COURTESY SEAN AIKEN
Career searcher Sean Aiken.
Sean Aiken starts a new job every Monday
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At 26, and over the course of nearly a year, Sean Aiken has crossed this country and Canada, working as a dairy farmer in Rimbey, Alberta; an advertising executive in Montreal, Quebec; exterminator in Miami, Fla.; photographer in New York City; baker in Brooklyn; Realtor in Los Angeles; motivational speaker in Denver, Colo.; preschool teacher in Meridian, Idaho; and much more. In a few weeks, he'll be working on "The Rachael Ray Show."
His expertise in all of the above? Virtually zero.
Aiken's journey began with the realization that he wasn't prepared to commit to a career, after graduating from college in his native Canada with a degree in business administration.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do," he said by phone from Hilo, where he spent last week working as an assistant for the "Journey Through the Universe" community outreach program at the University of Hawaii-Hilo Institute of Astronomy. "I feel like there's a lot of pressure coming out of college that you have to know everything, have all the answers, when in school, you haven't been exposed to careers, what's out there."
To explore his options, Aiken launched the Web site OneWeekJob. com, inviting job offers. On his wish list were positions as diverse as news anchor and NASA rocket scientist.
Week 35 took him to New York City, where he worked as a fashion buyer with Global Purchasing Group. On his blog, he wrote of his first day:
"Working in the fashion industry this week I thought twice about what I wore to work. Turns out my worries were justified. The first thing that my boss, Mercedes, said to me was, 'Nice to see you dressed up for your first day working with a fashion company.' Yes, she was being sarcastic."
By week's end, he had a new vocabulary that included words like "body con," "retro," "architectural style" and "asymmetrical deconstruction."
This week, Aiken's working as a park ranger at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, and with only seven weeks to go with his yearlong project, he's hoping an Army or construction job will materialize. So employers, if you have any vacancies ...
COURTESY SEAN AIKEN
This week brought Sean Aiken to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to learn what it's like to be a ranger.
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Sean Aiken's whirlwind tour of the work probably would not have led him to Hawaii if not for Tammy Chang's open-minded nature.
The founder of the Big Island video production studio Co-creator Productions said she came across an online story about Aiken and OneWeekJob.com, and although she had never felt an impulse to respond to an online stranger, she e-mailed him right away.
"I really liked his message of following your passion and not settling for anything less than what will make you happy," Chang said. The Kamehameha Schools and University of Southern California graduate grew up on the Big Island feeling somewhat limited by the opportunities. "I don't want my son to feel that way.
"Hawaii is so isolated. We're limited by geography and one of Sean's messages is that it's not a big, bad world out there and I think it's a great message for everybody to hear. It's a joyful message and I felt joyful putting this together," she said of inviting Aiken to take a couple of one-week jobs in Hawaii.
"I thought it would be educational if he could do two things that are very Hawaii, and he e-mailed me back," she said.
Some of Aiken's expenses as he traverses North America are covered by Internet sponsors, so all he asks for are a place to stay and, in lieu of pay, donations to his native Canada's Make Poverty History campaign to end childhood poverty. You don't have to be one of his employers to make a donation.
On his Web site, Aiken presented his motive for the yearlong project, which ends in six weeks. He says that members of his generation have grown up being told anything is possible, while watching their parents work at jobs that don't make them happy.
"If it is a fact that we spend most of our waking hours each day working, why not spend that time doing something we enjoy doing and are truly passionate about?" he wrote.
COURTESY SEAN AIKEN
Sean Aiken, left, is pictured with his Big Island host Tammy Aguiar, Aguiar's studio assistant Adele Downing and Ian MacKenzie.
AIKEN GRADUATED a year ago with a degree in business administration that equipped him for any industry. To explore his options, he posted his Web site with a wish list of jobs from MTV or Much Music VJ, Trump Organization intern to florist to sled dog guide -- and soon found himself in business. His first job was as a bungee operator in Whistler, B.C. Week 29 brought him across the border to Atlanta, Ga., for a series of jobs as a trade-show salesman, T-shirt entrepreneur and aquarium host.
On Week 19, he was joined by one of his friends, Ian MacKenzie, who was able to add to the Web experience as a videographer capturing Aiken's trials on the job.
They've been on the road ever since, a new city, a new job, a new first day of work every Monday.
"I didn't know what would happen, but thought it would allow me time to think, some time to figure it out," Aiken said by phone from Hilo, where last week he was working for the University of Hawaii-Hilo Institute of Astronomy. This week he's a park ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, working with the eruption crew and performing trail maintenance while checking up on hikers and answering visitor questions.
"It's not that hard because the same questions keep coming up ... like 'What kind of lava is this? When was this eruption? When was this road covered?' "
COURTESY SEAN AIKEN
Aiken and MacKenzie at the Mauna Kea observatories.
He said he's become familiar with constant upheaval. "With 45 first days of work I'm used to uncomfortable situations and environments. I'm pretty good with names, so learning co-workers names hasn't been a problem.
"It's been real work," Aiken said. "Some jobs are more technical than others, so even though I worked at a tattoo parlor, I wasn't able to tattoo because of liability."
Aiken said he's found that those happiest about their careers are those who feel that they are making a difference. A couple of his favorite experiences were working as a fund-raiser for cancer research and as a pre-school teacher in Idaho, where the other teachers "feel they are important role models for the kids and take pride in that."
You would think he would be able to continue the project indefinitely, but Aiken is ready to stay in one place for a spell.
In taking each week as it comes for a year, he said, "It's been an awesome experience. At the same time, it's a lot of work being on the road. There's a lot of uncertainty in not knowing where I'm going."
And while he may have ruled out a few careers, he still has some time to think about his long-term prospects. After Week 52, he'll settle down to write a book about his journey for Random House, and a reality TV series is also in the works.
"It's interesting how my search for a career has turned into a career of helping others find their passion."