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How bold vision unlocks motivation

What happens when you mix inspiration with determination? Magic.

4 min read



Achieving your greatest dreams will require more than just motivation, according to engineer and retired NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman.

“Inspiration alone is not enough,” Reisman said. “It has to be coupled with determination.”

Reisman, who flew two space missions with NASA before leaving the agency in 2011 for spacecraft designer SpaceX, delivered the closing keynote address at ASCD Empower17. In his speech, Reisman offered practical ways we can nurture inspiration and determination to keep our students — and ourselves — focused on our goals.

Dream BIG. We are not inspired by small, incremental steps, according to Reisman. “It’s not about improving market share by 5 percent next year,” he said. “Nobody ever gets super inspired by a goal like that.”

You need a big, bold, audacious vision, Reisman said, referencing SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s desire to establish a colony on Mars. “It’s bold. It’s audacious. It motivates everybody. It unlocks the energy of the whole team,” he said. “Challenge students with something incredibly difficult — something difficult to even suggest. It’s the most powerful thing you can do for your students.”

Ignore discouragers and get after it. Early in his career, as he was interviewing for astronaut training, he spoke with another astronaut about the preparation process and job. The astronaut, a tall man, laughed in Reisman’s face and said that his size would make it impossible for him to become an astronaut. “This guy was squooshing my dreams; he was stomping on my dream,” said Garrett. “That’s not cool.”

Reisman did not let the astronaut’s words deter him. He set out to make his dream happen. He began training, and when his size made traditional training methods difficult, he changed his approach. He experimented, using tools and equipment differently, to make it work for him. His relentless efforts paid off. He eventually participated in two space walks. The taller astronaut, however, never made it into space.

“If someone tells you that something’s impossible, don’t take that as discouraging,” Reisman said. “Take that as an inspiration; take that as a challenge, and just go do it.”

Keep your goal in front of you. Find tokens of inspiration to help keep you focused on what you want, Reisman advised. After making his career decision, Reisman went to Penn’s bookstore and bought a poster of the “Earthrise” photo taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders. The poster, which hung above his desk in his dorm room, served as a constant visual encouragement.

“Whenever I was having a difficult time — whether it be preparing for final exams or doing my senior class project — I always has this in front of me as a beacon,” he said. “The idea was that I always had my goal in front of me.”

Put great people around you. Surround yourself with bright, talented, creative people, Reisman suggested. They will keep you motivated. His talk included video clips from SpaceX’s inaugural rocket launch and landing. The video showed the offices at SpaceX erupting in cheers and tearful celebration when the rocket successfully landed back on Earth. Reisman hadn’t worked with the team involved with landing the rocket, but he was nonetheless charged by the successful mission. He found himself reinvigorated and eager to return to work.

“Just being part of that team was so energizing, so wonderful, so inspiring,” he said. “That’s the type of magic that happens when inspiration and determination come together.”

Kanoe Namahoe is the editor for SmartBrief on EdTech and SmartBrief on Workforce.


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