Updated: Oct 17
Chris Hadfield remembers the night his family and most everyone on Stag Island, Ontario, Canada, crowded around a neighbor’s TV. It was 1969. The group watched in awe as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. Right before their eyes, the impossible was made possible.
That was the night Chris decided to become an astronaut.
At nine years old, he knew it sounded crazy. Canada didn’t even have a space program! And Chris didn’t have a manual or mentor to teach him what to do.
“But…just the day before, it had been impossible to walk on the moon. Neil Armstrong hadn’t let that stop him,” Chris reasoned. “Maybe someday it would be possible for me to go too, and if that day ever came, I wanted to be ready.”
Such became his life’s motif, detailed in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. With every aspiration, he would do all that he could to be fully prepared for when the opportunity came to fruition. Just in case.
This mindset served him well, even early on. Without any formal guidance, nine-year-old Chris decided to do what he thought an astronaut would do. Choose vegetables or chips? Sleep in late or get up early and read a book? He realized his choices mattered. “What I did each day would determine the kind of person I’d become,” Chris said.
That one resolution—to follow in an astronaut’s footsteps—ordered the course of his life.
It was behind his decision to become a Royal Air Cadet, earn a degree in mechanical engineering, join the Canadian Air Force, and work as a test pilot. Because that’s what an astronaut would do.
Chris racked up amazing achievements. He went on three space missions, becoming the first Canadian to leave a spacecraft and float freely in space. He lived on the International Space Station for five months, serving as commander. He was also Chief Astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency (formed in 1983); director of operations for NASA in Star City, Russia; and chief of the International Space Station operations in Houston, Texas.
It may seem like Chris’ career path was straightforward. In reality “there were hairpin curves and dead ends all along the way,” he said. “I wasn’t destined to be an astronaut. I had to turn myself into one.”
What does your student dream of becoming? As a homeschooler you have the freedom to support that dream by tailoring his studies and activities to his interests. You can provide a clear sense of direction for moving purposefully forward.
Here are some more ideas to help realize those aspirations:
Grab onto your dream. Everyone needs goals to shoot for. Ask your child what she wants to accomplish and write it down. The list needn’t only focus on the long-term, like a career; it could include things like making the soccer team, acing a test, creating a community project, learning how to play an instrument. Then help your child create a dream board/vision board: Collect pictures from magazines or websites, glue them to a posterboard, and prominently display it. This can stir excitement in his heart and keep his goals at the forefront.
Become competent. Practice, practice, practice. Study, study, study. Skills outweigh wishes. Have your youngster talk to people in his field of interest to find out the skillset he’ll need to develop. Then help him determine what steps he can take toward his goal right now.
Employ the power of negative thinking. This doesn’t mean complaining or pointing out everyone’s mistakes. It involves “anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them,” Chris explained. It’s “actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive.” He attributed his optimism and confidence to this process, as it cut out distractions. It faces the “what ifs” head on, devising a solution to each conceivable negative outcome. With all the possible obstructions addressed, it frees you to focus on the task at hand.
Maintain a consistent attitude. “In space flight, ‘attitude’ refers to orientation,” Chris explained. Losing it means tumbling out of control, which could possibly lead to death. “We never want to lose our attitude, since maintaining attitude is fundamental to success,” he said. The same goes for reaching for a dream, even when it may not materialize. Chris acknowledged that for him, attaining a professional goal isn’t guaranteed because “too many variables are out of my control,” he said. “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.”
Enjoy the journey. Encourage your child to celebrate small successes along the way. Be careful not to think of the process as a burden you must endure in order to reach your goal. “If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time,” Chris warned. The small victories only known to yourself are just as valuable. Embrace the mindset of the NASA support crews, who “know full well that the meaning and significance of [their] work isn’t determined by how visible it is to outsiders.”
Be patient with your progress. Plans don’t always go as expected, so be patient if you need to find a workaround. Chris knows this all too well. Here’s one example:
Aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, ready to embark on his first spacewalk, Chris had a vision of “elegantly [pushing] off into the jet-black ink of infinite space” with music swelling in the background. But he quickly realized that “would not be happening.”
“The hatch was small and circular, but with all my tools strapped to my chest and a huge pack of oxygen tanks and electronics strapped onto my back, I was square. Square astronaut, round hole,” he said. Instead of a fluid exit, Chris had to slowly, awkwardly wiggle out of the airlock.
“It’s the story of my life, really: trying to figure out how to get where I want to go when just getting out the door seems impossible.”
And look how far that’s gotten him!
Encourage your child to follow Chris’ example: Don’t let the impossible get in your way. If your dream matters enough, if it’s really important to you, give it your all. The effort is worth it. And who knows? Your youngster might be the next person to redefine “possible.”
Top photo: Canadarm2, a Canadian built robotic arm installed on the International Space Station in 2001 by Space Shuttle Endeavour astronauts Col. Chris Hadfield and Dr. Scott Parazynski.