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  • Guillermo Söhnlein

“Serial Careers” … and the Importance of Childhood Dreams

[This post originally appeared as a LinkedIn article on 22 September 2022.]

Recently I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my life, and LinkedIn seems like the perfect place to share one of the revelations that emerged about my professional life.

When I was 11 years old, I had a recurring dream that I would become the commander of the first human colony on Mars. Needless to say, that did not happen.

Although I gave it a good try for the first seven years …

I did well enough in school and with extracurricular activities to get an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, where I hoped to become a naval aviator, then a test pilot, and then a NASA astronaut. Unfortunately, at age 18 my eyesight went bad, which would have disqualified me from flight school and effectively dashed all of my life dreams (since I wasn't a scientist or engineer, the other paths to the NASA astronaut program).

Or so I thought.

In the four decades since my less-than-perfect eyesight changed the course of my life, the universe has opened many other doors along a similar path, even if I did not consciously see it until recently.

With my astronaut career in ruins before it even started, I embarked on a journey through seven (yes, 7!) “careers”, even if some lasted no more than a few years.

In turn, I spent time pursuing careers in the following fields:

  • Economics

  • Law

  • Military

  • Technology

  • Space

  • Ocean Exploration

  • Sustainability

If you take one long scroll down my LinkedIn profile, you can see this progression in reverse chronological order.

I don’t know how many times I have had to defend this apparently haphazard professional life, but the strange thing is that every one of these “transitions” or “pivots” felt completely natural and logical to me at the time.

I could never explain to anyone WHY I felt so comfortable with my life, but recently I realized that it was because this strange “serial career” had actually been following the blueprint created by my childhood dream.

You see, I may never have become commander of the first human colony on Mars, but somewhere along the way I have managed to acquire many of the skills and experiences that I would need to actually do that job.

I started looking at my career through a different lens.

  • First, in order to lead a human offworld settlement, I would need to understand leadership principles as well as how to best organize and protect a group of people. My background in economics, law, and the military certainly prepared me for that.

  • Second, leading the first settlement of its kind that is also located in a harsh extreme environment, I would need to understand both exploration generally and space specifically.

  • Finally, the Martian colony would have to be both technologically advanced and also completely self-sustaining.

I realized that–whether consciously or subconsciously–I have somehow crafted a professional life guided very closely by my childhood dreams. I may not have realized those dreams exactly, but I have certainly lived them.

And there is still so much more to come.

Even though I have acquired other relevant experiences without pursuing specific careers (e.g., human psychology, religious studies, political science, etc.), I still have significant gaps in my knowledge, including science, medicine, and engineering. At this point in my life, I doubt I will pursue careers in those fields, but at least now I am keenly aware of my interests and why they exist.

That said, there are certainly other relevant areas that I may pursue with my next career shift, so … stay tuned for some new announcements soon!

Let me end with my badly paraphrased quote from Joe Walsh, lead guitarist for The Eagles, in response to a relatively recent interview question:

“Life is strange. When you’re actually living it, it feels like a random mess of missed opportunities and bad decisions, because you have no idea what you’re doing. But then you reach a point where you look back, and it looks like a beautifully choreographed ballet that couldn’t have happened any other way.”
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