounter the things you prepare for, but if you do, you’ll be ready to seize the moments. You might think that it’s a waste of time, but this method of preparation helps you create a habit that will only help you. Never stop getting ready.
It’s a lot of fun to learn about someone’s journey to becoming an astronaut. The rigorous training and methodology that is taught to each and every one makes for a great read. Astronauts are prepared for anything, and though you won’t feel exactly like an astronaut after you finish it, you’ll feel like you have a good grasp on their approach to problem solving. In a way, this book gives you the opportunity to become an astronaut of your own life, exploring the vast reaches of what you’re really capable of.
My biggest takeaway from this book is the emphasis on preparedness. We’re not talking “Boy Scout camping” levels of preparation, but “about to leave the atmosphere” levels of preparation. Hadfield’s descriptions of the things that only astronauts get to experience are engaging and kept me turning the pages. Things like what life is like in quarantine before a launch, the chosen music they listen to in the capsule while final launch preparations are made, and even a time that he and another pilot actually had to deal with a snake on a plane. You can tell you’re reading a book about someone who achieved their childhood dream and is living their life to the fullest.
I did find some sections a little on the longer side, though. It’s not overly lengthy, but at times I felt that the initial descriptions of scenarios were so good that more explanation was unnecessary. I also see this book being a hard sell for someone that doesn’t find space and astronauts fascinating. There is a lot of information about the life of an astronaut and, while incredibly interesting to me, the book is almost entirely comprised of that. There are some great lessons and tips to be had, but someone who’s not into space might not think slogging through it is worth it overall.
I definitely recommend this book and can’t express how much fun it is to read. It’s a blast — pun intended — to experience lift-off, space walking, and getting used to being back on Earth from the eyes of such a charismatic astronaut. To learn more about Colonel Chris Hadfield, you can check out his web site.