One time I worked on a Mission to Mars group simulation project. This was many years ago in the Bay Area and it only lasted a single week. I sure learned a lot and I think there were some valuable life lessons that came about from my time on the project.
All of us came about in the project the same way. There was an advertisement and those that had availability for the full schedule were hired, and hired solely for the project. We were not becoming employees of this entity or any other government agency. We were just temporary contractors and that was fine with us because we wanted to get back to our normal lives.
There were multiple shifts and I was assigned the group in Room B. I assumed that all the different groups received similar assignments, but I didn’t know for sure.
There were five of us in my group. We introduced ourselves to each other and exchanged pleasantries. The supervisor said, “Do we have a volunteer to be there group leader for your team?” Soon a lady, I’ll call her Diane for the sake of this story, volunteered and she was selected.
The research center staff explained what we would be doing, how each day we would have about twenty skin and body electrical process attached to different parts of our body that would measure things like heart rate, perspiration, and other measures of stress or bodily reaction. If you have ever participated in biofeedback sessions, you have a general idea what is going on.
“What will we be doing?" asked Diane.
“Each of you will be in a separate room and will have a headset and video monitor. What you will experience is very similar to an astronaut on a mission to Mars, and you will be remotely operating a virtual rover that is simulating moving on the planet’s surface.”
It sounded fun so far and even more so because we were all going to get paid for our time every day.
“Just a reminder,” said our supervisor. “If, for any reason, you decide not to continue with the study, you will still be compensated for your time.”
I wondered to myself why anyone would not want to continue every day and even beyond the week we had signed up for. This was such a wonderful opportunity. Little did I know what was coming.
The first day started. After all if it electrical diodes had been placed all over our bodies, the doors were closed on each of our little rooms. We had set times for our breaks, of course, but we were not supposed to talk to each other, outside of our Mission to Mars assigned roles, until the end of the week when we were to do a debriefing.
When Friday finally arrived and we had an opportunity to share feedback, here are some things that I learned.
- Team goals. Diane was the team lead on our group and her position was to give out assignments that each team member needed to accomplish. I think over goal was to get to a certain land mass by a certain time each day, and that the whole team had to make it without leaving anyone behind. This was hard to do and some days we couldn’t make it, due to electrical disturbances or mechanical problems. It was stressful and disappointing to not accomplish these tasks and other ones that required group participation. I learned that group projects under time constraints along with uncontrollable outside forces equals lots of tension and pressure.
- Individual goals. In addition to the team tasks, each member had different individual jobs that had to be done throughout the day. Sometimes these assignments conflicted with the team goals, yet flexibility was not an option. I learned a lesson that sometimes life will give us both individual and group assignments and often both cannot be achieved. Hard choices have to be made and people are going to question your decision-making process.
- Sand dunes. Sometimes my Mars rover got stuck in virtual sand dunes and this messed up everything because then I got delayed for a long time. I couldn’t go back out of the sand dune because it would take an hour so they only thing I could do was go through it and hope for the best. They lesson I learned was to avoid sand dunes in life, plan ahead and research future terrain so you don’t get stuck in something where you waste time and can’t achieve your goals and your team goals.
- Communicate in multiple ways. During our debriefing, Diane talked to me and the other team members. She asked me, “How come you didn’t answer my messages?" I answered that I did talk to her quite a lot about every task and all the delays. She replied, "You were supposed to do both written messages and verbal responses. The sand storms blocked all of the verbal communications every day.” I learned that there are different ways to communicate and often it can be beneficial to use more than one.
I hope that I will have more experiences like this in my life, because memorable job assignments, temporary or permanent, are few and far between. You never know what kind of adventures will come your way. I recommend that you be open-minded to life giving you surprises and that you try to learn some life lessons whenever you can.