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Jobless? He's got 50

Sunday, February 22, 2009 | 5:05 p.m. CST; updated 7:48 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 22, 2009

THERESA, Wis. — At a time when some people are having trouble finding one job, Daniel Seddiqui is lining up 50 — one in every state.

Each job symbolizes the state's most famous industry, and each lasts one week — just long enough for the 26-year-old to appreciate the labor and explore the region.

He's been a hydrologist in Colorado, a park ranger in Wyoming, a corn farmer in Nebraska and a wedding coordinator in Las Vegas.

Last week, in Week 23 of his yearlong saga, he was a cheesemaker in southeast Wisconsin. He mixed ingredients, hoisted slabs of cheddar — and tasted plenty of his work.

"I would say this was as hard as logging," he said Friday, referring to his stint as a logger in Oregon three months ago. "Everything here is done by hand so there's a lot of heavy lifting."

Seddiqui, who grew up in Los Altos, Calif., insists his job-hopping isn't a gimmick. It's a legitimate effort to travel the U.S., learn about cultures across the country and develop a respect for what other people do, he said.

For example, at his Nebraska job he was surprised that every farmer he met had a college degree.

"That's the problem with stereotypes. People think farmers aren't educated, but probably every one was more educated than me," he said. "That's the kind of thing you learn when you do this."

The hardest job so far was toiling in a meatpacking factory in Topeka, Kan. Seddiqui said his employer gave him the option of slaughtering a cow with a rifle shot to the head, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.

"That was a little too extreme," he said. "But they didn't really expect me to do it. They just said I could if I wanted."

The goal of his project, which he plans to write a book about when he's done, was to force himself out of his comfort zone. By daring himself to try all sorts of crazy jobs — rodeo announcer, border-patrol agent, archaeologist — other people might be willing to follow his example, he said.

At least one person has already been inspired, according to Seddiqui. After a news crew in Kansas City reported on his stint as a boilermaker, an unemployed dentist who saw the story decided to brush off his old welding skills and apply. The next day the man had a $40-per-hour job, Seddiqui said.

Seddiqui tries to line up jobs only three to four months in advance. Following his week in Wisconsin, he has his next eight weeks charted, starting with a position at the John Deere headquarters on Monday in Moline, Ill.

He lined up his cheesemaking position by Googling "cheese factory Wisconsin." He found Widmer's Cheese Cellars in Theresa, about 50 miles northwest of Milwaukee, and called owner Joe Widmer.

After studying Seddiqui's Web site, Widmer decided to give the young man a chance. He also figured Seddiqui's story would provide some free local publicity, but he was stunned when reporters from national media, including a documentary film crew from South Korea, showed up.

"He took this seriously from the beginning," Widmer said of Seddiqui. "He was assertive, inquisitive and we got along real well."

Seddiqui earned an economics degree from the University of Southern California in 2005. But he struggled to find a job, despite a 3.7 grade-point average.

He couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong. His parents — an Afghani father and Irish-Italian mother — even took him to a psychologist to find out what he was doing wrong in interviews.

As he took volunteer jobs at universities in Illinois and Virginia, he reminisced about his childhood desires to travel. In elementary school he loved to stare at U.S. road maps and imagine how it felt to live in all those cities.

Finally he decided to combine those boyhood dreams with his job search. Now, in his words, he's "living the map."

His approach impressed Shawn Peck, the sales and marketing director at Metal Craft in Elk River, Minn., Seddiqui's fifth stop. The company makes medical devices, such as those used in spinal surgery, and Seddiqui's job included using lasers to etch part numbers.

"He's a really nice guy who's interested in what he's doing," Peck said. "If he wanted a full-time job here, in the departments where you don't need lot of training and education, sure, we'd be interested."

Seddiqui gets paid at every job but he buys his own health insurance. He has no dental insurance and hopes a recent bout of wisdom-tooth pain won't resurface before he finds full-time work.

Each of his weekly employers provides room and board, usually in the owners' own home. Seddiqui drives from one state to another and has put 17,000 miles on his 1997 Jeep Cherokee since his adventures began in September. He plans to sell the vehicle in Maine to buy plane tickets to Hawaii, where he'll teach surfing despite never having surfed before, and Alaska, where he'll be a cruise director.

Of his remaining 27 jobs, he's most looking forward to being a meteorologist in Cleveland. But he's a little wary of the West Virginia job he'll have at the end of May.

"I'll be a coal miner. That'll be a little scary," he said. "I'm not looking forward to that one at all."


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