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The Head of Google Spaceflight & Her Unwavering Focus

Way back when I was a Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow at Johnson Space Center, I attended a conference in Silicon Valley on "Overcoming Adversity: Stories of Triumph from NASA." I listened to each speaker with interest- but I admit- I was multi-tasking and probably only paying semi-attention. But when Tiffany Montague stepped onto the stage, I immediately sat upright in my chair. This woman just had this incredible presence. The other speakers wore the unofficial uniform of NASA: loose-fitting khaki pants, a nondescript collared shirt of some sort, and some- I shit you not- even had pocket protectors. Yes!

But Tiffany. This chic was rocking tight black leather pants, boots with heels a mile high and blue streaks in her hair. Innnnnteresting. She then introduced herself as the Manager of Google's Spaceflight Initiatives. Yowza.

Her official title? “Intergalactic Federation King Almighty and Commander of the Universe.”

She went on to tell her story. And little did I realize it back then- but Tiffany is the very embodiment of The CRUSH Method.

So, as it goes...while most girls were throwing their Sweet 16 Birthday parties, Tiffany enrolled at the uber-elite Smith College, studying computer sciences. She had a deep passion for aeronautics- and even wanted to be an astronaut-, but was unsure how to develop a career in this field.

“It is a pain in the ass to make it in the Sciences,” she said. So, she saw an opportunity to pivot, and gain hands-on experience. She joined ROTC and later- the Air Force- where she spent nine long years and rose to the rank of Captain. Her time there peaked with a stint doing high-altitude flight test engineering for the National Reconnaissance Office.

But, she never felt like she truly fit in at the military, describing that she “was like an octagonal peg in a round hole.”

However, her determination paid off, as she eventually found her place with Google. She was first hired by Google as a project manager in the engineering group...but she spent her “20 percent time”(Google's famous policy of encouraging employees to spend 20% of their time working on side projects) at the nearby NASA Ames Research Center. Her devotion to aeronautics led to her eventually becoming the Head of Google's Spaceflight Initiatives. She was fully committed to this field at an early age, and while it took her years and years to get there- she ultimately fucking crushed it.

She said, “You have to know who you are and what you want- then you have to barrel straight towards it.”

This ethos is a perfect example of the CRUSH Method. By joining the Military, Tiffany was embodying the U of CRUSH: Unwavering. She spent nine years gaining the necessary skills and expertise to land a dream job at Google. But she didn't back off- she kept at- even using her "free time" to gain further knowledge. She was totally committed to her goal, and maintained the discipline to achieve each step along the way.

After her presentation, I approached Tiffany and introduced myself. I told her that I was a Research Fellow at NASA, and she then asked me what my goals were for my future. I sheepishly replied that I wasn't sure yet- and that I felt pulled in multiple directions and honestly- stressed from all the pressures.

I'll never forget what she said next. She looked me right in the eye and said, "Kate- you can choose a comfortable life with no big pressures...or you can choose an extraordinary life. If you choose the extraordinary, it will be hard. There will be challenges and there will be pressure...But that's what makes it extraordinary."

I've often thought about that convo, even now- many years later. I draw upon it when I'm feeling moments of weakness and when I'm questioning why I put myself through constant hurdles and stress. And then I remember- I am not choosing a comfortable life.

So to CRUSH it, you must choose. You have to decide to pursue an extraordinary life- with all the magnificent ups and downs- and then you must have UNWAVERING resolve to get after it.

So what are you waiting for?

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