To me, it's simple: if you've got the time, use it to get ready. What else could you possibly have to do that's more important? Yes, maybe you'll learn how to do a few things you'll never wind up actually needing to do, but that's a much better problem to have than needing to do something and having no clue where to start.
Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you'd be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don't let life randomly kick you into the adult you don't want to become.
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I wasn't lonely. Loneliness, I think, has very little to do with location. It's a state of mind. In the centre of every city are some of the loneliest people in the world. If anything, because our whole planet was just outside the window, I felt even more aware of and connected to the seven billion other people who call it home.
My optimism and confidence come not from feeling I'm luckier than other mortals, and they sure don't come from visualizing victory. They're the result of a lifetime spent visualizing defeat and figuring out how to prevent it. Like most astronauts, I'm pretty sure that I can deal with what life throws at me because I've thought about what to do if things go wrong, as well as right. That's the power of negative thinking.
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For the last several years and culminating in six months in orbit next year, I've been training for my third space flight. This one is almost in a category completely different than the previous two, specifically to live in on the space station for six months, to command a space ship and to fly a new rocket ship.
One Chief Astronaut used to make a point of phoning the front desk at the clinic where applicants are sent for medical testing, to find out which ones treated the staff well-and which ones stood out in a bad way. The nurses and clinic staff have seen a whole lot of astronauts over the years, and they know what the wrong stuff looks like. A person with a superiority complex might unwittingly, right there in the waiting room, quash his or her chances of ever going to space.
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Still, I also know that most people, including me, tend to applaud the wrong things: the showy, dramatic record-setting sprint rather than the years of dogged preparation or the unwavering grace displayed during a string of losses. Applause, then, never bore much relation to the reality of my life as an astronaut, which was not all about, or even mostly about, flying around in space.
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In any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn't tip the balance one way or the other. Or you'll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value. Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you'll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform.
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When you have some skills but don't fully understand your environment, there is no way you can be a plus one. At best, you can be a zero. But a zero isn't a bad thing to be. You're competent enough not to create problems or make more work for everyone else. And you have to be competent, and prove to others that you are, before you can be extraordinary. There are no short-cuts, unfortunately.
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.
Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It's about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others' success, and then standing back and letting them shine.
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It's not enough to shelve your own competitive streak. You have to try, consciously, to help others succeed. Some people feel this is like shooting themselves in the foot - why aid someone else in creating a competitive advantage? I don't look at it that way. Helping someone else look good doesn't make me look worse. In fact, it often improves my own performance, particularly in stressful situations.
Our training pushes us to develop a new set of instincts: instead of reacting to danger with a fight-or-flight adrenaline rush, we're trained to respond unemotionally by immediately prioritizing threats and methodically seeking to defuse them. We go from wanting to bolt for the exit to wanting to engage and understand what's going wrong, then fix it.
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People tend to think astronauts have the courage of a superhero - or maybe the emotional range of a robot. But in order to stay calm in a high-stress, high-stakes situation, all you really need is knowledge. Sure, you might still feel a little nervous or stressed or hyper-alert. But what you won't feel is terrified.
The Nile, draining out into the Mediterranean. The bright lights of Cairo announce the opening of the north-flowing river's delta, with Jerusalem's answering high beams to the northeast. This 4,258 mile braid of human life, first navigated end-to-end in 2004, is visible in a single glance from space.
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The world, when you look at it, it just can't be random. I mean, it's so different than the vast emptiness that is everything else, and even all the other planets we've seen, at least in our solar system, none of them even remotely resemble the precious life-giving nature of our own planet.
A lot of people live in fear because they haven't figured out how you're going to react when faced with a certain set of circumstances. I've come to terms with this by looking deeply into whatever makes me fearful - what are the key elements that get the hairs up on the back of my neck - and then figuring out what I can do about it.
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The International Space Station is a phenomenal laboratory, an unparalleled test bed for new invention and discovery. Yet I often thought, while silently gazing out the window at Earth, that the actual legacy of humanity's attempts to step into space will be a better understanding of our current planet and how to take care of it.
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The best simulator for spacewalking is underwater - it allows full visuals and body movement in 3D. Virtual reality is good, too, and has some advantages, like full Station simulation, not just part. Like all simulators, they have parts that are wrong and misleading: an important thing to remember when preparing for reality.
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Every single thing that you learn really just gives you more comfort. It's something I counsel kids all the time: if someone is willing to teach you something for free, take them up on it. Do it. Every single time. All it does is make you more likely to be able to succeed. And it's kind of a nice way to go through life.
'Boldface' is a pilot term, a magic word to describe the procedures that could, in a crisis, save your life. We say that 'boldface is written in blood' because often it's created in response to an accident investigation. It highlights the series of steps that should have been taken to avoid a fatal crash, but weren't.
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Some of the greatest reality television we ever had was the moon landings. When you think about it, that was human emotion and people, unscripted, working with each other - and millions and millions of people around the world, glued to their television sets to share real-time in a brand new, fascinating human experience.