Most public speakers are wildly overpaid, and I am no exception. I used to think I could justify my ridiculous fee by putting a lot of careful thought into each appearance, so I called my first presentation "Egalitarianism in the Modern-Day Workplace," and talked at length about "the changing face of the contemporary proletariat vis-à-vis the digital divide."
People listened politely, but during the Q&A, all of the questions gravitated toward animal husbandry, exploding toilets, and artificial vaginas. "What hurt worse, Mike, the monkey bite or the ostrich kick?" "What was the grossest day ever?" "Who was your favorite character?" "Can you show us some scars?" The questions were endless, and eventually we all adjourned to a local bar, where the inquisition continued deep into the night. This eternal Q&A is the real reason I'm paid to speak. People want me to drink a beer, do a shot, and tell a story. In this way, my liver has become more important than my message, which suits me just fine.
These days, I limit my observations to the lessons I've learned from people I've met on the show and center my talk around my belief that people with dirty jobs are happier than the rest of us. In the end, I still wind up answering questions in a bar, but for the sake of appearances, I now have a more accessible presentation. In it, I challenge the primacy of "efficiency" and question the wisdom of those nicely framed platitudes often seen on the walls of conference rooms and executive suites.
Obviously, I'm ripping off Stephen Covey, whose seven better-known habits got my attention not so much for their content, which I find suspicious, but for their surprisingly modest number, which I find manageable. Here then, are my "Seven Dirty Habits," each gleaned from a worker I met on the show, and bolstered by true stories of personal enlightenment and lingering humiliation.
- Never follow your passion, but by all means bring it with you.
- Beware of teamwork.
- Vomit proudly and whenever necessary.
- Be careful, but don't be fooled—safety is never first.
- Think about what you are doing—never how.
- Ignore advice such as "Work smart, not hard." It's dangerous—and moronic.
- Consider quitting.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.