Soul dying, needs 100cc awesome, stat!
February 26, 2009 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Let's talk about interesting, adventurous, exciting, or otherwise awesome jobs that are actually attainable in today's economy.

So I have a pretty stable job. I'm somewhat satisfied with it. The paychecks are nice. However, I'm hitting the part of my life where I can't help but think that my youth is being wasted behind a desk staring at a computer. I'm scared to death that contract SEO work is going to be the main theme in the story of my life.

So I've been looking around at a career change. I want some variety and excitement, but I'm not sure what's realistic right now. I don't need a huge paycheck, but I understand that getting a paycheck at all is starting to become a challenge here in the good ol' U.S., much less one in a field like what I'm looking for. Also, I'm completely open to (and expect) new training or education.

The new jobs that have jumped out at me may not be realistic at all: Scuba instructor, helicopter pilot/instructor, detective, treasure hunter, professional thief, cowboy, astronaut, or mad scientist. Alright, not all of those are reasonable, strictly speaking, but you get the idea. I'm not talking about air-quotes "adventure" like reading to inner city deaf stray dogs. I'm talking adventure like surfing a bear down a waterfall (or at least something outside with some variety).

What are some awesome jobs that are actually attainable, and how does one attain them specifically?
posted by Willie0248 to Work & Money (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
nuttin crazy with being a flight instructor, except for the pay/investment ratio.
but you gotta love flying to stick with that.
posted by spacefire at 10:58 AM on February 26, 2009

well, without knowing what your living/family/close-ties situation is, if you're open to moving overseas and really being gone for a while check out the French Foreign Legion
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 11:18 AM on February 26, 2009

I hear that the military has raised the maximum age for recruits. There's your adventure and danger, and you might be doing something useful (or not, depending on one's point of view).
posted by amtho at 11:21 AM on February 26, 2009

Paramedic/firefighter/ER nurse/etc?
posted by serazin at 11:28 AM on February 26, 2009

Just to be clear: now is not the time to switch jobs or careers. Think about it this way: most companies are experiencing a crunch. If they're not, they're probably cautious since there's no clear sign of when things are going to be better.

So most companies are unlikely to take risks, and they're going to want to make safe decisions. So, for example, if they want a position filled, they're going to choose someone who already did the job over someone who is pushing for a career change. The job field is tightening. This means that the only jobs that are widely available are jobs that are unappealing, either because they are low pay, very boring, or very very dangerous (not exciting dangerous, just worst workplace safety dangerous). And of course there are the normal jobs in the middle, which in some areas are in okay supply.

I am not here to kill your buzz. I am here to tell you that now is not the perfect time for career changes, it is the time for career preparation. I wish I knew what exciting jobs were out there, but I'm pretty sure that if they are out there now, they will definitely be out there in 6 months, a year, or however long it takes for the economy to improve. Until then, what you want to focus on is preparation.

Of the jobs that you list, only professional thief is realistic in this economy, and even that job is probably being hurt by the economy (and, to be fair, it is illegal and could get you into jail). All the others are either unattainable generally or not as glamorous as you'd think. For example, I think almost all private detective work is divorce cases, which involves you sitting around in a car for hours watching people in houses, get out of houses, go to other houses, you get the idea.

There are still mad scientists out there, but really that all mostly died out a hundred years ago or more with the demise of the gentleman scientist. In the past, you could work on physics, geometry, biology, and a little astronomy all at the same time and still gain a fair amount of recognition (or, I suppose, notoriety); now you really have to specialize. However, the cool part of science is till around: playing with beakers, pouring one thing into another thing, and flexible attire options. If that sounds at all appealing to you, there are some branches of science that are going to be in high demand in the upcoming years (labor agencies both local and national can offer information about trends). If you have savings now is probably a pretty good time to think about going back to school and if you have any solid math or science knowledge it will be helpful.

As far as being a helicopter pilot: are you or have you been in the military? Otherwise, this is probably out. As far as I understand, learning to pilot a helicopter is an order of magnitude more difficult and expensive than learning to fly a plane. As a result, most helicopter training takes place in the military. Depending on your age and health, I suppose that is an option for you, although of course it presents other more immediate "opportunities" that might not be as appealing (I often watch one of those Army ads, think "Oh, I should have joined them, would have learned discipline, etc" and then think, oh yeah, I probably would have to kill someone. It's not for me. I have the highest respect for people in the military and many of them are really nice kind people, but I couldn't do it.). The same goes for astronauts. Unless you're an extremely accomplished scientist (many of whom were in the military anyway) your odds of getting in a shuttle are nil. Working for NASA sounds pretty cool, but it is the sort of thing you have to work towards.

