It’s a “low ceiling” day: that’s a technical aviation term. Less technically, but perhaps more accurately, the visibility sucks, as shown by my out-the-bus-window photos of the launch infrastructure.
As a result, we’re spending a little more time indoors than outdoors at the Kennedy Space Center on this rainy, foggy, you might even call it low-ceilinged January day, and I’m expending a whole lot more photographic energy on the indoor exhibits. So it is that I capture this iconic shot, likely already familiar to you from numerous magazine covers.
No? OK, maybe not, but it is a great visual of the (typical) relationship between an astronaut’s time-on-task (you know, being in space) and time-in-training (you know, getting ready to be in space).
When I get home, I quantify this relationship more precisely, as befits the subject. My first calculation indicates that a (typical) astronaut spends only 1.35% of their time on task. When I remember to allow for weekends, statutory holidays, and vacation days, that (typical) percentage jumps to 2%.
I can’t help but compare this percentage to mine. (Typical.)
In the summer jobs I had in high school, I think someone took five minutes to show me how to work the cash register. In jobs as disparate as working nights at a burger-and-chicken drive-in and dealing out cash full-time in a bank, I got only on-the-job training (emphasis on “on-the-job”). In my professional career, I once had as much as one week of training in a year.
So my most training-intensive year saw me with the proportions exactly flipped; that is, 2% of my time in training versus 2% on-task for a (typical) astronaut.
“Yikes,” I think, “that’s pathetic.”
Or is it? Like other training-intensive occupations—pilots, air traffic controllers, submariners, firefighters, and combat arms spring to mind—being an astronaut is a job where a mistake can be fatal. Where you can’t build experience by failing in the real environment. Where training must, therefore, substitute for experience. My work, by contrast, was always amenable to learning as you go.
Whew. I feel better. I may not have had much training, but I’ve had lots of experiential learning, and that’s just as good. Yeah, that’s it.
Not so fast.
Even though a mistake in my work was never fatal, some targeted training could have saved me time, energy, and aggravation. Training would have helped me capitalize on my experience, making me more effective, sooner. While the right ratio certainly wasn’t the 98:2 of the (typical) astronaut, it seems just as certain that even my best-ever ratio of 2:98 was sub-optimal. Dagnab it!
But that was then; this is now.
And in this now, nearing retirement, I turn my mental beady-eyed stare on my non-employment pursuits, where I have full control over the training/work ratio.
In photography, for example, I can choose to take pictures, or to get ready to do so. That is, without even trying get a magazine-cover-worthy shot, I can take pictures that help me learn the camera’s controls. Or understand different shutter speeds and apertures. Or explore light conditions and practice composition. Without actually creating anything much worth looking at, I can close the gap between my creative impulse and my creative output.
“Put me in, Coach, I’m ready to play (clap clap clap-clap) today.”
John Fogerty, Centerfield
Well, there’s ready and there’s ready. At least with my camera, I won’t get any readier to play just by playing. That will take, you know, training, as well as the discipline to be my own coach.