Lt. Jonny Kim says the ‘controlled aggression’ he learned as a Navy SEAL and doctor is what helped him become a NASA astronaut

Jonny Kim readies for helicopter water survival training at NASA Johnson Space Center's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston.

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Jonny Kim readies for helicopter water survival training at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston.
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Josh Valcarcel/NASA
  • US Navy Lt. Jonny Kim, a Navy SEAL and Harvard-trained physician who recently graduated from NASA training, stressed that the skills he obtained throughout his military career complemented the ones he gained from his medical experience.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Kim outlined the “hard skills” he learned from being a SEAL – from deploying twice to Iraq, to participating in dozens of combat missions and earning a Silver Star.
  • Kim contrasted the hard skills with “soft skill” traits that he picked up during his education from Harvard Medical School and his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

US Navy Lt. Jonny Kim, a Navy SEAL and Harvard-trained physician who recently graduated from NASA training, stressed that the skills he obtained throughout his military career complemented the ones he gained from his medical experience.

In an interview with Business Insider, Kim outlined the “hard skills” he learned from being a SEAL – from deploying twice to Iraq, to participating in dozens of combat missions and earning a Silver Star.

“The SEALs were very good in teaching me hard skills – that means resilience, pushing past your mental and physical boundaries; and having an enormously high threshold for pain,” Kim said.

Kim contrasted the hard skills with “soft skill” traits that he picked up during his education from Harvard Medical School and his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“All of these things that are very useful, but some … I had to learn outside of the SEALs,” Kim said. “And that meant adapting to people in your civic group, communicating with people from all walks of life.”

“You don’t work with two-year-old toddlers who are in the emergency room, or 85-year-olds who are on their deathbed and want someone to talk to and hold their hand with,” Kim said, referring to his military experience. “A lot of those soft skills – working with groups of people who I’ve never met before to accomplish a mission, adapting to personality types – those are skills I’ve learned outside the SEAL time.”

Kim said it was a mixture of the soft and hard skills he learned that enabled him to become one of the 13 astronaut candidates to graduate from NASA’s latest program.

“I would say that the combination of those two skills, soft and hard skills, really enabled me to be a good candidate as an astronaut,” Kim said.

But possessing the two traits is only half the battle, Kim said – it’s also important to know when to apply each skill set. Despite some of the stereotypes of being a Navy SEAL, Kim said nearly all of the SEALs he served with were masters of controlling their emotions, a skill that helped him transition from being a SEAL to a physician and astronaut.

“I know that SEALs [have] this connotation of being very aggressive and hardcore,” Kim said. “And in a lot of ways, that’s correct, but I’d like to make this point clear: 99% of Navy SEALs are the most quiet, humble, professional warriors that exercise very controlled aggression.”

“Controlled aggression, to me, is one of the most important traits to have,” he added. “To have that social intelligence to know when to exert aggression in the military environment, and when to stay calm, cool, and collected.”