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How to Accomplish Your Mission Under Extreme Pressure

Interview with Jerry Linenger

Episode Description

You don’t get to meet an astronaut everyday. They’re really special people who beat terrific odds (less than 1%) to get where they are.

So what an honor it is to have Astronaut Jerry Linenger on the podcast. He was sent on some of the most dangerous and historical space missions of all time. Jerry has faced mechanical malfunctions, fires and system failures all while in space.

While you might not have to put out a space fire this week, we all have faced extreme pressures before. The principles Jerry used to accomplish his missions won’t only work for him. They’ll help you bring a stronger sense of purpose to your business, too — no matter what the odds are.

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#1: Make your luck

Benjamin Franklin said: Diligence is the mother of luck.

Jerry took those words to heart. When he applied, only 10 astronaut candidates would be chosen from a pool of 35,000.

Those are pretty tough odds, but Jerry says you can vastly improve the probabilities.

“Try to do things that might put you at an advantage along the way,” he says.

For instance, he went to the U.S. Naval Academy because that’s where most astronauts graduated from. He also kept building his resume — earning a master’s degree, a Ph.D., and experience in flying jets. He even added SCUBA diving, which is a pretty good indicator of how you might handle a space walk, to his repertoire.

Takeaway: Chances are, as a business leader, you’ve probably got some big dreams for your company that will take some luck to accomplish. Keep ticking the things off that will get you closer to your goal.

#2: Prepare extensively for big moments

Jerry has done some pretty amazing things. He’s flown off the back of an aircraft carrier on a stormy night, handled a triple gunshot wound victim coming into the Detroit Receiving Hospital, and he’s sat on top of seven million pounds of thrust — more than once.

“You find out what you’re made of in those situations,” he says.

How is he able to deliver during these crucial moments?

He points out that you can’t just click your fingers and be ready. It’s all the training you’ve done beforehand that sets you up for success.

“I’m not trying to sound stoic, or brave, or anything else, but when I’m sitting on that rocket, I am as calm as can be,” he says. “I’ve trained hard. I’ve given it everything I could to prepare.”

Takeaway: Your training and preparation will make you successful when you need to be.

#3: Work for a Common Goal

Jerry spent five months working alongside two Russian cosmonauts in the Russian space station.

It wasn’t easy. Their space station, which had a design life of three to five years, was close to 13 years old when he arrived. It smelled like a grandmother’s basement and had a lot of problems.

But he had to push all his complaints aside and keep the mission first. In space, every day is planned out to the minute, Jerry says. He had to accomplish his set of tasks. And so did his crewmates.

“We had no arguments to speak of in five months,” he says.

Why?

They had the same goals as Jerry — colonizing space for mankind and moving mankind forward. Those goals are just too big to allow room for petty differences.

Takeaway: If everyone on your team understands the common goal and what they are expected to do, you can accomplish amazing feats — without drama.

#4: Stay Calm in Tough Situations

Jerry and his two Russian crewmembers faced quite a few challenges: repeated failures of critical life-support systems, a near collision between the space station and an incoming resupply spacecraft, loss of power, and a computer failure that set the space station tumbling uncontrollably through space. And if that doesn’t impress you, they narrowly survived a raging, out-of-control fire that was later described as the most severe fire ever aboard an orbiting spacecraft.

That’s high stress. All those situations were “do or die” scenarios.

So, how did he manage situations like when the oxygen generator broke down and the crew members started to hyperventilate and get light-headed?

As Jerry would float by his crewmate who was working on it, he’d pat him on the back and say, “You’re a good man. You’re smart. I know you can fix that thing. Keep up the good work.”

Takeaway: Losing control in high-stress situations will only hurt your chances of success.

#5: Encourage Your Team

You’d think that someone who has this much drive, poise, and abilities wouldn’t need much encouragement. But one of the biggest surprises Jerry discovered about himself was that he craved an outside source to tell him he was doing a good job.

It sounds crazy, he explains, but when he got a message from Earth that the researcher in the Czech Republic was really pleased with the results of the experiment he did, it lifted his spirits.

“Those words of encouragement do matter to everyone,” he says.

Takeaway: Words of encouragement are easy to give and go a long way. Make a point to compliment your team members on the work they do.

#6: Don’t Celebrate Early

As the end of the five months neared, it became more important than ever to stay focused. Jerry said he worked as efficiently and competently as he could right up to the last minute, because if he let down his
guard, he’d lose steam. Relaxing during the mission just wasn’t an option.

“You don’t sit back on the lead you have. You keep pressing right on until the final moment.”

Jerry didn’t ease up until they docked. It wasn’t until after they equalized the pressures between the vehicles, opened up the hatch, and Jerry moved over to the American space shuttle that he allowed himself to celebrate and relax.

“When I got back on the shuttle, that was a great moment,” Jerry says.

How this applies to your business: Stay focused until the goal is reached. Then, you can start giving high fives.

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Very, very few of us will face the same challenges as Astronaut Jerry Linenger. However, there is so much we can learn from him in preparing for difficult situations and fighting for the success of the mission. If we do this well, we will win in business.

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