Written by Mark Wilkes | Editorial Assistant, European Medical Journal
Many of us look up to someone, whether it is for their achievements, skills, personality, or another reason. In a world of 7.5 billion people, in addition to countless historical figures, there is certainly no shortage of inspiration out there. As part of the Future Leaders course that several members of the EMJ team have been attending, we have been encouraged to shine the spotlight on one famous leader who inspires us and share what we have learnt from them. I’ve picked a leader whose leadership skills are, quite literally, out of this world: a retired astronaut, former commander of the International Space Station, and the 1st Canadian to walk in space. You may or may not have guessed it, it’s Chris Hadfield! Chris wrote the book ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’,1 from which I have drawn these words of wisdom from.
The whole philosophy of this book is easily digestible since it can be summarised in just six snappy words: “Be ready. Work hard. Enjoy it!” If you live by this tenet, you won’t go too far wrong. In the rest of this blog post, I’ll provide some engaging details to help you further understand this idea and hopefully give some greater value for money!
Being ready and working hard are essentially two sides of the same coin. In many, if not all cases, you cannot be ready for something unless you are prepared to put in a bit of hard graft. Admittedly, in some cases, you may find you can get by with a lack of preparation; however, often this is because everything went perfectly. Consider the case of going on a long hike with limited supplies, no waterproofs, no money, and no way of calling for help if anything were to go awry. Yes, if there are absolutely no hiccups, the hike would go smoothly. But if any clouds, whether literal or metaphorical, were to move into view, you might well swiftly find yourself in a great deal of bother. You could not truly say you were ‘ready’ for the hike. This lesson of being overly prepared is something that you can apply to all walks of life, both personal and professional. As Chris notes: “Maybe you’ll learn to do a few things you’ll never need – much better than needing to do something and not being able to.”
A classic example of this overpreparation is when Chris was asked to take part in an air show that was taking place near an Elton John concert. The organisers of the air show took the opportunity and invited Elton John to attend the display. Now, this is where the overpreparing comes in. Operating under the assumption that Elton John would accept the invitation, Chris worked out the next potential ‘worst case’ scenarios. He would probably be introduced to the man himself, who might know that Chris was semi-famous for playing his guitar up in space. What if, knowing this, Elton John decided to ask Chris to join him in playing a musical number in front of everyone at the air show? Having thought about this, Chris promptly decided to teach himself how to play the song ‘Rocket Man’. Now he really was ready for the air show. As it turned out, Chris did get to meet Elton John but never had the opportunity to play Rocket Man with him. However, as well as ensuring he felt like he had prepared properly, it also made for a superb explanatory anecdote!
‘Putting in the hard yards’ is a phrase that often has somewhat negative connotations. It might make you think of slogging away at something or performing undesirable tasks in order to reach some goal in the future. Equally, you may be questioning all this talk of working hard to overprepare for something and wondering why you would want to devote hours and hours to going the extra mile. Well, this is where the ‘Enjoy it!’ aspect comes in. By and large, you should be enjoying what you are doing on a regular basis, as opposed to ‘sucking it up’ as a necessary evil to get to where you want to be. This has a two-pronged benefit: your happiness in the short-term and also in the long-term. For instance, when looking at your long-term goal, there are innumerable factors that are not directly under your influence that will ultimately play a role in determining whether you achieve this exact goal or not. Ensuring you are enjoying every step of the journey should mean that you are content wherever the exact destination that journey takes you. As you might expect, Chris sums this up perfectly, writing: “Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launch pad. You can’t view training solely as a stepping stone to something loftier. It’s got to be an end itself.”
- Hadfield C, An astronaut’s guide to life on Earth (2013), Pan Macmillian: London, UK.