Jonny Kim and the power of focus!

Steve Jobs once said “Focus and simplicity….once you get there, you can move mountains.” This is so true for Jonny Kim, who achieved the rare distinction of being a Navy Seal, an accomplished doctor and now a NASA ‘Artemis’ astronaut program candidate. How did he achieve all of it as he himself had confessed that, “As a child, he was not aware what he wanted to become”. The biggest thing he lacked as child was ‘confidence’. This was natural as his parents had immigrated recently and he would have took time to adjust.

His Navy Seal career provided him with lot of hard skills but higher education taught him how to communicate, have different perspectives and the scientific method, which he feels can be applied to any problem in life.

The world has a particular interest for those who have taken detours and been successful at it. Thus, I try to explore few points which are absolutely necessary to undertake big goals.

Jonny Kim as a Navy Seal, a doctor and NASA astronaut program candidate

1 Step out of the comfort zone

Jonny Kim mentions about ‘facing your fears’ in this interview. He says that trying new things and things that he was scared of, gave him a realization that he was much stronger that what he believed earlier. Stepping outside the comfort zone will only lead to unimaginable achievements. Usually the self imposing limits are 10 times more, if explored well. Stepping out of the comfort zone is much easier, if one follows his/her heart and lets the inner passion show the next step. If one is untested, it would be very difficult to know about the possibilities ahead.

2. Having role models

In this interview he talks about how having role models can give confidence to achieve anything. He believes that boundaries are meant to be broken. Many are not that privileged, however that should not stop them from dreaming big and going all out to achieve them. People may have different circumstances but they also have control over their destinies. There may be many failures on the way, but the key is to be mindful and keep moving forward.

3. Focused efforts

Jonny Kim says that ‘Any goal can be divided into small steps. All small steps lead to large leaps’. Always remember what is driving you to your goals and keep an eye on the prize. It is very important to keep oneself reminding of the goals frequently and keep taking those small steps.

Having one goal and making focused efforts is the key here. Multiple goals may sap out the energy, if not planned well.

4. Consistency

Maintaining consistency, without getting bored in the middle of zillion distractions is tricky business. However, it is not that difficult if you love the job and are passionate. Key is to break down the tasks into achievable chunks and then being regular at it. It sounds simple but many a times requires that discipline and the tenacity to keep moving forward. One may also have to say ‘no’ to many things for that period of preparation.

5. Support structure

He is a strong believer of valuing relationships. These then created an excellent support structure for him. Many believe that they can achieve anything alone. However, the subtle aspect of having great relationships and a strong team cannot be undermined. That support structure can be within your home or outside but having one can make a lot of difference. It provides you will that peace of mind, which is necessary to take focused efforts. A disturbed mind will be everywhere and confused, which is often a result of inadequate support structure. Thus, pick your friends, colleagues, spouse carefully and tell them, why the goal is so important for you.

6. Never give up attitude

A never give up attitude needs practice and is like a muscle, which becomes stronger. Thankfully for him the Navy Seal training did the trick. However, it is always inbuilt, otherwise he would have quit the hard training early on. Experience hardships by getting out of the comfort zone very early. Living alone while studying, building an organization, getting a new skill, learning a new language etc. involves experiencing those hardships. When successfully done, it builds resilience and an ability to persevere.

It is amazing to note that he chose to be in an undergraduate program at the age of 25-26 years. His fellow students would have been in the age group of 18 -22 years. He felt humbled to learn so much from fellow students and class teachers. It was definitely frustrating but he never gave up. The brute force tactics he learnt as a Navy Seal were of no use in the classroom. Hence, he had to adapt.

7. Be grateful and stay grounded

Be grateful for the opportunities that come your way, as they might be stepping stones to something bigger. Be grateful for the people in your lives, as they may inspire you in unimaginable ways. Don’t be tied to an identity but definitely choose to be influenced by it, if it fits the desired value system. He sometimes felt superior as he had faced accentuating circumstances earlier. However, that made him unteachable and he soon realized that to course correct.

“When one feels humbled, you allow yourself to be teachable.” Learning is continuous and a student mindset can only be retained if one is grounded as well as willing.

8. Concluding remarks

“Fail hard enough, work hard enough and have a good attitude.” These are the words of Jonny Kim. In the journey of knowing him via his interviews, I realized that he is deeply passionate about public service. I will not be surprised, if he joins politics next. It is often times an awakening moment, once someone moves away from the comfort zone and certainly they can be the most rewarding.

NASA’s Artemis program

Below are additional interviews, which were referred to while writing this article.

  1. Harvard military affairs interview
  2. Interview with Mark Baird


Q. Johnny Kim is what kind of a doctor?

Ans. Through an enlisted-to-officer programme, Kim was promoted to the rank of naval officer. He obtained his mathematics degree from the University of San Diego and his medical doctorate from Harvard Medical School.

Q. Did Johnny Kim visit space?

Ans. NASA has chosen Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Jonny Kim to be a member of the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He reported for service in August 2017 and was the Increment Lead for Expedition 65 of the International Space Station in 2021.

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