Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Review: The One-Week Job Project by Sean Aiken

I heard about The One-Week Job Project: One Man, One Year, 52 Jobs by Sean Aiken on NPR many months ago. I love books where people do something crazy for a year (My Jesus Year, The Urban Hermit, Not Buying It). I also am a mentor at my college through the career center for young and future alumni in my industry. (I encourage everyone to do this actually - it's been really rewarding, and involved surprisingly little effort. Really, the biggest effort is that I give them advice and occasionally do a resume critique.) My little brother graduated from college last year and has only been marginally employed since then. So this book, about a 25-year-old who doesn't know what to do with his life so decides to try 52 different jobs in a year, appealed to be on a whole bunch of levels.

It's a very readable memoir, and Sean is a relatable guy. He's not doing this because of any kind of failure or lack of effort - he was valedictorian in college after all. But young adults get a lot of well-intentioned but useless advice that just stresses them out. In particular, they're frequently told that they have to make career decisions RIGHT NOW and those decisions will affect The Rest Of Their Lives. I'm here to tell you, that's so not true. And Sean discovered that too.

There was no big plan here. Basically, Sean came up with the idea, his friend Ian helped him build the website, and then he mostly just winged it. He didn't take every job offer that came his way, but he did always manage to have a new job every week. A few were jobs he was very interested in, like advertising and stock trading, and others were just really random like cowboy and cattail picker. This isn't a business or self-help book, and so he doesn't give a 2-3 page recap of every job. In fact, he rarely talks about the jobs at all. Because one of the things he eventually learns is that despite the fact that one does spend at least 40 hours a week in their job, one's job isn't necessarily one's life. He learns that life happens regardless of plans, both good (meeting a girl) and bad (an illness in the family.) And he learns that one difference is being a "grown-up" is that one keeps to their commitments. The final lesson he learns is one that's been around for a long, long time: the path is the goal. As much as people kept asking him what he thought he'd do after the 52 weeks were over, the more it seemed like this project was going to be that. Not continuing to do one-week jobs, but talking to students about their lives and careers. Emphasizing that while it's important to do something you're passionate about, you can change your mind later, and money isn't everything. Sean was fairly sure of some of these things going in, but they were just theories, whereas at the end, he was sure he'd proven what was important.

At first I found it a little strange that he kept using American statistics when he was in Canada, but about half-way through the project, he started working a lot in the U.S. so then it made sense. A lot of this project came together through serendipity, but that's often true in the real world (that's how I got my first "real" job.) He travelled all over North America, even to Hawaii! He learned a lot of valuable lessons - how to motivate people (and how not to), the importance of communication, and what was important to him. This experience is going to stay with him for many,many years. I found his story inspiring, and reassuring. I think a lot of 21-to-25-year-olds would find Sean's story very valuable. In fact, I intend to send this copy to my brother, and mention it to a couple of my mentees.

I appreciate that Mr. Aiken went to so much trouble to really find his life's calling, and I hope others will be inspired by his experiment, to not be pressured into doing what their parents think they should do, and instead refuse to settle. There is no easy answer that will tell a recent grad exactly what they should do in life, but I hope this book tells them that's okay. Speaking as a former bartender, research assistant, receptionist, mortgage typist, retailer, telemarketer, box office assistant manager, babysitter, and library assistant, I agree with Mr. Aiken that you can really do anything, and you can also change if that doesn't work out. It's frustrating when you're in the "I don't know what I want to do!" stage, but it won't last forever, and you will find something to do. Hopefully it'll also be rewarding and satisfying, but figuring out what you want to do is part of the goal itself. I wish Mr. Aiken much luck in his future endeavors.


One Week Job said...

Thanks for the review Carin!

If you get the chance, it would be awesome if you could post part of the review on Amazon.com.

All the best!


Kate said...

Great review. Too often the self help genre is a mixed bag. You get some really great titles, and then you get some utter tripe. Its nice to know what you are getting before you buy.

I just finished this one self helpesque book, The Instant, and it was really funny and insightful.