The Quest for Perfection (or, Mike Rowe's Career Advice)

I have for years had a huge crush on Mike Rowe, for his deep "Deadliest Catch" voice and strong hands doing Dirty Jobs, but now I love him as one career advisor loves another. Last month, he wrote a great letter to a young adult asking for career advice, and it went viral.

Here is Mike's advice:

Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Do you really not know what you want? 

Some of us lack self-knowledge, and we need to spend focused time getting more information about what our strengths are and what direction we might want to point ourselves in. If, when someone asks you what you want to do, your true and honest answer is "I don't know, I have no ideas. I don't know what I'm good at or what I like,” then you might be one of those people. But I don't see very many of those. Most young people I work with actually already know enough (plenty, even!) to get moving on a career, and their problem is really one of being stuck in a quest for perfection.

Fear of Failure 

I believe that this problem is intimately related to fearing failure and a belief that perfection is attainable and worth pursuing. It's the same concept that leads young people to want to keep their options open and to be reluctant to commit. Because what if I make the wrong choice? What if something better comes along?

Some indicators that you might be experiencing this problem:

  • You have lots and lots of areas of career interest. They are wide-ranging.
  • When people suggest specific jobs or career paths or options, you immediately find fault and shoot them down, pursuing none of them.
  • You feel paralyzed by an abundance of options and yet really want to choose the right one.

Does this sound familiar? Then Mike and I are talking to you!

Take Action

The only way to help ensure good career decisions as you move forward in life is to begin to make career decisions now that can build your skills, provide career capital (as Meg Jay writes in her book, The Defining Decade), and actually reality check your career ideas and suggestions. Failure is a natural and expected part of this process, and there will be times when you do a job that you hate or that you get fired from or quit. If you're not making any mistakes, you're not doing it right.


So, first, take a job or internship. Find something that's okay to good. Satisfactory. Don't hold out for perfect; get started as soon as possible. Next, invest in it. Bring your best self to this role. Do stuff you're good at, get good at the stuff you're not, try to help in new ways, make suggestions, and dive in to the work. Make the choice to invest your passion now, where you are, rather than waiting for the perfect job to earn your passionate contribution. Look for ways to use your skills and areas of interest. See a problem at your workplace? Fix it. See an opportunity to help? Jump onto it. Do more. Act decisively.

 Keep evolving

Then, iterate. When do you feel energized as you contribute your best to the role you're in? When you're ready to leave this job or take on a new opportunity, look for the next opportunity that gives you even more excitement and fulfillment, and gives you exposure to some of your other ideas and areas of interest so you can invest in those too. Take steps in the right direction, rather than waiting for the perfect job to walk into your life.

As you act, that fear of failure will dissipate and you will realize that perfect is up to you to create, not something to be found.

**I was recently interviewed about this article. Hear the conversation.**