When it's adventure I'm seeking, nothing quenches my itch like travel. That might work for you, and prices are probably lower now than they were a few years ago. If you're from the US, the dollar is stronger which works to your advantage. Some places that are "adventurous":
Pretty much anywhere in Africa
Although there are places that are built up, there are also places where infrastructure is virtually non-existent. I guess you could call living there a "struggle" more than an adventure, but it would definitely provide you with some interesting challenges.
Libya, specifically
Again, if you're from the US: the US just put an embassy in around 2006 I think, so it's still relatively unexplored. There are probably more opportunities for expats there than in areas that see plenty of American saturation (avoid places like France and Italy for this very reason)
Central Asia
Here, "danger" might be a better term than "adventure", although our very own piratebowling or k8t might be able to give you a better answer about that.
By the tag "quarterlife crisis" I am guessing you are somewhere between 22-27 (maybe younger). I don't want to act all superior just cause I'm a few years older than you but you should know that nearly everyone goes through that feeling at your age (and for some it never stops, or keeps coming back in waves...a friend of mine is finding her "perfect career" at 60).

I know, I know volunteer work sounds like a retarded cop out. But when I was your age, I applied to the Peace Corps and was rejected soundly. This was incredibly disheartening, particularly because it forced me to own up to why I really wanted to do it: to have the adventure and the experience, not because I particularly wanted to help others. So I took this as a kick in my pants and started volunteering at a local adult learning center. And you know what? I found it incredibly rewarding and exciting, and it definitely took the edge off for a while (that, and a trip to Siberia and China).

I know, I know it would be nice for your job to be cool and exciting, and for some it is, but there's nothing wrong with a computer desk job if you can find a balance outside of work, or if you can find a company to work for that is exciting (doing SEO work is probably more fun when you actually care about the organization you're promoting). Someone I know really didn't like their job, but loved doing the exact same work when they were working for a company where they fit.

For the short term, I would prescribe 1-2 weeks of travel in a country where no one speaks your language, followed by a weekly dose of some fun and fulfilling community work. Some people really get their joneses satisfied by visiting the sick or reading to blind people, but you may be interested in work that is more physical and cheerful, like working in a community garden or hanging lights in a theater.

In all honesty, if the jobs you had presented were a bit more realistic I would say that maybe it was time for an actual career change, but the jobs you cited suggest that really you simply want to have a more exciting and fun life. Your job should only take max 40-45 hours out of your week, which leaves another 100or so after sleep to do whatever the hell you want. Make the most of that time.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:29 AM on February 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

Coast Guard. Go rescue people for a living.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:33 AM on February 26, 2009

re: Deathalicious: I don't think we all need to give up on having non-soul-destroying jobs, as long as we find something that's actually of enough recognized benefit to other people.

I'm not quite ready for everyone to give up. Geez, Deathalicious, I know mean well, but you sound like someone's lectur-y dad - not that Dad didn't have good points, but people seldom listened to him because he was just so grim. It was like he wanted to justify his own grim existence by convincing everyone that life had to be that way. Yeah, the OP's list of jobs were a bit fantastic, but I think he knows that. No need to join the soul-destroying pile-on.

It's true that things are getting harder all around, but I don't think we have to completely give up on our professions being rewarding. I like to hope that we've learned some things as a culture (a global culture) that we can keep with us even as the times change.

The idea of some 20-something dude chucking it all and going out for some useless career that may not actually be useful and/or remunerative is a little annoying to me, but I don't want to squash him entirely :)
posted by amtho at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

I hear the FDIC is hiring.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2009

Being a flight instructor is a very difficult living if it's your sole source of income. I have no idea what your existing qualifications are, but here's what you need to do:

Get your private license first. That's a 40 hour minimum, but figure an average of 60-ish. Add another 40 hours+ for your instrument rating. Now you need your commercial license, which has a minimum hour requirement of 250. Flight instructor rating, doesn't have an hours requirement, but it's not as easy as taking a test and being done with it. This whole process will cost you at least as much as a year at a private university.

