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Reflections of Astronaut as He Circled Around the Globe

By Allison Zmuda

As I read the next installment one of my favorite blogger’s writings (Shane Parrish of Farnam Street), he  shared a brief excerpt of an insight astronaut Chris Hadfield gained when he was in outerspace. I was intrigued by his comment: If you view crossing the finish line as the measure of your life, you’re setting yourself up for a personal disaster. Curious (and curiously late to the party as it may be old news for most of you), I spent much of the morning researching who he was, his perspective on life, and what he considers as worthy accomplishments.

Commander Chris Hadfield has done two spacewalks, which is the equivalent of being outside about 15 hours or ten times around the world. He had rockstar status because of how he engaged the world through social media — both creating YouTube clips as well as regular Twitter posts about his adventures.

Other insights from Commander Hadfield in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross:

  • “The contrast of your body and your mind inside a little one-person – essentially, a one-person spaceship, which is your little spacesuit, where you’re holding on for dear life to the shuttle or the station with one hand, and you are inexplicably in between what is just a poring glory of the world roaring by silently next to you, just a kaleidoscope of it. It’s just – you – it takes up your whole mind.”
  • “It’s like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen just screaming at you on the right side. And when you look left, it’s the whole bottomless black of the universe. And it goes in all directions. It’s like a huge, yawning endlessness just on your left side. And you’re in between those two things and trying to rationalize it to yourself and trying to get some work done.”
  • “But when you look outside, when you look through your visor, you are standing on nothing, with 250 miles of emptiness between you and the world.”

And in a video clip where he answers questions from silly (being interviewed by Star Trek actors in character) to scientific advancement (overcoming osteoporosis for future space flights) to profound (insight when looking down at the Earth)

But it is leading up to this moment where he offers advice to anyone who is pursing a dream. Again, Chris Hanfield:  You need to honour the highs and the peaks in the moments — you need to prepare your life for them — but recognize the fact that the preparation for those moments is your life and, in fact, that’s the richness of your life. … The challenge that we set for each other, and the way that we shape ourselves to rise to that challenge, is life. 

It gives clarity that how we all inhabit the earth — how we treat the environment, how we connect to one another, how we contribute to something of value — can be measured through daily actions. Working hard for a glorious moment (which may never come) is very different from working hard in the moment to pursue a passion, a calling, a meaningful existence.