My Globe and Mail Column - Article #4

GEN Y JOURNEY: ONE-WEEK JOB Finding the right career is a matter of constant reinvention

SEAN AIKEN September 7, 2007

There I was, knee-deep in sludge, the sun beating down, flies swarming and sweat dripping off my forehead.

The stench was unpleasant, as was the muddy swamp water that slowly penetrated my supposedly waterproof coveralls.

What was I doing in such circumstances?

It was all in a day's work in a small town an hour north of Montreal, where I was picking cattails for a distribution company that processes and sells them to high-end restaurants.

It was hard to believe that, just one week before, I had been sitting behind my own desk in the fifth-floor office of a headhunting firm in downtown Montreal.

Each day I went to work in a suit and tie, attended meetings with top executives and chatted with co-workers in the lunchroom.

Talk about job extremes.

Most people don't have the luxury of experiencing such a range of occupations in so short a time.

But since the end of February, when I began working at a different job each week in my quest to figure out what I ultimately want to do with my career, I have constantly had to reinvent myself.

And, whether you are part of my generation looking to enter the working world, or a baby boomer mulling a career change later in life, chances are, at some point in your working life, a reinvention will be required.

I've learned some tips over the past 25 weeks that continue to help me in the reinvention process.

By keeping them in mind, I have been able to ease the transition week to week and make the most out of the experience so far.

Here are some of them:

I must be willing to leave my comfort zone

Week seven in Edmonton, I had a job as a yoga instructor. Ten minutes after I arrived at work on Monday, I was told that, on Friday, I'd be teaching a class on my own.

I'd never even stepped foot inside a yoga studio before. So when I was told I'd be teaching, I immediately began to think of all the possible excuses of why I couldn't.

But then I realized that the process of reinvention requires shedding past habits and leaping mental barriers. So if I was going to do what the job required, I'd have to set aside my trepidation and commit to the experience. And by committing, I allowed myself to immediately start learning what would be required to successfully teach a class.

Based on the fact that nobody asked for their money back, I like to think of it as a successful re-invention.

I must be willing to learn new skills

Before I spent a week in April as a florist, I couldn't have told you the difference between a stargazing lily and a Gerber daisy. But I can now. And I could arrange them, too.

I hadn't previously realized how much skill went into creating an arrangement of flowers. I certainly didn't master the art in one week, but whatever new skill I acquired will continue to benefit me for many Mother's Days to come.

And on my career hunt. For I realized how much I enjoyed learning a new skill, the feeling of reward that came with seeing my skills develop, and the realization that, the more I acquire, the more career doors that will open. And whatever career I settle on will no doubt require the continual development of new skills.

I must be willing to keep an open mind

I do not have any tattoos, nor have I met many heavily tattooed people. So it really was a new world for me when I walked into the tattoo parlour where I worked four weeks ago and was greeted by people covered in body art.

It was for me a bit intimidating. I admit that I held preconceived notions about those with numerous tattoos and piercings, and was worried I would have difficulty making connections.

I could easily have put up a barrier, refused to look past our differences and denied the possibility of developing any meaningful relationships.

But by reminding myself to keep an open mind, I met some great people and learned I mustn't allow any preconceived ideas of a particular profession to influence my choice of careers. I also realized that a closed mind might close doors that I'd rather keep open.

I must identify my strengths and weaknesses

At the tattoo parlour, I tried to sketch a potential design for a client. What I came up with could have been equally matched in talent by a seven-year-old. I quickly realized I do not possess enough artistic ability to be a tattooist and, therefore, would not be too successful if I decided to pursue it as a profession.

However, that same week I recognized a strength in dealing with people. It can be somewhat nerve-wracking for clients awaiting a piercing. By spending time speaking with them in the waiting room, I found I was able to calm nerves, and make clients feel more at ease and comfortable about the whole experience.

Week after week. I am placed in unfamiliar situations that challenge me and require new skills. As a result, I am beginning to recognize areas in which I stood strong and those where I was weaker. Clearly, I will be happiest and most successful in a workplace situation that puts my strengths to good use.

I must be willing to try, try again

While working with the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation two weeks ago, I visited downtown Toronto stores and asked to post promotional material for an upcoming fundraising event. The first few queries, I faced rejection - and had to keep reminding myself that it was important not to get discouraged and to simply try again at the next store.

By pounding on enough doors, I scored sufficient success - and will keep in mind that I would not have gotten very far if I'd given up after hearing a few nos.

This relates to anything we do: We must be resilient if we are going to achieve our goals.

I set out 25 weeks ago to find a career that I would love doing. I will not find the ideal situation simply by deciding this is what I want; I must continue to try, try again each week. Every time I do, I get closer to my goal and learn more about the characteristics that are required for me to be happy in my career.

Keeping these reinvention themes in mind throughout my experience has enriched my journey. They have allowed me to take the most out of each week, to develop new skills, meet new people, and come to personal realizations about myself and what I am looking for in a career. Sean Aiken writes occasionally about his career-discovery journey as he takes on a new job a week across Canada. He is blogging about his experience (and taking offers) at