#2: David James – Space Missions and Basketball Championships

Sasha Raskin:  So hi, everyone. I’m Sasha Raskin and I have David James with me. This is part of the podcast for Go New, so we’re going to talk a lot about leadership and how to create a change for yourself as a leader, for yourself in personal life, and how to manage relationships in your teams at work and with others, just as in your everyday life.

And I think you, David, have a lot of experience with that since (a) you are basketball coach and you are sending things to space, which means you work for long periods of times, and well, it’s very measurable like the results you can see, the results are happening all around, right? So it’s all part of it.

David James:  Oh, exactly.

Sasha Raskin:  I’ll let you tell more about yourself.

David James:  Sure, so as you said I have two different lives, at least for the purposes of this video, I got my PhD in physics from the University of Colorado, and I still continue to work there. And what I do is I am a part of a lab, now lab is the laboratory for atmospheric and space physics, and what we do is we work on space missions. So I have worked on missions to the moon, to Pluto, to Mars, and a couple around Earth. So that’s one of my … that’s the short version of one of my lives.

In the other life I got started coaching girls’ high school basketball about seven years ago, and I absolutely loved it and so I kept doing it, I’ve been to a couple schools, middle school, high school, coached volleyball for a little bit but now I’m at a high school again. And so after I get done with work I go coach and then summer we have some team camps and stuff. So those are kind of the two lives that I lead for work purposes.

Sasha Raskin:  And what are the biggest things you like about each life, you said two lives? I think there probably a lot of overlaps between them even if it doesn’t seem so on paper.

David James:  Yeah, so this podcast is about leadership, and actually what I do with what’s called my physics job and my coaching job, what I do with my physics job is I also mentor undergraduates and graduate students as well. So we have a lab here to where we study cosmic dust which is particles coming into space, they burn up, or they exist out near Europa or other moons. And so we have an accelerator that we use to study these particles on earth.

life coach in boulder

And we have a lot of students and we have a lot of faculty to work here, but since I’m the manager they come to me with their projects and I help them through that, and we kind of go about these experiments together, whether it be a very small team, me and somebody else, or me and somebody else and their advisor, or me and a couple students and their advisor. So that’s probably one of the biggest commonalities between the two are we have teams. So I mean, the basketball one’s obvious, but even here we have these teams, we get together, we have meetings, and we have these projects we’re all trying to work toward a common goal. So I would say that’s the biggest one.

There’s also just the dynamics of working with college-age and high school students. We also have a couple high school students here, and that they come to work for the lab over the summer. That’s another one of the dynamics as well, but you see a lot of overlap which is actually funny because I’m just now realizing how much overlaps we’re talking about.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah, so it’s you mentoring and coaching teams, right? And helping others to work with each other towards a common goal.

David James:  Yeah, that’s exactly right. And again, in the basketball aspect that’s probably fairly obvious, but there … I can talk a little bit more about that, but there are many goals in every single project. I’ll start with the basketball, in basketball you have these little small step goals where every single practice you as a coach say every single practice you want to get better, just whether it be one small thing or one leap but you want to give better every single time. So you set these little bitty milestones.

And then you have a summer where you’re not really playing in your regular season, but you say throughout the summer we want to go to these camps and get 10 wins at this camp or be in a few schools in here. And so then you set these longer milestones. And then you have the season where you set a goal of we want to win our league or we want to win the state championship or whatever you want to set there. So those are kind of short medium and long term.

But in basketball, and especially in girls’ basketball, you have … and I think this is true everywhere, I haven’t coached boys’ basketball, but you also have all these other goals. In fact the main thing that’s really stressed pretty heavily right now is to make these young girls women, and so to really teach them about life. And man, basketball as well as NASA failures, so there’s some failures, they are really good life teachers. I have a saying that I always tell my girls, “It’s easy to win, it’s hard to lose.” Because you win – everybody’s happy, everybody’s high-fiving each other, and it’s really just an easy feeling that just everything feels like it’s going right. But when you lose it’s so hard because everybody’s down, but you learn the most when you lose. You really … so those are the times when you have to evaluate yourself and you really have to say, “What’s going on? And what can we do better? This just happened.” But you’re really self-evaluate, so it’s kind of funny because I have two lives.

therapist in boulder co

But in physics and in especially in these NASA settings that’s absolutely true as well, you have these little small goals and they’re very obvious, they’re written on paper and they say, “These are the requirements we have to do them by here.” And then you have these other goals as well where your team has to come together and you have these little outside of the project maybe where you want to … you have a smaller project that you’re working on that’s maybe not part of the mission.

And the same thing, you always have successes and you always have failures, and the failures are the hardest things in life especially when your job’s resting on it or when there’s a lot of people looking. I worked on a mission to Pluto, New Horizons, and it felt like the whole world was looking at us. We had all these issues sometimes, and that’s one of the hardest things.

