Mike Rowe: “Why “Work Smart, Not Hard” is the Worst Advice in the World”

You know Mike Rowe. He did that ‘Dirty Jobs’ TV show.


He wrote this article and it was published in Popular Mechanics.

When I was 17 my high school guidance counselor tried to talk me into going on to earn a four-year degree. I had nothing against college, but the universities that Mr. Dunbar recommended were expensive, and I had no idea what I wanted to study. I thought a community college made more sense, but Mr. Dunbar said a two-year school was “beneath my potential.” He pointed to a poster hanging behind his desk: On one side of the poster was a beaten-down, depressed-looking blue-collar worker; on the other side was an optimistic college graduate with his eyes on the horizon. Underneath, the text read: Work Smart NOT Hard.

work smart not hard

“Mike, look at these two guys,” Mr. Dunbar said. “Which one do you want to be?” I had to read the caption twice. Work Smart NOT Hard?”

That’s an interesting image. The guy in the coveralls looks like he is honestly tired after a day of hard work – but he’s working. The kid in the cap and gown thinks he has the world by the tail. Lately we have seen a lot of kids with looks like that because they have an expensive diploma. Once they get out of the get-up, though, they are having trouble finding work that they will do so they can pay off their debts.

What do these two guys do? The blue-collar guy has a job. If he loses it he gets another. He realizes that the world doesn’t owe him a nice, tidy living. The guy with the diploma? You know the story. He joins the ‘Occupy’ movement so he can return to the irresponsible party atmosphere he enjoyed while at university. What else does he know?

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8 Responses to Mike Rowe: “Why “Work Smart, Not Hard” is the Worst Advice in the World”

  1. Roy Ryder says:

    I’ve told my kids this and I believe it: I’d rather have a dolt who works hard than a smart kid who won’t work at all. I know a lot of people who got through high school without working hard because they were smart (myself included) when they would have been better off learning to work hard and then apply their smarts. Like Edison (I think) said: Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

  2. Duffy says:

    Am I the only one that thinks this is a false choice? Many a hard working man knows the “smart” way to do something. That is, doing something correctly the first time and being smart about it, makes you more productive and better at your job.

  3. Rockheim says:

    It’s not a false choice as presented. Nobody doubts the validity and logic in using a lever to move a large load opposed to manhandling it..

    However that isn’t the choice being presented. This is the demonization of work. I saw it first hand when I was in school as well. When “Ditch Digger” was synonymous with “Failure”. When the people who actually work for a living were stereotyped as dumb, know nothing, losers who were going nowhere in life and were essentially wasting their lives on fruitless pursuits and backbreaking labor that would see them to an early grave.

    Mike Rowe has made presentation before congress and has discussed, many times, the need for labor, work, and skilled workers and their place in this world.

    And his message is spot on.
    Much like the unintended consequences of welfare and the role that “compassion” has played in the destruction of the nuclear family, especially in minority communities.. This push for college education through the belittlement of hard, honest work has similarly destroyed, or worked to destroy, the skilled labor pool of this Nation.

    Hey.. You know what.. that Doctorate in French literary history is sure snazzy.. I bet that was hard to get.. I’m sure it’ll go well with your Mesopotamian pottery degree.

    Sounds like your toilet is running?

    What’s that? The plumber wants $400 to fix it. Wow.

    When are you getting it fixed?

    Really.. After the $1200 to fix the electric panel that kept blowing up your iPad you’ve tapped out your parents huh?

    Still no job eh? Still looking. Next year will be the big year though huh? Unemployment just got extended again.. really?

    Well.. Good luck.. I’ll see ya later..

    And see.. Somewhere in that story.. Said “intellectual” was most likely looking down his nose at the inferior “workers” who fixed his stuff.. Because we’ve been conditioned to do so by a society that values a piece of paper over “hard work”..

  4. Bman says:

    I think it’s the goal of every parent to have their son’s and daughter’s reach their full potential in life. I mean, how often do we hear a dad say, when first meeting his newborn son, “God damn! I hope my son becomes a ditch digger one day.” You never hear that.

    I was guilty telling my students that if graduating wasn’t important to them, then simply drop out, (I taught at an alternative high school). Someone will always need to change my oil, or flip my burger. Was I being a pompous prick saying that? Maybe, but it’s reality. Of course I wanted them to graduate and reach their full potential. If their full potential was a ditch digger, and they were happy, then more power to them.

  5. Rockheim says:

    The harsh reality is that not everyone is destined to be an Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Vivien Thomas, Stephen Hawking, etc..

    It’s a laudable goal to set those who have such potential on the path that will allow them to achieve their maximum potential. But it isn’t for everyone. Hell.. I’d even venture to say that not even 1/2 the people who actually go to college are honest, college material.

    That said.. Even if every single person on the planet had the POTENTIAL to be Stephen Hawking it would be the height of irresponsibility to direct them all to be so. We, as a society, civilization, and tool using species absolutely, positively MUST have skilled and even unskilled workers. You may be the worlds premier math-a-magician.. About to come up with the mathematic solution to cold fusion and teleportation.. But without the coal miners, oil workers, sanitation workers, water treatment plant operators, ditch diggers, construction workers and other assorted laborers your death at the hands of the plague will be very real indeed..

    The show dirty Jobs was a great one and very entertaining.. But it also had a much deeper and real message. It was one that every single job, on every single show.. No matter how nasty, hard, hot, unpleasant, seemingly simplistic, repetitive, or mentally unfulfilling.. Every single one of those jobs is absolutely and completely vital for society to function.

    And that should be something that is taught to every single child in school. Every job is necessary.

  6. Uke says:

    I’m going to harp on a linguistic distinction here:

    When that guidance counselor or whatever told Mike to “work smart, NOT hard,” that was wrong. Such a message implies that hard work is supposed to be reviled and dismissed as beneath a man.

    However, the simple saying “work smartER, not hardER” simply implies that a person should think as they are working, and work in the most efficient way possible. Use the lever and pulley, rather than trying to lift that boulder via brute force.

    I’m fine with the latter, original saying, but very much NOT fine with what Mike’s career counselor allegedly advised. Big difference IMO.

  7. reboot says:

    How many people can say they drove around a 2 billion dollar submarine? 🙂
    There is a path that can include both working harder and smarter. Some don’t get it. You have to rely on the harder to get to the smarter.

  8. BrunDawg says:

    Working hard at 83 (18 to 20 hour days)
    “Once I got doin’ somethin’, I stayed with it till I learned it well.”
    “if it’s there, you better get it while it’s there”


    p.s. this is exactly how my in-laws talk, true back-side-Mainahs.