I've been recently impressed with Mike Rowe's non-partisan push for a return to economic practicality, working with your hands, skilled trade labor, etc. My attention was initially drawn by his "don't work smart, work hard" column ... where he chides conventional wisdom for talking people into trying to outsmart hard work. Which I find a truly brilliant turnabout on common thoughtless 'wisdom'.
On a similar note, I saw this on Mike Rowe's Facebook page. Practical advice for successful living ...
Off The Wall
Stephen Adams, Auburn, AL
"Hi, Mike. Let me begin by saying that I love what you and your foundation are attempting to do. However, I'm confused by your directive to NOT “follow your passion." I think it can be safely argued that if no one followed their passion, companies like Apple, Microsoft, Dow, and many more wouldn't exist. If no one follows their passion, who innovates? Who founds companies that provide jobs for the outstanding workers that your foundation aims to help?"
And, Mike's answer ...
A few years ago, I did a special called "The Dirty Truth." In it, I challenged the conventional wisdom of popular platitudes by offering “dirtier,” more individualistic alternatives. For my inspiration, I looked to those hackneyed bromides that hang on the walls of corporate America. The ones that extoll passersby to live up to their potential by “dreaming bigger,” “working smarter,” and being a better “team player.” In that context, I first saw “Follow Your Passion” displayed in the conference room of a telemarketing firm that employed me thirty years ago. The words appeared next to an image of a rainbow, arcing gently over a waterfall and disappearing into a field of butterflies. Thinking of it now still makes me throw up in my mouth.
Like all bad advice, "Follow Your Passion" is routinely dispensed as though it's wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?
When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society - I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”
Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star - trophy in hand - starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”
Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?
There are many examples - including those you mention - of passionate people with big dreams who stayed the course, worked hard, overcame adversity, and changed the world though sheer pluck and determination. We love stories that begin with a dream, and culminate when that dream comes true. And to your question, we would surely be worse off without the likes of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and all the other innovators and Captains of Industry. But from my perspective, I don't see a shortage of people who are willing to dream big. I see people struggling because their reach has exceeded their grasp.
I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent - it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected. How is it that so many people are so blind to their own limitations? How did these peope get the impression they could sing in the first place? Then again, is their incredulity really so different than the surprise of a college graduate who learns on his first interview that his double major in Medeival Studies and French Literature doesn’t guarantee him the job he expected? In a world where everyone gets a trophy, encouragement trumps honesty, and realistic expectations go out the window.
When I was 16, I wanted to follow in my grandfathers footsteps. I wanted to be a tradesman. I wanted to build things, and fix things, and make things with my own two hands. This was my passion, and I followed it for years. I took all the shop classes at school, and did all I could to absorb the knowledge and skill that came so easily to my granddad. Unfortunately, the handy gene skipped over me, and I became frustrated. But I remained determined to do whatever it took to become a tradesman.
One day, I brought home a sconce from woodshop that looked like a paramecium, and after a heavy sigh, my grandfather told me the truth. He explained that my life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if I got myself a different kind of toolbox. This was almost certainly the best advice I’ve ever received, but at the time, it was crushing. It felt contradictory to everything I knew about persistence, and the importance of “staying the course.” It felt like quitting. But here’s the “dirty truth,” Stephen. “Staying the course” only makes sense if you’re headed in a sensible direction. Because passion and persistence - while most often associated with success - are also essential ingredients of futility.
That’s why I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I'd be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I'm more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”
His "Mike Rowe Works Foundation" seems to be doing good things -- mainly trade school scholarships and getting the word out that overeducation, huge student loans for useless degrees, and conventional wisdom on such things are doing more harm than good.
It's rare that someone is passionate about something they're bad at. Usually there's a feedback loop of being good at it, enjoying it 'cause you feel competent, practicing 'cause you enjoy it, being good 'cause you practice, etc. It sounds like Rowe was conditioned the same as kids from highly educated families are conditioned, to follow the family's career path, it was just a different career path than those of us who have 0 relatives without a college education.
I don't like his tone. I know lots of people who study Medieval Studies and French Literature and don't expect a dream job. In fact, the only liberal arts majors I know who expect their dream job are those who dream of working for family. Maybe some military. Most liberal arts majors don't have a dream job (or they'd major in something connected to their dream job).
But I agree the conventional wisdom on undergraduate education needs some skin and muscle on its sturdy bones.
You can be passionate AND good at something. Hell, you can even be great at it. Doesn't mean you'll ever be able to find someone to pay you to do it.
Take Josh for example. He's obviously passionate about trolling. He works hard at it and is pretty good at it. Not going to make much doing it (unless his business plan is to get us to pay him to leave).
Actually, this is another area where our advice and rhetoric need to improve. What we call trolling requires certain skills and personality traits. It requires persistence, some emotional intelligence, and no need of being liked. Also some verbal skills. All that would work well in a lobbyist or plaintiffs' attorney.
Posting photos and videos, creating a religion - This takes some imagination and a total lack of shyness. That could be channeled into performance art (and lobbying and litigation again).
We too often over-simplify things. Kids say they like music or sports or art, and we tell them they can't make money from that (or we tell them they can, but they still can't). But we don't do the follow-up. What do you like about sports? winning? team work? moving your body? You can find a job that does that. I don't know if they'll be passionate about such a job, but they'll probably like it. Passion into middle age is rare, too.
I'm pretty sure he actually is a performance artists whether he realizes it or not.
Hm. I recall a story about some Down syndrome teenager: "Don't you think they aren't smart! He knew everything there was to know about Marvel Comics!"
To which my thought was, "Where were his parents?" When he was channeling all those brain cells into an activity that would never earn him a cent.
Actually, I do know someone whose knowledge of pop culture pays his bills. He's a professor of communications, specialty is pop culture.
But the ability to enjoy a story (but not tell one), to know what you like (but not coherently tell others)... sometimes your ability in an area isn't, by itself, enough.
I thought about the thing where he portrays a character. The only place I can see him going with that talent is writing (but again you must know how to write), or stand-up.
Maybe I just see too many difficulties.
Also, everyone needs leisure. I'd hate it if my parents made every mental exercise about earning money.
Shelton, I agreed with that part of Rowe's points. I just think his experience and reality TV aren't the norm.
Good excerpt. I agree wholeheartedly. Blanket advice is never good.
Mike is very wise.
Seems like a cop out to me. I know plenty of people that have followed their passion and were/are successful in it. Are they millionaires... no. But they do what they love and do it well and are lucky enough to make it their careers. Also the thing with liberal arts is it's usually a given that it's going to require higher education. Usually a masters and a doctorate are required to land the promising careers. I guess I can use myself as an example. I have a bachelor in psychology which is a liberal art. I then got a masters in industrial organizational psychology. Got a great job even before I graduated because IO psychologists are in hot demand, however at the very least it requires a masters degree. I am currently getting a phd in psychology. I enjoy what i do, I am good at it, and it not only pays my bills but has opened several doors in my life. It was difficult, and I spent several years in college, but ultimately I finished, I have a decent life and I am very proud of myself. To me that's a win. This guy seems to have a lot of opinions, but what he's saying isn't sound or rational. That's like saying if it's not realistic don't attempt it. That's mindless and weak. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be a trash man, if you are a trash man be the best one you possibly can. There's nothing wrong with earning an honest pay. But it's also unfair to attack other's for pursuing or wanting something more out of life.
"It always seems impossible until it's done." - Nelson Mandela.
This should be good.