That’s a very long answer to your question, but I do think that there are many, many similarities outside the fact that I’m just coaching and teaching certain ages, but there’s all successes, failures, the little milestones, all these things really build on each other.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah, so you said one of your main tasks is help the people you work with to expand their capacity to work with failures.

David James:  Yeah, oh, yes, to help other people work with it. And as a leader that’s one of the toughest things. So it’s probably easiest to explain with an example, but I was working on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and we have this issue, and I remember, and I was very young back then, I was actually a student at the time, it was a student mission, a student instrument.

Sasha Raskin:  That’s a very unique student mission.

David James:  Yeah, it was. I mean, imagine as a student … it was a university, I was a graduate student, but we also had undergraduates, but to work on a mission that’s going to Pluto that’s the first-ever interplanetary mission, it turns out they’ve done a couple, they’ve gone around the earth, but yeah … I mean, I got that opportunity, I was like, “How can you pass this opportunity up to look at it, just be able to work on the mission that takes the first images of Pluto?” I was going to say the planet Pluto, because it was when I was a kid but no longer, but still very important.

Say it again.

Sasha Raskin:  Planets are not planets and just things are changing constantly.

David James:  Things are changing, Sasha. Things are changing. But it’s like saying the Sun’s not a planet but it’s still an important object. But anyway, so on that mission it’s just seem … There were few things I remember as a student just saying, “Oh, my gosh, we might be hosed on this whole mission.” I mean, NASA’s put money in and people are looking to you to say, “Is this going to be a failure or not?” And again, I mean, it was in my mind it was one of the great exploration missions.

And so there was a lot of I felt weight on my shoulders, and whenever these happened I was just like, “Oh, my gosh.” And I remember we had a great, great leader at the time, Mark Lankton, and I remember him just being calm through the whole thing and just everybody else is like, oh, my gosh, we blew up this capacitor on the flight instrument, what do we … This is like this is it.

And it turns out that you can solve these problems. And just to know that these problems do happen, and they’re almost … we have a saying in basketball that you’re never as good as you are when you’re winning and you’re never as bad as you are when you’re losing. And it’s absolutely true in this case.

Sasha Raskin:  It sounds very smart, but I didn’t get it completely.

David James:  So it goes something like this – you’re never as good as you are when you’re winning, and when you’re losing you’re never really as bad as you think you are. And because that’s true, when you’re going through these failures, when you’re going through these losses you think, “Man, this is it.” It’s just, gosh, we’re just not as good as I thought we were. And the same thing on with these problems, you think this might be it and we can’t do what we thought we were going to do.

But if you let that moment pass and you take a step back, and you really analyze how to look at these problems from different ways and how to bring other people in who know more than you do, which is a great quality of a leader, then you realize that (a) you’re not as bad as you think you are when these failures happens and when you’re losing, and (b) there is a good chance that things even though you thought were impossible can be solved. and there were times, I guarantee you there were multiple times in my career where I thought things were impossible, like physically engineeringly impossible, and you know, we did it a different way, like we’ve gone around the problem some way.

And so I think that that’s a huge, huge, huge lesson to learn in both of these is that … and that’s probably as a leader that’s one of the main things I would take away. And there’s a lot of things that sprout from this – if you realize that things are never really as bad as you think they are, then you can remain calm through some of these things. I mean, astronauts when they’re up there, if they start freaking out every time something happens they just … things bad could happen. You have to really calmly and analytically look at things sometimes.

And go against your fight-or-flight emotion, I mean, that’s a lot of times what happens when these bad things happens is it’s fight or flight. You kind of have to look at it logically.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah, and you said leader a few times, and I’m thinking of leadership as a skill that basically anyone is practicing every day, right? It doesn’t depend on whatever you’re doing for job or what your position is, it’s this quality of working, just living life from a place of self-discipline and creating what you want basically instead of letting life happen to you. That’s what I see leadership as.

And also how I can help others do the same.

David James:  Yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  Collaboratively with others too, better at everyone.

David James:  Yeah, I absolutely agree. And I will add something to that, you can’t always create everything that you want, so it is letting things happen to you sometimes but being able to just say, “How can I control the outcome of that?” So for example, I might get let’s say hit by a motorcycle because then I’ll live, but I might get hit by a motorcycle and it hurts for a while, and I couldn’t really help that – but how I respond to that and how I move forward from that. I think you’re exactly right, you can control that.

Sometimes it’s very difficult, but I would agree that that’s leadership. And it doesn’t take a group to learn that. And I also think that your discipline idea is very key in leadership, so yeah, I agree with you.

Sasha Raskin:  I remember, so when I work as a life coach in Boulder CO with people or organizations, it’s kind of every time I talk about this I know that it’s easier said than done. And every book about kind of modeling, great leaders, talks about this kind of fluctuation between success and failure, and they all kind of have this realization that failure is just a construct. This is just a situation and whatever interpretation you are putting on it allows you to do different things, right? If I view this as a challenge versus as a failure or a learning opportunity versus a failure, then, well, this is just something to learn from and maybe have fun with, even those as – well, what does it say about me as a person, right?

