Book review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield

From the title alone, I can assume more than one of you has the question of why I’m reviewing a book about space travel in a personal finance blog. The answer is simple – it is hands down one of the best motivational books I’ve read pretty much ever. (Though I’m a huge fan of space travel as well, so 😉 )

What’s the book about?

Chris Hadfield was a young Canadian boy when he saw the moon landing happen on TV. He decided that he wanted to be an astronaut as well, which was somewhat problematic – Canada didn’t have astronauts, the likelihood of becoming an astronaut was abysmally small and how do you become one anyway?

The book follows his path of becoming an astronaut, how he prepared for the role of becoming an astronaut even though at start there wasn’t even a pathway for becoming one as a Canadian. He also describes his whole career in the space industry, his life as a test pilot and working at NASA and finally spending 6 months on the ISS becoming an online sensation after sharing on youtube and social media his experiences of life in space. He also did a very famous TED talk about how to solve problems in life and death situations in space, that I highly recommend (I show this to all my students!).

Lessons to learn from the book

Other than the book just being a great read (and you’d think that since I knew that everything went well in the end, the book would be less thrilling to read, but I couldn’t put it down!), there are also great lessons to be learned about aiming high and getting to places that are impossible to reach.

The only way to be prepared for everything is to prepare for everything

Imagine that you’re at a birthday, an older relative’s 90th. Suddenly you’re asked to give a speech for the birthday boy/girl. What do you do? Most people who aren’t extremely extroverted shy away from the offer with answers of “oh, I wouldn’t have anything to say”, “oh, no, not poor old me”. How can one be ready for such events? Take a moment to give a speech in front of the mirror to practice – when the moment comes that someone asks you to give a speech you’ll be able to do it well and others will be impressed.

There are millions of scenarios that can happen to us and the only way to be ready is to actually think ahead in terms of what you’d do in those situations. A lot of people have the dream of being financially independent, which is a great dream to have. However, what would you do if you finally achieved this independence? Not many people have spent that much time thinking about it, and it’s an issue since once you reach your goal you might find yourself stumped as to what you want to do.

Want to be famous? You’d better be giving interviews to imaginary reporters while showering. Want to become a philanthropist who will change the world? Take time to think about how and what you’re going to do. Want to reach that next promotion at work or learn another skills? Make a plan and start following it, so you won’t be surprised when the opportunity arises, since it’s sad to have to say no to an opportunity since you’re not ready.

The power of negative thinking

I must say, this is hands down the best book I’ve ever read that’s clearly explained how my thought processes work. A lot of people tell me that I’m very negative in how my thinking works – that when someone offers out an idea, my first reaction after a moment of deliberation is to explain all the things that could possibly go wrong. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like the idea or I wouldn’t work hard on it, it just means that I want to see all the possible outcomes.

Hadfield writes about this conundrum from his point of view as a person who is responsible for life and death situations. When you’re preparing for space flight every single small thing might cause fatal accidents – just one bolt or one wire might mean the difference between a successful landing and a spacecraft disintegrating upon entering the atmosphere. This means to prepare you have to think of literally every single possibility that might go wrong – in a sense thinking “What could kill me next?”.

Once you’ve isolated all the potential issues you simulate how to react to them – a large part of an astronaut’s work is running simulations for thousands of hours to manage all kinds of potential situations. The reason being that once a situation that causes a problem hits you have to be prepared to deal with it and not be afraid. That’s the key issue – if you don’t know what could go wrong then you’re more likely to be scared of the unknown. If you isolate the potential issues you can start preparing yourself and work on avoiding some of the problems altogether.

This can be transferred easily to investing as well, since for a lot of people investing is largely associated with fear. What happens if the market drops? What happens if I lose x% of my money? Thinking through those issues in detail will help you keep rational once those problems appear. What would happen if you lost 10% of your portfolio value? What about 30%? What about 50%? If you already feel your heart hurt at the thought that you might lose 30% value then you’ve already identified a potential problem situation to work on – either sell at 25% loss, either rebalance earlier etc. Now you have a potential solution instead of being blindly afraid of problems.

Who should read this book?

Honestly, I’d recommend this book to everyone just because it covers space travel in a way that’s very different from what we’re used to from Hollywood movies. How much of being an astronaut is work and how much is glamour of being in space – and how many astronauts prepare for decades and never make it to space and how to live with that idea.

In a stricter sense I’d recommend this to anyone who has big dreams to take a moment to think about all the “what if” scenarios. What if everything happens like I want it to and one day I’m xzy? How to get over the fears that things will never go my way and how to prepare for when things do go my way.

*Did you know that the International Space Station is 109m wide? It’s difficult to imagine it just floating around our planet, no?

2 thoughts on “Book review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield

  1. Thank you for the review. I have had thoughts about reading this book also, as I have been enjoying watching Chris Hadfield videos from Youtube, posts and pictures in Facebook, together with my deep interest into space exploration and science.

    1. I do recommend it! If you’re familiar with him already it’s an even better read due to how much in depth he goes about the whole process of what goes into space travel (especially all the parts that aren’t glorious!).

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