Kacper Niburski
The Silhouette

When I was eight, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. As a boy with a flawless mushroom cut, a wide-set grin, and teeth that could make a jigsaw puzzle look straight, I was insatiably interested in the world. I wanted to learn and learn and learn in that order, and on one particular day, a new word I had just discovered tickled the tip of my tongue. “I don’t want to be mediocre.”

Admittedly I didn’t understand the implications of that sentence because I fumbled around for the next eight years of my life as children are poised to do. Yet part of me still believes that I don’t fully comprehend the importance of my answer to this day. More often than not, one can find me collapsed in my bed mindlessly squawking at videos online or tearing through another bag of chips for an inexplicable all-nighter.

After four years of an undergraduate career that has bordered on eclecticism, this indolence may very well be the cost of pursuing multiple interests. We get burdened with everything we have to do, and we slowly start conforming to the idea that maybe normal would be alright for a change because at least we wouldn’t stick out and we’d be like everyone else, and hey, that way we’d belong after all. Then we’d get a career, have a family, and we’d work, and work, and work.

Then boom, just like that some forty or fifty years later as the world keeps spinning and people keep doing, feeling, and wearing funny hats, we’d die, and that would be that. In life, in death, and in between, we’d be mediocre and that’d unperturbed streamline would make us happy.

But as I recently read Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life On Earth, I found myself caught in an avalanche of harsh reality checks and constantly being reminded of my childhood ambitions. Because while much of the book is rife with tales of space exploration, the nitty-gritty details of otherworldly experiences, and the tedium of being an astronaut, it is more about not letting, as Chris said, “life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”

Written almost entirely in the spirit of an average Canadian voter – one who would drink Tim Hortons coffee and wear a Leafs jersey (both done in the ISS) – Hadfield recounts how his entire life was built upon the possibility of being an astronaut, rather than on the idle expectation of it. As a boy watching the Moon landing on a grainy television set, Hadfield understood that despite dreams that soared into the night sky his chances of selection to rocket into space were slim to none. So rather than see success above all else, he visualized failure, and as a result could steer away from it.

Much of the book continues on this 180-degree shift from conventional wisdom. Hadfield sweats the small stuff to the point of obsession. He embraces negative thinking, constantly thinking about what could go wrong and how he would react to it. And he thinks about defeat rather than the end goal of triumph as a way to develop confidence.

While almost counterintuitive, this astronaut-think led him to be one of the most seasoned and accomplished pilots in the world. He was the top graduate of the U.S Air Force Test Pilot School in 1988, U.S Navy test Pilot of the year in 1991, Director of NASA Operations, Chief of Robotics for NASA, and Commander of ISS just to name a few accomplishments. As Chris says, “A funny thing happened on the way to space: I learned how to live better and more happily here on Earth.”

Humbly told and filled with hilarious anecdotes from the dangers of crying in space to trying to be a better father here on Earth, Hadfield reminds us that while Earth and space may seem different, they are part of the same whole and both relate to each other almost symbiotically. As species knee-deep in the cosmos, we can affect both by trying to live ensure that “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.” We do not need rewards. We need to feel good and competent about ourselves, what we’re doing, and how both relates to others.

Hadfield’s perspective, nuanced by his experiences in space, reminds us – or me at least – that to live idly is not to live at all. Gravity may feel like it weighs a ton sometimes. It may be overbearing. You may want to just crumble in your bed and open up another bag of chips.

But to acquiesce it is not the answer for there are places in the universe where humans can float free. To get there you’ll have to face an army of hardships. People will pull you down. Work will suffocate you. Success will always seem to be amiss. And it will go on like that for a long time because it’ll be the hardest thing in your life. In fact, it’ll make your life.

But this, Hadfield highlighted throughout his book, is what makes it worth it because the very thing that makes it hard, that brings you to the edge and almost makes you topple over, gives you a view few have seen before, and boy does it look beautiful

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