What The 'Most Rejected Person In The World' Can Teach About Triumph And Creating Work We Love
As a career coach, I work with thousands of people a year who are totally lost as to what to do with their careers and work. They know they have strong talents and abilities, but they simply cannot figure out how to apply these talents to build a livelihood that’s meaningful and purposeful for them, or how to leverage their skills to earn good money in ways that make them feel excited to be alive. This journey to creating fulfilling work (what I call “digging deep, discovering your right work, and illuminating the world with it”) is for millions a confusing, bumpy and intensely challenging one.
That’s why I was so excited to connect with Daniel Seddiqui, who knows so very much about this topic. Daniel is a bestselling author, international speaker, and real life version of Where’s Waldo. You may have spotted him working in the corn fields of Nebraska, on a lobster boat in Maine, forecasting your local weather in Ohio, coaching football in Alabama, or even marrying couples in a Las Vegas wedding chapel. Named “The Most Rejected Person in the World” by USA Today, he failed over 40+ consecutive job interviews, sent out 18,000 emails and made nearly 5,000 phone calls to finally find a path he loved. Daniel finally achieved his ultimate vision of working 50 Jobs in 50 States. His book, 50 Jobs In 50 States: One Man’s Journey of Discovery Across America, chronicles his internal and external explorations, and shares riveting stories about the people he met, lessons he learned, and the five principles that kept him going.
Daniel founded Living the Map, which has redefined the traditional internship experience by providing a platform for college students to experience 5 Jobs in 5 States in 5 Weeks. Colleges across the country have implemented this credited program into their curriculum to great success.
Daniel shares his hard-earned insights about meaningful work, success on your own terms, and living a purposeful life.
Kathy Caprino: Daniel, tell us more about why are you called the “Most Rejected Person in the World?” What happened and what prompted you to pursue a path that led to so much rejection?
Daniel Seddiqui: Just about everything I’ve tried required facing an enormous amount of rejection, beginning with the entry-level job search after graduating from the University of Southern California. In the early stages of the recession, I suffered through 120 rounds of job interviews related to my economics degree. After two years, I then developed an alternative plan to pursue a career in coaching collegiate athletics and sent out 18,000 emails, only to earn a volunteer position.
In light of curiosity and a desperate attempt to discover opportunity, I came up with an idea to explore the world around me by working 50 Jobs in 50 States in 50 Weeks. With no money in my name, I sought out sponsorship, but had no takers. Garmin, the GPS service’s response was that they didn’t care if I got lost. This made for the most organic job seeking, career and cultural exploration in America.
Through this undertaking, I made nearly 5,000 phone calls in order to land 50 unique positions, from making cheese in Wisconsin, lobster fishing in Maine, coal mining in West Virginia to making furniture with the Amish in Pennsylvania.
After my journey was complete, 60 book publishers reached out to me and then turned me down. This was only the beginning of my experience with rejection, as I have learned to fight for every inch of progress. I realized that settling can be the biggest sacrifice and could miss out on something greater. That something greater came four years later.
Caprino: What was the turning point for you – the straw-breaking moment and the deep realization that this isn’t the way to go about it?
Seddiqui: When I ended up homeless and had no place to turn. I failed another job interview and had to return a suit that I had just purchased for the potential job. My parents didn’t think I was trying hard enough and withdrew their support. I totally lost my sense of purpose, something that I held at least through competing in athletics during college. No employers gave me a chance, so I had to create my own destiny. I came up with this idea to learn about careers, cultures and environments in America that gave me a new found purpose and that would buy 50 weeks’ time until I could figure out what to do with my life.
I never would’ve imagined that my journey would lead to a fulfilling path in career services.
Caprino: Tell us about Living The Map – why is it different, crucial, helpful?
Seddiqui: Here’s the problem: college students lack a tremendous amount of real world experience, causing them to arbitrarily select their majors. When they do declare a major, it’s usually similar to what their parents do or what they’ve been previously exposed to by the environment they live. Also, it’s common that they’re not connecting the dots between their classroom learnings to a career path, which causes them to disengage in school. They are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars, putting themselves in lifelong debt and not even sure where it will lead them. They find themselves desperate for any job opportunity after graduating and that’s how this vicious cycle begins.
Through my travels, I learned that a large majority of Americans are unhappy at the workplace caused by placing boundaries on themselves, similar to how I felt stuck and feared going out of my comfort zone.
