To Space: Kelly

It takes three ingredients in some mixture to do anything; motivation, skills, and context. Sometimes a minuscule amount is all that matters. Scott Kelly nearly nixed his chance because of a bad mix.

In school, Kelly lacked the motivation. He wondered about those kids that paid attention, “What went through their heads? What could they learn in a classroom that could even approach the feeling of flying down a hill out of control on a bike?”

A terrible student, he mostly daydreamed. In high school he got motivated. “During my high school years, for the first time I found something I was good at that adults approved of: I worked as an emergency medical technician. When I took the EMT classes, I discovered that I had the patience to sit down and study.”

That was a step in the right direction, though not necessarily to space.
Back in a classroom Kelly went back to daydreaming, and now at college, partying.

Then one day during his first year of college he read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. His motivation soared but his skills lagged. In an attempt to catch up he applied to transfer to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy as a legacy student.

Kelly got rejected. Why? His terrible grades.

He applied to SUNY Maritime and got in. There he wrote, “The military discipline came pretty easily for me.” There he had the motivation (I want to be an astronaut), the context (being told what to do), and slowly built up his (academic) skills.

He wrote about his first math assignment, “It was late at night by the time I was done, and I tried not to reflect on the fact that everyone else in my class had probably ripped through the homework in fifteen minutes.”

Things got easier, Kelly worked harder, and eventually become the longest person to serve a single mission in space. All it took was the right mix of skill, motivation, and context. Whenever I find myself lagging on a problem it’s because this mix is off.