How did Mike Rowe the Actor become Mike Rowe the Activist? In this TED Talk, he lays out the moment that made him see his life’s work clearly. Watch the video for a detailed retelling of the first time he ever castrated a sheep.

We promise – it gets back to his larger point about how little we understand dirty jobs. In his own words:

After that shoot, Dirty Jobs really didn’t change, in terms of what the show is, but it changed for me, personally.

And now, when I talk about the show, I no longer just tell the story you heard and 190 like it. I do, but I also start to talk about some of the other things I got wrong, some of the other notions of work that I’ve just been assuming are sacrosanct, and they’re not. People with dirty jobs are happier than you think. As a group, they’re the happiest people I know. And I don’t want to start whistling “Look for the Union Label,” and all that happy worker crap. I’m just telling you that these are balanced people who do unthinkable work. Roadkill picker-uppers whistle while they work. I swear to God — I did it with them. They’ve got this amazing sort of symmetry to their life. And I see it over and over and over again.

So I started to wonder what would happen if we challenged some of these sacred cows. Follow your passion — we’ve been talking about it here for the last 36 hours. Follow your passion — what could possibly be wrong with that? Probably the worst advice I ever got. (Laughter) You know, follow your dreams and go broke, right? I mean, that’s all I heard growing up. I didn’t know what to do with my life, but I was told if you follow your passion, it’s going to work out.

I can give you 30 examples, right now — Bob Combs, the pig farmer in Las Vegas who collects the uneaten scraps of food from the casinos and feeds them them to his swine. Why? Because there’s so much protein in the stuff we don’t eat his pigs grow at twice the normal speed, and he is one rich pig farmer, and he is good for the environment, and he spends his days doing this incredible service, and he smells like hell, but God bless him. He’s making a great living. You ask him, “Did you follow your passion here?” and he’d laugh at you. The guy’s worth — he just got offered like 60 million dollars for his farm and turned it down, outside of Vegas. He didn’t follow his passion. He stepped back and he watched where everybody was going and he went the other way. And I hear that story over and over.

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