Finding a job may or may not be easy. Flight instructors are usually paid based on how many billable hours they chalked up in a given week. Don't expect benefits. So, if a flight school wants a big staff they may just hire any instructor that shows a modicum of ability, but be aware that you'll be cutting in to the existing staff's students - or you'll need to build your own student base. Remember that people are generally cutting back nowadays, and there are reports from all over (the latest I saw was in AOPA News) that general aviation is taking a hit right now.

The working conditions are pretty good - it's kind of like being a ski bum, I would say, only at an airport. You hang out, go flying a few times a day, watch some TV, hit on the women that walk in. If you're a slacker type it's probably not a bad gig once you put in the initial training investment.

However, most flight instructors are not there to make it a career. Most are teaching in order to "build time" - to log enough hours to meet the minimums that airlines want before they'll hire you. And, honestly, you could probably make more money working at Starbucks. Hourly rates for instructors vary from, say, 25 to 50 dollars per hour; some flight schools will take a cut out of that. The guys at my old airport made $15/hour out of the $30 that we charged the students. The real kicker is that it's impossible to work full time - if you only get paid when you're flying with a student, and there's bad weather, cancellations, insufficient number of students... then you're physically at the airport maybe 60-70 hours a week but only getting paid for 30. Or 20. Or it's winter and snowy and only five flights go out for an entire day, and there are 8 instructors on staff.

If you can deal with all of that, go nuts. Personally, my plan was always to do it part-time after my normal work day was complete. The only person I know who was a full-time, career flight instructor did so because he washed out of one of the airlines' training programs.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:55 AM on February 26, 2009

ER nurse. especially in an inner-city hospital.

DEA, FBI or Secret Service, if you can qualify.
posted by jgirl at 11:56 AM on February 26, 2009

Maybe I sounded a bit too downbeat, but becoming an instructor is definitely "attainable". The only thing that's really going to prevent you is if you have some serious medical condition and can't pass a flight physical.

I forgot to mention that, since you specifically mentioned helicopters, you'd better double the costs associated with getting the ratings. You won't need an instrument rating for helicopters, but the rest of it is expensive enough that it will more than make up for it.

And, to be quite honest, working at the airport was probably the best job I've ever had. I wasn't an instructor, but it was a very relaxed environment, lots of windows, I got to skip work sometimes to go flying, and we had a pool and a restaurant on the field so there were always pretty girls around (I was in high school, sue me).

And there was always excitement when someone crashed. Nobody ever got hurt, but there were at least a half dozen incidents over the three years I was there that involved tenants, renters, or instructors at our field.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:01 PM on February 26, 2009

I made a career switch four years ago to what I consider a dream job. Never the same thing each day, very high stress, sometimes very high profile. For the first 2 or so years I had to pinch myself each day to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Now, after going into my 4th year, it is a job. A cool one, sure, but it is still work.

Am I glad I made the switch, hell yeah, but remember one persons dream job is another persons well....job. The each have their positives and negatives.

In other words, go for it! But some advice. If you have a stable job right now, consider going for it on your nights and weekends until you know you can support yourself from your new endeavor. Seriously, this economy is scary.
posted by WickedPissah at 12:03 PM on February 26, 2009

A few ideas.

If you are serious about the "science" job (mad?) what?, if you have a college degree, have taken, a few basic biology or chemistry courses, live in a large city or near a university, I would be willing to bet you could easily get a job as a lab tech/research assistant in a lab. I did this many years ago, but found that a few people without a science background just applied to the university or large research facility and were hired. Many of these employment places offer free university classes (and some people got a Masters degree part time) -- or, apply to graduate school for a PhD after a years, and it will be paid for in its entirety. Only if you enjoy the work and find that you have some aptitude for it, of course.

Another job - a fire fighter for the forest service. Definitely outdoors. You need to pass a physical (run X miles/carrying a pack with X lbs), but it's doable. I have a sibling who did this and loved it because it was outdoors, involved hiking, saw a lot of wildlife, etc. She also thought the pay was good (although there was danger pay involved), but it was more than the average undergrad could earn. Also, big problem - it is a seasonal job and you probably can't do it forever (most pple were in their 20s/30s)

Finally, would you be willing to do the Peace Corps? You get paid to live, travel, and work overseas. For each month you are a volunteer, some $ is saved for you and at the end it = travel through several countries for several months.
posted by Wolfster at 12:23 PM on February 26, 2009

amtho:I'm not quite ready for everyone to give up. Geez, Deathalicious, I know mean well, but you sound like someone's lectur-y dad - not that Dad didn't have good points, but people seldom listened to him because he was just so grim.