So like it all kind of makes sense, but my question for you is – how do you actually do it? When your team was … I don’t know if you had experiences like that, but it will show you’re going to win and it was so close, with any space project, you are almost there but then it just didn’t happen, how do you keep the morale for yourself and for others? How do you keep on going?

David James:  Yeah, that’s a great question. So I can answer for me personally because I think probably a lot of people do it different ways. I think, well, let’s start with basketball because there are a lot of times where you go in thinking, “This is a team we’re going to beat,” and you come out and you lose by the score. There’s a lot of ways to look at losses and wins and failures and defeats, but let’s go with the score for now. And you think you’re going to beat them with the score, and you don’t. And that can be crushing.

And I think one of the biggest things is exactly what you said … and this has come from learning about this, but you have to kind of give that attitude of, and hopefully you believe it as well, and that you’re never as bad as you think you are. And so you can take certain things from this.

So first of all I think what you do is there’s a lot of defeated morale, especially among the team, I mean, they’re high school kids and even if they’re very mature it’s just hard. So I think the first thing to do is recognize it for what it is, just say, “Hey, we thought we were going to come out there, and we didn’t.”

Sasha Raskin:  Let’s not avoid talking about it, let’s just talk about that.

David James:  Yeah, I think that’s huge, because if you actually ignore it, and there are ways to deal with it internally but still kind of keep your composure externally. And so that’s what I try to do, even if it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, what’s going on?” I don’t immediately try to process that on my own, I try to compartmentalize that and save the processing for later.

And sometimes it happens, because every game you go into the locker room and you talk about it, and sometimes processing for me happens during at that same time. But a lot of times I say, “Okay, what does the team need first of all?” And second of all everybody’s thinking about it, so just like you said – recognizing. Just say, “Hey, we thought we’re going to win, and we didn’t.” And then you can even say, “How does that make you guys feel?” And you can be honest at the time and say, “You know what? I thought we’re going to win, and I’m really upset about it.” But there’s a difference in processing it and saying logically and dealing with it in the moment saying, “I thought we were going to win,” versus, “Man, we suck, and we’re just never going to … Oh, you guys, are terrible.” And it’s just a totally different process, and your brain a lot of times really wants to do that. It wants to just get it all out there.

And I think that that’s one of the things, one of the key things about a leader and leadership, is to be able to … well, I don’t know what you want to say, I don’t know the correct word, whether it’s compartmentalize or internalize or hold it for the future. But to really be able to sit with your raw emotions for a little bit and really kind of look at those and explore those later.

So for example, in the locker room – recognize it and then we go around, we oftentimes have the girls say, “How do you feel?” And then we’ll process kind of the logical steps for it, so not necessarily untie the emotion, and just say, “Hey, we missed 10% of our shots from the free-throw line,” well, that would be actually great, “We made 10%,” that’s probably more likely if you lose. So in we missed 90% of our free-throws, that’s one area where we thought we were going to do better and that’s where we can improve.

And so I think the biggest key is to in the moment really exude confidence and act like you’ve been there before, that’s one of the phrase my mom used to say is, “Hey, when you win don’t celebrate and go crazy, act like you’ve been there before. And when you lose, it’s the same thing, you can’t lose your mind every single time.” So I think that was a long answer to what you’re saying.

But I think the first step is to recognize it and then you can process a little bit, but take it home for those raw emotions. And maybe you can even talk about those raw emotions later, but right after you really just kind of need to show them that everything’s going to be okay, you’re not as bad as you think you are when you’re losing.

Sasha Raskin:  So that’s an interesting balance in you’re saying, “Well, as a leader I need to kind of hold it together,” to show that it’s not the end of the world, and I am not falling apart, and so can you, right?

David James:  Yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  Like, we’re going to get through this, right? But at the same time you’re saying, “Well, let’s not …” even though it’s sports, right? And people think about it more as physical challenges, “Let’s not shy away from talking about the emotional impact that this loss has on us.”

David James:  Yeah, and I think that there’s a key there, in that … Yes, I absolutely agree with that. I think that you don’t want to shy away from it, but there’s a time to process these really raw emotions as a leader. Sometimes your team needs to process that. And as they go through life and as they experience these more and more and more I think they become a little bit more of … I was going to say a leader, but I think they just recognize that more and they’re able to realize themselves – it’s not quite as bad as I thought this was. Or I’ve got some raw emotions and I may be even showing them, I may be crying, but I’m also outwardly I’m saying, “I realize this is not as bad as I think I am and we’re going to get through this. I’m just having a hard time right now.”

And that’s totally okay, and so I think to help … It’s really key I think to help people process their raw emotions and to really work through those just gut reactions after a big failure or a big loss.

And it comes with eventually you don’t really have to compartmentalize and adapt and process for later nearly as much, because you realize it, you realize that this is the truth. And sometimes, sometimes and it’s very rare, after we lose, I never want to lose but after we do – I kind of enjoy these moments of saying, “This is what life is about.” I mean, the wins, again, they’re easy and they feel so good, but life is about these failures and the adventures and the things that you didn’t think were going to happen and the things that really hurt and really you struggle with.

