50 Jobs, 50 States, 50 Weeks
Facing a dismal job market unmatched since the Great Depression? Such discouragement put this alumnus on his mettle to think big. He’s giving career mobility a whole new meaning — landing jobs from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters.By Pamela J. Johnson
July 1, 2009
Did you know that the moment a raindrop hits surface water, the chemistry of the surface water changes?
Or that hosting a rodeo is so pricey, just the dirt can set you back $8,000?
When farmers converse, did you know they're more than likely leaning on something, anything — a tractor tire, the hood of a truck, a gatepost?
Daniel Seddiqui ’05 is privy to these insights. The 26-year-old USC College alumnus has been a hydrologist, a rodeo announcer and a corn farmer — and that’s just in three weeks.
In fall 2008, Seddiqui embarked on an unusual career path — working 50 jobs, each for one week, in 50 states. He’s experiencing 50 first days on the job. And he’s doing this on purpose.
Seddiqui graduated in 2005, a few years before the job market began to collapse. With a bachelor’s in economics, he monitored the looming recession with expert eyes and didn’t like what he saw. He decided to put to the test the Trojan slogan “Fight On.”
He would not find one job, by Tommy, he’d find 50 — and he did.
Seddiqui is seeking that castle in the sky — the perfect job that will motivate him to spring out of bed each morning. He also wants to travel the country and experience different lifestyles. Blogging about his one-week careers, he believes, will teach others about the diversity of America’s people and environments.
“Instead of blindly and selfishly traveling around the country, I’m bringing everyone along with me,” he said. “I’m educating people about different careers.”
From his parent’s home in Los Altos, Calif., he lined up the 50 one-week positions and took off in his white Jeep with nothing save a few cases of bottled water. (View a larger version of the map above that chronicles Seddiqui's journey across the U.S.)
“Today, I started my first day — again,” Seddiqui blogged on Sept. 29, while a medical device manufacturer in Elk River, Minn.
Working on your feet all day, assembling surgery drills and spinal cord braces, he admitted, could get monotonous. But it’s not only the job that motivates Seddiqui. He’s exploring the uniqueness of each state and learning what makes America tick.
In seven short days, he learned why Minnesota is called the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and the true meaning of “Minnesota nice.”
Wanting to emulate the locals, he obtained a fishing license during a lunch break.
“I’d never been fishing before because I thought it would be boring,” he blogged. “I was so wrong.”
He caught nine northern pike in one hour, 40 minutes.
“Maybe I’ll try hunting this weekend,” he enthused.
He was left speechless when his temporary co-workers threw him a surprise farewell party, dug into their own pockets and presented him with a one-week paycheck.
“That’s ‘Minnesota nice,’ ” he blogged.
Most employers paid him and/or provided lodging for a week, but a few did not.
In Iowa, for example, where he worked as an agronomist, he slept in his Jeep, rain pounding on the roof, before someone responded to his co-worker’s e-mail request to take him in. Then in North Dakota, working as a cartographer, he stayed in a mansion owned by one of his bosses.
Fresh off his stint as a border patrol agent in Arizona and en route to New Mexico for a new albeit brief career as a landscape architect, Seddiqui spoke by phone about the origins of his enterprise. Perhaps more salient during an economic crisis unmatched since the Great Depression, he dished about how in the world he persuaded so many businesses to buy into his plan.
After graduation he couldn’t find office work, but his experience as a track and field athlete at USC helped him secure an assistant football coach internship at the University of Virginia.
“It was not easy when they played against USC,” he said. “I didn’t want these [UV] guys to win.”
After that internship, he landed a similar one at the University of Georgia. In Atlanta, he sold kitchens at Home Depot to make ends meet.
“How did I end up at Home Depot?” he asked himself. “I know nothing about kitchens.”
The idea came to him in the middle of the night.
“I woke up and typed up a mock résumé showing work in each state and duties for each job,” he recounted. “Some came to me right away. A park ranger in Wyoming. A logger in Oregon. In Florida, work in an amusement park. Then I got to North Dakota and I had no idea what people did. So I did some research.”
He sent his mock résumé to his parents and told them, “This is what I’m going to do.” They weren’t amused.
“Yeah, whatever,” came the frosty response.
He confided his dream to a friend in Georgia. As they say, it takes just one person to believe in you.
“She inspired me to make it happen,” he said.
The friend helped him create his Web site, livingthemap.com. The domain name and logo — a silhouette of Seddiqui running across a map of the U.S. barefooted in a suit and tie, swinging a suitcase — came to him that same epiphanic night.
“Nothing was going to stop me,” he said.
Except one not-so-minor detail.
“I had no money at all; not one cent,” he said, adding, “I was going to save that story for Oprah.”
Seddiqui wasn’t being flippant about the possibility of appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Since the first story about him appeared in the Palo Alto Daily News in July 2008, he’s become a media darling, with segments on NBC’s Today Show, CNN, The Bonnie Hunt Show, and National Public Radio, and stories in the Detroit Free Press, The Des Moines Register and Daily Trojan, to name a few news outlets. Foreign press can’t get enough of him. He’s been featured in stories throughout Europe and parts of Asia.
