Physical training was continuing well and I felt as though I was as fit as I’d ever been. But like most things in life, physical fitness was not the end game. I needed to study for the theory exams that were to occur; theory on physics, aviation, and of course space. With my passion in aviation, many people believed I would annihilate the theory component of the course. However, I was never much of a gun at physics. Whilst the laws of physics intrigued me, having a holistic understanding of the intricate parts of how matter worked didn’t make sense to me all the time. Not to let this be an issue, I put my head in the books and brushed up on my knowledge of all things aerospace.
From my experience, my knowledge gained from purely study is greatly complimented by discussing the area of study with people who know a great deal more than I do in that respective field. To ensure my knowledge had no gaps and had substance I needed to chat to someone who was an aerospace god.
As a senior leader in a school, my girlfriend’s father each year organises a prominent keynote speaker to give a talk at the end of year school speech night and a few months before heading to NASA I was given an invite to attend a casual dinner a couple of hours prior to the speech commencing. The speaker was Matt Hall, Red Bull Air Race competitor and former Fighter Combat Instructor for the Royal Australian Air Force (Australia’s equivalent of the USAF Top Gun School). His flying skills are second to none and I knew his knowledge would be unequivocal.
Whilst we kept the chat casual, we spoke a bit about teamwork and group cohesion. Working well as a team is an incredibly important part of any competition. What Matt spoke of during his experiences in the air force when assessing his students was that those who performed the best as individuals were those who performed exceptionally well when part of a team. What was most interesting was when, talking about tips for outperforming other candidates, Matt mentioned to be resolutely focussed on my own performance as opposed to others. During the lead up, study hard, train hard, and if you get to the actual event and you don’t win, it was because you didn’t prepare well enough or execute your game plan effectively. Understand the competition but overcome them with preparation and sticking to your planned winning strategy, which for me was to be fitter and more knowledgeable than my competition.
Hearing these things gave me a perspective of strategy I had not yet truly considered. Planning how I would win, not just from mental and physical preparation, but picturing myself in that moment of competition. Picturing how I would react to different things, like interim failure or misaligned expectations to what my competitors would bring to the table, allowed me to foresee what other areas I needed to prepare for.
Since meeting Matt, I have put greater emphasis on discussing areas that I believe I have good knowledge in with other people to broaden my knowledge base and garner different perspectives of a topic or debate. This is probably one of the greatest personal developments I gained from the whole space experience to date. With the competition around the corner, it was time to prepare, pack, and get a haircut… I was off to NASA!