Leadership In Action

What’s the Next Thing That Will Kill Me?

November 7, 2013

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I'm Deb- CEO, worldwide executive coach, mentor, consultant and speaker. I'm here to help you take your leadership and impact to the next level!

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I heard a compelling radio interview last week with Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield, who has just written an interesting book called An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.


In this interview, Commander Hadfield talked about FEAR. As you can imagine, being an astronaut is not for the faint of heart. Basically, you’re strapped into a very tight metal box with tons of explosive fuel just beneath you. Then they ignite the fuel!  And off you go at extremely high rates of speed into outer space with fire on your tail. Rivets and shields are twisted and torqued as the rocket violently shakes its way to the outer limits. Once you get into space, you may get to do a spacewalk. While this must be indescribably awesome, it is hard to imagine not having some degree of fear. The Commander talked about the idea that you could be both claustrophobic (from being enclosed in a space suit with your head in a bubble) and agoraphobic (from floating in open space) at the same time.


From his experience in space, he learned some pretty important lessons about life on earth. One of them was how to deal with fear. As leaders, business owners, parents – everyone, really – at some point, we experience fear.


I’d consider Commander Hadfield an expert in this field, so what is his advice for dealing with fear?


Anticipate the Risks.
He says that astronauts are trained to ask themselves, “What is the next thing that is going to kill me?”As hard as it is to think about the risks in very vivid detail, this makes sense. If you know what the risks are, you have already begun the process of dealing with them. If you wait until the equipment fails to identify the risk, it is too late. NASA has manuals full of solutions to every conceivable problem. They’ve spent countless hours thinking about problems – and then formulating solutions. Let’s face it, there is no time to write the manual when the emergency is in progress.


It’s counterintuitive, you know, to visualize disaster,

but by visualizing disaster, that’s what keeps us alive.

– Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield


Dissect the Fear.
Look it square in the eye. Get to know it – then take it apart piece by piece. And deal with the pieces. What may be overwhelming as a whole may be manageable in small increments.


Act on It.
In the face of fear, we have two natural instincts – freeze or flee. But more often than not, the thing you want to run away from is the very thing you should be attacking. Practicing what you will do when faced with the risks you have identified, according to Commander Hadfield, is how you neutralize fear. Being prepared to act – knowing exactly what to do – could very well save your life one day. He says that knowing the right thing to do gives you great comfort.


It’s not like astronauts are braver than other people;

we’re just meticulously prepared.

– Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield


If you’d like to listen to the entire interview, you will find it here:



Oh and one last thing here is Commander Hadfield in the International Space Station singing his version of David Bowie’s A Space Oddity.




  1. Deb, this is so relevant. Sometimes it does take a rocket scientist or astronaut to point out the unique perspecive in which they view the world. I hear so much about risk management these days,yet the focus as you say is from the fear side and not the solution.
    A deep understanding of the risks and the potential solutions is part of every business plan. How did we let ourselves get paralized by the emotional side of fear?
    I have used novel environments in workshops to take participants out of their normal relm of experiences, never into space, yet I’m game and allow them to overcome basic habitual barriers. Examples include a group of national insurance company executives who we put onto a creative ad agency project to develop key values and new products for their insurance. They had to face their normal cultural barriers, yet because it was not in their normal work context, they could allow themselves to be creative and curious. Traits they otherwise had commented they did not possess. Very productive and their ideas were so relevant that they are being implemented.
    Thank you for your article and the great reminder of how perspective shapes our view of risk and the world we live in. Thanks Deb.