Because they’re going to happen throughout your life, you’re going to break up with somebody, you’re going to lose your job, you’re going to get hurt when you didn’t think you’re going to. And that’s one of the really, really, really tough jobs, but I think you learn these from these little baby steps in life. And I think that’s one of the great lessons in sports is that you can have these little defeats all the time and you kind of practice them.

Sasha Raskin:  I really appreciate that you went into how do I work with losses versus celebrating victories.

David James:  Yeah, because I truly believe those are the … I mean, everybody loves to celebrate victories, and they’re fun. But those, again, I said this at the very beginning – those are not really where you learn and those are not where really life put you down and then picks you back up eventually. Those are the fun ones, and then that’s why you have these losses so eventually you can experience these with your team and with yourself and you get the credit. That’s all fun.

But the time where you need a leader, and the time … There’s actually a funny thing of this coach, I think it’s Nevada or somebody, and they win the championship and this coach is going nuts and he’s like looking for people to hug and all of his players are not really around, they’re hugging other people and they’re celebrating, and I forgot which other coach said that, he said, “That’s because that’s not when your players need you. They need you during the losses.” I mean, when you win everybody’s happy, and they’ll give you a high five, but that’s not when they need you. They need you when they missed that shot.

And the same thing, I’ve been talking a lot about basketball, but the same thing in physics, I mean, when I was a student and we had these problems on New Horizons, and (Lodi?) the one around the moon, all these things – I didn’t really need my leader, I was very good at working on my own, until I ran in these problems. And that’s when I had to go to my program manager and say, “Hey, look, I don’t know what to do. I’m just struggling. I don’t know if we’re going to get past this.” And sometimes this came out one on one, oftentimes it came out in a meeting and everybody knew the problem. But that’s when you need them, that’s when you need a true leader, is during these down times. I believe that wholeheartedly.

There’s time and time again I remind myself. I mean, again, everybody can celebrate on their own and they love to have people celebrate with them, but somebody’s going to be there for you when you’re winning, whether it be the press, whether it be your mom, whether it be your teammates. Man, people tend to shy away sometimes when … or not know how to handle it when you’re losing or when you have these failures.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah. So talking about what happens when things go south.

David James:  And it always do by the way, it always do. Something always happens to the project.

Sasha Raskin:  Expect that and expect plateaus as well, right? Sometimes things will just kind of stay at the same place, not even go bad, just like nothing happens, right? So expecting all of that. And I think those times are actually huge opportunities, because no one creates change when things are great, right? No therapist becomes a therapist because their life is all butterflies, right?

David James:  That’s right, yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  When I work as a therapist or when I work as a business coach or consultant, it doesn’t really matter, I always would ask, “So besides what’s the biggest challenge, why are they reaching out now,” right? What happened or what’s the situation that is pushing them towards change? And there’s always something, there’s always a critical mass that moves people to seek out something else, something different.

David James:  Sure, yeah. So it sounds like what you’re saying is … we’ve been talking about it, I’ve mostly been talking about highs and lows and talking a lot about lows, but you’re saying also when it plateaus or when things are kind of the same and people just go about their life and they kind of get on this treadmill almost. And so then you said, and I think what you said is when people want change or when they’re struggling, it’s because of a change of that plateau. Is that true? You ask yourself why.

Sasha Raskin:  Either a dip or they feel stuck. But no one comes to see me when things are great.

David James:  Oh, yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  That is the same with the coach too. No one is looking for a hug when things are awesome.

David James:  Yeah, I think that …

Sasha Raskin:  That is specific personally.

David James:  Yeah, this is actually a very interesting idea I believe for all these reasons, we’ll start with sports and I’ll get rid of that and I’ll explain that in ten seconds the way I think about it, is that when you’re plateauing people always want you to be on the up and up, unless you win the championship every time and nobody’s going to. And so when you’re stagnant, that’s one of the hardest things. When you’re way down you know that you can go up, but stagnation is just, they just … everybody always wants more.

The same thing happens in science and especially politics, if you look at the world today – things are not … and again, I hate to speak for a lot of people. But overall, I mean, taking a huge look down on things, we’re pretty well at peace. There are very few large wars going on. There’s a big gap in money, but overall people are pretty comfortable. I mean, we can talk on Zoom, through the internet; we have all sorts of information. It’s a decent time.

But there’s just this human drive to just go better and better and better and better, and if you’re plateauing a lot of times people want change. I mean, that was Obama’s mantra was change, change, change. And again, trust me there are people who are struggling, there are countries who are struggling, but in general if you stagnate and this is my point is that if you stagnate people will also really look for change. And so I think that, yeah, I mean, it’s tempting to look at just as a failure as a time when you’re in need and a time when you need a leader. But Bernie Sanders, for example, really rose to popularity, as did Trump in fact, because they brought messages or people thought they would be a big change to the way things are.

