Aiming for Zero
In “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth,” Col. Chris Hadfield says that in new situations people are generally viewed in one of three ways. Based on their attitude and actions, they may be seen as a minus one, someone who is actively harmful and creates problems, or as a zero, which means their impact is neutral. Third, they may be viewed as a plus one because they actively add value to the situation.
Hadfield believes the best approach for success in any situation involves “aiming for zero” because it’s an attainable goal and often a good way to get to a plus one.
What Hadfield is really getting at is the value of humility, and he gives examples in the book of why it’s a worthwhile approach not just in new situations but also in situations where you’re the most experienced person in the room (or spaceship). In fact, Hadfield says “aiming for zero” contributed greatly to his success.
“Two decades into my career as an astronaut, I felt as close to being a plus one as I ever had. And I knew that my best bet of getting the crew to see me that way was to keep on doing what has always worked for me: aiming to be a zero.”
Whether knowingly or not, Hadfield lived out the principle of humility extolled in Scripture.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
The Value of Humility
Hadfield gives examples of where he purposefully worked to make others successful instead of seeking recognition for himself. He also gives advice on how to stay humble or “aim for zero” whether you are the newest or most experienced person in space or on earth.
- Enter a situation without causing a ripple.
- Observe and learn from others.
- Try to learn rather than seek to impress.
- Be teachable. Don’t assume you know everything.
- Try to be ready for anything.
The value of humility comes down to realizing that every act, no matter how small, holds tremendous value when it contributes to the mission. Having a humble mindset where you “aim for zero” not only allows you to contribute to the mission more effectively, but it allows others to do so also.
Hadfield sums up his “aim for zero” approach to humility this way:
“But if you’re confident in your abilities and sense of self, it’s not nearly as important to you whether you’re steering the ship or pulling an oar. Your ego isn’t threatened because you’ve been asked to clean out a closet or unpack someone else’s socks. In fact, you might actually enjoy doing it if you believe that everything you’re doing contributes to the mission in some way.”
In space, the specific mission varies. As Christians, though we carry out our part of the mission uniquely based on our God-given talents, abilities and opportunities, the mission itself never changes.
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Just as each astronaut plays a specific role as well as fulfills general duties on any given space mission, so to do Christians have general and specific roles in God’s mission on earth. As we each aim to complete them with an attitude of humility even though our performance may be a plus one, we avoid becoming a minus one and negatively impacting the mission.