The One-Week Job Project: One Man, One Year, 52 Jobs - By Sean Aiken
To Mom and Dad—
I’m here because of you.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
A crowd gathers behind me and cries out in unison. My fingers clutch the railing of the metal bridge. The platform on which I stand leads to empty space. On either side of the 160-foot river canyon, peaceful snowcapped trees taunt me with their calm. I turn to the crowd and craft an exaggerated fearful expression, then force a smile.
Once they get to one, I need to jump. I have to jump. It’ll be so anticlimactic if I don’t. Everyone knows you can’t back out of a countdown. Even if I jump five seconds after the fact, it won’t matter—a countdown is a countdown.
My toes creep over the edge of the bridge to which I’m attached by only a thick bungee cord. I glance toward the picturesque mountain backdrop, and for a moment I forget my current reality, lost in appreciation of the beauty that surrounds me.
The cheer from the crowd jolts me back to the task at hand. I peer past my toes. One hundred sixty feet below, the river eagerly awaits my descent.
I tell the muscles in my legs to contract. They don’t want to. My precious seconds of leeway are about to run out. If I don’t jump, I’ll hear the sighs of a disappointed crowd. The people who are rooting for me now will suddenly lose interest. Little do they know, this is the most important jump of my life.
I have no idea what the next year will hold, where my different jobs will lead, what I’ll end up doing, or who I’ll meet. I wonder if I’ll get enough job offers, where I’m going to sleep while on the road, how I’m going to travel from city to city, and how I’ll support myself for an entire year without pay. Most important, I question if I’ll be able to heed the insights I gain when my journey is over. The uncertainty is loud, my self-doubts determined, fear pervasive. But I’m excited. I’ve made excuses for too long. Ready or not, it’s time to take the leap.
I take a deep breath, check my harness one last time, and step off the bridge.
IN MY PARENTS’ BASEMENT, I woke up ready to start my morning routine—hop in the shower, brush my teeth, put on some clothes, grab something to eat, then run out the door. A moment before I tossed my covers aside, I realized that I didn’t have to go to school. And it wasn’t just that day. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to go to school again, ever.
I’d felt ready to graduate for some time. I wanted to do my own thing, to start working toward something. The only problem was that I had no idea what this something was.
For as long as I could remember, my life had been organized for me. The most major decision making I did came every four months when I’d spend an hour looking at a course calendar and chart my life for the next semester. Advisors told me how many credits I needed, the courses required to earn my degree. A schedule told me when to be at school. Teachers told me when assignments were due. If I paid attention in class, they’d even tell me how to get a good grade. I was so focused on receiving the best grades I could that I didn’t care whether I was actually learning something. I was taught to focus on grades, and I gave my teachers what they wanted. After all, good grades are what got me into a decent college and what would land me a decent job. Good grades are what would give me “value.”
When summer came, I enjoyed my freedom, never feeling any guilt over not doing something else, something more. There was no need to worry about the long term. I had a simple plan—finish my degree. I’d be back at school in the fall and so could spend the next four months making money, partying with friends, taking weekend road trips—whatever, it didn’t matter. There was no need to stress about anything, least of all the job I got. It was just a summer job. And I, after all, was just