Ever run out of clean underwear?

Happened to me a few weeks ago. It was almost time to leave for work, so I had only one option. “Woe is me!” I thought, as I plucked the previous day’s pair from the laundry pile, thoroughly grossed out.

Since then, I’ve read Endurance by astronaut Scott Kelly, and it’s helped me adjust my perspective on dirty underwear and hardship in general. Kelly spent nearly a year on the International Space Station (340 days, to be exact), and he wore each pair of underwear up to four days in a row. Turns out there’s no laundry in space. And no showers, either—he and his colleagues bathed with moist towelettes (or, as he put it, “moved the dried sweat around”). Endurance is a compelling book about perseverance and enduring hardship, and it’s important to read such books for two reasons.

First, we need reminders of what human beings are really capable of. As we live our lives, we operate within mental boundaries we’ve set for ourselves. We tend to think we’re operating at the limit of our abilities most of the time, when in reality, we’re nowhere close. We need to be snapped out of our self-imposed limits from time to time and reminded that our true capabilities—our physical and mental limits—are far beyond where we think they are.

Second, we need reminders of what we can achieve if we work very hard over a long period of time toward a singular goal. Scott Kelly came from humble beginnings, growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Jersey City, New Jersey. After reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff as a teenager, Kelly decided to become a military test pilot (and later, an astronaut). His poor academic record stood in his way, but he found a way to overcome this obstacle and many more. Step by step, year by year, he moved closer to his goal. Now, it’s true that there’s a lot of luck involved in becoming an astronaut, but most of us have goals that don’t rely so heavily on luck. For you and me, perseverance is the coin of the realm.

  • Want to go to law school in your 50s? It’s been done.
  • Want to run a marathon in the spring? Completely possible.
  • Want to start a successful small business? Can do.

Like everything else, our perspective needs adjusting from time to time. If that time is now for you, consider picking up Endurance or a similar book for your next read.