Chris Hadfield has intercepted Russian bombers during the cold war, pushed the limits of fighter jets as a test pilot and captained the International Space Station. He also somehow found time to become a social media celebrity and record the first ever music video in space in his spare time. He has been a champion for space exploration and inspired a new generation to appreciate the work of Nasa and Roscosmos (the Russian equivalent). Luckily for me, his most recent achievement was to become an author and publish his extraordinary life story; so without delay, here are the top ten things I learnt from Nasa and rock star astronaut Chris Hadfield:


Dream big:

While Neil Armstrong was taking his first steps on the moon, a nine year old boy on a farm in Canada watched the grainy picture on his television and decided that one day he too would be an Astronaut.  The main problem at that time was that Canada didn’t even have a space program and there were no such thing as Canadian astronauts.

Despite this, Chis pursued his dream with tenacity, doing whatever it took to create and fulfill his goal. Over the next 27 years of his life he crafted his choices and worked hard to ensure he was the best he could be. When the first ever Canadian astronauts were selected, Chris was already well on his way. And when his chance finally came, he beat thousands of Canada’s brightest and most talented, to take his place on a shuttle into space.

Chris’ dream would have seemed impossible at first, and for years the smallest thing could have ruined his chances. However, all this did not faze him; he worked hard, remained humble and thought of going to space as an incredible bonus.

POINT – Even if at first there seems to be too many obstacles, take the first step and face each one as it comes and enjoy the journey. The world needs to be full of people doing what they love and are passionate about. Without the people who dream to achieve the impossible, all progress would stand still.


What would an astronaut do?

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When Chris set his dream to become an astronaut, there was no path to follow and no book to guide his decisions: his dream wasn’t actually possible yet. So to make up for this he used one simple question to guide his decisions: “What would an astronaut do”. When faced with a plate of food he decided to eat all his vegetables, just like an astronaut. When it was homework time, an astronaut would work hard and knuckle down. And when he chose a career, he chose one that gave him the basic skills an astronaut would probably need: the skill to pilot high performance vehicles in extreme situations.

POINT – If you do not know the route to achieve your goal, just keep learning and working hard in the right approximate direction. Like hacking through a jungle while trying to reach a mountain – as long as you keep the mountain in view, you can work your way around the swamps, rivers and jaguars in any direction knowing you are still on course.


Be Prepared:

Chis spent weeks learning to play a perfect cover version of ‘Rocket Man’ when he was told he was visiting Elton John at a festival. There had been no suggestion that he would get a chance to play or even appear on stage. However, as an avid musician as well as talented test pilot, this would be a dream come true. Just in case the most unlikely happened and Elton suggested they sing together, he made sure he was not only ready to perform, but ready to perform flawlessly. He did meet Elton but sadly did not get the invite to play. That didn’t matter, not every opportunity will open up the way we hope. You will never regret being ready but you certainly will regret seeing a ‘one in a million’ chance open up when you are not properly prepared to grab it.

POINT – You never know when great opportunities are going to sneak past you or jump out at you. You also never know what that opportunity may be, so being prepared is not as simple as just revising for an exam on a specific date (not being prepared in this situation is just lazy).  Being prepared is looking positively at each and every good thing you could get out of a situation that may be presented to you – no matter how small – and then doing everything you can to prepare and be in the best position to capitalize on that opportunity.


Do not be ashamed of failure:

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Or as entrepreneur Peter Jones says, “there is no such thing as failure, just feedback”.  Life is just one big experiment and failure is just a lesson in what not to do next time.

For a test pilot, failure is so important that it is part of the mission. During his time as a test pilot, Chris’ job was to take fighter jets to unexplored heights and speeds to find their limits. This often involved pushing the aircraft till he lost total control and then calmly working to regain it and provide feedback that would help to build the ‘user guides’ for future pilots. As an astronaut, mistakes are openly dissected by whole teams of people to find out why they happened and how to prevent them happening again. Astronauts will openly discuss mistakes they made no matter how stupid they may seem; whether that is the wrong button that could have ruined the mission or the tiny oversight that could have killed one of their team.

POINT – We should break down our mistakes; analysing them and ultimately learning from them. Most importantly you should be honest with yourself and not make excuses. Be cold and objective. Just as in a maze, every wrong turn helps to identify the right one.

Relish opportunities to learn and never stop improving:

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Humans have a natural thirst for knowledge, understanding and mastery; we feel great when we master a new skill. Just look at how addictive computer games can be, when all they do is present increasingly difficult problems to solve or skills to master. However, imagine if ever gamer transferred this focus and tenacity into learning skills and acquiring knowledge that would improve themselves.

