How many times have we heard people raving about following your passion? A lot. It’s not a surprise that “passion” was put on the 2014 list of banished words because people got so sick of hearing it. I’m certainly guilty of having used it. But I recently gained a fresh perspective on passion and success from Mike Rowe that is share worthy. I’ll do my best to limit the use of the “p” word in this article, just bear with me. 🙂
I’m sure most of you have heard of Mike Rowe – or at least would recognize his face. He’s had quite the untemplate career. He rose to fame as the eight-year unscripted host of the Discovery Channel’s show Dirty Jobs and you’ve probably seen him in Ford commercials. But I bet you didn’t know he was a professional opera singer with the Baltimore Opera for eight years! So random right? But his voice is amazing.
He also worked the graveyard shift for QVC (he auditioned to settle a bet) but was eventually fired 3 years later for poking too much fun at the merchandise. His self written bio on his website is really funny. Mike also lives in San Francisco like me and I’ve actually run into him a couple times over the years.
Anyway, I want to share some his perspective on passion and success from the TED Radio Hour that really stuck me.
“Follow Your Passion” Is The Worst Advice Mike Rowe Ever Got
Even though being a professional opera singer is an impressive accomplishment, Mike doesn’t consider that a success. I think he’s being humble. When he was younger, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. But he was told countless times that if he followed his passion everything would work out. Looking back, Mike says that’s the worst advice he ever got.
Most of the people he knows who followed their passions are still struggling late in life. On the other hand, the 300 blue-collar workers he apprenticed for throughout all 50 states didn’t follow their passions – nobody dreams about working in a sewer or collecting road kill – are not struggling. They are surprisingly happy, successful and wealthy as a result of their efforts.
Unlike a lot of reality shows, Dirty Jobs wasn’t scripted and never had second takes. Mike literally got his hands dirty and had genuine conversations with the featured workers. It’s no wonder that these experiences changed his view about work and what defines success.
Examples Of Successful People Who Didn’t Follow Their Passions
A lot of us have this perception that only white-collar workers have the best shot at success and wealth. Mike convinces us why that’s dead wrong.
Most people who work dirty jobs are actually quite funny, self-deprecating, financially secure and well-balanced. You probably wouldn’t believe that 40-50 of the profiled laborers on Dirty Jobs are multi-millionaires, but it’s true. Most white-collar workers don’t even get that rich working office jobs. Here are some examples of people Mike met on Dirty Jobs who didn’t follow their passion but achieved great success:
Bloodworm Seller – Imagine hunting for worms to sell as bait that can get as long as your forearm. Oh and they bite. Yuk! One guy Mike Rowe met, Rob, doesn’t look like a successful person from the outside. But his rough appearance is a classic example of stealth wealth. I wouldn’t have thought there’s any decent money in selling worms, but Rob has done quite well for himself financially. He’s a multiple property owner who paid for his homes all in cash. Not many people can say they’ve done that!
Septic Tank Cleaner – Les Swanson of Wisconsin certainly didn’t follow his passion to be a septic tank cleaner. What’s fascinating is he used to be a guidance counselor and a psychiatrist. He left those office jobs because he got tired of dealing with other people’s problems. Now, even though he has one heck of a dirty job, he’s much happier.
Pig Farmer – Working on a farm is hard, dirty and stinky work. But Bob Combs proved to Mike Rowe that it can be crazy successful. He examined how most pig farmers handle feeding and chose to do things in a new way. Bob drives around the Las Vegas strip picking up uneaten food scraps from casinos that he hauls back to feed his pigs. There’s so much protein in the food we waste that his pigs grow double the normal speed. How successful is Bob? Impressive enough to turn down a $60 million offer to sell his farm.
Repurposing Manure – Dairy Farmer, Matt Froind, realized that his cows’ manure was more valuable than their milk if he used it to make biodegradable flowerpots. I don’t know anyone who would follow a passion to work with poop, but Matt saw it as an opportunity and now sells his flowerpots to Walmart.
Let’s Redefine Success
If you’re happy following your passion, great! Be realistic you might not make a lot of money though. If you can afford it, at least you won’t have any regrets trying if you fail. If you want to quit your job to give entrepreneurship a try, read the book How To Engineer Your Layoff first.
I hope now you can see that you don’t have to follow your passion to be happy or successful. But you can always bring passion with you. Put forward your talents, creativity and hustle to any profession for the best shot at success.
Let’s redefine success and try to be more openly supportive of people who work blue-collar jobs or what we may deem as undesirable career choices. They may not have followed their passions, but they still have a fair shot at achieving success without working a dream job.
I haven’t told many people that my dad was a blue-collar worker. He’s a retired electrician who also worked as a painter and handyman. He never had an office job in his life. I used to feel embarrassed about that, but I grew to be very proud of him. Listening to Mike Rowe’s insights gave me a new appreciation for my dad’s attitude towards life and the demanding physical labor he endured for so many years. It takes a smart person to be a licensed and reliable electrician too. He never made it rich but he tells the most fascinating stories and earned several promotions and a lot of technical skills. He’s the reason I’m good with tools and DIY projects.
Mike Rowe says we need a PR campaign for skilled labor and I agree. Each year there are fewer and fewer electricians, plumbers, pipe fitters, carpenters, etc. We need to appreciate and support infrastructure jobs because they support our economy and keep things running. As Mike Rowe taught us these dirty jobs can be quite lucrative too.
The War On Work
Even though it wasn’t intentional, Mike believes society has declared a war on work. I can see some of his points like how Hollywood mocks blue-collar laborers and how there’s a perception that life is more luxurious if we don’t work as hard and retire faster.
Company loyalty certainly isn’t what it used to be either. I feel like a dinosaur for having worked at the same firm for ten years in a row compared to many Millennials who switch jobs every 8 to 18 months. But fortunately there are still people out there, myself included, who enjoy the rewards of working and hustling every day.
A lot can be said for bringing passion into your work regardless if it’s a dream job or not. The examples from Dirty Jobs are a true testament of that.
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