How one man turned failure into a meaningful life.
by Maria Hess and Britney Gulledge
An economics degree from the University of Southern California did not provide Daniel Seddiqui the security he thought it would. It offered no security at all, in fact. Seddiqui failed more than 40 consecutive job interviews, sent out 18,000 emails and made nearly 5,000 phone calls to attempt to get a job. Nothing worked. But he did do something right. He concocted an experiment that would garner major media buzz. According to his bio, “This young buck achieved his mission of working 50 jobs in 50 states.”
Why? That’s something this “young buck,” who’s coming to Wilmington University on March 2 as part of its Speaker Series, will explain. He’ll share his views on building lives we can believe in, even though for a while, his own life was going nowhere. That’s why he decided to shake things up by creating this 50-state experiment — then blogging about it.
Seddiqui didn’t like restrictive environments, and he learned that our small world gets even smaller when we stay within our comfort zones. A good life, he concluded, was one in which people can explore the many opportunities the world has to offer.
This nowhere man is now a bestselling author, popular speaker and director of a career exploration program. He founded Living the Map, which helps raise awareness of myriad cultures, careers and environments through outreach, education and community building.
When he comes to WilmU, audiences will learn what motivated him to navigate the life he wanted — and how they can do the same.
Seddiqui has had myriad jobs, from a weatherman in Ohio to a border patrol agent in Arizona; to a coal miner in West Virginia and a rodeo announcer in South Dakota. He didn’t know what the final result of this experiment would be, but he wanted to see if traveling the world would help him find focus and meaning.
In 2008, during the worst recession since the Great Depression, Seddiqui embarked on the yearlong journey. What started as an act of desperation ended up changing his life.The media got hip to his adventure. USA Today called him “the most rejected person in the world.” He was featured on national and international media outlets like CNN, Fox News, NPR, Today Show and C-SPAN. He appeared as a job seeking expert and cultural analyst.
Seddiqui lived in a rental car in Atlanta, Ga., some 2,447 miles away from his family home in California. He had no job and no money, and he’d racked up more than 18,000 emails to employment contacts. He made thousands of phone calls and endured interviews, but had nothing to show for it. His parents questioned his dedication to finding a job.
He was clearly at a low point, not at all where he thought he’d be after earning what he calls “the smart degree.” He loved making people laugh and he was a natural athlete — a nationally-ranked collegiate long-distance runner — but he studied economics to follow in the footsteps of his older, more stable brother, Darius.
“I never had a passion for economics,” says Seddiqui. “I don’t think anyone has a passion for economics. It’s supposed to be a safe degree that guarantees a job upon graduation.”
But nothing in life is guaranteed, and he learned the hard way that one must create his or her own opportunities. Seddiqui moved home one last time to devise his 50-state plan. Instead of landing one job, he landed 50.
“I would get stereotypical jobs in every state and document it in a blog,” says Seddiqui, adding that he was more passionate about the idea than his father, Fred, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur in the medical device industry. (Seddiqui comes from a long line of successful men. His great-grandfather Mohamad Seddiq was a renowned scholar, professor and judge.)
“The first time reporters came to my house,” says Seddiqui, “my father came outside and told them he didn’t understand or support my idea.”
His mother, however, did, as did Darius, who says, “Daniel has always been full of ideas. He’s a ringleader who sets his own path.”
Darius, then an investment banker at Wells Fargo, believed his brother had grown out of his prankster days at Homestead High School, where Steve Jobs also graduated, and helped his brother secure a $5,000 line of credit. And with that, Seddiqui hit the road.
It took three months of cold calling, emailing and pitching before landing his first job in Utah as a humanitarian services worker. That first gig created momentum, and from that point, he was able to plan the yearlong job fest.
Seddiqui could not describe this professional experiment in a résumé, but he did learn things about himself: He had debilitating seasickness after 10-hour days as a lobsterman in Maine; he wasn’t a good officiate in Las Vegas; and he’s better off not using large power tools, which he discovered as a logger in Oregon. On the other hand, he did discover that when people try new things, they can create the life they want.
“The experience gave me a purpose,” says Seddiqui. “It was more than just jobs. It was a learning experience that gave me the focus I needed.”
Seddiqui was inspired by diverse cultures, and he wanted to see the journey to its end. He grew confident enough to pursue any idea. He grew up learning that people should build their lives in their 20s, so they could enjoy retirement in later years.
“I was taught that it’s normal to dislike your job,” he says.
Research suggests he’s correct. According to a recent Gallup Employee Engagement Study, less than one-third of U.S. employees feel engaged in their jobs, and just 32 percent feel involved, enthusiastic or committed to their work and workplaces.
Seddiqui doesn’t believe it has to be like that. He wants to teach people to use experiences to create purpose.
THE POWER OF EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
The discovery of purpose, Seddiqui believes, comes from experience, which could include internships, cooperative learning, volunteerism, extracurricular activities or travel. He speaks to audiences worldwide, but is also focused on students.
Dr. Sallie Reissman, AVP and dean of WilmU’s College of Online and Experiential Learning, shares Seddiqui’s passion. She has helped hundreds of students use their experiences to further their educations.
“Our focus in the College of Online and Experiential Learning is to make sure students have a chance to expand their learning while gaining practical on-the-job experience,” says Reissman. “Co-ops, internships, service learning and other work experiences give our students a rare opportunity to achieve personal and professional growth in an educational setting.”
Experiential learning is generally any learning that supports students in applying conceptual understanding to real-world situations. When students are given opportunities to gain knowledge from authentic situations, learning becomes significantly more powerful. Today’s workforce requires students to gain the competencies they’ll need for success, which is what Seddiqui also encourages.
Through his Living the Map program, he has implemented unique internship opportunities in 32 colleges in the nation. Sheila Cooley, associate director of the Center for Experiential Learning at SUNY Oswego, was one of the first school representatives who believed in Seddiqui’s message and partnered with him to create a special internship. The school now has a “5-5-5” summer internship program, which means that students study five weeks in five states with five businesses.
“I was blown away by his story and commitment to students,” says Cooley. “I’ve had students who were in their junior years without defined majors come back from this experience with focus and passion.”
Seddiqui is adding Wilmington University to his international speaking tour and will offer a presentation titled “Settling is the Biggest Sacrifice.” The public — and most especially students — can enjoy the free event.
It’s been a long haul since those bad times, where rejection was his norm, yet Seddiqui is thankful to have hit rock bottom. If he hadn’t, he never would have created the life he wanted.
“If anything,” he says, “this experience has shown me ‘myself,’ and I’m forever grateful.” WU