As I said in my post, part of why I came down on him was because it didn't sound like he had a clear conception of what he wanted. So that, with the current economy, doesn't suggest to me a good situation. It's possible that some of the jobs mentioned so far (especially military, nurse, and paramedic) might appeal to him, and those are actually relatively robust careers that are mostly recession proof. However, overall if you are seeking adventure specifically, a career is not the best place to find it. A lot of exciting careers happen because people make them or seek them out, rather than falling into them.

That and what WickedPissah said. Every job, no matter how awesome, always becomes work. The nice thing about finding fun outside of your job is it isn't, and if it starts feeling like work you can always switch over to something else.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:40 PM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

SCUBA instructor (or even just a dive master) is doable, but expensive, and not a way to make a living (unless you're in a prime diving location and catering to tourists). Both my SCUBA instructors (and their various dive masters) had day jobs and did the teaching as a hobby because they loved to dive. You could also try to be a commercial diver -- one of my instructors used to dive in an aquarium tank and got hugged by a giant manta ray once. A commercial diving license probably takes a lot of hours and equipment as well though.

Here's the flow chart of PADI courses. Basically, Open Water --> Advanced Open Water --> Rescue --> Divemaster --> Open Water Instructor. Each of those courses will probably be a couple hundred bucks (at least -- the further you go, the more expensive they get). You'll also need all your own gear (easily in the thousands, probably in the 10s of thousands).

But SCUBA diving certainly fits the "adventure" requirement -- give it a try! Even as just a hobby, it might fill your adrenaline need.

I've also known people to do the following:
White water rafting guide
European bicycle tour guide
posted by natabat at 12:48 PM on February 26, 2009


Thanks for your thoughtful reply! I think you misunderstood the list of jobs I gave; they were obviously facetious.

You got me, I'm 27. I should probably volunteer more, but I know for a fact vacationing won't help - in fact vacations depress me. They accentuate that which I lack in my life, and the very fact that I need to "get away from it all" proclaims very loudly that the rest of my life is something that needs to be escaped.

You're right, I don't know exactly what I want to do, mostly because I grew up being told that accepting a soul-crushing job is just part of being mature and I should just suck it up. That's why I am asking for realistic jobs that are a little out of the ordinary; to orient myself in a direction that I can see working out for someone like me. I'm not trying to chuck it all and go on some vacation, I'm trying to plan and make preparations for a career move that will hopefully increase the level of joy and fulfillment in my whole life, not just two weeks out of the year.

A job may always be work, but that doesn't mean that all jobs are somehow equally fulfilling and every work situation should be grimly accepted.

@Everyone else:

Thanks so much for the suggestions! Firefighter is now high on my list; my education actually complements a long-term career in that field. I dive recreationally, so maybe a part-time instructor gig would be a good complementary job.

I think the military or Peace Corps is a little too hardcore for me, since I'm not looking to leave it all behind (just kickstart what's already there) but that doesn't mean that the suggestions and information about it should stop! Half my generation is asking this same question, and I'm sure those would be good answers for some of them.
posted by Willie0248 at 1:28 PM on February 26, 2009

There are some good books by Barbara Sher that directly address this question.

Live the Life You Love is more pragmatic and helpful than the cover or title might suggest.
posted by mecran01 at 12:27 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to move and have a sense of adventure, I second Cool Papa Bell's suggestion of the Coast Guard. They have any number of cool jobs with good pay available. They provide the training and education to do these cool jobs. The Coast Guard works hard to create a culture of respect.

They're not all jumping out of helicopters or operating small boats, but there's little else as gratifying as being part of the operation to rescue people and make sure that people are safe. In the Coast Guard, you're likely to be part of something that at some point, some where is news worthy.

Also, because it's the Coast Guard, most Coast Guard jobs are coincidentally near a coast, so you can't beat the location.
posted by SocialArgonaut at 7:26 PM on March 2, 2009

I was just browsing my local dive shop's website, and I came across their page on aquarium diving.
posted by natabat at 8:05 AM on March 3, 2009

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