A little more than a year ago, Daniel Seddiqui was just another post-college grad with an economics major from USC -- the "U" perhaps standing in his case for Unlucky in the job market, Unable to find full-time work, Unemployed after 40 interviews.
So, perhaps figuring that 50 outranks 40, Seddiqui set an outlandish goal: working 50 jobs in 50 states in 50 weeks. His parents thought he was nuts. Friends tried to talk him out of it. Walletpop even wrote a story on his plan. And as for nightmares about sleeping on park benches? "That was a daymare," Says Seddiqui, 27.
"I was like, 'How much money do I need for a trip like this?' Before I started I didn't think I could rely on the hospitality of American people. I thought I was gonna need $100,000."
Turns out he needn't have worried. This week, Seddiqui hits the home stretch of his all-American employment odyssey. He's working as a surf instructor in Maui, Hawaii, which beats the stuffing out of standing in an unemployment line any day. With only one state to go (California), Seddiqui can now relax a bit, and worry about other matters, such as selling his lucky 1997 Jeep Cherokee. It navigated 48 states and 29,000 miles without so much as a single breakdown.
"I kissed my car goodnight, every night," he says.
Seddiqui set out on Sept. 5, 2008, his first job pick as idiosyncratic as his self-styled journey. He worked at the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah in the humanitarian services department, an interesting choice since Seddiqui is Muslim. (He later worked with the Amish building furniture in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; he calls them "probably the most family-oriented people on this planet." He even grew a beard for that stint.)
Since then, his jobs have varied as much as the terrain his Jeep has negotiated. His resume now includes: coal miner (West Virginia), lobsterman (Maine), fashion model (North Carolina) and logger (Oregon). He's been high (a stilt walker at Universal Studios in Orlando) and low (a bartender on bawdy Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras). In Wisconsin he worked as -- what else? -- a cheesemaker.
Sometimes Seddiqui lines up jobs months in advance; others he's on the hunt for until the very last minute. In a few instances, the recession has put the very places out of business that had promised to hire him, leaving him to scramble for a replacement gig. Never has he failed to find work, in part because of the publicity he's generated through a Web site documenting his journey, livingthemap.com. The site has also cost him $10,000 to set up and run during the trip. As for the rest of his bottom line, Seddiqui estimates that conservatively, he's earned at least $60,000, with another $40,000 or more in free room and board. This included a free week's stay at the Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina, worth $1,000 a night.
What's more, Seddiqui never once had to check into a hotel, and has managed to pay off some of the $65,000 in debt he's accrued from student loans, credit cards and his Jeep payments. He's had a few expensive brushes with the ER for flu and bronchitis (he has no health insurance), and equally brief brushes with celebrity, at one point watching a Brockton Rox minor-league baseball game with actor and co-owner Bill Murray. ("He's just an awkward person to talk to," Seddiqui says. "He didn't say anything constructive.")
California, his last state, is also where Seddiqui hails from originally (Los Altos, to be precise), though if you ask him where he lives, he says, "I'm from nowhere, really." Chances are once he's in Cali, he'll work on a job close to his heart: turning the film footage he shot on his trip into a documentary. He hopes to write a book as well, also called "Living the Map."
Seddiqui also comes away with a few episodes of synchronicity he won't soon forget-including the dinner where he met a man who'd come halfway around the world because of him.
"I met these guys in a sushi restaurant in North Carolina and my boss introduced me to them. I had been on the national news in South Korea about two months prior, and my boss says, 'These guys are from South Korea.' So I told them I was covered on their national news over there. And one guy almost fainted, because he moved from South Korea to North Carolina because of me. He'd seen me on the national news and I inspired him to change his life and his direction."
Seddiqui finds that he has changed, too, having crossed a border in his life that no map can delineate. "My struggle after graduation, who I am-it all came together," he notes.
Go West, young man: 49 jobs in 49 states in 49 weeks down--and one to go