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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

5 Ways You Can Find Success at Any Job, According to Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe

TV host Mike Rowe has made a career bringing “dirty jobs” to light. By getting down and, well, dirty on the job, he’s learned what motivates people to do some of the most undesirable jobs out there. (Think roadkill collector, septic tank cleaner, and fish processor.) Now you can find him on CNN for his series Somebody’s Gotta Do It, Sundays at 10 PM ET/PT.

And along the way, he’s picked up a few lessons on succeeding in the workplace that everyone can embrace—whether your current position requires a hazmat suit or just an extra sweater because the AC is always on.

1. Dream Jobs Are Dreams

Rowe says we’ve been sold a little white lie. We think that in order to be satisfied at work, we think we need to find the right job. “That's a fundamental mistake,” he says. “What we’re really looking for is meaningful work. Once we can accept that, we can move toward finding something that pays us what we need and gives us the opportunity to engage.”

So, the trick’s not necessarily following your dream, but finding out what kind of work will actually be fulfilling to you. By looking at it this way, you’re opening up lots of options. If Rowe followed his dreams, he would’ve followed in his grandfather’s footsteps—a plumber and steamfitter who could have built a house without a blueprint. He had that kind of talent and instinct, according to Rowe. Realizing he wasn’t very good at it forced Rowe to find happiness where he landed. And that, as we know, led to great success!

2. Lower Your Expectations

“There’s a reason why, statistically speaking, couples in arranged marriages are happier than those who have chosen their own mate for love.” This is a concept outlined by Barry Schwartz in his book of the same name. “The more choices there are, the more you expect to find a perfect fit; yet, at the same time, the larger the array, the less likely it becomes that you picked the best item.” Rowe says it’s the same with careers. You expect that picking the right partner—or the right car, or the right job—will make you happy. “If you don’t expect any more from the job than the paycheck, the odds of finding satisfaction go up. Job satisfaction has nothing to do with the job.”

We’re not advising you to accept poor working conditions or bad treatment. But take a look at your situation and ask yourself if you’re waiting for your dream job to come along, or if you can find something worthwhile in your current position. If you keep pining for a job that’ll fulfill everything you want in a career, you’re never going to find it.

3. Take the Road Less Traveled

“Spend the first year of your job making your boss look smart. Volunteer for the work that no one else wants to do.”

Rowe says that finding the sweet spot where no one else really wants to be could be the ticket to success. This is how the people who repel deep into faults in the earth searching for opal in Australia end up finding fulfillment and success. They do what no one else wants to do. And there’s a sense of pride in just that.

Don’t take yourself or what you thought you would be doing so seriously. Be willing to be flexible with your vision. “Look around. See where everyone is going. If you go the opposite direction, you increase your odds of finding an opportunity.”

4. Know Your Value—Even if Others Don’t

You might never be appreciated as much as you should be, even if you’re saving lives. Rowe explains, “Septic tank cleaners know that society goes off the rails without them. But, they also know people don’t think twice about their work. That can either make you angry or bitter, or it can make you bemused or philosophical.” You need to realize and appreciate your own contributions. You have a unique talent and are serving a purpose in your position within your company—and it’s up to you to connect with that, even when you feel unrecognized.

5. Do Your Best (No, Really, Do Your Best)

“There are no shortcuts, ever. Show up early. Stay late.” Take your job seriously, regardless of your perceptions of how “important” it is. Rowe’s CNN show Somebody’s Gotta Do It profiles Dude Perfect, five friends from Texas A&M who started filming each other making trick basketballs shots. Because they took what might have been a fun, yet insignificant, pastime extremely seriously, they now have a huge following and a huge business. Based on his time with Dude Perfect, Rowe says, “This is what happens when someone approaches a task that seems inconsequential with excellence.”

“The real secret of success is that there is no secret,” Rowe says, “It’s all been said. But the people who truly embrace it and take responsibility for their actions and take responsibility for their performance are the ones who get the opportunities and are the ones who will succeed.”

What have you learned from the hardest working people in your life? What’s your favorite old-school work value? Tweet me and let me know.

Find Mike Rowe on CNN for the return of his series Somebody’s Gotta Do It, Sundays at 10 PM ET/PT.

Photo courtesy of CNN, Turner.