Image credit: Bryan Versteeg

So I get this a lot: “Are they looking for any kind of specialization with Mars One? Do you have any skills that they might need?” While I do have an associates degree in computer networking, I’ve been saying that they aren’t so much after a particular skill set as they are after certain personality types. One person can have a doctorate in computer networking and be a total jerk-off. Another person can just have a little computer repair shop and be able to get along with just about anybody. It’s a matter of which person you would want to spend the rest of your life in a facility the size of a decent apartment with.

Mars One has it exactly right. Candidates have to be at least 18 years old at the time of application and I tend to assume that most American 18-year-olds who consider applying at least have a high school diploma or a GED. They’re more about the five tiers of personality they’re looking for. Those personality traits include Resiliency, Adaptibility, Curiosity, Ability to Trust and Creativity/Resourcefulness.

  • Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.
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    Resiliency: You don’t turn into a complete drama queen when things go wrong. You just roll up your sleeves and figure out what happened. You’re the one who stuck with it when that programming class got a little tough and got the best grade in the class. You don’t quit easily and you can keep your spirits up even when things seem to be falling apart around you. You recognize that there is a purpose to actions even when that purpose isn’t clear right at the moment. You don’t accept failure very easily and, when everybody else is just about ready to give up, you can search your internal being for one more possible solution to an external problem.

  • Adaptability: You can work with most people, even ones who come from a different background. You can adjust to new situations and take things within their proper context. You don’t mind expanding your boundaries when you need to. You can change your mind based on new information and you take the time to understand other points of view even when you don’t agree with them. You recognize that your peers can and often will come from a different cultural background and you can draw strength from that.
  • Curiosity-Quotes-3Curiosity: You were that kid who just had to see what was under that rock and you still like to explore. You don’t mind turning a new thing upside down and inside out to learn everything you can it. You want to understand things, not just memorize facts. You can also teach others about what you know in ways that they find easy to understand.
  • Ability to Trust: Teamwork comes naturally to you. You know how to count on members of your team to hold up their end while you hold up yours. You have a level of self-confidence that can’t be faked. You have a good level of judgement of who can and can’t be trusted to live up to their promises and you can draw on experience to help develop relationships.
  • Creativity/Resourcefulness: When “the book” fails you, you can start thinking outside the box to solve problems. You know when to not take a situation too seriously and you know that a good joke can help get the creative juices going. You tend to shine when you have to improvise a solution that most people might hesitate to try.

Are these five personality traits the ones you need to do well with both Mars One and life? Well, I’m probably not going to take my computer to the jerk of a fellow with a doctorate degree when it’s acting funny. He would probably just have his nose in the air over the fact that he’s a hotshot of a geek and won’t care about my personal computer. I’ll just drop it off at the friendly computer whiz with his little shop who actually cares about helping. It’s a pretty cool free-market thing: I just vote with my dollars for someone who doesn’t mind poking around until he figures out the problem and fixes it.

Even when you’re an average person who is more interested in “real life” than in chasing dreams like going to Mars, your level of education isn’t the only thing that matters if you want to make it in life. Sure, you need to know what you’re doing. But it also takes enough ambition to know when to turn off the TV and do what it takes to be successful. Nobody’s going to do it for you, not even the guy you voted for in the last presidential election. It’s not likely that he even knows you exist. So it boils down to the idea that you have to take stock of, not just your skills, but also your character.

That’s what Mars One is really looking for: People with enough character to devote an entire lifetime to something very specific. Most of the ones who already made it to the 1058 remaining candidates after the first cut are the ones who are focused enough to not take their eyes off a goal. We already know it’s not going to be easy and some of us are already running smack into obstacles. The ones who actually make it to the First Four are going to be the toughest, bravest, and most clever people who actually applied for a one-way trip to Mars. Do you have what it takes? If you do, you’ll have a chance to prove it, so watch closely for the next time Mars One opens up applications.