What is a good career for someone who doesn't want one?
August 12, 2012 1:07 AM   Subscribe

I don't care about having a career. Now what?

I am a 24-year-old male and I have no career ambition. I never have. I just can't see myself doing any particular career because I am a laid-back person and only care about the things I do in my free time. The other thing that bothers me about picking a career is that they seem like they all take up too much time. Two weeks of vacation is just kind of insulting - it's my life; I don't see why I should have to be some kind of slave to a society and economy that basically just wants me to be a cog somewhere. Unfortunately, I still need to find some way of making money. I'd like to find something that I find tolerable and gives me the freedom to do what I want to do.

I graduated college in 2010 with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. Basically, I picked it because there weren't too many stringent requirements for the major so I could take a wide variety of classes that interested me. I took classes on American history, film studies, Roman history, women's studies, Asian religions, New Testament studies, politics, science fiction, African studies, creative writing, American Indian studies, ancient Greece, Middle East history, sociology, human sexuality, and geography. Basically, anything that looked remotely interesting. I didn't care about picking a direction then and I don't care now. I'm a little bit interested in everything but not very interested in any one thing.

After I graduated I went to South Korea to teach English. Everything about it was great (living abroad, exploring the country, hiking the mountains, seeing the Buddhist temples, etc.) except for one thing - I can't stand teaching English. I find it incredibly boring, because I have no intrinsic interest in actually teaching English and I found out I also don't really like being around kids all that much. After I finished my first year, I got a job in another school that seemed better than the first, but it just ended up being just as boring and I couldn't stand it. So I quit that job and since then I have been exploring Korea, including going to Jeju Island which was great. I am currently jobless and don't know what to do next.

So...what should I do? Every option I can think of sounds terrible to me. I just can't stand giving up my time. I feel like my youth is being wasted while I'm at work. All I care about doing are the following:

-reading books
-watching movies
-hanging out with friends
-following current events

Nobody's going to pay me to do any of those things. So what is the solution? I just want some kind of job that is laid-back and has lots of vacation. I am pretty frugal and own minimal possessions. Saving instead of spending is half the battle, but I still need some kind of income. I've thought about starting some kind of online blog/business, which would allow me to work from anywhere, but I can't think of anything that hasn't been done already.
posted by Gorilla456 to Work & Money (33 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
Temp. Sure, you wind up having to rent some of your time in exchange for money, but you can potentially try out a wide variety of different gigs for the experience, and there's no long-term obligation to stay at any particular place if you have enough to live on for a period of time and want to go travel or just read or whatever for a while.
posted by treblemaker at 1:19 AM on August 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

So being realistic you're not going to get all your boxes ticked. The trade off is most likely time or rather how the free time is structured. There are plenty of ways of being gainfully employed and then getting serious time off and it it is called seasonal work.

One thing that came to mind is tourism. Before you dismiss me out of hand think about it - being a tour guide. Seriously. Some kind of adventure travel tour guiding. You get to explore plenty of amazing places, you get to hike a lot and do cool outdoorsy stuff. But you do not get to spend a lot of time with your friends/family because you'll be wherever you take your groups and not at home. On the upside you do get to meet 10+ new best friends ever 2-3 weeks and at least some of the people will be interesting. Your living expenses are taken care of and you get to save all your pay so when the season is over you use your savings to go off and travel or chill or whatever floats your boat. Repeat as required.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:24 AM on August 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

This book was made for you: The Four-Hour Work Week.
posted by zanni at 1:25 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a friend who is an electrician for large industrial sites, like factories and mines. He works hard and long for a 2-3 months out of the year and spends the rest doing whatever he feels like. He's worked all over the world, including Antarctica. Because of his travels, he now has friends in many corners of the world.

Short of following this exact path, it seems that what works about this is learning a niche, in-demand trade, and then finding projects that have fixed timespans.
posted by the jam at 1:26 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is an accountant and, like the jam's friend, works around two months per year, and spends the rest bumming around. Usually travels a lot.

