TV host, author, and podcaster Mike Rowe would have been a construction worker if not for advice from his grandfather: “Find a different toolbox.”

Turns out, Mike wasn’t great with his hands, but his grandfather and other mentors recognized different skills. They pushed him out of his comfort zone and in front of microphones and cameras.

Today, Mike’s wildly popular “Dirty Jobs” TV series has shown millions of viewers what it takes to do extraordinary jobs that don’t get talked about on “Career Day,” but are critical to a well-functioning society. And Rowe credits a lot of his success to multiple failures. The show itself was born out of a TV news segment gone wrong.

In this episode, Mike and Whitney discuss the unusual mindset of his early career: He sought out bad ideas and was happy to get paid to work on projects that were doomed to fail. Removing the stakes freed him up to experiment and take risks, which led to much more interesting projects.

Mike also discusses the importance of music in his life, and how a conclave of war veterans singing sad barbershop songs changed his perspective. “It was so uncool I was fascinated by it.”

What did you learn from this conversation with Mike? What risks are you taking these days, and what are your fears about them? Email Whitney Johnson at for a chance to receive a signed copy of Mike’s book, “The Way I Heard It.”

Key Takeaways From This Episode

1. Find a different toolbox: The advice Mike got from his grandfather was so important, but can sometimes be hard to hear. Convincing Mike to apply his skills elsewhere was a life-changing gift, and we can all thank his grandfather for that!

2. Get uncomfortable: When his music teacher assigned him a solo despite his speech impediment, Mike said he felt “threatened, frightened, and profoundly uncomfortable.” And yet that push was key to getting him out of his shell, and set him on the path to performing arts. Often, moments of extreme discomfort and uncertainty lead to great things.

3. It can be good to seek failure: Mike shared his unusual mindset: He looked for bad ideas and was happy to get paid to work on projects that were doomed to fail. This removed all the stakes and freed him up to experiment and take risks. And some of those dirty risks led to dirty jobs.

Ways to connect with Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe | Website


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