A buddy I grew up with posted a link to an article about some comments Mike Rowe made, in regards to pursuing your passion. My buddy has a lot of talent and I’ve always told him he was wasting his gifts by not getting out of dodge and pursuing a creative life. While I managed to get him to New York for a brief time some years ago, all he really wanted to do was go back to that quaint town and work his retail job. His decision was mainly out of fear, irrational fear that had been induced by his mother over the course of his life. “Big cities are dangerous places” I remember her saying to him, generalizing all metropolises as places to avoid. I have always been saddened by this but haven’t thought much about it until he posted the article: “Mike Rowe’s Must-Read Response To An Alabamian Who Asked Why He Shouldn’t Follow His Passion.” The article by Cliff Sims is published on YellowHammerNews.com.
For those of you like me, who don’t own a television, Mike Rowe is the star of the show “Dirty Jobs” and has gained a reputation for publicly answering fan questions. At one point someone asked “why shouldn’t I follow my passion?” His answer has startled quite a few people, some raving and supporting his answer but then there’s me, well, I think Rowe needs to rethink his words. In his response to the question Rowe said, “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.” He went on about how he gave up on his passion and explained that it was the best decision he had ever made, “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…” This is irresponsible advice.
If I had realized how horrible of a writer I was back in high school and accepted that as the end all reality, I wouldn’t have improved and I’d never have turned out the amount of work I have. I’m 33 now and just starting to find my voice as a writer and storyteller. It took me two novellas and countless short stories and poetry before I finally wrote a novel that meant something to me. When I finally did get around to writing that ‘story of substance’, I was in my late twenties and from there all aspects of my craft improved. I have been making films since high school. It took twenty one experimental and short narrative films and two attempts at a feature before I finally made a film that a festival would take. Caroline of Virgina was that film, and it won an award the first time out. Only now is that huge back catalog of short and experimental films getting its due attention from the festival circuit.
“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” -Mike Rowe
I’m disheartened that the measure of value is whether or not someone can generate income from their passion. I think the word ‘passion’ has been bastardized by our desperation for money and a higher standard of living. If you’re truly passionate about something then money, awards and the like shouldn’t matter. Mike Rowe isn’t a voice of reason ‘nor is he wise enough to be giving advice to young people. He is a man I’d typically avoid because he gave up, stopped honing his craft and settled for financial security. I have been wondering all day about how many potentially great artists and storytellers are going to read his advice and throw in the towel without trying. He’s basically saying it’s okay to be lazy, go for the money and fuck happiness. How many great writers will humanity be denied thanks to his irresponsible remarks? How many painters won’t turn out ground breaking work? How many fantastic filmmakers will cease to exist because they’ve listened to this turd-investigator and decided, ‘well hey, if Mike Rowe says to settle for less, then I guess I should.’ In drafting this OPEd I am reminded of all the fatalistic naysayers back home when I first announced that I was moving to New York to pursue my passion of writing and film. So many of them sounded like Mike Rowe and had I listened to their advice, I never would have left my hometown. I wouldn’t have had the gamut of experiences that lead me to write that novel that demonstrated that I can improve or made the films that are now doing incredibly well in the festival circuit. I knew what I wanted and I accepted that I was going to have to work for it. The hardest part of it all is ignoring the advice of others.
Listen to your heart, not to others. That includes me.