So I was having an in depth conversation about what it’s like to be a supposed grown-up with a friend the other day. And I hit on this allegory – which might be especially easy to relate to for almost grown-up people of a geeky persuasion. Here it is, complete with illustrations…
When I grow up…
Every child wants to be a grown-up, mostly so they can be an astronaut. Everyone wants to be an astronaut (or a fireman, or a superhero).
Almost grown-ups definitely want to be an astronaut, because they’re oh so nearly ready for all the challenges and responsibilities (and dangers) that life in space brings.
Real grown-ups however, fall into two categories – the ones who are really astronauts, and those who sit on the sidelines saying that one day they’ll be an astronaut, it’s just not quite the right time yet. They say that they just need something more before they can climb into the rocket, or that the world has let them down in not preparing them for life in space.
It’s not about space or time.
Of course I’m not talking about actually being a real astronaut and going to space in a rocket. I’m just using it as an example of how people 1) say something and actually mean something else and 2) orient their entire lives towards a particular goal and then stall because they’re afraid. It applies to studies, work, relationship, housing – indeed all major decisions that independent adults have to make for themselves.
I’m fairly convinced (after 33 orbits of our sun) that people in the non-astronaut category cannot be made into astronauts, even if they’re given all the space or time in the universe to do it. It might be possible to convert them by just strapping them into a rocket and pushing the big red button, but this post isn’t about coercion.
What does it mean to go to space?
I want to be a grown-up. I want to be independent, to have my own means of supporting myself (a space station, or a space suit, or a rocket, or a job). I want to make wonderful life choices about where I go and what I do and how I spend my time. I have some things on my mission check-list, which includes everything critical from finding enough food to eat to building myself a nice space house and hopefully filling it with a few little space people.
Careers and relationships are two examples of really long term space missions that grown-ups can go on. Careers are the easiest, because you are entirely responsible for where you drive your rocket ship. So many want to be astronauts just sit on the launch pad, waiting and hesitating about pressing the button because they’re afraid of making a mistake. There are a few who total the rocket by crashing it into mountains, the ocean, passing asteroids or even other planets, but provided you’re still breathing you can always buy/build/steal another rocket. Ejecting from your original career rocket after take-off is going to be complicated, difficult and expensive. But the worth of your career isn’t just measured in rocket-fuel, or gold, or money. After all, we spend the majority of our waking hours doing work, so it had better be at least bearable.
Relationships are a more complicated space mission, because you need to select a co-pilot. Once you’ve chosen and sealed yourself inside a relationship rocket, you’ll either be off to the stars together on the voyage of a lifetime, or one of you will jump (or be pushed) out of the airlock at some point. Interplanetary relationship rockets are generally not very spacious, so you’ll have to be good at living on top of each other, especially putting up with everything that’s wrong with yourself and your co-pilot, in order to survive. Ejecting from the relationship rocket after take off is a hazardous process, it’s likely to be dangerous, emotionally challenging, destructive to property and friendships, expensive and time consuming. But if you’ve changed your mind about the destination or your co-pilot, it’s time to hold your breath, blow the escape hatch and jump into the void. Until you find a new co-pilot or a nice planet to live on.
I know many people who want to be in the relationship rocket (or at least say so), but don’t actually want to push the big red button because they’re afraid the rocket will explode on the launch pad, or that ejecting from the rocket at some indeterminate time in the future will be too hard, or some other reason I can’t fathom. That’s fine, but if you don’t really want to be an astronaut, saying you do isn’t cool.
I’m bored already. What’s the point of this post?
- You’ve (probably) always said you want to be an astronaut.
- Be an astronaut.
- The risks are huge, the dangers of failure ever present, but it’s 100% worth it.
The art of being a successful astronaut (or even an astronaut at all) comes down to doing your best, accepting that you might not have packed your favourite flavour of dehydrated ice cream and ultimately, knowing that unless you’ve set yourself on fire in a horrendous space refuelling accident, you can probably recover from whatever mistakes you’ve made so long as you don’t give up.
4. The astronaut who gives up never makes it to their destination.
Galaxy Quest (a totally forgettable movie in many respects, despite an all star cast) has a great quotation – “Never give up, never surrender”.
5. If you get lost, or break down, call a friend.
Just because the figure of a solitary astronaut fighting against the odds is a wonderful romantic vision of human endurance, doesn’t mean it’s a good model to follow. Probably you know some other astronauts that you can call on the radio who’ve had the same problem with their space ship you’re having right now. They are just what you need to help troubleshoot, and or put you up in the shelter of their space ship when yours is about to explode! Equally, if you’re blessed with sympathetic experts (parents) at mission control (home), make use of available resources.
6. It’s the ride of your life, don’t forget to enjoy it!
Because we only get one shot at being alive, so far. All the really cool people I know either are or want to be astronauts. I want to be an astronaut too. Day by day I’m learning how.