14 April 2010

paperback writer

In the summer of 2007, I took part in an online photo essay project called "Once Upon a Time on Planet Earth."  The idea behind it was that everyone involved took a photo at the exact same time on the exact same day and then wrote about it.  It just so happened that at the same time I got involved in this, an organization in my town chose to offer employment to a young man named Sean Aiken.  It doesn't seem like much, right?  So someone in town decided to give a kid a job, big deal.  Well, here's where it gets interesting.  Sean Aiken is the creative mind behind "One Week Job", a concept he came up with shortly out of university.

Not wanting to be stuck in a job where all he did was clock-watch, Sean was determined to find his passion in life, and he thought that by trying fifty two jobs in a year (that's one a week), that he would at least get an idea of what he didn't want to do.  Any potential employers who paid him a wage would have those wages donated to "Make Poverty History" and, of course, receive a tax break for doing so.  There was a blog where you could contact him to offer him employment, read his blog and basically find yourself along for the ride.

By the time he made it to my small town, he was still fairly new into the process, having only been at it for about sixteen weeks.  He worked at the Pizza Hut for a day, but his big task that week was the Race Co-Ordinator for my town's second annual pursuit style triathlon.  This is where he and I met.  Stuck for a photo subject for my essay, I approached him and asked if I could take his photo and use him as my essay topic.  He seemed distracted, but he did mumble something that sounded like agreement, so we took a couple of photos and then he went back to doing whatever it was race directors do.

A few months later, I sent him an email with my essay and photo attached to it, and it was submitted to the online photo essay.  I kept in touch with Sean through email and by following his blog, and I watched his One Week Job Project take on a life of its own.  He found himself selling real estate in Hollywood, working as a movie producer, aquarium guide, photographer at the Toronto Film Festival, and so on.  He made appearances on CNN, Good Morning America and the Rachel Ray Show.  He was even contacted by Oprah's people, but that fell through.

From humble beginnings, One Week Job because a sort of phenomena, with a documentary in the making and a book offer.  A few months ago, I got an email from Sean saying that he had written about our encounter at the Triathlon in his book, and he wasn't going to say anything, instead letting me read it for myself when the book was released, but his editors and publisher and lawyer said it would be best to get my permission, especially since they were going to be using text from my essay in the book as well.  I'm no fool, I said, "Sure."

A week ago, "The One Week Job Book" was released in Canada, and there on page 76, Sean mentions me by name and quotes my essay.

I know, right.

So, since this is my blog and it's all about me, I present to you, my essay for "Once Upon a Time on Planet Earth" entitled, "Jump!" (currently being quoted on bookshelves all over Canada)

Henry Miller once said, "Destiny is what you are supposed to do in life. Fate is what kicks you in the ass to do it." 

Enter Sean Aiken. 

After already having an impressive head start out into the "real world," through graduating top of his class in University with a degree in Business Administration, the possibilities were endless. But this was not enough for Sean. He made a promise that he would not settle for a career unless he was truly passionate about it. Of course, at 25 years old, it's not surprising that he wasn't sure where his passions were. (How many of us really knew what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives at 25 years of age?) So, he created One Week Job which he describes as "one of the crazy ideas I had running through my head keeping me up at night." 

At the same time that he had the idea for One Week Job, a friend of his had mentioned the issue of child poverty in Canada to him. His reaction to this was the same as mine. There's child poverty in Canada? We're one of the richest countries in the world, how is this possible? Eighteen years ago, our trusty government made a resolution to eliminate poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000. So, how come, seven years later, one in six children still lives in poverty? 

Something has to be done. 

Sean is not trying to champion the fight against child poverty in Canada. (It's not like he's Bono, after all.) His goals are simple - he's just trying to find his place in the world, trying to find a better understanding of what he needs to be happy. He's not entirely ignorant of the impact that his "crazy idea" can have on those who encounter him, either. He hopes that he can somehow inspire those who might find themselves in a similar situation, whether they are high school graduates striking out on their own for the first time, or someone who has worked a job they hated for twenty years just because they felt like they had to, to commit to seeking out a career they're passionate about. Since he was already spreading that message, why not use the opportunity to raise money and awareness of child poverty in Canada in the process? Sean says "I believe if we truly want to make a difference in the lives of others, we must first starts by being happy with ourselves." 

I am willing to go on record right now in admitting that the thought of meeting someone who I had sort of built up in my head as this amazing individual, was a little daunting. I'm a skeptic as well, so part of me wondered if he was really as he seemed, or if all the media attention had gone to his head, and he was going to walk around like we should all be falling at his feet because of all of the attention he was getting because what he was doing? Furthermore, how would he respond to my request to being the subject for my entry at "Once Upon a Time on Planet Earth" Would he jump at the opportunity or would he brush me off with a wave of his hand? From our first "Hello," I realized that my fears were unfounded. 

Sean is one of the most open, laid back, easy-going, and passionate people I've ever met, and when you meet him you almost feel as though you've known him forever. He has this presence that is so infectious that you can't help but feel not only at ease, but like you've known him forever. In my conversation with him, I got the sense that whether he knows it or not, this is his "passion." He created something he believed in and, as cliched as it sounds, he chose to follow his bliss and has found his comfort zone. While my visions of his future and his visions of his future are more than likely on completely different scales (I can see him following in the footsteps of so many others who believed in something, no matter how unpopular or crazy it was, and had the balls to pursue it), we both can agree that we have no idea where this will lead him today, tomorrow, or even next week. 

I realize that this may all sound a bit over-inflated, but in all honesty, it truly only takes one person to make a difference, no matter how big or how small. My heroes are those who don't sit idly by and complain about what they see; they try to change it, and either through their own actions or words, they inspire others to do the same. They inspire people to take that first leap or that first step to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary, and to make a change. When you meet someone who feels "that people and our relationships with others are the most important things we have," how can you not look at yourself and life differently? 

In trying to decide on what sort of a photo I wanted to include as my statement in "Once Upon a Time on Planet Earth," I wasn't sure which direction I wanted to go. With a subject who is everything and nothing all at the same time, how can you perfectly capture that belief that "You must be the change you want to see in the world?" Fortunately, since neither Sean nor I take anything too seriously, I feel that there is no more appropriate photo than this one. 

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In a split second, it captured what Sean and One Week Job, and what "Once Upon a Time on Planet Earth" are all about - that we're all in this together, and that what one person does can make more of an impact than they would expect. I never thought that taking part in this photo essay, and meeting Sean would change the way I look at things, and yet, both have. It's nothing I can fully articulate, but it's something that I feel deep in my core; that in these chance opportunities, something has changed...and that something was me.


love me, love me. say that you love me.