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Home News An Astronaut’s Guide to Life in College (and Beyond)

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life in College (and Beyond)

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Chris Hadfield wanted to be an astronaut since he was 9 years old, and would go on to not only realize his dream, but be the first Canadian to walk in space, becoming a spaceship commander, and even chief of space station operations at the International Space Station. Back on Earth, he’d win the Order of Canada, and become a writer, musician, speaker, and college instructor.  Near the end of February, he got the chance to talk to Centennial College’s students, and share his thoughts on leadership, careers, space, life and more. Organized by The Business School, Hadfield skyped into a packed classroom to answer questions and pass on his wisdom. Here’s what this astronaut had to say about life on Earth.

How going to space changed his perspective…

“I went around the world 2650 times, and it gives you a really accurate view of the planet, not someone else’s impression of it. And it made me very realistic about our Earth, how rare it is, how old it is, how tough it is. There’s been life on Earth for four billion years, and the Earth has been through some horrible cataclysms. So it made me realistic, and eternally optimistic. We’ve got serious problems to solve, lots of them. Medical problems, societal problems, climate problems, but we always have. To me, it makes me eternally optimistic.”

On his current ambitions…

“Having done the various things I’ve done, I recognized how much it cost to Canada. It took a lot of money to get me in those places. So I feel a great obligation to not squander it, to let other people share from it. So a large part of what my ambitions are to effectively help other people learn and perhaps make different choices because of the things I’ve done. That’s why I’ve written those books…why I did a master class, why I do television shows, why I teach at Waterloo, and all the other stuff I do.”

His top three tips for starting your career…

“Number one would be, why this career? What is it you want to do? If my life goes perfectly, what would I be doing? Something I used to do to myself is look ahead ten years. If my life goes perfectly, what will I be doing ten years from right now?”

“The second is, in order to be successful, it’s going to take a tremendous amount of hard work. Even if you win the lottery, that doesn’t set you up for life, it doesn’t guarantee everything for you. For now, you’re going to be okay coasting for a few years, but that money will be gone, and what’s really going to inflict itself on you is the life that you’ve built. It’s important to recognize that any success is going to take a huge amount of work of work, and by work, I mean a lot of personal change.”

“The third is, don’t miss your life while you’re preparing for it or executing it. Love what’s happening. Today’s a cool day! We haven’t met each other. This is a neat thing! Every one of you sitting there knows stuff I don’t know and had been places I haven’t been. You’ve learned stuff, and learned how to do things I would love to know. Notice your life, step on your shoulder, look around, and notice what a good time you’re having. Take the time to celebrate the small victories in your life.”

On learning from failure…

“Failure is often just a definition. Right now, I’m baking a cake. But I’m doing it with my four-year-old granddaughter, so the purpose of it isn’t really to get the best cake in the world. If I really wanted the best cake, I would have gone to the best cake shop in Toronto and just bought a cake. Part of the whole idea of doing this cake was to spend some quality time with my granddaughter, to teach her a little bit about how cakes are made, and then to be able to give something handmade by the two of us to my wife. So if the cake comes out terrible, it doesn’t really matter, because it serves a lot of purposes already.”

“But if it fails, then I’m going to try and learn from it. So long as the consequences aren’t fatal, and I work really hard to avoid the things that have serious, irreversible consequences, then it’s just part of life. Failure is almost always a personal definition, and things almost always go wrong. That’s normal.”

On how teamwork should work…

“Whenever I’m with a team, number one, I try and define what we’re trying to accomplish, and make sure that the other members of the team have a shared version of what success looks like. What is the point of doing this thing together? What does success look like, and is that clearly defined in everyone’s mind? Define shared success, and then build a team of people that is mutually supportive. That’s what I do.”

On changing and growing as a person…

“Each of us at every stage of life has a particular set of opinions and values. My four year old granddaughter has very strong opinions and values, but they’re not based on much life experience yet. Some of hers are quite valid, and sometimes she gets an insight that I’ve long forgotten, but most of them are very naïve, and very local. And it was the same for me at various stages of school. My opinions and values were naïve and local. But as I got older, and ran into more failures, more people, and wider diversity of thought and such, then I could build a bigger platform of values to form my opinions on.”

“Each one of you, myself included, is a work in progress. You’re a sculpture that a sculptor still has the hammer and chisel on. Maybe you’re down to the sandpaper phase, but we’re all still just sculptures in work.”

On what he’d tell his younger self…

“Something my wife taught me that I think I’d tell the college version of myself is giving up on your dreams doesn’t come for free. There is a cost to giving up on your dreams, so don’t. Life is long, 27 thousand days. That’s a lot of sunrises. And the option may take ten years, but you never know. And I ran into some horrific setbacks during my life that stopped everything, yet managed to accomplish a bunch of other things too.”

On who he looks up to…

“I look up to most everybody. I look up to people who have made the most of themselves, who have gained a skill, who have good attitudes on life. I look down on people who are lazy, physically or intellectually, or people that have a sense of entitlement that they haven’t earned, or people that aren’t even trying to make the most of who they are. But most people are in the other category, so I look up to a lot of people.”

His closing thoughts…

“The only thing that really matters is what you’re going to do with the stuff that you learned. How are you going to change things for the better for yourself and for the people around you? That’s all that really matters.”

Written By; Anthony Geremia