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Jen Pilgreen
Daniel Seddiqui author of "50 Jobs in 50 States" revisits his job as a volunteer packing hygiene kits at the LDS Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, March 22, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — Daniel Seddiqui is nervously pacing outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Center.

"This will be the first time I've been inside this door since I came back to Utah," he explained.

For Seddiqui, returning to Utah means coming full circle. The Beehive State was the first of 50 states he visited on what he describes as a "mission" to find work in each state over a 50-week period.

In September 2008, Seddiqui volunteered at the humanitarian center assembling hygiene kits. At the time, the kits were needed in Texas, which was recovering from Hurricane Gustav.

Seddiqui's experiences in Utah and 49 other states became fodder for his book "50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man's Journey of Discovery Across America." This week, he returned to Utah for a book tour and some speaking engagements.

Because Utah is where it all started, Seddiqui said he was a bit emotional returning to the state and the humanitarian center where he labored along with refugees, people with disabilities and others engaged in the humanitarian works of the LDS Church.

"Being here definitely gives me the chills," he said.

On Tuesday, Seddiqui returned to a workroom to pack up a few more boxes of hygiene supplies, properly stacking them on a wood pallet.

"It makes me want to start over again," Seddiqui said.

When he came to Utah, Seddiqui faced an uncertain future. He was doggedly determined to reach his goal of working 50 jobs in 50 states. Yet his parents weren't exactly thrilled with his choice.

Seddiqui had recently experienced a disastrous end to his collegiate track career, falling in the final lap of the steeplechase race during the PAC-10 championships. The next day, he graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in economics.

Under intense pressure from his parents to find a job, Seddiqui faced one rejection after another. Forty some rejections later, he conceived the concept of 50 jobs in 50 states. Each job would speak to the character of each state.

"As I wrote in the book, I was as rock bottom as a sober person can go," he said.

But Seddiqui said he knew he needed to take matters into his own hands instead of waiting for a job to find him.

So he loaded up his Jeep, drove 900-plus miles to Utah and embarked on a journey of self-discovery. Over the months, as word of his experience spread through the news media, networking and his blog, www.livingthemap.com, he became an inspiration to others who were out of work or needed a nudge to seek careers outside their comfort zones.

Seddiqui refused offers from television networks to turn his journey into a reality television program, he said, because he wanted the experience to be organic.

Still, Seddiqui's parents were not big believers in his decision. Only his friend, Sasha, supported his efforts, but her encouragement ebbed and waned throughout the experience, which included working on lobster boat in Maine, working four miles underground in a West Virginia coal mine and assisting the delivery of colt on a racehorse farm in Kentucky. Eventually, Sasha and Daniel parted ways.

Much of the time, Seddiqui lived with host families. When that wasn't possible, he slept in his car, showered and worked out at YMCAs and skipped many meals.

"I'm still exhausted, mentally and physically," he said Tuesday.

But he was driven by his curiosity about the country and a stubborn desire to prove to his parents that he could achieve his goal. His father gave him a $250 check just in case his trip turned sour. He was proud to return it when he returned to his home state of California in September 2009.

"I really believed in my head I was going to fulfill my mission, whether it took 50 weeks or 50 years," he said.

Seddiqui's relationship with his parents is profoundly better, he said. They're proud of his accomplishments. In fact, his mother is tagging along for this leg of the book tour.

"They're actually the reason I wanted to keep going — no turning back," he said.

If you go...

Who: Daniel Seddiqui

When: Wednesday

Where: 11 a.m. at Harman Home Community Senior Center, 4090 S. 3600 West, West Valley City; audience is limited to people age 60 and above

Where: 3 p.m. at the University of Utah Alumni House, 155 Central Campus Drive, Salt Lake City

Excerpt from Seddiqui's blog (unedited)

Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008

"I can’t believe that my first week has already come to an end. I know I have 49 more weeks to look forward to, but I am going to miss Utah. My supervisor told me that I was going to be missed. 'Aww, don’t say that,' I replied. I’ve had fun working with all the Associates and I’ve had a great learning experience. Not did I only learn about the life of Mormons, but also the life of refugees. The Humanitarian Center is a great service. If you would like to take on a career that focuses on providing for the less fortunate, then working for a Philanthropic organization is a great option." 

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com