She was born on a farm in Iowa in 1960. Her anticipated life course would be to marry a farmer and spend the rest of her life on the farm. Instead, at the age of 57, she has spent more time off the planet than any other American. Every 90 minutes, she circles the earth traveling at 17,500 miles an hour. Yes, she still uses her farming skills to grow cabbage in space.
Astronaut Peggy Whitson started working at NASA in the 80’s as a researcher who supported space missions. In 1992, she became the project scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program. Four years later, she was selected as an astronaut and took her first trip to the International Space Station in 2002. Last week, obscure farm girl to globally known biochemist, Peggy Whitson broke the NASA record of 534 days in orbit. Upon her return to earth in September, she will have been in space for more than 650 days.
In her virtual interview with CNN, she explained that the challenge of living in zero gravity is remembering to velcro everything down. Keeping track of your tools is not simple. If you lay them down, they will float away. She is comfortable working with her body on the ceiling or on the wall — in any orientation. It’s incredibly disorienting to be able to work in all those different positions. As I watched the interview with Dr. Whitson, it struck me that her adaptation is exactly what we need right here on earth — velcro our tools down so that they don’t float away and keep our eye on which way is up.
Many times we uncover really great tools, tips, routines that keep us focused or motivated or at peace but some how we quit using them — they just float away. Or we hear about something that could be fantastic and forget to try it. Whitson velcros her tools to her cargo pants. That may not work for us. Let’s find a system that keeps valuable tools in sight -- a structured morning routine, a community that keeps us focused, an electronic notification that keeps the tools in front of us.
When our lives are fast pace, full of varied responsibilities like family, job, and volunteer work, it’s easy to get disoriented. Everyone seems to need something from us. No one appears to be satisfied. And we have fully spent all of our energy. At the end of the day, we can’t remember which way is up — why are we here and what keeps us moving forward. Staying grounded (moments of silence, affirming yourself and others, practicing gratitude) is the only way to be flexible and comfortable in a number of different places.
Life lessons from Whitson: Velcro your tools down and pay attention to which way is up.