career advice

In 1978, NASA selected its first six female astronauts. Among them was Dr. Rhea Seddon, a Southern-wife-turned-surgeon who is also notable for being the first pregnant astronaut. Seddon recently sat down for a chat with Forbes writer Kerry Hannon, and what emerged from the interview was “5 Career Lessons From a Pioneering Female Astronaut.” Read on for some out-of-this-world tips from a truly inspiring lady.

1. Be Willing to Go First — Seddon wasn’t just one of the first female astronauts. She was the first pregnant astronaut, and before that, she was the first woman in her surgery residency. There was no roadmap for the paths she was traveling, and yet she kept on, willing to blaze her own trail. “I learned quickly that overcoming barriers means you have to be fearless,” she says.

2. Meet the Requirements of Your Job — If you’ve got the training and education needed to do a job, it’ll be much harder for the power that be to keep you down. In astronautics, this means getting an advanced degree in math, science, or engineering and taking flying lessons. Those skills might not matter much in your industry, but there are equivalent prerequisites in any field. Make sure you’ve satisfied ’em.

3. Make a Backup Plan — If your dream job doesn’t work out, you’ll need to figure something else out. Have another plan in your back pocket, just in case.

4. Get a Little Help — No one makes it completely on their own. As Seddon explains, it was because her husband was able to pitch in around the house that she was able to do what she did. That said, she never asked for special favors. As she writes, the “only restriction was I couldn’t fly ejection seat airplanes any more until after the baby was born. I came back to work in six weeks.”

5. Plan on a Diverse Career — Seddon’s career trajectory went like this: wife, physician, surgeon, astronaut, healthcare exec, business owner, writer. To some extent, you’ve got to go with the flow and adapt as life throws you curves. The key is to keep on amassing skills and learning from each experience. “Every time you find something interesting to get excited about, you gain confidence. You say, “I can do this,'” she says.