Twelve Year Old Connor Asks Mike Rowe about Life Lessons He’s Learned

Dear Mr. Rowe:

Hello, my name is Connor Watkins, and I am twelve years old. I met you last fall with my dad at the Cleveland Airport. At school we were told to ask successful people what the most important lessons in life are. I asked my parents who told me it was important to treat others the way you want to be treated. I also asked my cousin and he explained life is ten percent of what you make and ninety percent how you take it.

I am writing to you because you have been very successful, and I would like to learn what the most important lesson you have learned in life is. I think you are successful because you starred in your own unique television show. In addition, companies have asked you to endorse their products. Recently, you have started a charity to support the skilled trade workers. I have seen several shows and I have been impressed by how you are able to get a serious point across in a funny way.

I would hope that you might be able to respond with a letter containing your advice on a valuable life lesson and what makes you so successful. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this letter.



Revere Middle School


Hi Connor

Thanks for the note, and thanks for calling me “successful.” It’s a nice compliment. But here’s the thing about success that you might want to remember – it’s impossible to tell for sure who is successful just by looking at them.

A lot of people who work in television look pretty successful, but believe me, when it comes to real success, being on television doesn’t mean squat. Part of a celebrity’s job is to maintain the appearance of success. But many of them live way beyond their means. And lots of them are simply not what you think. (Paging Lance Armstrong…) That goes for non-celebrities too. You can look out your window right now and see a lot of anonymous people driving nice cars and wearing fancy clothes and looking very “successful.” Don’t be so sure. Many are drowning in debt. Prosperity doesn’t always look prosperous, and happiness doesn’t always resemble success. Real success is difficult, both to achieve and to recognize in others.

As for lessons, I’d say be suspicious of anything too easy. That includes school, money, and girls. The world is full of examples of “overnight successes,” because TV tells people they can be the next American Idol. People really, really, really want to believe that success can happen fast. Well, it doesn’t. Most lottery winners wind up bankrupt within ten years of winning. Why? Because they didn’t earn it, and if you don’t earn a valuable thing, you won’t know how to handle valuable things when they appear. Truth is Connor, there are simply no shortcuts to success, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably selling something.

Also, be careful of what you admire. “Talent” for instance, is worthless in and of itself. It’s kind of like having a high IQ. Unless you do something with it – unless you work at it – you probably won’t succeed. That’s important, because if you do actually manage to accomplish something without first working hard, you won’t feel successful. And that’s the real secret of success – when it comes right down to it, feeling successful is no different than being successful, because success without satisfaction is not really success. And success without prior failure is a fairy tale.

Good luck out there. Be patient. Work hard. Show up early, stay late, and always volunteer to wash the dishes. And laugh whenever possible.


12 thoughts on “Twelve Year Old Connor Asks Mike Rowe about Life Lessons He’s Learned

  1. Dear Connor,

    I think you have come to the right house for advice on important life lessons. Mike began mikeroweWORKS in 2008 building on a foundation of hope and charity for all of us. And that with a clear vision, working hard, and settling in for the long run, you can achieve success in life. I believe in those values too. I also believe in surrounding yourself with like minded, positive, and uplifting people. It is true what they say about picking your friends. You just can’t pick their insides. You can pick yours. And at the end of the day the most valuable life lesson that I’ve learned; If you love someone, let them know. Sincerely, Shannon Marie Conley

  2. Hey Connor,

    First of all I appreciate the fact that you are asking for advice from an adult. Just the fact that you respect the life experiences and want to learn from an elder (no disrespect Mike)show me that you too will be successful. If you want to see success first hand, right before your eyes, look no further than your parents. I say that because I feel successful when I look around and realize that all my kids are happy and don’t want for anything they really need, my wife and I provide a nice house and home for them, and we’re not burried in debt, and we’re all happy. We’re just regular people like your Mom and Dad. I’m sure Mike felt the same way with his parents growing up, and that was way before they got the paper towell commercials:)!

