How do you enjoy the journey of searching for true love when you’re going through a brutal breakup or divorce?
How do you enjoy the journey when you’re trying to get ahead in your career but you’re working 70 hours a week for a boss who you can’t stand?
How do you enjoy the journey of raising children when your kids are screaming, fighting, and keeping you up at all hours of the night?
“Life is about the journey, not just the destination” is so cliché that it has lost its meaning.
We’re surrounded by clichés everyday.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
“Actions speak louder than words.”
Clichés remind me of traveling to Egypt to see the Pyramids or Rome to see the Colosseum. People overuse clichés to the point that they become meaningless words, just as tourist attractions can become sightseeing nightmares and lose their allure.
But clichés, just like the Pyramids and Colosseum, became popular for a reason. There is truth in clichés, just as there’s beauty in the world’s most popular tourist attractions.
I was reminded of the idea of enjoying the journey and not just focusing on the destination after picking up Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life.
Chris Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut. He’s flown two space missions and served as commander of the International Space Station. He dreamed about being an astronaut since the age of nine and retired after 35 years as a military pilot, engineer, and astronaut.
He says that if he had weighed all his self-worth and success on being up in space, his career would have been a huge disappointment. The amount of time he spent in space was a fraction of the time he spent on Earth training, doing simulations, learning to speak Russian, studying, and moving his family all over the map.
As he says in his book, “Success, to me, never was and still isn’t about lifting off in a rocket. Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not end 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 in itself.”
But it’s not easy for us to enjoy the journey when life gets difficult and challenging. So how do we do it? How do we stay on track?
Here is a bit of advice from the most popular astronaut in Canadian history:
1. Maintain Your “Attitude”
Chris Hadfield says:
“In space flight, “attitude” refers to orientation: which direction your vehicle is pointing relative to the sun, Earth, and other spacecraft. If you lose control of your attitude, two things happen: the vehicle starts to tumble and spin, disorienting everyone on board, and it also strays from its course, which, if you’re short on time or fuel, could mean the difference between life and death.”
“In my experience, something similar is true on Earth. Ultimately, I don’t determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal.”
It’s not always going to be easy to maintain a positive attitude in life. There will be ups and downs; wins and losses. But don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Am I still on the right course?” when things aren’t going so well.
If you’re still on course toward the destination you seek, keep going.
If you’ve veered off at some point, adjust what you’re doing and change your path.
2. Always Keep Learning
At a certain point in his career, Chris Hadfield moved to Russia to become Director of Operations for NASA. Instead of moving into the American townhouses NASA had built, Chris and his wife moved into a Russian apartment building. They learned to speak Russian and got to know their Russian neighbours.
Chris also learned the ins-and-outs of the Russian space agency and how to fly their space vehicle, the Soyuz, even though he knew his chances of actually flying a mission with their technology was almost zero.
As Chris says, “It’s never either-or, never enjoyment versus advancement, so long as you conceive of advancement in terms of learning rather than climbing to the next rung of the professional ladder. You are getting ahead if you learn, even if you wind up staying on the same rung.”
Whether you’re trying to find love, advance your career, or raise children, always focus on the new things you’re learning in the process. What do you know today that you didn’t know yesterday, last week, and last year?
If you don’t enjoy the learning that comes from life and you only focus on climbing to the next rung, it’s going to be a lot harder to enjoy the journey.
3. Be Prepared for Anything
Years ago, Chris Hadfield knew he was going to be a part of an air show in Windsor, Ontario that was scheduled to overlap with an Elton John concert. The promoters of the air show decided to try to get Elton John to cross promote the air show. Then Chris started thinking, “What if he agreed? What if it turned out Elton John was a fanatic about airplanes or, secretly, a space geek—what was the most extreme thing that might wind up happening?”
Chris had a vision of Elton John finding out that he was a guitar-playing astronaut and inviting him up on stage to play something. If that happened, clearly there would be only one choice of song for Chris to play: Rocket Man.
So Chris spent the next few weeks learning to play Rocket Man until he felt competent with it. When the day of the air show arrived, Chris did get to meet Elton John, but there was no invite to come up on stage and play the song he’d spent weeks learning to play.
But he didn’t regret being ready.
As Chris says, “That’s how I approach just about everything. I spend my life getting ready to play “Rocket Man.” I picture the most demanding challenge; I visualize what I would need to know how to do to meet it; then I practice until I reach a level of competence where I’m comfortable that I’ll be able to perform. It’s what I’ve always done, ever since I decided I wanted to be an astronaut in 1969, and that conscious, methodical approach to preparation is the main reason I got to Houston. I never stopped getting ready. Just in case.”
Although I’m not a fan of overused clichés, I have to remind myself that those clichés often contain valuable truths.
As Chris Hadfield says, if you maintain your “attitude,” always keep learning, and prepare for anything that could conceivably come your way, you will enjoy your journey more.
Wannabe astronaut Eric Ibey, over and out.