Thursday, January 7, 2016

'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth' by Chris Hadfield


I picked this one up from the library because someone had called it one of their favourite, mood-lifting books. This retired astronaut describes some of his space missions in interesting detail, but the deeper purpose of his book is to share some hard-learned wisdom. Hadfield believes it has spilled over to help his life on earth run smoother, and hopes the same may apply for his readers. Some of the problem areas he highlighted have certainly struck a chord with me, helping me understand whey they've been problem areas. There are several, and I'll focus on the ones which were most meaningful for me.

1) Keeping your attitude on an even keel.
The ratio of working hard on earth to launching out in space averages several years: a couple of days. Any sudden hitch may completely derail an astronaut's chance of joining a space mission. You must work with the knowledge that you may well be one of those who never go up at all, so it's best to make up your mind to feel good about the work you do during your long, unheralded, working, learning life on earth. As too many variables are out of your control, you might as well manage the only one you have any control over; your attitude.

In terms of my writing, as a school kid I'd dream of hitting best-seller lists and earning big money. But out of trillions of writers, very few ever make it to the very tip of the peak, so realistically, why should I be one of them? Just plugging on and enjoying the process makes far more sense. The work is fun and rewarding for its own sake.

2) Aim to be a zero.
He identifies just three types of people present on any space mission. Minus 1s are pains in the neck who make a shared experience miserable. Zeros are neutral, adding nothing either way. And Plus 1s are those who add something positive and good to everyone's benefit. Hadfield has noticed that although everyone wants to be a Plus 1, those who make too big an effort to prove themselves worthy of the title tend to be regarded as Minus 1s. The real Plus 1s tend to be quiet, get-on-with-the-job types who don't scramble for attention. His advice is that the best, round-about way to possibly become a Plus 1 is to simply aim to be a zero.

I'm sure we've all noticed that those who try to crowd themselves into the spotlight become wearing very fast, and I've always had a niggling feeling this might be the case whenever I've tried to do it.

3) Don't focus on what the world might call your proudest moments.
If you take all the hype to heart and set the bar so high, you'll feel like a failure most of the time. He makes sure the medium and small moments that nobody knows about but him get the significance they deserve in his own mind. The challenge, he says, is to avoid being derailed by big, shiny moments that turn other people's heads. 'It's a given that today's star will be tomorrow's stagehand,' he says, meaning that the significance of your work shouldn't be determined by how visible it is to outsiders.

Bursts of glory from big moments fade quickly and are eventually remembered only by the participants themselves, no matter who you are. You must accept that the spotlight will move on, or you'll either be hobbled by self-importance or fear nothing else you do will ever measure up, is Colonel Hadfield's advice. It's sad to be mired in the quicksand of bygone celebrity.

He reminds us that most people applaud the wrong things anyway. They are impressed by dramatic, record-setting sprints rather than years of dogged perseverance. What really matters isn't the value someone else assigns to a task but how you personally feel while performing it. When you limit success to peak, high-visibility experiences, you're destined to feel unfulfilled. That's why Chris Hadfield urges us to change our own idea of success and lower the bar.

So for me, writing a review which is done in a couple of hours maximum is no less worthy than writing a novel like Picking up the Pieces that sold a couple of thousand copies and won an award, which is probably what I would consider one of my favourite achievements to date. It shouldn't necessarily be the case. That leads to my most memorable quote in this book. 

Life is a lot better if you feel you're having ten wins a day, rather than a win every ten years or so! 

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