Lessons From Colonel Hadfield

It’s not often that I read a book continuously until the point I begin to feel pins and needles in my buttocks, reminding me that I really need put the book down and walk around for a bit before my feet start to turn blue.

This scenario has played-out more than once during the past few days. The book? ‘An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth’ by Chris Hadfield, it was a Christmas present from Ash. If you’re unfamiliar with Hadfield, he’s the guy who performed a cover of Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ whilst floating around the International Space Station with his guitar. If you’ve not seen it, where the hell have you been?

‘An Astronaut’s Guide’ is an autobiography that at times could also be considered a self-help book. Chris worked his way from fighter pilot, to test pilot, to holding several senior positions at NASA before ultimately becoming an astronaut and later being assigned command of the ISS. The many annecdotes recounted in the book will leave you in awe of Hadfield’s seemingly effortless awesomeness, James Bond has competition. Yet, throughout the book you’ll find that Chris is a thoroughly warm and affable chap without a hint of pretension. As he describes some of the setbacks in his career I found myself genuinely sympathetic. Despite knowing that he did indeed reach the ISS I had to keep turning the page to see how things worked out!


Hadfield often reminds the reader of the importance of humility and the self-sabotaging effect of developing an ego. One of his guiding principles: DO worry what people think about you. He’s not a superhero, and he’s not a parody of a Top Gun character. Hadfield is clearly a guy who has worked incredibly hard to become extremely competent in a lot of complex areas, and has helped others achieve their goals along the way.

Chris readily accepts that a lot of his advice on getting where you want in life may sound counterintuitive – but then his credentials do give a lot of weight to his observations. When someone is entrusted with the lives of a dozen people and hundreds of billions of Dollars of hardware I’m inclined to listen to every word of their advice.

Some of Chris’ wisdom:

  • Don’t visualise success or daydream about it. Instead, work bloody hard on anything that might make your intended outcome more likely. But don’t obsess about the goal, enjoy the ride!
  • Prepare for the worst, but enjoy every second of it.
  • There is no such thing as over-preparation. If you don’t obsess over details then you’re just going to have to roll the dice and live with whatever happens.
  • All criticism is potentially helpful.
  • DO care what people think about you. Be polite. Your personal and professional reputation really matter.
  • Nobody likes an ego, go about your life and career with humility and help your colleagues to reach their goals. Trying to prove you are better than the rest won’t get you very far.
  • Learn. Review every experience and what you can learn from it.
  • Actively ask for criticism, what could you have done better?
  • Don’t let any error slip, it IS a big-deal and it MUST be investigated to reveal the possible consequences of doing nothing.
  • Don’t lash-out, attack the problem and not the person.
  • The more senior you are, the more damage a flippant comment will cause. Count to ten and bite your lip.
  • Whining does promote bonding, but around the wrong issue, it wrecks any chance of finding a solution.
  • When faced with a new situation, remain neutral. Don’t leap into action on a mission to prove how skilled you are and instead screw things up for everyone. Remain a neutral influence, lend your expertise when you have the lay of the land or your input is asked for.
  • In a crisis, asking ‘Why?’ is irrelevant. Accept the situation as it stands and decide what to do next. There is usually only a very narrow window of opportunity before a bad situation becomes irrecoverable.
  • 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. Enjoy every moment, not just the big ones.
  • Chris has gone out of his way to educate children (and for that matter, adults) on the workings and benefits of the space program, doubtless launching many aspirations. Check out the many fascinating videos he produced for the Canadian Space Agency whilst he was ISS Commander. In a recent Q&A session Chris gave a student some useful guidance on the way ahead, but I think it’s applicable to many more situations.

    “Decide in your heart what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”

    I salute you Colonel Hadfield, your book is a must-read guide to attaining a fulfilling life, whether on Earth or in space!



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