The journey to becoming a space walking rocket man is almost completely made up of learning. Anything from learning how to use, fix and maintain new equipment – to learning to speak fluent Russian to communicate with colleagues across the globe. Even after being picked for your first space flight and then returning from your first successful mission, you are not exempt from the relentless flow of information you need to consume. For Chris it was about making sure he remained the sharpest, most reliable and most experienced astronaut. When you work in a room full of naturally talented over-achievers, you have to do all you can just to keep up.

POINT – In our pursuit of great goals and achievements, learning is what will make everything possible. A good start is to schedule a time in your day, everyday, to read. Read on the train to work, listen to audio tapes in your car or wake up a little earlier to fit in a couple of chapters before work. Also taking up new hobbies like Einstein and his violin or Chris and his guitar will help you to grow. Learning a variety of different skills will keep you sharp and well rounded.


Have people around you that support your goal:

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An astronaut’s work load is never ending; they are constantly training, learning and working endless hours. They may move home regularly and be posted anywhere from Florida to Russia. Chris would spend weeks on the road and away from his family and spent 6 months not even on earth: in the International Space Station.

When dreaming big and working hard to achieving your goals, you may notice that this can consume vast amounts of time. Especially when you are passionate about something, time flies by and it is often all you can think about. Time is the most valuable commodity; when we give time to one thing, we are often taking it away from another. This can take a toll on your relationships as family and friends may feel less valued. It is important to make sure you are surrounded by people that support your goals and understand the decisions and sacrifices necessary to make it a reality.

POINT – It is important to dedicate whatever time you can to family and friends, even if it means blocking an hour, a day or a week on your work calendar. During this time focus fully on them and what is going on in their life rather than your ‘super important and interesting project’.  You need to show gratitude to them for their understanding and support. These people are the ones who support you through tough times and momentary doubts, they will drive you to be your best and hopefully still be there when you come out the other side, whether you are successful or not.


Plan for every circumstance:

Astronauts take part in countless simulations (sims) that replicate potential or live situations in space. They often take place in a large swimming pool or full scale capsule replicas. They are a way to find problems and solutions, like a dress rehearsal for real life. They even verbally walk through the process that will take place if the astronaut dies on a mission. Over a boardroom table, they go through every detail, from who tells the family, to how the wife will break the news to their children and what she needs to do next.

These sims expose all kinds of issues and pitfalls that had not previously been considered. The same theory can also be used in your work, business and most life decisions. You just need to work through the different outcomes either in your head, on paper or on a whiteboard with colleagues. Follow each scenario through until the end; identifying issues and trying to come up with ways to prevent each one.

POINT – Being prepared for the worst scenario is just as important as being prepared for the best e.g. what if things go better than you thought and your company cannot scale up fast enough? This could be the next thing that kills your company.


What’s the next thing that could kill me?

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In the case of an astronaut, this is quite a literal statement, but us mortals on earth can apply this to many areas of our life. What’s the next thing that could kill my business, my goals, my relationship or maybe literally me too.

POINT – In space, something as small as a leaking valve can begin a trail of events that rapidly accelerate, until it can all be over. For us, we need to keep an eye on the small things and stamp out issues or bad habits before they get out of hand.

For example: that small issue in your relationship, a gradual slip in the quality of your diet (or growing gut), a constantly negative member of your team, a small injury that has been bothering you for a while etc. Sometimes apparently small issues can eventually become fatal.


Aim for Zero:

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In a team you can be a -1, a 0 or a +1:

  • -1 is a hindrance or burden to the mission.
  • +1 is an asset to the team and someone who really brings a lot to the table.
  • A Zero is neither an asset nor a liability… zeros are simply a contributing member of the team.

Always aim for Zero when you are new to a team, listen, observe and learn. Keep an air of quiet confidence and competence. Do everything you can to execute every job you are given expertly well. Make others see you as a trusted, solid and reliable contributor, where no task or person in the team is below you. By being humble about your abilities and not being boastful about achievements, you may well eventually be viewed as a +1 by the rest of the team.

If you choose to barge into a group situation shouting about your abilities, with a feeling of being better than others and believing that some jobs are below you, there is a high chance you will actually be viewed as a liability, as bossy or selfish and place yourself in the -1 category rather than the +1 you were aiming for.

POINT – This point may seem to go against my usual message of trying to be the best you can be and to be extraordinary, however this actually supports that point. The key to being a ‘+1’ is to prove your worth with actions, integrity and hard work rather than with big words and showing off. Be humble and aim for zero and you will become an effective team member and leader…. And a valued +1.


And Finally: I learnt that it is always a good idea to have a moustache and play guitar…

Astronaut Chris Hadfield Space Oddity
Astronaut Chris Hadfield Space Oddity

You can read Chris’s full story here:



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