In celebration of National Engineer’s Week, I’d like to share a recent story with you about my first application to the astronaut program.
For those who don’t know, astronaut applications typically open up every four years or so and accept between 8-14 candidates. This year had a record number of 18,300 applicants (the previous record was 8,100 in 1978). This puts my chances for selection around 0.08%. And yet, even knowing I just meet the minimum qualifications, I applied because 0.08% is still higher than 0%.
I’ve wanted to apply to be an astronaut since I was eight years old. I always had this dream of filling out the “perfect” application, repeating as necessary until I finally got my chance. But when it came time to submit my first application I froze, realizing I didn’t know what I really had to offer. Sure I have the necessary degree, but what makes me stand out over those other 18,299 people?
I started to let myself get so discouraged that I nearly didn’t submit anything at all. Here was a job I had always wanted, and I felt like I had nothing to show for it. If it weren’t for my husband’s gentle nudging (who, as it happens, also applied for the program), I may have let that first opportunity I had longed for pass by. I managed to put together the best application I could muster at the moment, and now I’ll play the waiting game with everyone else over the next few months.
I’ve been going over this process again and again in my head the past week, and I realized that I have two ways to look at it: I can either let myself be discouraged or I can use this as an opportunity for growth. Every time I’ve submitted an application, interviewed, or even started a new job, I’ve been filled with anxiety over the qualifications and skills I’ve felt I lacked. And it’s all too easy to start focusing on others and letting envy creep in over their success. But why? Sitting before me now is a list of recommended traits and qualifications, along with a 50+ year history of examples who have been accepted by the program. In fact, I know that most likely four years from now the same position will open up again. So what can I change in the next four years to feel more confident in my application?
This is a challenge before me, one with objectives already laid out, ready to be met. I started by considering skills that most of the current astronauts possess. While they are no guarantee of future success, they are a great stepping stone to pursue a wider variety of abilities. Here is what I came up with:
* Advanced Degree(s)
* Subject Matter Expertise
* Published Works
* Hands-On Mechnical Experience
* Leadership/Project Management Experience
* Multiple Languages (Russian, Japanese, etc)
* Public Speaking/STEM Outreach
* General Health & Fitness
* Swimming/SCUBA Skills
* Flying Experience
Each of these translates in a series of attainable goals to pursue, with a timeline in which to complete them. Now it’s up to me to create cohesive strategies for personal development. There’s nothing stopping me from learning new foreign vocabulary each day or spending time reading up on upcoming aerospace research. And yet the biggest piece of this career puzzle isn’t even on this list: the set of skills that will set me apart from the other applicants. I need to set aside some time to brainstorm what it is that I can uniquely offer. Therein lies the confidence that I need to put forth a successful application. So, while I may not be there yet, I have a plan set in motion for the next four years that will bring me closer to my dream job.
I realize that not everyone reading this has had the lifelong goal of traveling into orbit (or perhaps you have and you’ve just never taken action on it). But this lack of confidence affects nearly anyone who’s ever applied for a job. When we read those job postings and the list of qualifications, we’re provided with a template for success. We may not have everything we need just now, but those skills are worth taking note of because they’re the ones that will get us further in the future. The best way we can approach failure is to use it as feedback on what we can do to improve ourselves.
I wish you the best of luck with your current and future endeavors!
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford
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