Back in 2007, 25-year-old Canadian college graduate Sean Aiken was wondering what to do with his life.
Around the family dinner table one evening, Sean’s father told him to find work that he was passionate about. He said: “I’ve been alive for 60 years, and I’m yet to find something I’m passionate about besides your mother”.
Taking the advice on board, Sean set out across the continent to uncover his passion, documenting his year-long odyssey, and compiling it into a feature-length film and a book called One Week Job and The One Week Job Project, respectively. He now hosts speaking events in schools and businesses around the world, encouraging others to start their own journey.
One such other was Cuong, a Vietnamese millennial, a native of Binh Duong Province in the country’s south. After reading Sean’s book, Cuong set about on his own 36-week project. The number is significant, says Cuong, as it references the 36 ways to overcome your enemy, as outlined in Sun Tzu’s ancient military manual, The Art of War.
His enemy is a nine-to-five job in an office with fluorescent lights and no-tie Fridays. “I don’t want to have to sit all day in front of a computer, I want to do something like being a chef, or photography, or making coffee.”
So far, Cuong’s worked on a coffee plantation in Dalat, as a translator, and as a trainer for a consultancy firm that specialises in helping people suffering from mental illness. While all his labour is unpaid, Cuong encourages his employers to make a donation to the Blue Dragon Foundation, a charity that assists poverty-stricken children in Vietnam.
Cuong’s project isn’t without its difficulties, he explains, “Vietnamese people don’t always understand what I’m doing, so it can be difficult for them to hire me. I have to say that I’m taking a gap year otherwise they think I want an internship with them.”
It’s understandable that not all Vietnamese people would relate to the idea of changing jobs every week in a country where the average monthly income is still below US$200 (VND4.5 million). Cuong is meeting this challenge head on, and represents a generation whose ambitions are often in conflict with the expectations of their peers, and sometimes for good reason.
But he remains confident that what he’s doing is worthwhile. “When I started, I thought that maybe I would find my dream job, but now I think it’s more about the experience and what I’ll learn from it,” says Cuong.
Jumping from education into the workplace isn’t easy for most people, and when you’re not certain what your passion is, finding meaning in work can be difficult. Taking that dilemma and applying it to someone from a developing country certainly doesn’t make it any easier to solve.
Maybe we could all do with a little time to figure out what it is we’re truly passionate about doing, in the meantime, we’ll watch Cuong and see if he figures out life’s riddle for himself.
You can follow Cuong’s journey via oneweekjobvn.com
Photo by Mike Palumbo