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Are people who do physically demanding, not-afraid-to-get-dirty jobs like farming, mining and sheep castration (yes, you read that right) the happiest people on earth?
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Are people who do physically demanding, not-afraid-to-get-dirty jobs like farming, mining and sheep castration (yes, you read that right) the happiest people on earth? So says Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs." See if he changes your mind about what it means to be happy at work.

UPDATE: Mike Rowe weighs in on the outpouring of comments inspired by his talk.

"Wow. You people are chatty. Thanks - I appreciate all the comments and the opportunity to address a few.

A lot of what’s been posted here has strong political undertones. Not exactly surprising these days, especially around topics like work and education, which are only a click away from unions and healthcare, which are only a click away from a fistfight. Though I certainly have my own opinions, I’ve tried to keep politics out of this conversation over the years. The reason is simple - work is one of the few things that can actually transcend politics, if we allow it to. Easier said than done, I’m afraid.

In recent months, I’ve been chastised by the Right for appearing on Bill Maher, and rebuked by the Left for talking with Glenn Beck. I’ve chatted with Ed Schultz, Mike Huckabee, Bill O’Reilly, and Piers Morgan. In every case, the most vocal responses to those interviews came not from people who disagreed with what I was saying, but from people who disliked the person to whom I was speaking.

I talked about this recently in a blog that got a lot of traction, so for those of you interested in discussing the issue through a political lens, here’s a more detailed response to why I typically don’t go there. In the meantime, thanks again for all your comments. Here are some replies."

Comment from MojoWorking, on Nov 30, 2013:

You can talk about jobs all you want, but what matters most to the middle class average person is stability. Economic stability. The ability to go thru life with diligent work and some plans and raise a family and retire in some form of dignity.

Our crazy capitalism only focuses on thing - greed - not quality of life or sustainability. And thus in the end promotes a bubble economy which really only greatly benefits a few while harming many. One of the classic lessons taught in any econ 101 or investing 101 is the Dutch Tulip market boom and bust in the 1800's. Yet we repeat this once every decade or so like clock work. Most people want to work and have a little fun along the way, only to have the economy shatter leaving them to pick up the pieces.

Mike's response:

Hi Mojo - I’m not sure how we can separate economic stability from jobs, especially for the middle class. And I disagree with your description of Capitalism. From what I’ve seen, Capitalism has provided more opportunity for more people to improve their lives than any other system ever invented. Obviously, it’s far from perfect. Like any other “ism,” some people will fare better than others. But the thing that I saw on Dirty Jobs, with breath-taking regularity, were men and women who found the economic stability you describe by doing things that most people would simply not do, and working harder than most people are willing to work. I did the show for eight years because it was the most empowering thing I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of men and women enjoying a balanced life as a direct result of their uncommon willingness to master a useful skill, do an unpleasant thing, and work really, really hard. The people I met on the show were often covered in dirt - or something much worse. But they were happy and economically stable, and in many cases - positively thriving.

Comment from cworr, on Dec 3, 2013:

You are spot on! Every kid in my daughters school wants to go to college, but if you call for a plumber in my town, a 60 year old guy shows up. He makes more per hour than most college graduates.

Mike's response:

You’re lucky you can find one, cworr. Here in San Francisco, there’s a three day wait. Sometimes a lot longer. And the average age is...well, a lot. Good news for plumbers. Bad news for people who use toilets.

That’s the tricky part about the skills gap - it doesn’t just affect untrained people who need jobs and companies that need skilled workers. It affects people who rely on things like hot water and cool air and flushing toilets. In Alabama, four skilled tradesmen leave the workforce for every one that enters. Same in Arizona. Same in Indiana. It’s a terrible sort of arithmetic.

As for your daughter’s school, it would be crazy to discourage those kids to abandon college, if college is a viable option. But it’s no less nuts to tell them that a four-year degree is their best hope for a successful life - especially if they have to go into debt to get one. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, less than 12% of all jobs now require a four-year degree. And yet, the cost of that degree has increased at 500% the rate of inflation in the last 25 years. (Way faster than anything else, and twice as fast as healthcare.) But still, it’s considered short-sighted and almost heretical to challenge the cost of a college education.

I look at education like fitness. Both are critical to a vital existence, both can be purchased for varying costs, and both require serious effort if there is to be a benefit. But there’s a weird difference. If you work out at The Y for $50 a month - instead of a fancy club for $500 a month - no one questions your commitment to fitness. In fact, you’re congratulated for your fiscal sense. But if you go to a community college or trade school for $50 a credit - instead of a University for $500 a credit - you’re compared in a much less favorable way. In fact, you’re not compared at all. You’re dismissed as intellectually inferior. That’s the bias that needs to be challenged.

Comment from justsaynn, on Dec 1, 2013:

Following your passion is not the worst advice given you just have to combine your brain and your heart to find the right job. My friend loves sushi and other fish related dishes so he got a job in the fish department of a supermarket which kept growing and growing now he buys and sells fish for major restaurants and makes over $100K a year. I on the other hand decided to pursue technology for job security and pay which has been a terrible idea. I have both job security and a good salary but I hate going to work.

Mike's Response

Hi justsaynn - On Dirty Jobs, we used to say “Never Follow Your Passion - But Always Bring it With You.” (If you prefer “Follow Your Passion but Use Your Brain,” I wouldn’t argue.) But I would say that “Follow Your Passion” is still - in and of itself - a profoundly foolish platitude and maybe the worst advice ever. (With the possible exception of Work Smart, Not Hard.)

I’m personally tired of stories about people who follow their dream, ignore the naysayers, struggle mightily, eschew every other viable opportunity, suffer for decades, go into debt, and finally achieve some monumental breakthrough that leads people to marvel at their fortitude and perseverance. Tales of inspiration are important, but do they all have to revolve around the same narrative of never giving up on your “true calling.” I think we need more stories about people who do whatever it takes to thrive, and somehow manage to find happiness and passion in whatever they choose to do. Isn’t that more empowering than identifying one specific “passion,” and making every happiness contingent upon attaining it?

I think about American Idol, and the thousands of people who can’t carry a tune in a bucket who honestly believe they have what it takes to win. Every year they stand in line for hours waiting to audition, absolutely convinced they have what it takes because no one has ever told them they can’t sing. Their “passion” will see them through. It’s no less deluded, in my opinion, to believe that a college degree is a Golden Ticket to a high-paying job. Or that a particular job has the power to make you happy or sad. As P.J. O’Rouke just said in yesterday’s Journal, “it serves us right—we're the generation who insisted that a passion for living should replace working for one.” Point is, passion is easier to find when you’re not following it around.

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