Hank Hill's Keys to Success in the Workplace

In an article published in The Economist on April 10, 2008 titled “Help Not Wanted: Congress Doing its Best to Lose the Global Talent War” the author singled out Hank Hill for special mention as one of the wisest creatures on television. The name of the periodical should provide an indication of the value placed upon wisdom of the main character of the animated TV series about life in a small Texas town. So if we assume that the respected publication The Economist really does view the assistant manager of a propane company at the center of "King of the Hill" as a figure of great insight into the economic principles of capitalism, then what can the attentive viewer learn about the keys to achieving success in the free enterprise workplace?

“There’s more to a career than money, son; there’s respect.”

This key to success in the workplace that Hank Hill shares with his son Bobby seems almost antiquated relative to how business is conducted today. Very few employees seem to have much respect for their employer or the customer which could be merely a reaction to the lack of respect the worker receives from them. Hank is right, however. If you don’t respect yourself for doing the job then it is highly unlikely that you will ever be paid enough to make up for the dark hole in your soul. The episode in question has Hank Hill doling out his usual brand of conservative old-school anti-union blue collar career advice to his son who has latched onto a school-sponsored partnership with an entrepreneur who has found incredible success in one of the last remaining business niches unclaimed: using green technology to clean up the city’s dog poop. Some paradoxically, Hank Hill is so personally disgusted by this career path that he impugns one of his own abiding keys to success in the workplace.


“Find what your niche is...that leads to riches.”

One of the keys to discovering respect in the marketplace by doing a job you can be proud of is to look more closely at consumer needs that are not being adequately addressed. Such as the dog poop cleaning business, it would seem.  As long as meeting that need is done professionally and you can give the customer the high quality of service that meeting that untapped need should provide, you will find not just success, but self-respect. Despite Hank’s fervent acceptance of this economic theory justifiably based on a long series of historical precedent, the attentive viewer of "King of the Hill" will quickly discover that limits are placed upon Hank’s belief.  As just one example, there are apparently not riches in the world to justify the niche that his son Bobby has found: cleaning up the vomit that occurs during frat parties at the local college.

“Find the job nobody wants and then do it better.”

This advice is one of the essentials of Hank Hill’s key to success. The real key behind this key to success once again rests upon the component of respect. Hank regularly avows disrespect toward certain career opportunities ranging from cleaning up dog poop to systems analyst to just about any job in show business outside of country music. Lurking beneath the surface qualities of this genuinely wise and useful career advice from Hank Hill is something much deeper than anyone considering a career would be wise to contemplate. How far out would you be willing to go to achieve success in the workplace?  Do you have any self-imposed restrictions on the type of work you can accept without it eating away at your soul? 

“Don’t smile, son, you’re a working man.”

Hank Hill may quite possibly be the happiest blue-collar employee in the history of TV. To hear Hank describe it, being assistant manager of Strickland Propand is more satisfying than just about any job in the world. Which is why the advice to his son quoted above can seem a little jarring. What Hank Hill may really mean could potentially be something he isn’t really even aware he means. Could this perplexing bit of guidance on how to be happy in your job actually be a rare subconscious capitulation to the realities of the dark side of capitalism: that the only people who have a reason to smile in such a system are the owners and not the workers?

“A good salesman always says yes to the boss. He approaches ever task with a can-do attitude. When things get tough he shrugs it off and sings a happy tune.”

What is important to understand about this key to success from Hank Hill is that when the going gets tough in the workplace, it will expand to encompass all over aspects of your life. You can’t let things like domestic problems and falling into debt and not being able to pursue the things you want most in life affect your ability to do the job you are being paid to do. When the boss expects you to do something, you just turn away and whistle a happy tune while you do it. Don’t for a moment think that this pearl of wisdom from Hank Hill is outdated. It is, in fact, the cornerstone of economic success for everybody.

“You don’t call your boss names. That’s acting like a baby. Babies want everything handed to them. But you’re there to work and not play. That’s why it’s called work and not play. If you don’t understand that, well son, maybe you’re the moron.”

It’s not pretty. It may not be fair. And it’s certainly not what you want to hear if you are just entertaining the world of work. But this may well be the quote that the Economist had in mind when it characterized Hank Hill as one of the wisest characters on TV. Forget what you’ve seen about those start-up company employees playing air hockey in the office or that fully stocked coffee bar in the breakroom. For most people, the workplace is not where you go to have fun. You are not a baby. You are not in school. You are at work and it is completely different from everywhere else you go when you are not there. The sooner you realize and accept that, the more successful you will be.


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