Asked what he wanted to be, Sean Aiken used to tell people he was going to become a physiotherapist. He didn't know exactly what that entailed, he acknowledges, but it "sounded cool."
But then he found himself graduating from business school with a sense of trepidation. He was on the verge of "real life" and still unsure what he wanted to do with it. After his father confessed to never finding passion in his work, Mr. Aiken committed to an unusual journey: He would work anywhere, doing 52 jobs in a year and donating his wages to charity.
"I promised myself that I would find something I loved doing," the Vancouverite told students recently at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.
The highs, the lows and the lessons learned during the year from February, 2007, to March, 2008 - including that "it's surprisingly difficult to dress a mannequin" - are detailed in his book One-Week Job, out this week. Mr. Aiken sat down with The Globe and Mail to talk about his experience.
When cyclist Curt Harnett retired after his last Olympics, he said it was time to get a haircut and a real job. How much of that sort of advice did you hear during your year - and is that your plan now?
I had dreadlocks in business school and I thought, "I want to have dreadlocks while I'm in school because once I graduate, it's time to cut my hair and get a real job." But I didn't actually get that too many times over the year. I'm sure many people were thinking it, but the fortunate thing about One-Week Job is that the people who hired me could see my picture on the website and had some idea what they were getting themselves into. They were probably thinking it, but they didn't say it to my face.
You graduated top of your class with a business degree. Why didn't you end up on Bay Street instead of dabbling as a bungee instructor, baker and bartender?
I started out in sciences. I was thinking about being a physiotherapist or getting into rehabilitation. I took a business course and I found I could really relate it to the real world. I thought business would allow me to keep the options open. So I wasn't too sure exactly what career path I wanted to take, whether I wanted to be on Bay Street or another job. Many take the year after school to go travel and try different things. I guess One-Week Job was my way of doing that.
What did you learn about yourself?
Many things. I'm not a very good yoga instructor. I guess the biggest thing is I got a lot of confidence in myself. To put myself, week in and week out, in these challenging situations, most often in a job I'd never done before.
I guess just kind of testing my abilities, and knowing I have the skill set that I could step into any situation and learn and make do.
How did you find and choose the jobs?
Our information was on the website and people would e-mail or call with offers. I chose based on what the job sounded like, whether I'd be learning something or not.
What were some of the jobs you turned down or, in retrospect, wish you had turned down?
One job I turned down was working for Naked News in Toronto. The job was to be a news anchor: As I was delivering the news, I'd have to take off my clothes.
There's also another job when I was in Los Angeles. One guy calls and says. "Is there anything that you wouldn't do?"
I dug myself a hole and said it depended what he had in mind. He said acting out a few scenes in a gay porno. He said he'd donate $5,000 to charity. I said sorry.
Were there jobs you liked, that helped clarify what you want to do in the quote unquote real life?
I worked in Toronto at the Steam Whistle brewery and the corporate culture there is just amazing. They really respect their employees and, in return, their employees are really happy to be there. I really enjoyed that perspective. In business school, we were always focused on the bottom line, we had this idea that in order to get ahead, it almost has to be at the expense of others.
So it was good to work at a company like Steam Whistle and see how they're involved in the community and how that helps their business. Other ones - specifically, working in a cubicle job - I found that I definitely could not see myself in an office environment all the time.
So basically each week I was able to take little pieces of what I was looking for in a career.
Any jobs that put them all together?
There's a few. I think I'd definitely like to be a teacher and a real-estate agent. I'm not sure in what order.
How much time did you spend actually doing the job? When you were a yoga instructor, for example, how long did you have to spend learning it before you could teach a class?
Monday through Thursday, I did six hours of yoga class a day. Sometimes I participated in the class, other times I would sit in the corner and take notes. On the Friday, that's when I stood up and taught the course. That was a really hard week. It was incredibly difficult, very sore. The next week was dairy farmer and I definitely felt it for a few days after.
In any of these positions, did you feel envy from colleagues who are, or believe they are, trapped in their jobs?
It was almost like having me in the workplace caused others to question why they were doing it. There was that sense of envy and a few times I also found people sharing their story with me. "Don't tell anyone here but I'm thinking of making a move. I totally relate and I get the message." But there's criticism as well, somebody who was unhappy in their job saying, "You're not supposed to be happy, how dare you try to be happy in your job, I've been working here 40 years and I hate it every day of my life." It's almost like, "You must be miserable because I'm miserable."
What advice do you have for someone unhappy at work?
Don't just jump ship and hope it all works out. Start putting the feelers out and seeing what options are out there and how you can slowly make the transition into the other job.
Sort of being irresponsible responsibly?
Exactly, people think they want to make a change and they just quit.
They're forced to make a change then?
That's it. Actually that's such a positive thing with the economy. So many layoffs happened that it really encouraged people to question, "Wow, I just spent the last 15 years with my head down and the blinders on. I stopped questioning why I'm doing what I'm doing."
What advice would you give a young person, someone close to graduation?
I would say, "Don't focus on the title." It's so easy to say you want to be a doctor, teacher, whatever, but you don't think about what actually makes up the career. I would say to focus more on yourself and learning more about the types of situations in the workplace you need to be happy. And then start putting it together and see what jobs come out of it. The most important thing is do something.Report Typo/Error