Sharing what I’ve learned the hard way

It is one thing to talk about change, knowledge, risk, failure and success. It is another to live them in spectacular style with the whole world looking on. I sat in front of a computer on live national television and processed the very first image returned by the Hubble Space Telescope. That was the image that showed that the telescope was badly flawed. There is nothing quite like seeing your project become an international symbol of just how bad failure can be!

With the project in crisis, I joined the team responsible for the camera that would ultimately turn Hubble from a joke into the triumph it became. It takes a lot to rise from the ashes, especially when the whole world is looking over your shoulder. Or perhaps I should say, breathing down your neck.

As anyone who has ever had to deal with that kind or pressure knows, raising the stakes and cranking up the scrutiny can make it even harder to find the right path. Buy me a beer and we can talk about how easy it would have been to fall victim to the same kinds of mistakes that crippled Hubble in the first place!

Quoting science fiction author Robert Heinlein, “Live and learn, or you don’t live long.” After 30 years of experiencing both success and failure in that high pressure, high risk world, I’ve learned a few things that I think are worth sharing.

  • “It is easy for me to be lavish in my praise of Dr. Jeff Hester. To my mind he is one of the best “explainers” in our midst today… He is a front-runner among those whose willingness and ability allow them to cross the walls of different fields. His handling of Q & A sessions is masterful, and audiences he interacts with find their time has been more than worthwhile. I believe him to be motivated by impulse deeper than his career: the promotion of ideas that further the health and potential of our society.”

    Hugh Downs

    Emmy Award Winning Broadcaster

  • “Jeff has a rare combination of extraordinary intelligence and the ability to take extremely complex topics and make them consumable for the masses. His broad range of experience makes him a valuable part of any team because he approaches every problem or situation in a unique way. Most importantly, Jeff listens. He hears what you have to say before providing constructive feedback and has a clear passion for helping others to learn and succeed.”

    Barret Howell

    Regional Sales Manager


  • “The whole affair was a home run… The real highlight of the evening was Dr. Hester. He held the audience in absolute stunned silence as he described the relationships of the universe and beyond. A fantastic presentation. He nailed it.”

    Russell Violett

    Major General, US Air Force (ret)

  • “Dr. Jeff Hester is loved and respected for his ability to communicate his message effectively and understandably. He is universally well received. . . Dr. Hester is a delight to work with.”

    Gena Bonsal

    Director, Office of Presidential Advancement

    Arizona State University

  • “Dr. Jeff Hester coached me through one of the most difficult career decisions I have ever faced. With his help, I was able to identify and articulate my ultimate goals and set priorities. With Jeff’s guidance, I was finally able to come to a decision that was in alignment with my core values; one that is in my personal and professional best interest. Subsequently, Jeff has helped me identify obstacles and methods to address them, and establish a clear path forward.”

    Melissa Morris

    Associate Professor

    State University of New York

  • “Dr. Jeff Hester was a hit at our summer leadership conference. He is a five-star speaker with a practical, hard-hitting message that goes to the core of what makes businesses succeed and fail. I think that everyone in the room felt like he was talking to them personally. I hope to see him again at another of our meetings!”

    Julie Courtney

    Senior Vice President

    Independent Bankers Association of Texas

  • “My work with Jeff has had immediate and obvious benefits to me professionally. It is stretching and challenging me in unexpected ways, and it’s fun! Jeff is a fantastic coach.”

    Andrew Westphal

    Senior Research Fellow

    Space Sciences Laboratory

    University of California – Berkeley

Sharing what I’ve learned the hard way  © Dr. Jeff Hester
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  • What do record fire seasons in the West, record hurricane seasons in the Atlantic, record winter storms in the South and the hottest years in history have to do with each other? Everything.

    This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. Yes, schools are desperately important to kids. No, COVID-19 doesn’t care, and COVID is making the rules right now. Attempts to open schools this fall will fail of their own accord. The relevant question is how to meet the needs of children, families and the community in the face of that reality.

  • Currently new cases of COVID-19 in Arizona are doubling every 7 days. ICU beds in the state are already full. The rest of the country isn’t that far behind us. You do the math.

  • Now is not the time for scientists to be circumspect and silent. We are on the short end of a battle over whether truth even matters. If scientists do not stand up for what is real, who will?

  • The morning cyclist in my neighborhood may not be standing in the Michigan Statehouse carrying a gun and demanding her right to spread contagion far and wide, but she may as well be.

  • You know those nice charts and graphs that make it look like we are over the hump of COVID-19 and that things are about to get better? Those predictions are dead wrong, with an unfortunate emphasis on “dead.”

  • Imagine three gregarious scientists, each with the gift of the gab, all coping with stay-at-home orders. Of course we started a livestream/podcast talk show! What else would we do? Welcome to the kickoff episode of Scientists Stuck Inside.

  • Even after COVID-19 kills hundreds of thousands in the U.S. over the coming weeks, we will still be almost as vulnerable to the pandemic as we are today. We’d all love to “get back to normal” after that, but the price could be a second wave, worse than the first. Some see us facing either economic Depression or allowing vast numbers of preventable deaths, but that is a fool’s choice. There are better options if we have the will to find them.

  • There is a lot of information about COVID-19 out there, much of it misleading. When looking at the future, start with what the science really says.

  • If someone can’t tell you how they would know that they are wrong, they don’t have a clue whether they are right.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Once seemingly incomprehensible, the origin of life no longer seems such a mystery. Most of what once appeared as roadblocks are turning out to be superhighways.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Being certain lights up our brains like a junkie’s next hit. Literally. Unfortunately, being certain and being right are two very, very different things.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

Over his 30 year career as an internationally known astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Hester was a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. With one foot always on the frontiers of knowledge, he has been mentor, coach, team leader, award-winning teacher, administrator and speaker, to name a few of the hats he has worn. His Hubble image, the Pillars of Creation, was chosen by Time Magazine as among the 100 most influential photographs in history.
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