I had the pleasure to spend a morning with astronaut Butch Wilmore. Butch just returned from the International Space Station in March. He piloted the Space Shuttle in 2009 and this six-month trip to the space station was his second trip into space.
During the morning Butch talked about his time on the space station and a little about his career. Here are a few lessons that I got from his session.
- Really put your family first. He said he thought his priorities had been God, family, career but if you asked his family before this mission they may have given a different version. This time, during the two and a half years of training and six months in space he tried to change that and make family a priority. He didn’t take work home, he took all the leave allowed, and he took his family with him when he could when he was training in Russia, Germany and other locations. If an astronaut training for a mission can do it, then we should be able to do it too.
- Persistence can pay off. When he decided to apply for the astronaut program, his first application was turned down. He kept applying and finally his fourth application was accepted. How many times have you quit after the first time?
- Don’t fret over things you can’t control. When asked the question, “What did you miss while in space?” Butch replied, “nothing.” He learned that it didn’t do any good to miss a hamburger, his family, or anything else not available on the space station. He couldn’t control those things. How many things do we fret over that we can’t control?
- When you work in close quarters with other people, it is important to get along. Most of us can go home at the end of the workday and get away from our colleagues. On the space station astronauts work and live together for six months in a confined space. They had to work extra hard to make sure they got along. Butch, as station commander, had each person talk one-on-one with each other person once a month. They could tell that person one thing that bothered them about the other person. They other person could only respond that they disagreed or that they agreed and change. He said they also spent a lot of time before going into space going on trips with each other such as canoeing, backpacking, or other activities to develop relationships and teamwork. Relationships and teamwork matter, especially in space.
- As a leader, it is important to remember the people supporting your team. There are several ground control stations around the world that operate 24-7-365 to support the space station. These support personnel have to also work on holidays. Butch and his team would try to do something special for the ground support folks that had to work on holidays. On Thanksgiving, the crew had a turkey calling contest in space and let the ground control stations be the judges. Remember the support personnel that are making sacrifices for your team.
- Be present all the time. With all the distractions of phones and social media today, it is sometimes hard to be fully present at work, home, and even driving for some. Butch talked about how much work and concentration it took during a space walk. You have to think about every little thing you do. There is no putting yourself on auto-pilot in space. Maybe we need to act more like we are on a space walk and be fully present with others.
- The journey is important, enjoy the journey. Butch has been an astronaut for 15 years and only been to space two times. He said the journey has been great. He has met a lot of the people around the world working on the space program. He has seen many of the places that support the program. He couldn’t just focus on the goal of going into space. He has enjoyed the 15-year journey and along the way made it into space twice. I think sometimes we get too focused on the goal and forget to enjoy the journey.
These are not new lessons but it was good to hear them again and from a different context. I hope you will reflect on them and take action where needed. And if you ever go into space, you will be ready.