So yeah, stagnation is also one of the hard things. It’s kind of this underlying current of everybody thinks, “Hey, man, if I’m happy then … Or if I’m the same I’m going to be happy.” But everybody wants to be on the up and up.

Sasha Raskin:  And I think speed is also important. Sometimes when I look back working with a client half a year ago and where they’re at today, it’s just incredible, those are like two different people.

David James:  Oh, yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  But it was so gradual that it felt like a plateau.

David James:  Yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  And there’s a lot of frustration about the speed. But change doesn’t happen overnight.

David James:  Yeah. I think that one of the reasons … I like to travel, and I think one of the reasons I like to travel is because it’s changed, for better or worse. Sometimes it’s really high, sometimes it’s low. I also like coaching as well because of that, because it’s you get highs and lows and all sorts of things. And so I think when you’re on this … even though you said like a gradual incline, sometimes people don’t see it. They want these jumps up and down for better or worse, you know what I mean? Again, you could argue that jumping around is actually harmful, but I think that it’s kind of one of these things we need as humans and one of these things we really like a lot of times, for the most part. Some people love just being comfortable with who they are and some people have great lives. But I think that change and this always drive for something new is really appealing to a lot of people.

Space Missions and Basketball Championships: An Interview With David James | self growth video classes

Sasha Raskin:  So tell me how is it different with space engineers? When you have … well, there are bigger …

David James:  Besides everything?

Sasha Raskin:  What?

David James:  Nothing, I was just saying besides … We’re a strange bunch, let me just put it that way.

Sasha Raskin:  Well, let me ask you this, there’s probably bigger budgets involved and the projects may take longer. I don’t know, I think it’s …

David James:  Yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  Right. And processing emotions, I don’t know how you work with that also with engineers, not to stigmatize, but sometimes when I work with engineers as clients they’re like some … it’s not a habit to kind of go into that level of thinking.

David James:  Yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  How do you work with obstacles then? What happens when you have those dips and successes? And I assume there’s a lot of stress and pressure involved too.

David James:  Yeah, you touched on a lot of subjects there. So first of all there are really long deadlines. I’m working on a project now that started three years ago and we launched in 2023 and we get to Europa, it’s a Europa mission in late 2020s. So it’s a huge forward-thinking thing.

It’s a very stressful job sometimes, for multiple reasons, one of the less clear ones is they tend to work … and this is a generalization, but they tend to work on their own and so the failures you kind of take on your own a lot more. For example, you’re working on a code and your code doesn’t work, there’s nobody else who really is responsible for that, so it’s you, so that’s one of those stresses.

The other stress is that in a completely different way, for example, the projects I’ve worked on with the moon, there were huge teams even though my part was just me, there were these huge teams, and you even had the public eye looking in on you a lot which was very strange. But that is a lot of pressure as well. For these NASA missions you know that people are looking in, and furthermore you touched on as well there’s a lot of money involved in these, millions, even billions of dollars, and so you feel that pressure as well. With high school girls’ basketball there’s not that type of pressure, there’s parents and there’s always other things, but … So there are immense pressures on this.

And I would say the same with other professions as well, not just NASA, but for example, I’m sure Google with rolling out these things, everybody depends on this. Or Twitter or all the behind-the-scenes coding and engineering that goes into that. And so, yes, it is very stressful. I think, so that’s to kind of lay the framework of the baseline of how you can create a lot of tension and a lot of stress in that.

How to deal with that as a leader is really interesting. Again, as far as these big groups I’ve observed a lot and for students I have been involved a little bit, but it’s really … and this is stereotypical, but a lot of times because you’re working a lot on your own, because I think that this attract people who are a little bit more like to do … What is it? I don’t know what the word I’m thinking of. It’s less emotional but more internalized or more technology-based where you’re interacting with a computer instead of a person a lot. I think that there’s a lot of growing to be done even though they are college or even though they’ve just graduated.

And so to experience these really tough things that you really haven’t had to before, these losses where maybe you’ve never played sports, or maybe you’ve never really been in a team that’s had a failure because you’re working on your own and you’re very good at what you do – that can be really challenging, to help somebody experience these big losses or big failures for the first time. And I think it goes back to that key of just recognizing that it’s going to be okay. So I think that it really goes back to that idea.

But it’s interesting, and it’s strange, and I’ve experienced it a lot. And I’ve kind of been on the other end, but I think it’s very different than basketball but in a lot of ways it’s the same, because you’re just at a different stage in your life.

Sasha Raskin:  To kind of change the subject a little bit, how do you set goals that work?

David James:  How do you set goals that work?

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah. When you said we have very long term projects. Oh, my God, there is no deadline in sight, I could just do things tomorrow and tomorrow and it will never come, and all of that, and like there are so many things to do, where do I start, where are the priorities. So I can just think about at least 50 different things that can go wrong with just setting the right goal.

