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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I think a lot of people don’t think about the logical aspects of following their passion. Lets not assume that following your passion=poverty. It helps to have an interest in your career in order to succeed.
I used to work minimum wage jobs and then I worked at a call center. While these opportunities were great entry-level experiences, they weren’t my passion and eventually I moved on. I did develop tough skin which has helped me out a lot.
I’ve known artists that had to go back into the corporate world because they jumped before they were ready. They quit their job to follow their passion without having savings, a realistic family spending plan (budget), and without paying off their debt. They didn’t make a business plan, put aside business expenses, etc.
Anyway, turning it all around is achievable, not easy but achievable.
I agree – working at a call center is so hard! I did that in college and ended up quitting because I had such a hard time. It taught me a lot though.
Your artist friends were lucky they were able to go back to work and get back on their feet again. I can understand the temptation and excitement to jump too soon when you have something you’re really passionate about. Having savings, a safety net, experience budgeting and a game plan make a huge difference. At least they learned a lot of valuable lessons to help them in their next career move!
Radhika - Fulltime Nomad says
Really enjoyed reading this perspective on success. I think, follow your passion but… be practical about it, haha For me, personally passion is important and I have followed my passion (now) but for 5 years after university, I worked because it paid the bills, helped set up a “what if” fund and helped me pay off my student loan… which was important!
Thanks Radhika! Yeah I definitely have a practical side too. You’re lucky to have been able to start focusing on what you love in your 20s!
Abigail @ipickuppennies says
Yep, there’s this idea that if you’re not doing what you love, you’re not living the best life possible. But there are a few problems with that.
First of all, no one would ever work customer service or take your order at fast food places. Second, making your passion your job can sour that passion. It can become a source of stress.
Finally, I think that making your passion about work is dangerous. Maybe more of us should be concerned with just working and finding passion outside of our 9-5s.
I had a photographer friend who was incredibly talented and had her own business for many years, but she ended up losing her love for it over time because of stress. Hopefully she will pick it back up at least as a hobby someday because she is incredibly talented and one of the reasons I picked up photography as a hobby myself.
Dominic @ Gen Y Finance Guy says
Although it is not a very popular stance, I always tell people to follow the money, and then use the money to finance your passion.
Ha that’s a good one though to build financial security first! I definitely followed money first when I graduated from college. I had dreams to work in the arts or publishing, but I didn’t want to starve and start my independent life completely broke. So I played things safe for many many years, paid off my student loans and started building my retirement funds and investment accounts. I’m glad I started fairly early instead of waiting. Now I can afford to take more risks.
Financial Samurai says
I LOVE that saying of bringing your passion WITH YOU!
I’ve been lucky to have a passion for finance, and 10 years later, discovering my passion for online publishing. I always had a passion for writing, but didn’t know it could be a viable career based on my low writing skills.
It’s better to go where the DEMAND is first, and then go bringing your passion with you on the side via a side hustle / moonlighting.
It’s a great saying isn’t it?! I like it much better than “follow your passion.” Yes you are very lucky that you spent all of those years working in a field that you loved and have then found a new passion since. I fall into the category of people who like many different things versus one or two things – which I wouldn’t call a flaw – but makes it harder to find one’s way and get really good at something I suppose. Instead of spreading myself too thin, trying to do so many different things that I like to do, I’ve been working on narrowing my focus and bringing more vigor with me.
Going where demand is first and moonlighting is very good advice too. It’s quite fulfilling to have a full plate resulting from one’s own hard work that people appreciate and are eager to pay for!