5 Lessons from a Migrant Farmer Turned Astronaut
If you are wondering how you are ever going to make the massive leap to reinvent your career, you should learn how a Mexican-American migrant farm worker reinvented himself into a NASA astronaut.
Jose Moreno Hernandez was born in California to Mexican parents who worked as migrant farm workers, moving from town to town wherever they could find work. The family annually spent half their time in Mexico and half in the US. José didn’t learn English until he was 12 years old. However, at 10 years old, he saw the Apollo 17 mission on TV and that moment forever changed the course of his life.
Just imagine for a moment deciding in your teenage years that you want to become an astronaut? To dare to dream of going to space is already as bold as it gets, to dare to do so starting as a farm worker who doesn’t speak English is another level of bold and audacious.
As far as I know, there was no book on how to go from migrant farm worker to space astronaut when José got on his journey. That said, there is one now because he has since written the book!
I only recently came to learn of José when I watched, A Million Miles Away, a biopic detailing José’s life, who is played by Michael Peña. As I watched the movie I took away several lessons that apply to pursuing your boldest dreams and reinvention.
Here are some of the lessons I took away from his story.
Reinvention and bold goals take as long as they need to take and it’s always longer than you think.
For José, his goal of going into space took just over 30 years.
According to an interview with him about his acceptance into the space program, he said, “deep inside, I felt like, ‘It was about damn time,’ I felt I had done the work and the preparation to finally get selected but you have to understand over 12,000 people apply for 10-15 positions so the competition is very stiff but I still thought, ‘It’s about time.’”
José stayed the course, and along the way, built a life on his terms. Not only did he reinvent himself into an astronaut, he also raised 5 children and supported his wife in becoming a restaurant owner.
If you fail the first 11 times, try again.
José applied for and got rejected by the NASA space program 11 times before his 12th application was accepted.
Just because you want something, doesn’t mean you’re going to get it the first time you try or even the 11th time. Persistence, consistency, and commitment are keys to achieving your boldest and most important goals.
The key to making this work is to make sure each attempt is better than the last. Always ask how you can improve, what small adjustment or tweak can you make that will make your next attempt better than your last. It doesn’t guarantee success however it moves you closer each time.
Study those who have succeeded at your goal before you.
Ask yourself, “what do they have that I don’t?” This will help you identify what specifically makes up the gap so that you can begin to address each item.
Tony Robbins’ often says, “success leaves clues.” Those who have succeeded in our goals before us have a lot to teach us through their work and results. You can study them and learn from their patterns.
However, also ask yourself, “what do I have that they don’t?” This will help you identify a strong foundation from which to build. In the movie, José’s cousin says to him, “Who better than a migrant to go into space, somebody that knows what it’s like to dive into the unknown.” This was José’s firm foundation.
When you get a chance, take it!
There’s a scene in the movie where José, on his first day at Livermore Laboratories, answers a question in an all-hands meeting that no one answered. Everyone turns to him then back to the senior leader who asked it. The senior leader then directs one of his staff to get Jose an office and get him up to speed right away.
It was a great depiction of taking your chances when they come up. You don’t always get time to think about it, so you have to be ready to jump in before you feel ready. José did exactly that by speaking up.
One sentence from a teacher can make a lifetime of impact.
In the movie, one of José’s teachers, Ms. Young, says to him, “You are a force of nature, nothing will stop you.”
According to a USA Today interview with Jose about the movie, he confirmed that Ms. Young was a real teacher in his life and she was in attendance at his space launch.
In the interview with USA Today, Jose said, “It’s Ms. Young who comes and changes the trajectory of a whole family by spending 30 minutes with my parents and asking them if they’ve considered staying in one place. All that played an important role.”
Who were yours? What did they inspire you to do?