David James:  Yeah, it’s actually … It doesn’t mean that because you have these long Engels, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have little milestones along the way. And it also doesn’t mean that you can’t fail all along the way because of all these little milestones. And there’s a reason that the launch date for the Europa mission is 2023, it is because it takes time, and there’s all these instruments that go and fall, there’s a spacecraft, there’s the ground communication. And so there’s all these little pieces that have to go and get involved or that are involved. And so you have these little milestones all along the way.

And so for example, I was working on one of the instruments, and we had to radiation test this instrument even before we got accepted to go on the mission. As part of our acceptance we had to test all these things. And it was super stressful and I wasn’t thinking about the launch date at all, I was thinking get this done so that five years down the road we have a launch date. That’s one of the hardest things though on the project is to know what’s going to happen 10 years from now. And so this is I think one of the hardest things about a space mission is to know that in 15 years we will be one kilometer from Europa’s surface in between Jupiter and IO let’s say. Not 1 kilometer, probably 25 or a hundred kilometers.

But that is insane to be able to predict that 10 years in the future and know that your camera is going to turn and look at the surface or in our case this dust instrument, is going to be able to see these particles coming off and we predict, “Hey, at this time and this year,” and that may slip a little bit but we know that when we pass there we’re going to measure these particles and there’s going to be a hundred of them and we think that they’re going to be ice. I mean, that is just … that blows my mind every single time as to how far out you need to predict and how accurate you need to predict to be able to do one of these space missions.

Same thing with human missions, whenever they predicted we’re going to go on the dark side of the moon and we’re going to lose communication and we pop out. They knew that was going to happen years before it actually happened. And they didn’t know it to a second, maybe that shifted by a day, but they knew all that was going to happen. And that blows my mind, still, even though I’m involved in it. Smarter people than I am are figuring this stuff out.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah, so that’s pretty magical. It’s working with the future before it happens, right?

David James:  Yeah. I’ll give you one more example, I work on a mission to … or, well, I worked on … I didn’t really work on it much anymore, but the Pluto mission. And the round trip light time was eight hours, we send the signal, it takes four hours to get there travelling as fast as light. They get it, and we send it, it goes four hours back. So you can’t control it like a joystick. You actually have to say, “Okay, in one week here are all your commands, in one hour you’re going to do this, in two hours you’re going to do this.” And you just hope as the spacecraft is zooming by Pluto it’s turning at the right speed based on your spacecraft and your angle and everything, that you’ll see the planet as you go or the dwarf planet as you go by or one of the moons of Jupiter.

And so it’s really looking into the future and being able to predict exactly where your camera’s pointing as you’re running. So it’s kind of like knowing that tomorrow I’m going to be running next to a car and the car is going to be moving and I’m going to be moving and I’m going to take a picture, and being able to just say, “Okay, this is how fast I’m going to be running and this is what angle I’m going to do it.” And it’s all tomorrow, so it’s complicated.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah, if I’m geeking out for a moment, that’s the biggest change after Freud. Freud thought … well, he said people are driven by the past, right? What happens in your childhood will forever kind of haunt you and will decide kind of deterministic view it’s going to decide for you what you’re going to do always, right? And maybe you can have some effect on it, doing psychoanalysis like for seven years five times a week, but you’re kind of doomed, right?

And he had other students like Alfred Adler that said, “You know what? No. People are like kind of time machines, they are driven by their future, by what the future to be,” right? And then they’ll just kind of orienting their way with that compass towards what they want to happen.

David James:  Oh, that’s cool. There’s a … not exactly the same, but there’s something called Newton’s Clock in physics. And what that says is if you know every single particle at every single time and you know how fast it’s going, you can predict exactly what’s going to happen next. Because you know that this particle will bump into this particle, it will move. You can predict the future with exact certainty. And so there is a future that is happening, and we are all on that track. It’s called determinism, but it’s a physics determinism.

And then we’ll kind of threw a wrench in that, and people, religions were really struggling with this, because that means, well, is there any freewill? And then what happened for a lot of reasons they started to question that, but quantum mechanics came in and said, “Well, it turns out that you can’t know that clock. You can’t know everything, no matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you measure. You just can’t.” And so there’s kind of these … well, that was an interesting theory way back in then and now it came along and started competing with it, but there’s a very similar idea in physics of Newton’s Clock saying, “Are we driven by the past? Something happened in the Big Bang or whatever it was, and everything’s just playing out like a movie.” Or, “Do we have these paths that we can go on and we’re going to figure them out in the future?”

Sasha Raskin:  Well, how does it feel like for you when you work on space missions and as a basketball coach?

David James:  As to whether … I feel like I have no idea what’s going on sometimes. I think like quantum mechanics has taken hold stronger than it should. So do you mean whether I believe in determinism or not?

Sasha Raskin:  Well, yeah, how does it all play out? How much effect people have on their lives or how much is like driven by external circumstances?

David James:  Yeah, in physics a lot of times we tend to do this very ideal model, let me say. “Okay, let’s assume this and this and this and this,” but when you get into real life and that deterministic model is kind of in the background. And so as to whether I think how people can change their lives or whether they can change their lives, absolutely, I mean I’m a firm believer in that you set your own course. I really, really, really do.