A documentary-programming channel offered to chronicle his journey, but producers wanted to script his every move and he preferred letting life unfold organically. He turned them down.
“I’m grateful I’m keeping my own path and sticking to my project,” he said.
But in the beginning things were very different.
Even his parents thought “Living the Map” was a cockamamie scheme and begged him to set up at least 10 jobs before he left. A dutiful son, he made inquiries again and again. And he was rejected again and again.
When his plan finally hit the front page of his local newspaper, he hopped on his scooter (he didn’t have a car) and visited the business zone of Los Altos, a Bay Area town, with a population of 27,693.
“Will you sponsor me?” he implored business owners, waving the newspaper. The answer was always the same: no.
A second article in a bigger newspaper impressed prospective weeklong employers enough to hire him. He set up 10 jobs. His parents were still dubious.
“I’m someone who does not give up,” he said. “No matter what it takes.”
He turned to his banker brother, who advised him to set up a $5,000 line of credit and purchase a vehicle to put the plan into motion. He found a Jeep for $5,000. His parents kicked in two cases of water and he was off.
His first stop was Salt Lake City, where he worked for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ humanitarian services division.
“Even though Utah is known for skiing and Arches National Park, I am not alone when I say that Utah and Mormons go hand in hand,” he blogged, explaining the job choice. “Mormons make up 58 percent of Utah’s population. That is a staggering number.”
The 150 employees in the church’s humanitarian division were packaging hygiene kits for Hurricane Gustav victims in Louisiana. Most employees were refugees from throughout the world, part of a two-year “developing self-reliance” program, which teaches English and essential job skills, and eventually provides job placement.
“Not only did I learn about the life of Mormons, but also about the life of refugees,” he blogged.
In Denver, three days into his newest gig, he figured he had the hydrologist thing all figured out.
“I’ve discovered what a hydrologist does all day: They hike with bottles of water to keep hydrated and by the time they’ve reached the peak of the mountain, their water bottles are empty and ready to be filled with surface water and tested in the laboratory,” he blogged, adding:
“OK, I’m just joking, but they do hike a lot.”
Outdoor exercise is huge in Denver, he noted, with people biking, walking and running in large groups at parks after work.
“No wonder so many Olympians train here,” he mused.
Then more hiking as a park ranger in Wyoming, where his jaw-dropping “office window” view was a 1,267-foot-high volcanic neck called Devil’s Tower rising above the forest.
On his first day, he awoke at 7 a.m. and didn’t eat breakfast because “I wasn’t sure what the park rangers were going to have me do.” Big mistake.
“I ended up going on a six-hour hike around the perimeter of Devil’s Tower National Park,” he blogged.
The ranger and he scaled the boundary fence, checking for abnormalities.
“Sometimes Ranger Joe spots deer caught in the fence that are dangling to their death,” he blogged, adding that Ranger Joe will free them. “We also were checking for any unlawful break-ins and whether any animals had torn the fence.”
He claims driving in Wyoming — as well as other states such as Montana — is as perilous as driving in Los Angeles. But it has nothing to do with cars.
“It felt like driving in a parade with deer spectators,” he blogged about Wyoming roads. “A line of deer would be roaming on the shoulder of the road. You never know if one will jump into your parade.”
Scarier still was performing weddings in Las Vegas. He said it took him a few minutes over the Internet to become an ordained minister, a role he took seriously.
“I didn’t want to mess up the bride’s big day,” he said of his jitters.
But in each case, he was more nervous than the brides. Some were so nonchalant they asked him, “What day is it again?”
So far, his border patrol agent stint was among his most dangerous jobs. During his last day, he witnessed the detention of two possible illegal immigrants from Guatemala, a 1,775-mile distance from Tucson, Ariz. Agents found them hitchhiking near the border, dubbed “the line.”
“It was eye-opening to see,” Seddiqui said. “It’s crazy that they come so far just to be arrested at the border.”
In the agency’s “dope room,” where confiscated drugs are stored, Seddiqui tried on a 40-pound pack filled with marijuana.
“I can’t even imagine people carrying those backpacks during the summer for miles,” he said. “It’s not surprising that border patrol agents also act as rescue team members.”
The adventure provides more than observation and teaching. Only weeks in, Seddiqui had made at least one notable personality shift.
At the start, the moment he hit states where radio stations fluctuated between hillbilly boogie and the Nashville sound, he would shut off the radio in disgust. By week 10, his tastes had changed.
“Now that I’m in Idaho, I blast it,” he blogged. “Funny how that worked.”
He’ll end his odyssey in September in the Golden State, where it all began. His final job will be in L.A. as a — what else? — movie director. He won’t be directing just any film; he’ll be working on his own. Studios have already approached him about a possible movie deal. But he may remain independent. Although many businesses along his trek are offering him full-time work, he’s refusing to commit to any one at this time.
He’s come a long way from that graduate anxious about finding work in a dismal economy. “Right now,” he said, “I’m keeping my options open.”