Daniel Seddiqui, Evanston resident and author of “50 Jobs in 50 States,” released in 2011, chose to live in Evanston out of everywhere he has lived and worked. He says he has “never felt at home anywhere else as he [does] in Evanston.” That is saying a lot: Mr. Seddiqui has worked in every state in the country.
Mr. Seddiqui grew up in many ways a prototypical American kid: born and raised in Los Altos, Cal., with two parents and an older brother, Darius. He says life as a kid was “pretty comfortable.” He had friends, was a nationally ranked runner and did well in school. He says he lived “in a bubble.” But, even then, he says, he wondered what life was like outside it.
The family’s travels included trips to Europe for his dad’s work with startup medical device companies and some “road trips” to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and parts of California. The writer says he wondered “even as a 6-year-old”… “how different it would be” if he had grown up in places they passed or visited. “I used to stare at maps all the time and wonder what people [there] were like.”
Mr. Seddiqui graduated in 2005 from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles with a B.A. in economics that he had believed would help secure a good job in business.
Unfortunately, despite his efforts, he says, and numerous interviews, Mr. Seddiqui was not offered a job. His parents, he writes, “had lived the American Dream, coming from nothing and working their way to success.” His father, an immigrant from Afghanistan at 17, and his mother, who had grown up in New Jersey, had both worked since youth. They became, he says, less supportive as time passed.
Finally he decided to try something else: He sent out 18,000 emails to college athletics departments. It was 2006 when he took a volunteer job coaching Northwestern University women’s cross-country. To support himself he took part-time jobs.
After NU, he coached in Virginia, following that with yet another volunteer job in Georgia. One day on a plane, he says, he found himself talking to a man who offered him a job as a regional manager for CVS – with no resume, no suit and no formal interview.
This, says Mr. Seddiqui, was when he realized that “there was so much to the country that [he] hadn’t yet seen, and [while he had] tried to find a career path that was the best match” for his “personality and interests, there was still so much left to discover.” He says this was when the idea of his project came to him – “living the map,” working for a week at a representative job in each state of the Union – “50 jobs in 50 states in 50 weeks.”
‘Living the Map’
On Sept. 2, 2008, Mr. Seddiqui started the first day of his first job in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the Humanitarian Services Dept. of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Week 2 took Mr. Seddiqui to Colorado, to work as a hydrologist; week 3 to South Dakota, where he announced for the rodeo; and week 4, North Dakota, where he worked as a cartographer.
Reading of his travels state by state makes one think about how organized Mr. Seddiqui had to be to arrange his jobs for efficient, inexpensive travel. While each section of the book opens with a partial map, it is helpful to look at a map of the U.S. and follow his journey.
More pictures would have been welcome, too. For these, a reader should visit the website at livingthe- map.com. The website is very helpful in getting a fuller appreciation of Mr. Seddiqui’s undertaking. His publisher, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. of San Francisco, restricted the author to few photos and 60,000 words; the website helps.
Mr. Seddiqui worked as a park ranger in Wyoming in week 8; as a wedding coordinator in Nevada, week 13; a petroleum engineer in Texas, week 20; a pit-crew worker in Indiana, week 27; a model and agent in North Carolina, week 35; a furniture builder in Pennsylvania, week 40; a baseball scout in Massachusetts, week 45. By week 50 he had gone full circle and was back in California for his last job.
The writer describes a little about each job and the people he met and worked with along the way. He tells how his relationship with his friend Sasha went sour; how his parents’ attitude toward him and his project became more positive as time passed and he stuck with it. He mentions the significant media coverage – not just local papers and TV, but foreign media as well. He says he continues to receive letters from all over the globe telling him how inspiring his hard work has been to them.
“Even after state 4, it had become impossible to quit,” he says. “I [was] going to do something worth doing. I said if I do stop, what am I turning back to?” Later, he says, “the people kept me going. People I was working with, the media, so many people suffering and looking for jobs – so many people were going to my website and telling me I was inspiring them. This wasn’t about me any more. It was about being a leader.”
He writes in his chapter on Missouri that on his second day as a boilermaker, a man recognized Mr. Seddiqui and asked if he could get the man a job at the plant. The man was a dentist, the author writes, who “after being unemployed for several years, … decided to get off the couch and try something new – something he’d never seen himself doing.” Mr. Seddiqui says he realized it “wasn’t just about him” anymore; perhaps the “true direction of [his] project” was to “inspire people to move out of their comfort zones and try new things, like pursue new jobs.”
During the year-long, physically arduous project – he received no pay for much of his work, and at times had no money, ate little, and slept in his car – Mr. Seddiqui achieved several different things. He completed what he set out to do, despite its difficulty. He learned about the kinds of work people do and what knowledge and skills are required for them. Finally, he learned about America and its widely varying people and places. He answered, in part, the questions he had asked as a 6-year-old about what being someone else would be like. And, finally, Mr. Seddiqui learned about himself. He says, “I’d rather have done this than be in the Olympics. How many Olympians are there? I’m the only one who has ever done this.”
That seems to be true, though a few others have also made the opportunity to move from their own lives into the life of another – George Plimpton (“Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback,” “Out of My League”) and Barbara Ehrenreich (“Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America”) come to mind.
Mr. Plimpton’s writing was a response to the daydream of “Everyman” to feel what it is like to be an incredible athlete and sports celebrity. Ms. Ehrenreich tried to see whether Americans without resources could live life well while living on the minimum wage. Their books’ goals aside, a primary distinction between them and Mr. Seddiqui is that he, unlike them, is not first and foremost a writer. He had no “real” life to which he could return; his project came about because he felt he had nowhere to go.
Mr. Seddiqui, like others in these times unable to find the kind of job his background and training had seemed to promise, set out to learn what else was
out there. His writing is a record of the task he undertook in order to inspire and motivate himself and which he came to believe could inspire and motivate others like him.
He now earns a living lecturing on the subject of his “lesson from America.” He talks, he says, about the principles necessary for success that he learned during his 50/50 year: perseverance; a willingness to take risks and deal with uncertainty; adaptability and a willingness to engage and problem-solve; active networking; and endurance. He is also currently working with Bridgewater College in Virginia on a program in which students will work at a different job in five different parts of the country for five weeks in the summer.
“50 Jobs in 50 States” is an engaging, straightforward read. Mr. Seddiqui is not first a writer, and this is clear in his book, which is not well edited. However, his
accomplishment is real, he is sincere in what he offers others, and the project speaks for itself. The book is widely available.
Mr. Seddiqui will be speaking at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23 in the community meeting room of the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.