Astronauts were the seminal figures of my youth. Forty-five years ago on July 20 man landed and walked on the moon, changing the way humans literally and figuratively viewed the world. The American astronauts fulfilled the human dream of exploration and, in the midst of the Cold War, showed the world what American ingenuity could accomplish.
Children raised in the late ’60s and early ’70s wanted to be astronauts. In fact, a childhood friend of mine, Garrett Reisman, realized his dream and became an astronaut on the space shuttle.
In many ways, I am still a little boy who marvels at the world. My office is full of photographs of my family. Two other images adorn the walls, both from the time of the Apollo missions.
The first is a photo of a footprint on the moon’s surface. This acknowledges the sheer wonder of putting a man on the moon and serves as a daily reminder that we inhabit a world of limitless possibilities. It fosters my optimism and belief in the future. It passionately drives me forward.
The second image is a photo of the earthrise (earth rising above the moon horizon). The earthrise represents the insignificance of my daily challenges and provides much needed perspective.
Those are some of the messages I take from Apollo missions. But on reflection, there are a few others:
Vision drives success. In 1962, John Kennedy challenged America to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. His speech created both a vision and an imperative. He laid down the gauntlet with a public declaration and deadline. Success could not be feigned.
Clear visions create paths to be followed and challenges to meet. The energy, excitement and results that courageous leadership provides are vital to success. Without risking failure, Neil Armstrong would not have walked on the moon. The same principle holds for each of us in our jobs.
Dream. Belief fuels the possible. As Armstrong said: “The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.” Do not allow yourself to be limited to what has been; accomplish what will be!
It takes a village. The astronauts were incredibly talented, but could not have walked on the moon without the team of engineers, analysts, etc. at NASA who conceived the theories and built the rockets and the craft that took him to the moon. There is always a team that lays the groundwork and partners with or drives our success at work. That does not diminish achievement, it merely puts it in perspective.
Humility. Armstrong, my favorite astronaut, was the humblest of heroes. This is one of the traits of greatness. He held himself to a higher standard and let his actions speak for themselves while recognizing the contributions of others. Instead of seeking fame and fortune he simply went into the background and lived his life.
Unfortunately, the world has changed. Today, the reticent employee or manager may get passed over for a promotion or raise and the self-effacing candidate may not be hired. We live in a world of bragging about our accomplishments and putting others down. Avoid the urge. Give credit to others and rave about your team. It will not only feel good but it is the right thing to do.
Childlike in my passions, I still believe that anything is possible. I owe that to men like Neil Armstrong.
As I wink at the moon and ponder my insignificance, I am comforted by the idea that while a moment of life may pass quickly, what is accomplished in that lifetime can last forever.