The key is that if you want lots of time off, you need a skill for which people will pay you very highly, and where it is easy to find short term contracts. So you might need to get some more targeted education.

Alternatively you can work fewer hours each day but all year round, and if you live in a place with a low cost of living (esp accommodation) and keep your non-essential spending low, you should be able to get by. How would you feel about working half-days five days a week? Or working three days a week and having four off? Plenty of low-skilled jobs let you do that: it's just often a bit less predictable (shift work), has fewer benefits (maybe no vacation?) and harder to have a nice lifestyle on the pay.
posted by lollusc at 1:38 AM on August 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh, another possibility is to earn and save a lot now, but plan for a very early retirement. Look into places with very low costs of living and figure out how much you'd need to save to live there for a few decades without working.

For example, I was recently in Indonesia, and got talking to various Australian expats who are basically doing that. Retired in their mid-30s, took the money that many people their age would have spent on a house (a few hundred thousand) and are now living a very comfortable lifestyle off that in a 3rd-world-ish country. You can get a good meal there for less than a dollar; one guy I talked to had a live-in cook and a cleaner who comes in daily to change his sheets, and he is still spending a fraction of what he would on living expenses back in Australia. (Of course there are a lot of downsides too.)
posted by lollusc at 1:44 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

While it sounds nice to temp while young it is less so when someone gets older ( a)to get placements and b) since one hops form one position to the other it is hard to advance).
How about a career in the hospitality industry? I see several of your points matching it (you have an interest in history and current events, enjoy travel and hiking).
It's possible to find work all over the globe, in various positions (call center / online support, on site hotel work on various levels, travel agent, tour guide, work on cruise lines or in a visitor's bureau).
But you need to aqcuire some skills for that (ideally certification). What languages do you speak?
You could give it a try by working in a hostel for starters, check for example helpx.net.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:45 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with those who have suggested tourism/hospitality. On vacation in Hawaii I met quite a few young people working in tours, restaurants, gift shops, etc. who had been dissatisfied with their mainland career options.
posted by candyland at 1:50 AM on August 12, 2012

Nuclear outage techs work a few months a year. They travel around the US hleping out at individual power plants when they are being refueled. They are well paid, I believe some of them reach their max allowed radiation dose and actually can't work more than they do. (while doses approaches the legal max, I would not call this a very hazardous profession)
posted by pseudonick at 2:23 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Field work or other seasonal work. Basically anything that pays your room, board and a western salary then you live in cheaper places on your off time. Start asking other travelers what they're doing and find something word of mouth ideally but there are a ton of options if you don't mind being really, really flexible, living out of a suitcase and working hard for months (with the payoff being a flush bank account and months of free time at the end).
posted by fshgrl at 2:25 AM on August 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

first, a personal anecdote: I felt the same as you (no ambition for a career) through my twenties, and worked a series of entry- to- mid-level tech jobs - started in support, moved up to project manager - not because I had any interest in the job but because it was easy enough for someone with decent communication skills and comfort with a computer. By my late 20s my hobbies had gotten so expensive I suddenly cared about my 'career', but only because it was what paid for the things I really cared about. At that point I made a jump from the industry I'd been in for years, giving up my PM creds, to move to an industry that was a LOT less uptight and had more room for growth relative to my interests. I had to go back to support for awhile, but now I'm back in a PM-style role, and I'm doing a lot of travel to fun places and I get paid well enough to take vacations in those fun places between work.

advice: entry-level tech at a company with offices in places you'd like to visit or live. Aim for a sales consultant, project management, customer solutions architect, whatever non pure tech job that involves customer interaction. It will take 5+ years to maneuver to the point where you can jam off to do your thing for a month+ out of the year, but you'll be able to phone it in after the first year or two as long as you're not an anxious person (and you don't sound like you are).

if you take a job in hospitality you'll probably be making fairly low wages for a very long time and will need to adjust your living situation accordingly. like others suggested above, that could mean living somewhere cheap. that's another option too. I did this briefly at a few points in my life, in Hawaii and Ghana, and it was Not For Me, but that isn't true for everybody.
posted by par court at 2:29 AM on August 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

I never wanted a career - work to live, not live to work - and if you can be happy without seeking promotions, increased responsibilities, development, etc, than you can indeed live a happy life without having a career.

