After graduating from college in 2005, Daniel Seddiqui went on 40-plus job interviews — and didn’t receive a single offer.
Motivated by desperation (and summoning all his chutzpah), the California native embarked on a madcap mission to work 50 jobs in 50 states — the careerist’s equivalent of shooting the moon.
Lining up the weeklong gigs took 18,000 e-mails, 5,000 phone calls and the tenacity to withstand potential employers laughing in his face. USA Today referred to Seddiqui as “the most rejected person in the world,” a moniker he leveraged to promote a book (livingthemap.com) about his experiences woodworking with the Pennsylvania Amish, mining coal in Virginia and marrying couples in Nevada.
Inspired by a favorite “50 Jobs in 50 States” experience at an Elk River company, Seddiqui moved to Minnesota, where he’s been planning another epic cross-country tour.
He just launched his American Bucket List Challenge to try a cultural activity in every state — from singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Utah to judging the World Series of Barbecue in Missouri to hula dancing in Hawaii.
We talked with Seddiqui about his tips for turning a “no” into a “yes” and his odds of standing up on water skis in Brainerd at the end of September.
Q: How did “the most rejected person in the world” manage to land not one but 50 jobs?
A: It was always very different. There was no one way I got jobs. In Nebraska I wanted to be a corn farmer, so I just asked if somebody needed an extra set of hands during the harvest season.
Q: Why didn’t you turn your South Dakota rodeo stint into a career?
A: They had me try to tackle a steer by myself and I couldn’t do it — it’s tougher than it looks. A 10-year-old kid showed me how to do it.
Q: What about cheese-making in Wisconsin?
A: It was very difficult work, probably the most labor-intensive job I did — more than oil rigging. It was very hands-on and literally backbreaking work. We would have to form cheese low in the vat and lift up 40-pound blocks into the packaging. It was all hand-done. There was no machinery.
Q: What other jobs did you rule out?
A: Meatpacking in a Kansas slaughterhouse and lobstering on a boat in Maine, where I got seasick daily.
Q: After “50 Jobs,” you created an internship program called 5x5x5 to place college students in five jobs in five states for five weeks. Why?
A: It helps them discover who they are and where they belong in the working world.
I place them in host families, as well. And my parents have actually hosted some of the students, and they always say the kids are extremely exhausted after week two, and they cannot believe that their son did 50 weeks.
Q: What inspired your American Bucket List cultural tour?
A: After the presidential election, I could not believe how polarized and divided this country was.
I did not see that when I was doing my 50 jobs. Everyone welcomed me from all different backgrounds, and now I see this country has a lot of tension and anger.
I wanted to hit the road and see how I could unite people, to learn about each other and see what people do from place to place.
Q: You kicked off the tour by singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. What’s next?
A: I’m doing a buffalo roundup in South Dakota. I get to judge the World Series of Barbecue contest in Missouri. I’m going to make steel art in Pennsylvania.
Q: How did you end up moving to Minnesota?
A: I found a job here at the University [of Minnesota] and have been with the athletic department since January. Everyone is shocked that I moved to Minnesota, but I think it’s a great place to live.
Except my first month I fell on the ice, so now I have frozen shoulder and my arm does not go up past 90 degrees. I’m going to physical therapy weekly.
Q: Uff da! Sorry to hear that. Aren’t you planning your Bucket List water-ski here on Sept. 26?
A: I wanted to do water-skiing with one of the pyramid show teams, so the coach of the Brainerd Ski Loons will be taking me out with a group of people learning swiveling and barefoot water-skiing.
Q: That’s pretty hard-core — have you water-skied before?
A: I tried it when I was 8 years old in Lake Tahoe and I remember not being very successful.
Q: Might be tricky to do a pyramid if you can’t get out of the water.
A: I went to the Mississippi River Rats show that they do Thursday nights so I could see what I’m about to face, and I was like, “Wow, I don’t know.” Especially with my frozen shoulder, it’s going to be tough.
Q: Well, at least you’re used to dealing with failure.
A: I actually like to hear rejections occasionally — I like to hear them quickly, so I can move on and try somebody else — but rejection is very beneficial.
If everything was easy, then it’s not as valued. If I ended up getting the first job I applied for, then I’m almost set up for unrealistic expectations.
I feel like the more ambitious you are, the more rejections you’re going to face. I like to hear the “no’s” because it sets me apart from those who can’t tolerate it.