A Leap of Passion: Sean Aiken takes on 52 jobs in 1 year

 

Leap and the net will appear

My toes creep over the edge of the metal bridge to which I’m attached only by a thick elastic bungee chord.

“How did I get into this situation?” I think to myself.

“Oh yeah, passion,” I nervously determine, trying to build up my courage to step off the perfectly safe bridge. “To find a career I love. Gotta try new things. Gotta take the leap.”

The bridge spans a river canyon. I glimpse towards the mountains on either side covered in old growth forest and rugged basalt column cliffs. For a moment, I forget my current reality lost in appreciation of the beauty that surrounds me.

The countdown of the cheering crowd, who wants nothing more than to see me jump, jolts me back to the task at hand. I peer past my toes. The river, 160ft below, eagerly awaits my descent.

 

Two years earlier, I’d struggled with a different leap. Having recently graduated with a Business Administration degree from Capilano University, I found myself tormented by the ultimate question: “What should I do with my life?”

I scoured various job boards and flipped through newspaper classifieds – all the different industries and ambiguous job titles sounded cool enough, but I had no clue what the jobs would actually be like.

I thought back to the advice my dad gave me in my senior year at university. “Sean, it doesn’t matter what you do; just make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. I’ve been alive for nearly sixty years and have yet to find something I’m passionate about besides your mother.”

Sage advice we often hear, but what we don’t often hear is how we can find our passion. My idea was to start what I’d call The One-Week Job Project (www.oneweekjob.com). My goal: to work 52 jobs in 52 weeks to find my passion.

The first day of my first job, I found myself about to jump off a 160-foot bridge as a Bungee Jump Operator at Whistler Bungee in Whistler, British Columbia.

During my 52 weeks, I trekked more than 46,000 miles, slept on 55 couches, raised over $20,000 for charity, and tried every job I could: Baker, Teacher, Real Estate Agent, Advertising Executive, Hollywood Producer, NHL Mascot, Radio DJ, and more. Wherever I could find work, I’d go there, find a couch to crash on and immerse myself in whatever profession was at hand. And then I’d move on.

The media covered the story extensively. The New York Times, The Rachael Ray Show, Good Morning America, CNN, 20/20, Time, CBC, MTV and countless other outlets around the world. Yahoo.com sent over 30,000 visitors to the website OneWeekJob.com in under an hour (crashing the server in the process).

I admit, my idea was a little wacky, especially when compared with the traditional route: Go to school, get a job, buy stuff, start a family, buy more stuff, retire, die. But far more wacky is the number of people who get out of bed in the morning and absolutely dread going to work because they hate their jobs. I was trying to avoid that fate. I wanted to find something that I’d love. Something that I’d gladly spend forty hours of my life doing each week and that would allow me to pay the bills. Whether this was possible or simply the unrealistic hope of an inexperienced, idealistic twenty-something, I wasn’t sure. But I worried this same hope could easily become regret if I didn’t find out for myself.

And so, I did just that.

I soon realized that I wasn’t the only one kept up at night struggling to decide what I wanted to do with my life. Thousands of people began following my journey, looking for inspiration in their own lives. They commented on the website, wrote about the journey on their blogs. College students were relieved to find others uncertain of their careers. Baby boomers wrote how they’d found the courage to change their jobs, or go back to school and discover their passions once again.

We often hear people complaining about their jobs – how much they hate waking up each morning and going to work or how they can’t wait for the weekend to come.

In today’s economy, most are happy to simply have a job. But, whether in dire or prosperous economic times, how do we find a career we love?

I’ve learned that oftentimes a leap is required.

Not many jobs require we jump off a 160-foot bridge attached with an elastic chord, but in order to truly find a career that we are passionate about, some concessions are required – we must be willing to step outside of our comfort zone, take risks, and try new things. We must be willing to take a leap.

Launching the One-Week Job project was my leap into the working world, the “real world” so to speak. Each week I put myself in unfamiliar situations, continually operated out of my comfort zone and was presented with new challenges and increased uncertainty. As a result, I’ve been able to learn what I need in a career to be happy. I’ve seen myself grow and develop in ways I would never previously have thought possible. In the past where I may have avoided situations that required I step outside my comfort zone, now I suddenly find myself seeking them out. Now I simply view them as another opportunity to overcome my fears and learn something new.

I think that many succumb to a fear of failure and the inevitable uncertainty that accompanies risk. When there is a family to feed and a mortgage to pay, I imagine many feel they can’t afford such a risk. As a result, we elect for the safe routine where we are not asked to challenge ourselves and know exactly what is expected of us. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there with an uncertain future ahead and I am sure we all know the associated feeling very well; whether it resulted from a career decision, a relationship, moving out of the house, taking that trip around the world or any other situation which requires us to step outside of our comfort zone. It is a leap many are not willing to take and so end up choosing to settle into comfortable, secure positions that we may or may not be happy with. Yet, I think it is important to remember it is in these situations of uncertainty that we learn the most about ourselves and are provided with the opportunity to uncover our true potential. And if it doesn’t work out as planned, life will often times give us a second chance.

I’ve met thousands of people since I began The One-Week Job Project; I’ve never met anyone who regrets pursuing his or her passion. They may not have ended up exactly where they thought they would, but it led them to uncover different opportunities they would have never otherwise explored. Most held a humble confidence with their life – creators of their destiny, captain of their ship, comforted with the reassurance that they will never be haunted by the question, “What if?”

 

Back on the bridge, I gaze behind me at the energetic crowd, smile and give thumbs up, then turn back to the raging river below. I take a deep breath and check my harness one last time. “I’ve put this off much too long,” I think to myself. “Ready or not, it’s time to take the leap.”

 

SEAN AIKEN graduated from Capilano University with a degree in Business Administration. At the top of his class, with a 4.0 cumulative GPA, he was voted the class valedictorian. He started the One-Week Job project in February 2007, at age twenty-five, and finished his 52 weeks in March 2008. His book, The One-Week Job Project: 1 Man, 1 Year, 52 Jobs, was published by Random House USA and Penguin Books Canada. Sean frequently speaks about what he learned from his experience and is currently developing a program to empower others to discover their passion by taking on a series of “one week jobs”. He currently lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Contact him at: www.oneweekjob.com

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