Sean Aiken hasn't held down a job for more than a week at a time recently, but the 26-year-old's résumé is longer than those of CEOs and business people twice his age, and it includes some of the same prestigious positions. Unsure about what he wanted to do after graduating as valedictorian of his class from British Columbia's Capilano College, Aiken decided to travel across North America to try 52 careers in 52 weeks, documenting the results on his website, OneWeekJob.com. The young Canadian is donating his wages to the Make Poverty History/ONE Campaign and has relied on sponsors and his temporary employers in both Canada and the United States to find lodging and transportation for each week.
Aiken's jobs, offered to him by businesses that have heard about the project, have spanned the career spectrum to include chiropractor, vintner, exterminator, fashion buyer, radio DJ, and even bungee-jump operator, to name a few. Random House will publish a book about his experiences next year. U.S. News caught up with Aiken on Week 41 of his project (scheduled to finish in March), when he was learning how to be a real estate agent in Los Angeles. Excerpts:
Why 52 jobs in 52 weeks? What do your parents think about this?
I don't know what I want to do with my life. I finished my college degree in business administration, and because business is so general, it allowed me to put off my decision further. I was sitting around the dinner table and talking to my family about what I should be doing, and my dad said, "It doesn't matter as long as it's something you're passionate about." So many people are in a career they're not passionate about—I promised myself I'd find something I could be happy with. I wanted to learn about what I was looking for in a career, and take a year to figure it out.
What jobs have you liked the best? Which were the worst?
They've all been so different. I liked being a cancer fundraiser, a fashion buyer, working at the Georgia Aquarium, and being a yoga instructor—that was challenging. By the end of the week, I was teaching a class. I didn't realize how tiring yoga could be. As for the worst, I really don't like office jobs and doing the same thing day after day. Picking cattails in a swamp was bad—there were lots of bugs and mud. Working at a clothing company during the Toronto Film Festival was hard because all three of my bosses had different expectations, and following one would put me in conflict with another. I actually considered quitting that one.
Most of these careers were new to you—did you ever feel unprepared?
I'm always out of my comfort zone. When I was a stock trader, I lost $1,000 and I felt terrible. [My boss] was teaching me how to read the charts, and I thought it was just a pattern that I understood. He gave me money to buy shares, and I chose Crocs shoes, and I just watched the stocks go down and down. He actually sold them and bought some back later in the day, and he recovered the money, so I didn't feel as bad. Some jobs are more technical, like working at the tattoo parlor, so I couldn't actually tattoo anyone because of the liability.
What skills can you take away from all the jobs you've performed this year?
The biggest skill would be dealing with uncertainty. For the project, every week I have no idea what's going on next week. I'm in L.A., but I don't know about next week yet, and I won't for a few days. I know how to adapt to changing environments, and I'm open to learning new things and new skills. With my business degree, I did a lot of presentations, but this is the practical aspect of my education. I remember being in school and hearing that you learn all you need to know on the job, and that's what I've learned: It's not the tools I learned in school; it's learning how to learn.
The current generation goes through more jobs in a lifetime than their parents did. Why do you think this is the case?
I think our generation is having difficulty finding a career path, and we're looking for more than just a career. We've seen our parents do a job for 30 years and not necessarily enjoy it, because work is supposed to be hard and that's life.... But we have different expectations of the workforce. [Our parents] value job security and a paycheck, but we place more importance on a balanced lifestyle and satisfaction. Maybe it's our sense of entitlement—because our parents are working harder, that gives us more freedom. I hope it's not just that we're lazy.
Has One Week Job brought you any closer to figuring out what you want to do?
I want changing tasks, something with flexibility, something that doesn't require me to be in an office all day. Whatever it is, I want to see the bigger picture and see how I'm contributing to something greater than myself and not just the bottom line. I believe it when people say that if you do what you love, the money will come. I'm very idealistic.