Career Advice Career Books Recommendations

Defying gravity

Astronaut Chris Hadfield shares life lessons in out-of-this-world memoir

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth is arguably the best professional and personal development book of the last year. It took me into hyperspace and back, and the best parts had me cheering out loud. It's a tome of wisdom for working earthlings presented as a memoir, and it soars on both levels.

If you're a YouTube junkie or space-news follower, you may have heard of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. He's the mustachioed dude whose video of his acoustic cover version of David Bowie's Space Oddity - literally recorded in outer space - went viral in May 2013, receiving over 10 million hits in its first three days online. It was something of a gimmick - and a pretty ropey rendition - but a well-conceived idea nonetheless. It's fair to say Hadfield writes better than he plays guitar.

Based on the long subtitle of the book - What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything - Hadfield makes it clear he wants to impart such lessons, making this a unique memoir.

Rather than just recounting his life story in a linear way, the recently retired skywalker discusses what he's learned from each stage of his life and how he's applied these lessons over the years.

If you bought this book because you're a NASA enthusiast, you'll likely be disappointed. This is not space-nerd reading material. It's another kind of work altogether, with life lessons employed as a framework for its three satisfying sections: "Pre-launch", "Liftoff", and "Coming Down To Earth".

Even before he attained YouTube fame - which came with his social-media-friendly commandership of the International Space Station - Hadfield was already a national hero in his native Canada. He's even had an airport named after him (the one that serves his smallish hometown in Ontario).

Life, of course, hasn't always been easy for Hadfield. He describes the trials and tribulations of his space years - particularly the strained family life of an astronaut - with candour.

We read tales of his happy childhood with his large, loving, farm family, the challenging test-pilot years, and marriage and parenthood. And then the book really takes off - with his account of moving with determination through the ranks, and the lessons learnt. Then the missions themselves, and pearls of wisdom connecting life in space with more mundane terrestrial living - the important points are the same in both places.

Hadfield can't stand negativity, and he has much to say on the subject. True to his word, he doesn't have a harsh word for anyone he's worked with.

His evangelising on positive thinking is convincing because one sees cause and effect throughout the book. Hadfield smiles at fate; fate smiles back rewardingly.

He also never forgets his manners. He explains how, from an early age, he sought out and thanked anyone who would part with information or knowledge to help him achieve his goal of becoming an astronaut.

Another lesson he imparts - again by example rather than telling - is the importance of getting one's hands dirty with jobs and tasks others might see as demeaning, but which are important in securing the end goal.

Cynics and the world-weary will find his earnest tone painfully pious at times. But even the most jaded old sod will have to concede that Hadfield makes an excellent case for his zero-tolerance of negativity.

There's very little new under the sun when it comes to professional-development books, and the topics in which Hadfield engages tick all the usual boxes: the importance of setting goals, training, paying attention to the smallest details, staying humble and ready to learn more, and never being a drag on your team, crew or organisation. Most are thrillingly illuminated through Hadfield's own out-of-this-world experiences.

At the core of An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth are the author's accounts of his three space missions, which make for compulsive reading. And, like a constellation, the universal truths that twinkle through his narratives give this book star quality.



Steven Lau is a sci-fi writer who lives in Yuen Long district. On reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he found he shares Chris Hadfield’s views on positivity. He reveals some of his own positivity tips.

The sun will come out “Tomorrow is another day, and in a single day, an adverse situation can turn completely around.”
Mind and body “Negative thoughts do translate into palpable body language. Banish them in business or socially.”
Gratitude “Never forget the power of ‘thank you’.”
Goodness “Look for the good in people, and laugh off their annoying foibles.”
Power vision “Envisage yourself on the podium even before you step onto it.”