During my Ph.D. thesis defense.

During my Ph.D. thesis defense.

(Note: This post was scheduled for yesterday, but I postponed it due to the tragedy in Paris)

In a previous posting I expressed a resolve to ignore the siren song of “cool new things” in order to focus better on my priorities. That is solid and useful common sense. However, in my personal experience, many of the most life-changing opportunities came out of the blue and I have learned to “listen to the universe” for clues. Take for example the fact that I came to do my postdoc in the States. It all started by a simple question the evening of December 6th 2001, during the formal celebratory dinner of my Ph.D. thesis defense. My opponent, a renowned cancer immunologist and I were chatting about my future plans. I explained that I had a postdoctoral gig lined up in Spain. It was related to my field of interest, it would allow me to be close to family and friends, and also to give my son a  Spanish-speaking environment for a change.

“Have you considered San Diego?” he asked.

I looked at him. Earlier that day, he and the tribunal grilled me for hours in the Swedish tradition of a Ph.D. thesis defense. After the official announcements and champagne it was time for lunch with only the supervisors (I had 2), the opponent, and the newly minted doctor. During lunch my opponent had talked about his experience as a visiting researcher in San Diego. In the deep Swedish wintertime his descriptions of the blue ocean and the sunshine sounded like a golden fantasy.

“I know a few groups where your expertise would fit right in.”

Even after so many years, I remember that I saw a door opening and a clear phrase appeared in my brain: “If I say no, I will regret this the rest of my life.”

Well, the rest is, as they say, history. It took many months, horrendous paperwork, lots of money, heartbreaks, self-doubts, and yes, fear, but in September 2002 I boarded the plane, together with my 12 year old, that took me to California and the beginning of a new life.

So going back to common sense. Yes, it is necessary to shut out the distractions and the noise, and focus on priorities. But great opportunities sometime arrive unexpectedly, and with potential to upend careful plans and bring chaos. In my very personal experience, no rational analysis has ever been able to identify the real thing. When it is right, it just feels right. It is a gut feeling.