And even if there were a clock that we’re running down, we just have no idea. So you just have to firmly believe that you can set your own course. And actually I do. I mean, I don’t do it just because it helps me, but I truly believe that you can make these changes and these drastic changes and these strange changes, and that’s what life is about.

Sasha Raskin:  So I want to ask you a bit of a vulnerable question.

David James:  Oh, look, I’m a coach in which I have to like control, and I’m a physicist and so I have no emotion, so it’s going to be tough, but go ahead.

Sasha Raskin:  Well, I don’t know. We’re kind of having a casual conversation about space missions and flying to Europa, like it’s not a big deal. Well, and obviously it’s unbelievable and kind of thinking about going meta for a moment, I’m looking at us talking about space and I’m just like, “Oh, my God, this is unbelievable,” right? And you get to do this like in your day job. This is unbelievable. This is a big thing. Did you ever have the thought of this is too big for me, I don’t know if I can do it?

David James:  Yes, I have that thought a lot in both jobs, in coaching especially after a loss and you’re talking to the girls, you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, my gosh, this is … we lost again. I mean, am I really cut out for this?” And in physics, yeah, I mean, especially early on. And even now you think the world is looking to me. And again, I think that I was over blowing that a little bit, but I do think there’s a lot of people who are interested in this mission, there’s a lot of money invested.

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And yeah, there’s the imposter syndrome is what they call, I don’t know if you know about that but it happens a ton, a ton, in the sciences. It’s just, man, am I really supposed to be here? And it’s happened to everybody that I’ve talked to. The smartest people I know, I know some very intelligent people and even those guys and girls had imposter syndrome. I think it just happens to everybody.

Sasha Raskin:  It does. There are actually supervision models, like how to be a better supervisor for psychotherapists, and many of them are models of therapistscounselors‘ development and they actually predict that that would be one of the stages.

David James:  Yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  Like, the complete overwhelming feeling of, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” and it’s not just that I’m not very competent; I’m actually going to cause harm.

David James:  Yeah. I wholeheartedly agree in that. And you said actually that it was a stage, and for me I’m just – it happens. So maybe what it is is like you said it’s just a stage of either dealing with something or in life, especially when you get a new job or when something goes wrong.

I’ll go back to the very beginning, it’s easy when you’re winning, it’s hard when you’re losing or failing. Man, those are the times when you really question yourself. A failed test or you have these little moments in your project that go wrong.

And they always happen, even in the missions and even in the stories of very great success, there’s always, there’s a little behind the scenes things of, “Man, we almost didn’t made it.” In fact, I don’t know why I’m just using this analogy, but New Horizons, a few days before we got to Pluto is our moment of glory, we’ve been traveling through the solar system for nine years, we’ve launched 2006, we’ve got to end in 2015.

Sasha Raskin:  Unbelievable.

David James:  A few days before we … it was like our moment. The public was looking, we had an anomaly, and the spacecraft basically said, “Well, I’m shutting down, we got a problem.” And that was a close call. That’s one of those moments where I don’t think at that point everybody said, “We’re in over our head, we’re not going to be able to do this.” But it was just a moment of hoof, where things almost went wrong.

So these happen all the time, and to be able to realize this I think is huge. But yeah, that was one of the times where maybe you come out of it or maybe you go into it thinking, “Man, I’m in over my head.”

Sasha Raskin:  And what about before? Before you went … I don’t know. Before you applied to the job.

David James:  For the job I have now?

Sasha Raskin:  Or the internship or anything that has to do with space science?

David James:  Yeah.

Sasha Raskin:  Do you have moments like that where you’re like, “I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I should actually.” And I work a lot with people for example while moving from being an employee of their labs and now they’re starting a start-up – can I do this, can I make this leap of faith?

David James:  Yeah, that’s a great question, and that’s one of these big moments of change in your life. And I think that that happens to everybody too. And some people deal with it differently, and I think failures actually help you there, because then when you encounter these small failures you say, “Oh, gosh, it stinks, but I think I can still do it.”

But if you’re asking me personally whether I’ve had those, yes. When I applied to grad school I thought, “Man, I think I can get in but am I really going to do that?” Well, now when I got into grad school, man, I took my first test and it was the lowest grade ever forgotten and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t belong here.” But I think being able to deal with these little defeats all the time or these just trials, it just helps tremendously and it’s all just experience of the little bitty ones that when the big one comes or one of the big ones comes then you can deal with it.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah.

David James:  But yeah, personally I have … even still I don’t want to admit it, but yeah, you still have it and then it’s kind of it’s more and more of a fleeting thought. But I think everybody has … or hopefully everybody has it, because I have it all the time. But yeah, they can be tough to deal with. But then like I said you kind of get used to them, they happens so often or you can set yourself up to where they happen so often, but you can deal with that.

