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The Easier it Looks, the More Preparation it Takes

I heard Commander Chris Hadfield speak at the HRPA conference last Friday. He commanded the International Space Station last year and developed a worldwide following by posting Youtube videos about life in space. He also recorded a version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity that was watched by ten million people in three days – 21 million to date.

Chris talked about his career and his experiences. He also spoke about the importance of teams having a shared vision, developing deep relationships and investing in exhaustive preparation. He told stories of working with his crew for five years in preparation for their mission. 

At the end of Chris’ talk it was announced that he would be staying to sign copies of his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Hundreds of us bought a copy and stood in line for the opportunity to share a few words with this inspiring man.

After thirty minutes of waiting, a coordinator apologetically said that given the unanticipated high interest to the book signing, Chris would have to leave before everyone could get their books signed. A pre-signed card was offered as a consolation prize. 

To my surprise, forty of the sixty people on the wrong side of the line left. They had just heard a hero talk about perseverance and giving it your best then quickly they took “no” for an answer. 

The twenty, including me, who stayed were a motivated bunch. We reasoned that there was no way a commander of a space station would leave without signing our books, not this commander. The next twenty minutes were spent strategizing and reviewing scenarios – how many security guards were guarding him, which way would he exit, should we get his attention by singing Rocket Man or Oh Canada? Failure was not an option.

We were not disappointed. Once Chris saw the band of twenty he welcomed everyone to join the line. After shaking his hand I asked him if it was a bit overwhelming. I was referring to his popularity but he assumed I was talking about the long book signing. He said, “Absolutely not, I get to meet all these great people.” He made it sound easy.

That night, I watched the Space Oddity video a few times. It was well edited and Chris looked like he spent all of his time in orbit calmly singing, play guitar and floating around a space station. It looked easy.

I searched the Internet for details on making the video. The process started with Chris’ son, Evan, convincing his dad to record the song. Evan rewrote the lyrics so that the astronaut returns to earth safely, a good omen for his dad. 

Chris recorded an initial vocal track on his ipad using Garage Band software. He asked his friend Emm Gryner, a musician who had toured with Bowie, for her opinion. She liked it and added a piano track and asked her friend, Joe Corkoran, to add instrumentation. The song was sent to Bowie, which he really liked. Once his permission was secured and legal requirements were completed, Chris rerecorded the final audio track. 

In his spare time, Chris filmed himself singing and playing guitar in different parts of the space station. After mixing and editing, the video was uploaded to Youtube by his son on May 12, 2012, the day before the commander returned to earth.

What a story, what preparation. Definitely not easy. Phil

On the Air

 I had the pleasure of co-presenting at the DRIVING CHANGE: What does it really take to succeed? event hosted by the Strategic Leadership Forum. It was exhilarating being in front of an audience again. Presenting has been a large part of my career and it felt like home standing in front of a great group of professionals. I also appreciate working with amazing co-presenters and organizers during the months leading up to the session. Being part of an engaged team is a privilege, which I miss. A party of one is not always a party.

Here are the “things to remember” I jotted down after the session:

On the air!

  – Think like the audience
  – It’s about the stories
  – Less is more
  – Pictures are worth a 1,000 words
  – Props are good when used sparingly
  – Different perspectives work really well together
  – Preparation is key
  – There’s so much to learn from everyone

Phil, Sheila Legon, Len Nanjad, and Gail Severini

A highlight happened just before my presentation. Someone I had worked with many years ago had sent an email about me to the leader of the event, Gail, which she read out as my introduction, just like at a wedding. I was blown away by the kindness of the note especially since she had sent it from the US and would have attended with more notice. I am feeling gratitude for my friend from long ago and everyone who made this event a success. Thank you.


Always Be Prepared For Adventure

Preparing for an adventure

There is only so much preparation you can do before it’s time to perform, and I was ready for the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon: injury-free, didn’t forget anything, and at the starting line early.  The first 9 miles of the course was a breeze. I followed my plan including running “10 and 1” intervals, and controlling my starting speed (my nemesis). Then I felt a pin prick of a Charlie horse in my left calf, just like my first marathon six months ago.

Limping with 100 metres to go

I knew what would come next but felt confident because I had been there before and this time I didn’t have shin splints. Just like watching a movie for the second time, my legs atrophied in the same way: at 12 miles both legs got intermittent Charlie horses, at 16 miles both legs got them at the same time, and at 20 miles my legs seized and locked when I got them. When a leg locked I would slow to a limp and would have to smash it on the road to unlock it (like cracking the barrel of a shotgun). The first time this happened, Barb, my wife, saw me and came over to help, which was so caring. At 22 miles, both legs locked, which was like walking on electrified stilts. This pattern went on until I was 400 metres away from the finish line. Then, both legs went into spasms and both tendons pulled my toes underneath my feet (just like last time). When this happens your feet are twice as thick and a third shorter as you are forced to run on the tops of your toes. I don’t know why but an image of Fred Flintstone flashed across my mind. I hobbled across the finish line to cheers and shouts of encouragement. I had finished my second marathon in 4 hours, 8 minutes, and 12 seconds – 1 minute and 48 seconds faster than my goal and 21 minutes and 14 seconds faster than my first one. Mission accomplished!

Well, we do dress alike…

There are many lessons gained from any quest and two stand out about this one: perseverance and preparation. No matter what, you have to keep going and your preparation will pull you through. One of my favourite quotes is from Muhammad Ali: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” It’s as true for this goal as it is for my goal to write a book.

Another lesson I learned a long time ago comes to mind: always appreciate and show gratitude for friends and family (and strangers) who help you along the way – thank you all.  There was a sign along the course that said, “If Oprah could do it, you can.” Thanks Oprah, I did.


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