Living the Map was my childhood dream, as I found myself obsessed with staring at maps, wondering what life was like in other parts of the world. Based off my personal journey, I’ve innovated an opportunity for college students to experience 5 Jobs in 5 States in 5 Weeks. In addition, students stay with host families in their chosen destinations, which allows them to immerse in new cultures. The model of a week experience is an accelerated exposure of jobs, people and connections, and a unique way to build a resume. Through traditional internship experience, students often learn the most during their first week at the site.
The 5x5x5 program is a for-credit opportunity that fills the gap between classroom and real world and combines a young person’s desire for travel and work experience.
Caprino: What do you wish every employer and every job seeker knew, that this program reveals?
Seddiqui: How can you aspire to change the world, if you haven’t experienced the world to understand what needs to be changed?
Caprino: What’s your ultimate goal for Living the Map, and for job seekers today?
Seddiqui: There are hundreds of thousands of unique jobs waiting to be discovered and Living the Map’s program provides a platform to make those discoveries. My hope is that this opportunity will be available on every college campus across America, so students can perform better in the classroom, be prepared for the workforce and ultimately find a meaningful career and a desirable place to live.
My goal from the day that I hit the road in 2008 was to explore the world around me, understand and respect one another, and continue to make discoveries to better myself. This is what I want for the next generation of students.
Caprino: Daniel, if you had come to me as a career coach and explained your situation that you were getting rejected everywhere, I would have likely advised that you were going about it in the wrong way. Perhaps you were missing the confidence or self-esteem necessary to identify or share your talents in a compelling way. Or what you believed deep down about yourself and your talents was not positive. Or what you thought you wanted vs. what you really wanted were not well aligned. Can you share what YOU think the biggest reason was for your not having success in initially landing work that you would love?
Seddiqui: Sure. Here’s what I know now.
I pursued the wrong direction
I wasn’t pursuing a career path that I loved. I didn’t even pursue a field of study that I loved or knew what to do with it. I went the conservative direction and chose a major (economics) that would easily apply into a career after I graduated. I was heavily influenced by my family to go down the path of business because it was familiar to me. The majors that I thought of pursuing were quickly shot down because I lacked the support and direction I needed. Without much work experience before and during my college career, I didn’t have much exposure to various career avenues. That’s why it was so difficult to engage in the classroom environment because I wasn’t connecting the dots to the real world. In addition, I’ve been a lifelong competitive athlete, it’s been difficult to find a career that I would find as much passion to my sport.
What rejection means
In terms of rejection, I think there were many variables. In economics, we use the term externalities, meaning things we can’t control. First off, finding an entry-level position in business after college is highly competitive. I was getting lots of job interviews, which was encouraging. Secondly, we were right on the cusp of the recession’s beginning, but still I don’t use that as an excuse. Lastly, I think it was just my fate not to get a job because I’ve been runner-up for most positions.
Addressing what can be controlled
But here are things that I could’ve addressed or controlled more productively:
- I never felt comfortable in the interview setting. I felt like my personality was restricted and was always trying to look and act professional to impress. That obviously didn’t work.
- I knew I didn’t have the experience because employers were asking for a lot, even for an entry-level position. I wish I invested more time doing internships throughout college. I realized that competing in sports and getting good grades wasn’t enough. I don’t think I was even educated well enough for these positions because most of my studies were theory and not practical based. I think we do a poor job in education on teaching real-life scenarios.
- I didn’t have a strong desire to get the job because I knew it wasn’t my dream. My parents felt I was self-sabotaging my interviews and subconsciously knew I didn’t even want the job. I always had a hard time with that question, where do you see yourself in 5 years? Well, not here.
- Lastly, my confidence and my sense of worth went downhill fast. I thought it would be a miracle if anyone accepted me. I felt my world was crumbling all around, even from the people closest to me. In turn, this became a blessing because my courage shot through the roof, feeling that I have nothing to lose at anything I choose to do. I stopped caring what others thought and lived life for me. That’s when I did 50 Jobs in 50 States and continue to pursue the most unconventional paths to make progress. I knew I was a talented individual, but needed to find an outlet where I can be myself and do things differently.
One final comment: After only one week at each job, I did earn 48/50 full-time job offers because I was able to show who I was, rather than tell who I was. And, I had no experience going in to each position. This proves what a good attitude, being inquisitive, and demonstrating willingness to learn can do. My advice is that settling is the biggest sacrifice, so don’t miss out on something greater. If the world doesn’t offer anything, offer something to the world.