Saturday, October 3, 2009

Experience can be the teacher of all things

There is an old adage that says if handed lemons, you make lemonade. I take this to mean that you should make the best out of tough situations. Just like Daniel Seddiqui did.

Seddiqui attended USC, and when he graduated in 2005 with a degree in economics, attempted to find a job in his field. Scoring 40 rejections, he decided that since he ran track in college, maybe he could find a coaching assistant’s position, instead.

From a book that had contacts for every college coach in the country for every sport, Seddiqui emailed 18,000 coaches asking for a chance. He received 250 offers. The most attractive one was coaching Cross Country at Northwestern University.

From Seddiqui's website;

I had to move to Chicago, not knowing a soul. I loved the adventure of putting myself into a new environment with complete uncertainty. I failed to mention this was a volunteer position, so I had to find ways to make an income. I found positions from painting stairs to accounting at a biomedical firm. This was a complete thrill because I forced myself to get to meet new people and struggled to make myself satisfied.

After a successful Cross Country season, the program fell apart by every staff member quitting. It was only natural that I didn't stick around, plus I knew there was something else out there for me. I was invited to a small town in Southern Indiana to reunite with the former head coach. This was a trip that I will never forget. I thought transferring from the University of Oregon to USC was a culture shock, but this took the cake. I had my first grilled corn on the cob, saw real Amish folks, 4-wheeling with rednecks, and shot my first gun. I couldn't get enough; I had to see more and seeing more is exactly what I am doing.

Now, it's my job to showcase careers, cultures, and cities.

And that’s exactly what Seddiqui’s done.

I first heard his story this past week when caught a clip on NPR’s Morning Edition. I’ve since done a bit more research about this young man and found this article on the completion of his task.

He completed what he set out to do, which by itself qualifies as a success, but even better, he’s come away from this experience with a much better understanding of people, place, and the cultural differences that make up life in the U.S.

During his yearlong journey of diverse work experiences, Seddiqui accepted jobs that he felt depicted each state’s economy and culture. Hence, while in Maine, he chose to work as a lobsterman, as well as an insurance broker in Connecticut, and a coal miner in West Virginia.

What was Seddiqui’s favorite job? He told NPR’s Renee Montagne that it was being a dietician in Mississippi.

I chose that because it's the most obese state in the country, and would it just be a really fulfilling career just to change people's lives just by educating them how to eat right, be active, motivating them, because I think a lack of motivation has a lot to do with it, along with limited food sources in terms of everything's fried in the South.

While job hopping might not be a pathway to success, neither is occupying the same position, doing the same thing always beneficial, either.

I’ve done a variety of jobs in my work career, entirely on the private side of things until this position came along, working for a nonprofit. Being able to work both blue collar jobs, spending several years in a professional environment, tethered to a cubicle, selling big ticket items on commission, as well as spending several years running my own business, has helped me acquire skills that I might not have, otherwise. Additionally, I have a strong background in grassroots organizing, which aids me in putting together partnerships, an important quality in the work I’m currently engaged in.

It has intrigued me over the past three years how many people I come in contact with who have been doing the same job for the past 10, 15, 20, 25, and even 30 years, including many that have never worked outside of public service, particularly government.

If you graduated from college, and then worked for a government agency for the next 25 years, how much do you really know about the private sector? On the flipside, government agencies, nonprofits, and other community organizations on the public side of the fence do not operate like a private business. I do not mean this in the pejorative way that this often gets framed in debate. I do believe, however that either way, having only one type of experience can be a hindrance.

Often, politicians that have never done anything else in their lives often have a skewered perspective when it comes to work, and in particular, adhering to the bottom line that is the modus operandi of business. It is also disingenuous for a candidate running for public office to trumpet that he or she will run government like a business, no matter what level of private sector experience they bring to the arena.

Seddiqui’s story is an interesting one, and he now plans to write a book about his experiences.

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