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Mike Rowe’s Excellent Career Advice

Mike Rowe, host of the popular television show Dirty Jobs, recently offered some largely excellent career advice to a man who couldn’t “figure out what to do” with his life. The man had no specific career in mind, saying only that he was a “go-getter” who wanted an exciting, high-paying outdoor job.

Rowe offered the following gem (among others):

Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Rowe correctly points out that limiting one’s options to the “right” job that perfectly matches one’s wish list won’t work; it’s akin to holding out for the “right” romantic partner who perfectly matches one’s wish list, down to living in the right neighborhood, Rowe says. In reality, a good job might require you to move, or work in an office part of the time, or do “scut work,” such as mopping the floors or the like. (I regularly observe a restaurant owner near my home cleaning the toilets, wiping down the tables, and the like—hardly the most glamorous aspects of his job.)

Although Rowe’s advice is excellent for someone without a clear idea of what sort of job he wants, it is important to note that, if you have discovered or developed a career you love, you should seek out work in that career, to the extent possible. If you want to be a computer programmer and have skills in the field, getting a welding job is not a sensible move (unless that’s the only thing available). A person who loves working with computers should seek a career in that industry; a person who wants to make music all day should seek a career in music.

But Rowe’s advice does apply to people with well-developed career interests insofar as they likely will still have to do “dirty” jobs in their fields, especially at first. To pay the bills, a computer programmer might have to take a job for a time in a less-than-ideal company doing grunt coding work. An aspiring musician might have to wait tables in the morning and then work late nights mixing the work of an established artist. As the rock band AC/DC puts it, “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock-n-roll”—and the same holds if you want to do anything else worthwhile.

Rowe is right that “happiness does not come from a job,” in the sense that getting an idealized job will not automatically make you happy. But, in a deeper sense, happiness does come from a job, in that working in a productive career you love is a fundamental source of joy in life. Rowe’s own approach to work demonstrates this. As Rowe suggests, the key to finding happiness at work is not finding a job without any frustrating or “dirty” aspects—such a job does not exist—but rather embracing the challenges of a job and working productively toward ever higher achievements and success.


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