Sasha Raskin:  So let’s say you have one of the women on your team, you meet her three years later, four years later, and she says, “Yeah, it was so fun in the basketball, and now I’m thinking going to grad school or undergrad. But I really want to do this, like I know that that’s my thing, but I am so scared and I don’t know what to do.” What would you tell?

David James:  I have people tell me that all the time, because I do especially in physics it’s really the physics side of it where people come up and say, “Hey, I really … I’m going to apply for grad school,” or even in their job it’s, “Man, I just don’t feel like I can do it.” And oftentimes, it’s really funny but oftentimes it’s the people who are really successful and you look to. And as you’re going through all this you really see people and you say, “Man, they got no problems.” And that’s how I really believe that it happens to everybody, because it’s oftentimes the people who come up to you and say, “Man, I’m just struggling and I don’t know if I’m belong here, we just have this issue or whatever and I just can’t deal with it.” And you thought, “Wow, this person of all people.”

But what I tell them and what I truly believe is that, “Man, that is tough. I mean, that is really tough. But it happens to everybody.” I mean, our conversation right now I truly believe it happens to everybody, it happens all the time. Maybe it’s real small, maybe it’s a really big thing. But I think to know that other people go through this is a huge help, and to know that the times are bad but for the most part they’re going to get better – I think that’s a huge thing, is to just realize that it happens to other people all the time.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah.

David James:  And so to answer your question is they come to me for grad school, and they have these thoughts, for the most part the people that I teach are pretty smart and they’re seeking out researching, and so, “Hey, don’t worry about this. Just enjoy it. And make this a learning opportunity. Go to grad school, there’s going to be failures and this is preparing you and setting you up to deal with those.”

Sasha Raskin:  I like that. Do you ever share with them that it’s not just about everyone’s struggling with this but sometimes you do as well?

David James:  Yeah, oh, absolutely. I definitely will tell people that, and even moments, I mean, I’ll tell them, “At this point I almost dropped out of grad school or at this point I didn’t know if it was going to happen.” And so because I think a leader, one of the biggest keys about a leader is to share with them genuine experiences, and to let them know the … There’s also a saying that I really like is, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” And I truly believe that you connecting with them and you showing them that you’re human and you go through the same things really connects with them. And then they’ll trust you a little bit more.

So absolutely I share with them, a hundred percent. I think that I just really believe that it connects you so much more and it helps you get them through that. And it really is a valuable friendship experience and a really valuable bonding time. I mean, those are the times when you really need a friend or you need a leader or you need somebody to look up to or to just look across from, and not necessarily look up with, but just relate to. So yeah, absolutely I share this.

Sasha Raskin:  I love that. Thank you so much, David James.

David James:  Sasha Raskin, this has been awesome.

Sasha Raskin:  Yeah, so the listeners, viewers should stay tuned to 2023 when you …

David James:  Yeah, well, that’s right, currently it’s 2023. The launch date slipped, and it turns out that our launch vehicle is the SLS that’s being developed and we might launch on something else. But yeah, stay tuned to the Europa mission, which will fly by Europa hopefully in the late 2020s. That is something that’s thrilling.

Sasha Raskin:  That’s amazing. And I would encourage the viewers and listeners to go to go-new.com and just find out more resources about leadership and relationships and all the good stuff that’s not being taught in school sadly, at least it was not in the school that I went to, right? All right, David James.

David James:  Sasha, thanks for setting this up. I really appreciate it. And I think it’s a good thing you’re doing, and so thanks.

Sasha Raskin:  It was my pleasure.

David James:  It was fun.

About the Author Sasha Raskin

Sasha Raskin, MA, is an  international #1 bestselling co-author , the founder and CEO of  Go New , a transformational education program, a  life coach, and business coach and a  psychotherapist in Boulder, CO. He is working on a P.h.D in Counseling Education and Supervision and is an adjunct faculty at the Contemplative Counseling master’s program at Naropa University, from which he also graduated. Sasha has been in the mental health field for more than 10 years, worked with youth at risk, recovery, mental health hospitals, and coached individuals, couples, families, startups, and groups. He has created mindfulness stress reduction and music therapy programs within different organizations. Whether it’s in person or via phone/video calls, whether as  a counselor , a  life coach or a  business coach, Sasha uses cutting-edge, research-based techniques to help his clients around the world to thrive.   As a  coach Sasha Raskin provides individual and group  coaching in Boulder, Colorado, and worldwide via video and phone calls, drawing from over ten years of experience. His services include:  life coaching,  business coaching,  career coaching,  ADD / ADHD coaching,  leadership coaching, and  executive coaching. Schedule your free 20-minute  coaching phone consultation with Sasha Raskin As a  counselor in Boulder, CO, Sasha provides  individual counseling in Boulder, CO ,  family therapy in Boulder, CO, and  couples therapy in Boulder,  marriage counseling in Boulder, and  couples intensives /  couples retreats, drawing from over ten years of clinical experience.  Schedule your free 20-minute  psychotherapy phone consultation with Sasha Raskin

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