Pursuing Your Dreams with Curiosity and Passion
Pursuing Your Dreams with Curiosity and Passion
[Abigail Harrison a.k.a. ‘Astronaut Abby’ aspires to be the first astronaut to Mars. With big dreams, it takes setting goals and working hard each day to make them a reality.]
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an astronaut. What most people don’t realize is that the route towards accomplishing this dream is long, and it looks different for each person. Over the past decade, my pursuit of becoming an astronaut and someday walking on Mars has led me around the world and included experiences such as skydiving, flying planes, public speaking, advocating for STEM/STEAM education, running a non-profit, dancing, running marathons, hiking, scuba diving, rock climbing and more. Along the way I’ve learned a lot about what drives us to pursue our passions, how curiosity can push us past our comfort zones, and the important role that exposure to STEAM at a young age can have on all of this.
Fueling Dreams with Passion
Years ago, when I was first deciding how to go about accomplishing this huge dream, I did a lot of research on previous and current astronauts. I was hoping to find concrete steps to follow that would help me get to where these astronauts were. I read countless online articles, astronaut biographies and other books. I watched interviews, and even had the fortune to talk to a couple astronauts in person. What I found was that there were very few distinct and concrete steps that could be taken; it seemed each of these astronauts had carved their own path and honestly had very few things in common. But what they did share was a commitment to continued education, a strong work ethic, and an unexpectedly diverse set of past experiences.
I learned that astronauts need to be “Jacks (and Jills) of all trades.” In space, there is a very limited number of people working together in a very small space (around six people on the International Space Station), and as such, everyone needs to hold multiple specialties. It’s not enough to be the astrophysicist. You also need to be the plumber, the doctor, and the electrician, etc. Having a highly diverse set of skills and experiences is vital to the success of human space travel. As such, I decided that I wasn’t going to limit myself to the experiences that I thought would help me become an astronaut, because I don’t really know what will be needed in the future. Instead, I set out to pursue things from all across the board.
It was through this pursuit of wide-ranging experiences that I discovered how intricately connected STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects are with the arts, and learned not to shy away from the arts just because I am pursuing a career and a goal which is more traditionally associated with science and math. I consider the experiences I’ve had in the arts - whether it’s playing violin or dancing or painting - to be just as valuable as the research expeditions I’ve participated in or the degrees and licenses I’ve earned. The reason I am able to continue to commit myself fully to STEM is because I have found a respite in art.
Any long-term goal, and especially a goal as far-reaching as someday walking on the surface of Mars, needs to be looked at as a marathon, not a sprint. An important part of marathon training is to pace yourself and participate in a diverse set of exercises; this helps avoid injury and maintain drive. Similarly, long term goals require pacing yourself and developing diverse actions to avoid burning out before you accomplish the goal. I strongly believe that engaging in passions that may seem to have little to do with your long-term goal, such as the arts, helps avoid burnout. Keeping the “A” for “art” in STEAM is not only important because the arts give us a break from what can sometimes be a long road in STEM, but also because they play unexpected and valuable roles in improving our skills and abilities in STEM. The arts teach us how to be creative and to think outside of the box. Without these skills, STEM fields will stagnate.
Fueling Dreams with Curiosity
I was driven to embrace many different passions not only by the knowledge that my future as an astronaut could require anything, but also by an extremely supportive parent who fostered curiosity in my sister and me. My mom is an entrepreneur and adventure-seeker and has always encouraged the same in me. She always valued that my sister and I have a variety of experiences in life and encouraged us to try everything possible. I’m an explorer by nature and have always been interested in the “how”, but I believe that having this support from a person of such importance in my life helped me to never lose this curious nature. I think all people start life as explorers and it’s important as we grow up that we foster and encourage this explorative spirit, to never lose the desire to try new things, learn, and grow. My desire to explore constantly pushes me outside of my comfort zone.
Stepping outside our comfort zones is absolutely essential to instilling in the upcoming generation this curiosity and the ability to pursue their dreams. Being curious about new things forces us to try them. Over this past decade of trying dozens of new things, I have developed a shift in my thinking; I have learned to not expect to be good at something on the first try, after a year, or even ever. Trying something new isn’t about being good at it, it’s about learning from it, having experiences along the way, and becoming a well-rounded individual. Understanding that the goal is not perfection has helped me to not be afraid of failure. If you expect perfection every time you step outside of your comfort zone, the inevitable failure you will face (because nobody is good at everything - you will fail at something eventually) will stop you from stepping outside and trying new things in the future. Trying new things is about learning to be okay with not being the best and recognizing the importance of doing them anyways.
My Advice for Pursuing Your Dreams
From dipping your toes into a local science fair, entering the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, searching for a mentor, or creating a nonprofit like The Mars Generation, I would like to leave students and any other curious folks with a few pieces of advice on how to take the first steps towards whatever you’re interested in. I recommend starting out by being loud and proud about your dreams. Talking about what you’re interested in is important for many reasons, but the big ones are increased self-confidence and giving others the ability to know how to help you accomplish great things.
Next, do your research! Utilize all available resources to learn everything there is to know about your dream or interest. A great place to start is with a simple Google search. You can use that as a baseline to find other resources such as other people’s experiences, professionals in the field, and new opportunities (such as the 3M Young Scientist Challenge!) Both talking about your dream and researching how to achieve it should help jumpstart your search for community and mentorship, which I consider two key factors in every dream becoming a reality!
No matter what your dream is, it takes passion, collaboration, curiosity, research, and being loud and proud about your dream to achieve it. Pursue the things that interest you, even if they don’t seem to line up exactly with your end goal--you never know the benefits they can bring you along the way! Stay curious and step outside of your comfort zone to keep learning and growing, and don’t be afraid to fail. Talk about your dream and allow others to help you but help yourself as well by going out and finding the resources and support that is crucial in getting you where you want to go. Every person’s journey is different, and the path to reaching your goal won’t look exactly like mine or anyone else’s--and that’s amazing! My hope is that this advice can help you along the way to reaching your Mars.
3M is proud to partner with Abigail “Astronaut Abby” Harrison to help promote STEM education and spread the word about the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. In exchange for Abby’s work with 3M we have donated funds to the a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit founded by Abigail, The Mars Generation, to support their STEM programs.
A little more about Abby:
Abigail Harrison, popularly known as “Astronaut Abby”, is an aspiring astronaut with the goal to be the first astronaut to walk on Mars. In the pursuit of this goal Abigail has devoted herself to personal development as a pilot, scuba diver, skydiver, marathoner, student of Russian and Mandarin Chinese, science communicator and research astrobiologist. But beyond that, Abigail has leveraged her passion to ensure that we as a society are ready to go to Mars within her lifetime by starting The Mars Generation, a 501C3 nonprofit which focuses on exciting and inspiring young people about STEM and space exploration while also supporting them to pursue careers in those fields. Abigail has been sharing her journey towards the red planet on social media ever since she was 13 years old and is now a well-known YouTuber and Instagrammer with over a million followers on her collective social media channels