When thinking of individuals that embody the idea of passion-struck leadership, few come to mind like the bold and brave men and women who fight on the front lines to protect our freedom. Even fewer take that experience a step higher — to the stars. But often what we fail to realize is what got them to that higher step. Often it is the art of now and being in the present moment.
In an incredible interview that will inspire any entrepreneur or leader, I sat down with US Navy SEAL and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Captain, USN, to discuss his journey from the battlefield to the edge of space — and the lessons of leadership that led him there.
Chris Cassidy’s quotes are based on the Passion Struck™ podcast interview I conducted with him in May 2021.
The power of 100% presence at the moment
What makes for a leader who is ready to take on the most dangerous frontiers of our world?
For Cassidy, one of the hallmarks of passion-struck leadership is the ability to maintain a presence in the present moment. From his time as both a Navy SEAL and as a U.S. astronaut, Cassidy’s training taught him:
There’s nothing more important than what you’re doing right now.
Whether you’re on a SEAL mission or in outer space, you could have chaos in your personal life. You could be irritated at your buddy in your platoon. You could be onboard the space station and get distracted by something else.
Suddenly you very easily flip the wrong switch or take an action that can harm the vehicle — or worst case, put people’s health and safety at risk.
Our world of endless internal and external distractions takes us quickly out of our present moment — with potentially disastrous consequences. While you may not be the commander of an international space mission, you may discover you are neglecting your spouse, your kids, or your work.
When we allow ourselves to be controlled by distractions or worries that have no relevance in the present moment, we keep ourselves from achieving passion-struck optimization. Little innovation can occur when we are constantly looking distractedly ahead, behind, or too deep within.
For Cassidy, his training and experience have led him to implement a 100% focus on his present moment. This practice has helped him focus his energies on what can be managed and affected in the present — rather than wasting time on useless distractions.
There could be a crisis that happens right now that could elevate me to go pay attention to that particular problem. But if not, I must pay 100% attention to this very moment.
In an operational environment, you have only deal with the “alligator that’s closest to the boat.” You’re constantly making prioritization decisions on what you got to do immediately, and what you can push off and deal with later.
“Trying Times End”
Whether you are on the battlefield in a foreign warzone or trying to launch your passion into the next great startup, there will be difficult and trying times that make it tempting to throw in the towel.
Cassidy explains that the key to pushing through hard times is to recalibrate your perspective. The key to climbing the hill of struggle to achieve success is to remind yourself that in the present moment trying times end.
In hard times, you have to see your horizon of the future like an elastic band. In good times, you can have that rubber band stretched out further and you can look deeper ahead of your present moment.
But when really get into the thick of it — when you’re just buried in sand and you’re on your 100th push-up and instructors are yelling at you — your time horizon shrinks. It’s too much to even think about getting to lunch, you just have to get through that next set of 10 push-ups.
Cassidy explains that the way to push through even the most challenging moments is to break down your moments into manageable chunks:
I just get to the end of the first phase by breaking the moment up into much smaller chunks. Suddenly you can stretch that rubber band time horizon into little mini-milestones. Get to lunch, get to dinner, and on.
Passion-struck leaders will have moments in their careers when they find themselves face-down in the mud and sand. The pitch fails to impress, the product doesn’t deliver, or the results aren’t what they need to be.
Rather than let those investments fall apart, Cassidy presents another option: create smaller, more manageable milestones in each season that help you push forward from struggle to success.
Being present in community with others
Cassidy’s invaluable experience in both the Navy SEALs and as an astronaut onboard the International Space Station has helped him to appreciate the power that comes with community.
From the earliest days of his SEAL training, Cassidy reflects on how training together in the present moment creates an unstoppable force through camaraderie and support:
[In SEAL training] you’re together for two years… you just get really close and understand how each other operate.
After the course of a two-year workup or while getting ready for a six-month deployment, you almost don’t need to communicate verbally with each other. You just instinctively know who’s flowing where, who’s picking up which task, and who’s going to take care of X, Y, or Z.
Cassidy reflected on the incredible outcomes that training brought to his SEAL platoon and his crew onboard the space station. According to Cassidy, there was rarely a moment when anyone had to confront another team member about their performance or workload.
The peer leadership just pushed everyone to give their best and to perform their best for each other. Even to this day, what I fear most is letting down my teammates.
3 Building Blocks Of A Present Moment Foundation
In reflecting on a storied career as both a Navy SEAL and an astronaut, Cassidy realized that his journey was a story of constantly overcoming adversity at any moment to push forward to his next moment.
As you go through adversity, it makes you more prepared for the next thing that you that you’re going to encounter in life. Each building block and each brick that’s laid in and who you are makes your foundation more stable for the next thing to come.
What are those building blocks that allow you to build a strong foundation? For Cassidy, it comes down to three simple principles for passion-struck leadership:
1. Remaining present in the moment.
2. Remind yourself that “trying times end.”
3. Commit to a loyal community of peers.
These simple building blocks can help you maintain a firm foundation of passion-struck leadership that stands strong — whether you find yourself facing investors in the boardroom or heading into the vacuum of space to fix an emergency ammonia leak.
Want to hear more great content that will give you the knowledge and skills you need to unlock your hidden potential? Watch the Passion Struck podcast every Tuesday and Friday for more inspiring content.
As always: Make A Choice, Work Hard, and Step Into Your Sharp Edges.