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Posts Tagged ‘Book Club for One’

The One-Week Job Project

In Readings on May 30, 2010 at 9:31 PM

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” (Ian, entrepreneur)

If I wasn’t afraid, I would fly to Toronto, sleep on a sofa and pound the pavement until I got a job publishing children’s books. Or I would hound a small-town mayor to let me job shadow her. Or I would plough through a teacher’s education program the next year and a half and gamble my chances at getting a classroom in Vancouver.

Deciding what to do next with my life has been my biggest fear and its got me stuck. With so many ideas, ambitions, and internal pressures, I am having a hard time sorting out what is my reality. In the midst of this chaotic internal dialogue, I came across Sean Aiken’s bright yellow novel of creative non-fiction. In it I found my situation articulated better than I could do myself.

“I was so concerned with making the right choice that it prevented me from making any choice at all” (Sean, Undecided)

The One-Week Job Project is Aiken’s personal journey to not only find a career, but more importantly, his life’s passion. At the outset of the novel he promises himself he will not take the same path as his father who chose an unfulfilling job to support a family:

“Reminded of my dad’s sacrifices…if there ever came a time when [my] career was no longer fulfilling, I’d have the courage to change it”

“The best way to help ourselves is to focus on how we can help others…[work] toward something we feel is significant” (Sean, Philanthropist)

So Aiken sets up a website and tells everyone he knows that he’s looking for a job per week. As the offers roll in, Aiken seems to be unable to do this project solely for himself. He announces that all wages he’d earn during the 52 weeks would be donated to charity. This is a noble offer, but not uncommon. Many people mask their self-exploration with a pledge to impact the greater good – the cyclists of Global Agents of Change who overcome personal mountains by pedalling from Vancouver to Mexico are just one example.

I do not disagree with raising awareness or funds. Indeed, helping others while pursuing something for yourself protects us from complete failure: it ensures that at least some good will come even if we don’t reach our goal. But I have to wonder why we feel that adventuring into the process of understanding who we are as individuals cannot be done without fear of looking selfish. Anyway, I digress. I suppose I’m doing the same thing here, sharing through a public blog my thoughts on how this book affected me.

“To help guide you, try and understand where your interests are leading you, while you are being led” (Ray, Aquarium Director)

Lately I’ve been taking every opportunity to ask people what they do for a living. I try to give folks the opportunity to define themselves in ways other than their career – “So what do you do when you’re not playing soccer/farming/being a city councellor/selling ad space?” – but I often want to hear how they get paid for doing what they love.

The One-Week Job Project is the information interview catalogue for which I’ve been searching. The “Industry IQ” sections and excerpts from Aiken’s email correspondence with potential employers were insightful and humbling. He shares anecdotes about each job that I’d likely only gain by being in the career myself. And this book has enough quotes to inspire (and offer a reality check to) any reader.

“Don’t get too wrapped up in what you’re about to do. Nothing is permanent…You can change your path and try different things until you find what’s right for you” (Dawn, Baker)

As I got further into the book, talking about it with my peers and drowning in universally-applicable quotes, I started to get irritated by the repetitious conclusions Aiken came to after each week. I get it: people are scared, complacent, unadventurous. I was also following him on Facebook and it seemed that since the book was launched, he was really pushing the self-promotion. Fair enough, we all should be paid for our efforts.

But I had to question his objectives behind the project: was he still doing the life-passion exploration thing or was he now exploiting the helping-others mantra? Also, I couldn’t get over his misunderstood grudge against his father. If Aiken was advocating about helping others when you don‘t know what else to do, why couldn’t he see that though his father might not enjoy his job, he enjoyed his career: putting food on the table and a roof overhead for his family.

“Go after what you love, and the money will come” (Chet, Cowboy)

Ok, enough Jocelyn-as-devil-rep (my snobby-university/critical-theory habits are getting the better of me), I do have some good things to say about this book. I was initially sceptical of how well-timed his little love story was with this journey but I quickly changed my mind. When we’re looking for who we truly are, it’s not outrageous to find ourselves in others. We find similar-minded people as we follow our interests.

Aiken also demonstrates, and subsequently realizes, that another way to find a job that works best for you is to live the way you want. “When I choose a career, I won’t be just be choosing how I spend forty hours of my week. I’ll also be choosing the lifestyle associated with that particular profession: salary, type of people, work environment, travel requirements, commute, vacation time, risk of transfer, etc.”

Another helpful tip I got from Aiken’s experience is realizing that a job interview is a two-way conversation in search of a good fit for both the employer and potential employee. So, while looking for a career, look at what kind of life you want, who you want to be surrounded by, and what values you wish to have in common with them.

“Be proactive about figuring out what you want to do. If you don’t know what to do, well, don’t just sit around and wonder. Do something” (Carlos, Radio Host)

I recognize that not everyone has the liberty to undergo a journey of self-exploration, weekly job samples, or even global travels. But a fundamental message that can be taken from Aiken’s book is that the pursuit of happiness can come in any job, any career, any vocation, hobby or greater mission. The people he met throughout the year all recognized the need to compromise but also have courage to take risks for what they really want.

This book has been encouraging. It has alleviated some of my fears. Knowing that thousands of others exist like me, wondering how to make their lives significant, and knowing that thousands have taken chances and been just fine. Like the bungee jump analogy Aiken uses in the book’s opening: rationally, I know I will be fine no matter what I do in life. Even with a ‘wrong’ turn, it will be worth the chance. Because I will recognize that turn wasn’t right for me and I can move on to something else.

I’ve heard it now countless times, and even from my own dad: “Just do something.” I have to agree.