Your problem, as you describe it, is you still want work you find interesting - but that doesn't take up your life and pays well enough to given you freedom. Short of being born rich - or owning a business that runs itself, your options are limited. A lucky few may work few hours, for big money and find it interesting. The rest of us do work that gives an acceptable balance between income, interest and freedom.

My solution was to find a job with perks I liked - in my case that's been living abroad and getting to travel the world on my employer's dime. The work I do is, largely, mindless admin/bureaucracy - but it pays me well enough to do what I like in my own time and is easy enough that I don't have to actually do work for more than half a day.

So I compromise on interest, to give myself income (plus perks) and a bit of freedom. It's a happy compromise for now.
posted by Hobo at 2:31 AM on August 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Seconding fshgrl's seasonal work suggestion. Pick fruit in the summer and work at a ski hill in the winter. Or other variations, but in general this type of work can be done all over the world, so you get your travel in too.
posted by mannequito at 2:59 AM on August 12, 2012

I think this is all more do-able if you exclude the requirement for the work to be interesting. Jobs that are interesting are what the whole world wants, so to expect to get them for few hours and still on a liveable wage is very lImiting.

Can you compromise on this/give us more detail about what you might find interesting that might not be universally regarded so? (and thus, be less competitive and open to someone who isn't very committed?)
posted by jojobobo at 3:00 AM on August 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all your responses so far; some great ideas. I guess ideally what I'm looking for is something like what the jam or lollusc suggest: a job where I work from 2-10 months and have the rest of the time off. I recognize that I would need to get more education/skills training for this, but these ideas are what I'm looking for.

I didn't mean to say that I require work to be interesting....it's just that teaching English leaves me way too drained at the end of each day, dreading Monday the whole weekend, etc. I'm a little bit introverted and dealing with people all day, especially children, leaves me too exhausted to do anything else.
posted by Gorilla456 at 4:40 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I felt and feel the same way as you and took the first suggestion of working for 10 months. I teach High School but your second sentence reflects how I feel at the end of each day so good on you for realizing that in advance.

You are still young so maybe the seasonal work is a good suggestion, travel, adventure and fun with other like minded-similar aged people. Working on a ski hill would be great!

(Since you are already in S. Korea, can you really look around there and see if there are any non-teaching jobs (I did copy editing of faxes for an hour a week) for which you would already have a specialized skill-set in just being able to speak English?}
posted by bquarters at 5:47 AM on August 12, 2012

fshgirl beat me to the seasonal work suggestion. I meet people who do that with winter ski work, summer fish research work, construction, and even cooking. It's worth noting, though, that you meet a lot of people in their 20s doing this, a few in their 30s, and very few older than that. It just gets draining to be always moving, never being able to financially plan; all it takes is a pregnancy or a health issue and all of a sudden stability tends to look more attractive.

In other words, if you are attracted to it, do it now because you might not be in a position to do so later in life.
posted by Forktine at 5:53 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a decent number of people who get paid to read books and watch movies and hang out with people and go traveling. Now, some people don't like to make the things that they love into a job, because it can make them less fun. But it's a nice compromise, writing about things you enjoy for a living. It does take some doing to get into position to do these things, but the payoff of it all is pretty great.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:56 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Teaching things other than English to children.

Or, become an organic farmer and run a CSA and sell to farmers' markets. Or wait tables or tend bar at very high end establishments a few days a week. Or freelance: copyediting, IT tech support to small businesses, writing, graphic design. Or play music gigs around town. Or become a children's entertainer. Or work at a nonprofit for a cause you support. Or become a caretaker on a property: an artist residency as a manager to live on-site and coordinate the artists; or a summer camp; or a firespotter at a national park. Or build custom furniture or design t-shirts or open a coffee shop / bookstore. Or a combination of all-the-above.