  3. Hi Mike, I know Connor appreciated your response. I enjoyed it myself and I’ve been out of middle school for a very long time. You have a gift for getting to the wisdom with a side of humor, and allowing people who’ve never met you to think of you as a friend. No doubt your schedule is crazy busy but have you ever thought of connecting with organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters? I think you’d be a wonderful mentor to some kids who really need an adult who tells it like it is. Just a suggestion. I’m looking forward to your next televised adventures, dirty or not.

  4. Great advice, Mike.

    Connor, the advice you’ve received, that you’ve shared with us, and Mike has given you, is worth tucking away and reviewing every once in a while. It will help keep you grounded. Good luck to you!

  5. Mike,

    You have helped me show my kid not everything is easy and you can have fun working. America has forgot how to work and I am grateful you showed them people still do. I will miss the show greatly, but know you will be successful. I look forward to seeing what’s next for you.


  6. I was so very sad when my husband told me ‘Dirty Jobs’ was cancelled. Dirty Jobs is a show that you never get tired of watching and you made the show Mike! My son grew up watching you, you taught him things, things that I am quite sure he would have never learned. So thank you for that!! We wish you continued success!! Hopefully we will see you on TV again soon, very soon


  7. Conner,

    I’m not as eloquent as Mike or his mom, but I just had to chime in on this one.

    Great comments Mike, very simple and true. I would like to add a point that Mike alluded to, but didn’t come straight out and say. To be successful means that you have accomplished something that you set a goal to accomplish. So with that said before you can be successful you need to set goals for yourself that will make you happy. Don’t set goals that you think will make others happy, that part will take care of itself. Generally families and friends are happy if their family members are happy and I’m sure the goals that you would set for yourself will not be trivial.

    Second enjoy the journey to accomplish those goals. Enjoy the work, push yourself sometimes beyond what you think you can do, then at the end of it celebrate and think of your next mountain to climb.

    Mike’s point was that you are the only one that can truly gauge whether you are successful or not. Success may be making an average income, living in an average home, but having a family that makes you feel more important than any profession or paycheck ever could.

    Success is achieving goals; happiness is found in the journey.

    Mike, I told you that you would not make it Leatherneck : ). Sorry just had to get that in.

  8. My dear Connor, or anyone on your behalf, life isn’t like as it seems, almost never. At least that’s what Mr. Paul suggests to us. Mr. Paul has an extraordinary history, that could be a nightmare to the deads of fame who tear apart each other to appear in front of a camera and who consider useless an existence unrolled into a cone of shadow.

    Mr. Paul is a dance teacher who, in his spare time, pushes a cart as a male nurse in a BBC soap opera. He pushes this for almost thirty years. For the first ten years he doesn’t open his mouth, as script requires. Then, in 1996, incredibly a joke: “here it is!”, or something like that. Since then he has started again to shut up. He is merely transiting continuously with the cart behind the actors in the foreground. A body floating in the background. His sole mission: to be there without showing himself, and it has worked out fully, so much that the audience of soap opera completely ignores who he is.

    Yet Mr. Paul, that the colleagues call Oscar same as his character and the statue that will never win, affirms on British press that he’s a peaceful person. “I like it. On set they pay me and give me to eat for free” he says. And then the actors pass whereas he remains there, the smock and the cart always framed in passing, but the only fixed point for all crew, about which he became the historical memory and the privileged confidant. Without Paul, that bogus world collapses with a crash.

    He has understood this and has found a meaning of his adventure.

    That’s why Oscar says that life isn’t as it seems, almost never. Because you can be very useful to the world even when the world doesn’t see you as important, if you understand who you are and if you love what you do.

    Go on with the good dreams, Connor or anyone on your behalf, and keep your humour alive, if this is authentic. And say goodbye on my behalf to Mr. Rowe.

    Sofia, Milano – IT

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