A common saying goes:
“Shoot for the moon: even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.
The saying was coined by author Normal Vincent Peale, who was a minister famous for his books and work on the power of positive thinking. He was also widely criticised by many psychologists and mental health experts, who noted that his style of positive psychology was not founded in evidence and realism, but in naive optimism.
The saying sounds lovely at first, because it seems to be a beautiful metaphor for trying your best at everything. It says that whatever happens, you will land on another beautiful opportunity and good things will happen.
But of course, life does not work that way. As important as it is to make an effort to try and take action, you will not always be positively rewarded for it.
As it is with everything, science can help us break down the flaws with the philosophy of this saying.
Firstly, the Moon is 384,400km away from Earth. It took brilliant scientists and mathematicians with a significant amount of NASA budget 6 years on the Apollo program to put astronauts on the Moon.
Dreams are certainly achievable, but we cannot ignore that sometimes we have to pour in much time, resources and energy to achieve them. When we look upon someone’s success, it is important to consider how much effort they may have put in. Furthermore, it is paramount that we be realistic with our goals and dreams, in that we need to be patient and accept that it could take a series of failures, sacrifices and heartbreak for us to land on the Moon.
Secondly, space is unimaginably massive. If you shoot for the moon and you miss, there is a very high chance that you will float along the lonely, vast emptiness of space for the rest of eternity in a vacuum before you hit anything else (realistically, you will die of suffocation, thirst, starvation or being frozen first). The nearest star to us is the Sun, 150 million kilometres away. The second closest star – Proxima Centauri – is about 4.24 light years away. This means that even if you travelled at the speed of light, it would take 4.24 years, covering a distance of 40 trillion kilometres.
This fact teaches us that we have to be prepared for the fact that when we chase our dreams, there is a chance of things catastrophically failing. That is just life.
Lastly, even if by some miracle you survived the journey and landed among the stars, it would not be what we expect. As romantic as it sounds to land and live on a star like the Little Prince, in reality, stars look much like the Sun – a gigantic, glowing ball of fire. You will be incinerated even before you land on it.
And there is our final lesson from this saying: even if you achieve your goals, the end result may be completely different to what you expected. You may not even be happy with the outcome. So avoid pinning all of your hopes and happiness on achieving a single dream. Make sure to diversify your goals and identity.
As factually wrong as the saying may be, we can still learn valuable lessons from it, albeit completely the opposite message. But perhaps this is the more important truth in life: sometimes, we fail to achieve our dreams.
That said, we must continue to try for our goals and dreams, just with realistic expectations of how life can go. Had NASA given up after the tragic fiery accident of Apollo 1, we may have never been able to experience the glorious moment of humanity setting foot on another celestial body.
Shoot for the moon, but maybe have a backup plan. And if you fail, don’t lose heart and give up, but instead try again and try new, different things constantly.