The key is to take those things you love to do in your free time and turn them into something you love to do for work -- even if it doesn't look like a traditional please-your-parents type career.

Another option is to channel all your energy into making as much money as you can in as short a time possible: just hold your nose and make it through the parts you hate knowing you get to go scuba diving on the weekend or whatever.
posted by mmmcmmm at 6:46 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bartend but absolutely do not party with the staff after hours.

Or sell time shares if you can handle the soul-sucking part.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:53 AM on August 12, 2012

Response by poster: Since you are already in S. Korea, can you really look around there and see if there are any non-teaching jobs (I did copy editing of faxes for an hour a week) for which you would already have a specialized skill-set in just being able to speak English?

I would love to do something in Korea not teaching English, but haven't found any opportunities despite looking. If anybody has any ideas, do tell.

Seasonal work: sounds appealing, but I do have student loans to pay off, so whatever pay I could get from them would also need to help cover paying those off (I have about $28,000 left and pay about $350/month).
posted by Gorilla456 at 6:56 AM on August 12, 2012

I orinigally intended to give a different answer, but now that I've read your feedback, OP, I'm going to send my response in a different direction but this may help you for ideas.

Long ago, in my 20s, I was a Peace Corps volunteer. It did give me some things that I LOVEd (e.g. travel, lots and lots of travel, time to read, you can be in a new country every few months), but I also realized that I was not intellectually challenged. Another friend of mine who was a few years older and also volunteer stated at the end of our experience that he (we all needed to return to the states and earn some income at the end) DID NOT want to work for someone else and be in a cog in the wheel ever again. So he set out to create what he wanted. So just follow along with where I'm going....

So I'm going to suggest creating your own job with a few components of what you want. Maybe it is traveling or maybe it is having a few months off a year. Define what you want, but I think that it would be really hard to have it all.

The friend that I refer to above? He said that he would do whatever it took to 1) work for himself and not another company and 2) he wanted travel to be an integral part of that life. So on his way back to the states, he bought ...lets just say "trinkets" in various countries in Asia (trinkets=jewelry, crap that pple like to buy and may buy because it is from somewhere different). He spent a couple hundred dollars buying and went to the States. He approached businesses door to door to sel stuff (it did). He went back to Asia again and burned out his savings, but found people to make what he wanted,etc. ...Now it is 20 years later. He is still in business...he really, really had to struggle initially and lived in tough conditions (shared a 1 room apartment for a year or two a the start). BUT he now does well enough to pay his own salary and a few part time employees. He has learned a lot to make a successful business and this is what he enjoys. He also travels to Asia at least once a year for several months, for research and to buy new stuff. However...here is the odd thing. Now he is married and very, very happy in his community. He doesn't enjoy travel. But he does love the independence that he has and will probably never ever give it up for the rest of his life. Theme here is keep your eye on the prize, but also, what if you change your mind?

I went down another path and it took many years to get there. I also wanted intellectually challenging. I found it (for me) and it is utopia as introvert and I have the time that I want. I also had to create what I wanted too. I'm not going to elaborate too much on my path because it does/did require more education in an area that I was interested in, but do feel free to memail me if you want to be pointed in that direction.

but the main thing that I was trying to get at ...Pick a few things taht you really want and 2) make plans to create it (the job) yourself and 3) go for it. I think that you could get some of the thijngs on a list, although there are always costs involved. Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

This guy tended bar until his student loans were paid off, then socked away enough money to build his own home so he can live mortgage-free and thus live on very little. No, it is not a direct answer to your actual question but I think it might help you think this through. And it's just a good read.

