Author Sean Aiken: One Man, One Year, 52 Jobs

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Ian MacKenzie

Sean Aiken, author of The One-Week Job Project, working as a firefighter in week 47.

It's hard enough to get one job, but Sean Aiken managed to land 52 — in a single year. Back in 2007, Aiken was like a lot of recent college graduates. He had a business degree, but didn't know what he wanted to do with it. Instead of getting just any job to pay the bills, Aiken set off on a mission to discover his passion. He started a new job each Monday and over the course of the year worked as a dairy farmer, florist, yoga instructor, innkeeper, cattail picker, exterminator, astronomer, firefighter, cowboy, NHL mascot and, well, you get the idea. He traveled 46,685 miles, and slept on 55 beds, couches and floors. Oh, and he also wrote a book. In The One-Week Job Project: One Man, One Year, 52 Jobs Aiken chronicles his journey across the U.S. and Canada as he tried to answer the eternal question, "What do I want to be when I grow up?"

You say that your father kick-started all this with some very good advice.

It's all his fault. (laughs) We were all sitting around the dinner table discussing 'What should Sean do with his life?' My dad said, "It doesn't matter what you do Sean, just make sure it's something that you're passionate about." He said, "I've been alive nearly 60 years and I've yet to find something that I'm passionate about besides your mother." So that made me think, how many people are in the exact same situation like my father, in the same job for 30 or 40 years and they don't necessarily like what they're doing on a day-to-day basis? I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted it to be something I was happy doing. I made a promise to myself that I would find something that I was passionate about.

That's great advice, but it kind of sets the bar high. How do you go about finding your passion?

That's the thing. Everybody says, 'Go find your passion,' and it's like that is supposed to solve all your problems and you live happily ever after, but we don't often hear how we're supposed to actually go about it. I started flipping through the classifieds in the newspaper and looking at all these different job titles. They all sounded really cool, but I had no idea what the job would actually be like. That's how I came up with the idea to start my One-Week Job Project.

We see so many people that go to work every day and don't like what they do. It puts pressure on us to find this perfect job that will make us really happy.

Time and time again you hear people complain about their job — people who are in one job their whole life and don't actually enjoy it. So when we're entering the work force we feel like we can't just take any job, it has to be the perfect job. That's a big mistake. There are many things at work that make us happy. I would ask my co-workers what they like most about their job and the most common answer I heard was that they liked the people they worked with. It wasn't actually the day-to-day activities, but from their co-workers and the relationships they had at work — that's where they derived their job satisfaction.

You talk a lot about the trade offs between money and happiness. Do you think it's possible to have both?

I think it's definitely possible to have both. There are many people where they love their job and make enough money to get by. I remember speaking with Chet, the cowboy in Wyoming. I mean, here's this guy he doesn't make much money at all doing what he's doing and it's extremely hard work. But he was just like, "No it doesn't matter. Money is not important to me. I make enough money to get by and that's all that I need. I love my life. I love what I do." I think it's difficult to commit to that. They say do what you love and the money will come, but what if it doesn't?

One of the things I thought was really great about the project was that no matter what the job was, you found something to take away, a lesson learned. Any stick out in particular?

I learned that it's OK to not know what you want to do, but you have to do something. Also, take a good look at the different ways you can fulfill your passion. In week 22 I was a radio DJ, and I remember I asked the program director if he always wanted to get into radio and he said, "Truthfully we're all kind of failed musicians." He wanted to be a big rock star, but was a radio DJ and I loved it because he still got to work in the same industry, deal with the same people and he's able to still cultivate that passion for music. Just because you can't be a rock star doesn't mean you have to end up selling car insurance.

I know people gave you job offers directly on your website. You say in the book you had over 200 offers for the 52 weeks, what were some of the ones you turned down?

The gay porno offer was quite interesting. My phone number is on the website so sometimes people would just call and talk to me. This guy called and said, "I wanted to know if there was anything you wouldn't do." I was like, "I don't know, what did you have in mind? And he said, "porno." So I laughed, but it sounded interesting, so I was like, "What would be the job be like? What would it entail?" And he said it would be acting in a few scenes in a gay porno. So I was like, "Uh, no, I don't think so." Not that I would have done it if it was straight porn. I was also offered jobs as a dog groomer, tattoo remover, sorority girl, a professional race walker and a job in a slaughter house on Staten Island. I also got a lot of offers to be a nanny (16 in total).

How much can you really learn about a job in one week?

Surprisingly, quite a bit. I think it's a misconception that it takes several years to learn whether a job is right for you. A lot of information can be gathered quite quickly. Granted, yes, a job might become more rewarding with time — once you really learn the ins and outs and how you can contribute and be successful at it. But It wasn't my goal to find the perfect job in one week. It would have been awesome if I had, but it was more about learning from other people and putting the pieces together — well, figuring out what the pieces were.

Alright, it's time for the inevitable question. Do you know now what you want to be when you grow up?

I think at first I was really overwhelmed with the different options. They all didn't seem too bad. I felt like I had to choose one and that would be it. But I realized what makes me happy today is not necessarily the same thing that will make me happy five years down the road. The reality is that I am going to have five or six different careers in my life. Instead of being overwhelmed by that, now I'm excited about it. It's an opportunity to try different things and, if something is no longer fulfilling, then I can move on.