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The email that changed my life

Posted in the following categories: Decision Making, Life Lessons

To send or not to send?

That was the question swirling through my mind as I sat in front of my computer as a 17-year-old high school senior in Istanbul.

The cursor was blinking at the end of an email I had just typed up to a professor at Cornell, where I had recently been admitted to pursue my lifelong dream of studying astronomy.

I had discovered that the professor was the principal investigator for a planned mission to Mars. What’s more, back in the day, he had worked as a graduate student for Carl Sagan, a childhood hero of mine. This was too good to be true.

I drafted an email sharing my burning desire to work for him on the mission and attached my resume.

But when I thought about hitting send, a chorus of voices filled my head.

There’s no job posting. Why would you apply for a job that doesn’t exist? 

You’re a skinny kid with a funny name from a foreign country halfway around the world. What could YOU possibly contribute?

If you send this email, you’ll make a fool of yourself.

I had grown up in a society that reinforced these beliefs. We were seduced into believing that flying lower is safer than flying higher, that coasting is better than soaring, and that small dreams are wiser than moonshots (sound familiar?).

Then I asked myself two questions.

What’s the worst that can happen? Nothing. I’d never hear back from him, and that would be the end of that.

What’s the best that can happen? I’d land a pinch-me-now job working on a Mars mission.

I took a deep breath and clicked send.

Less than a week later, I got a response. The professor invited me in for an interview upon my arrival at Cornell. Thanks in part to the coding skills I had picked up in high school (which did me no favors when it came to my dating life), I landed a job on the operations team for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers mission. I triple-checked the name on my offer letter to make sure it wasn’t some terrible clerical mix-up.

Little did I know at the time, but that email catalyzed a series of events over the ensuing 21 years that led to the publication this week of my book, called Think Like a Rocket Scientist.

Think back to your biggest regrets. If you’re anything like me, they’re a list of things you wish you had done—but didn’t do.

Whenever we’re about to try something new—take a new job, move to a city, switch careers—we face the ugly twin-monsters of uncertainty and potential failure. Rather than taking a leap, we cling to the safe bet.

As a result, we pass up opportunities to level up.

To find the greatness in ourselves.

To make a dent in the universe.

What sets universe-denters apart from the rest is their willingness to fly in the face of uncertainty, while everyone else stands rooted on the ground.

I still struggle with imposter syndrome. When I’m afraid of making a leap—when that chorus of voices come roaring in telling me that I’m not good enough—I think back to the email that changed my life.

And I click send.

P.S. Thursday, April 16th is the deadline for getting 12, three-minute, bite-sized videos with practical insights from Think Like a Rocket Scientist that you can implement right away. To get them, order a copy of the book (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound), and send your receipt to [email protected].

In the videos, you’ll learn:

  • The one simple tactic I use to motivate myself even when I don’t feel like working.
  • A 3-step process you can use to eradicate your worries (This process was invented by a prisoner-of-war facing the torture chamber during World War II).
  • The single principle Elon Musk used to revolutionize the aerospace industry (and how you can use the same principle to revolutionize your life)
  • An unstoppable astronaut training strategy that you can use to nail your next presentation or product launch
  • The one word you can use to boost your creativity (The use of this word is backed by several research studies, and I personally use it on a weekly basis both for myself and my team)
  • What George Costanza and rocket scientists have in common, and what you can learn from both in starting your next project
  • How invisible rules constrain your thinking (and what to do about it)
  • What you should do first in tackling an audacious goal (and what you should NEVER do when tackling an audacious goal)
  • My 2-step process for squashing fear of uncertainty and failure before it stops me from taking action
  • What Einstein’s biggest blunder can teach you about how to launch your next project
  • The fascinating story of the billion-dollar author and her eight-year-old secret weapon
  • Why doing “nothing” is more valuable than you think

If you already ordered the book (and submitted your receipt), you’ll get the videos automatically.

P.P.S. It’s natural to want to wait until “later.”

But waiting until “later” means we postpone reading a book that might change our life.

Waiting until “later” prevents us from leveling up and moving forward.

Waiting until “later” keeps us from landing our dream job or creating the next breakthrough product.

The choices we make now determine our future.

Now is better than later.

Here are the links again to buy the book: (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound).

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