Monday, May 23, 2016

Am I Building My Dreams, or Someone Else's?

“If you don't build your dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.”

This quote, attributed to several sources, struck me when I read it last week. I've been going through a period of self-evaluation lately. What am I doing? Where do I want to go? What should I be doing to get there? This quote struck at the heart of my inquiry. What are my dreams, and am I building them or simply helping others to build theirs?

A lot has changed in my life in the past six months. The company I worked for closed its doors. I gave birth to my first child. Naturally, my life has adapted to changes beyond my control. My work has shifted away from a traditional 9-to-5 office job and toward a flexible schedule around my family life. While I've always been a multitasker, I'm even more so now as I balance multiple clients and projects as well as seek new opportunities. I've never been happier, more satisfied, and more at peace with my work-life balance than I am right now.

Am I building my dream, or am I simply for hire to build others' dreams? Does it matter? Can't it be the same thing?

My dream since childhood has been to do work involving space. I especially wanted to be an astronaut! I still do, not a NASA astronaut but instead a private one. The path forward for private spaceflight is still unclear, so I wait and watch for the right opportunity that doesn't cost as much as my house.

As for doing work involving space – check – been doing that for 13 years now. I defy advice to specialize and instead have collected skill sets, experiences, and interests like a hoarder: astronomy, astrophysics, space telescopes, telescope manufacturing, planetary science, experimental dust dynamics, in-situ resource utilization, space industry analysis, space policy, microgravity payloads, ISS operations, physical sciences and technology development research, proposal evaluation and review, parabolic aircraft operations, event planning and promotions, social media and communications, STEM nonprofit education and outreach, and business development. Where do I fit? Everywhere; all if it.

Each job I've had has brought me closer to where I want to be. Each job I've had wasn't a perfect fit and had its flaws, but it gave me experiences, insight, and opportunity to move forward. Each move has helped me to build a great career and bring me to where I am today.

An opportunity was presented to me two weeks ago, another potential path. It was a path from my past, one I rejected but always wondered if I shouldn't have. The opportunity presented seemed too good to be true. And I wanted it. I thought of it as a way to jump back on a path from the past and ride it to wherever it would go. I got my hopes up. But as it almost always is the case, this too good to be true opportunity was too good to be true. Reality was less appealing. In fact, it was a giant step backward. I closed that door once more.

Building my dreams requires me to identify my dreams. I couldn't detail them for you. I have vague notions. I'm pressing ahead with them, defining them as I go.

In truth, I miss science. I don't get to do it much these days, just bits here and there as I consult others. I miss getting my hands dirty. I miss conducting new research that no one else has done before in order to progress our understanding of the world. A well-meaning colleague recently told me that I'm not qualified to do independent research with just a master's degree and ABD on my PhD. I completely disagree, and I find that attitude insulting to the scientists and engineers out there who conduct independent research and move their fields forward without the title Doctor. Of course I can do my own research. Of course I can write and win my own proposals. I just need to identify what I want to pursue first, then go for it.

I have various projects that are of my own creation. I'm writing a book about millennials in the space industry, telling their stories, because it interests me. I've just resurrected the idea of a survey of emerging space (newspace) companies, because it interests me. I'm active in advising and promoting state and national space policy issues, because it interests me. These aren't dreams I'm building. These are tiny building blocks of a dream to normalize space happenings to make it relevant to everyone and anyone.

That is my dream. It's big and it's broad. It requires countless people working on countless projects, big and small. It doesn't have a definite end or time frame. It's wide-reaching and global. It's an honor to help build others' dreams, if their dreams coincide with mine. It's fun, it's exciting, and it helps me to see our mutual dreams in a new light. I love working with clients who can help me to build my dream as I help them to build theirs. It's symbiotic and harmonious. And I've only just begun!

Aside from the financial side, I'm working the best job I've ever had. Will you build your dream with me?

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