I also highly reccommend the book "How to survive without a salary" by Charles Long. He also concluded that the trick to not being a prisoner of a paycheck was to own a house mortgage-free. Most mortgages cost you interest in the amount of two to three times the house price. So if you can arrange to own a house mortgage-free, you can get it for a fraction of what most people pay. For most people, housing is their single largest expense. Getting that under control can make it way easier to solve the rest of it.

The book also has suggestions on earning money "casually" which are directly relevant to your actual stated question.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 7:45 AM on August 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Have you tried looking for R&D jobs in Korea? Many of my friends have done this (and I did it for a two week transition period between job), and it's a lot of fun and very rewarding. You basically write the curriculum for the classes that the English teachers teach. So you get all the pros (working with a mix of foreigners and Koreans, constant hours, good pay, etc), but you don't have to be around kids, and you generally just work at a computer all day. The school I worked for taught all subjects, so you could find yourself writing a history or science workbook!

I'm sure there are many similar jobs in China, Japan, and the other big ESL places. If you send me a message, I have a school to suggest.
posted by hasna at 7:47 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

-reading books
-watching movies

Do you have any interest in the creative side of either of these? Could you stand to do film criticism or critical writing about these things?

I'm just like you. I hate work. I've taught before and felt resentful of the students taking up my free time. I don't want to wear khakis and count up my vacation days.

I'm now a self-employed writer (fiction) and fiction reviewer/blogger (that part doesn't pay much, but I can't remember the last time I read a book I bought myself). It's entailed making a lot of sacrifices, and involved several years of very hard work to get off the ground. I now easily work more than full-time hours, but I do it from home, my schedule is very flexible, and I'm happy.

I once heard another author, Lauren Oliver, talk about how everyone used to tell her being a writer was such a shot in the dark, but she said she always figured it was easier to do something unlikely that you like than something mundane that you can't stand.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:35 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

"I would love to do something in Korea not teaching English, but haven't found any opportunities despite looking. If anybody has any ideas, do tell."

Visa-wise, South Korea is very strict in terms of tying your place of employment to your legal immigration status.

So this isn't advice per se, but if you marry a Korean national you move to F-status meaning you can work (or not) without being deported as an illegal. This sets you up for teaching private lessons (legally) which can be quite lucrative, especially once you've built up a base of people and have developed a positive reputation.

Just sayin'.
posted by bardic at 9:02 AM on August 12, 2012

I would love to do something in Korea not teaching English, but haven't found any opportunities despite looking. If anybody has any ideas, do tell.

I once was out in a rather remote part of Korea. No cities, no towns, no buildings taller than two floors, just farmland. I came across a small village festival. It was a very rustic looking affair, lots of old people being excited about produce and showing off produce producing skills. There was also a single Turkish guy with a Kebab stand. I said, "Hello guy, what are you doing here? I don't think there is even a single place to buy Kebabs within an hour's drive of here." Then I said "Oooooooooh."
posted by Winnemac at 11:07 AM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think you might want to view your ideas about career or work from another angle. Sounds to me that you like to consume things--movies, books, news, etc., but not create anything. I think you might try harder to figure out what you might actually enjoy doing and then see how you can earn money doing that or making something. If you didn't like teaching kids--would you like working one on one with older people? Wold you like writing reviews or descriptions of the places you've traveled or helping other people plan their trips to these places?

It seems a bit sad to me that a healthy young guy with his whole life ahead of him only wants to take stuff in rather than give anything out. Have you ever tried to produce anything that you felt proud of?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:36 AM on August 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Part time fireman? My understanding is there's a lot of downtime... How about a wildlife researcher?

I should also say that I graduated with a degree in Interdisciplinary Study. I found it was very easy to spin my degree to be oriented towards all types of careers.
posted by xammerboy at 7:41 PM on August 12, 2012

My mom's dear friend's partner is a very talented contractor. He can throw together a household project like nobody's business. He is currently in his 60s and only settled down in a permanent location during the last decade. Before that, he lived on his sailboat. Any port at which he arrived had some work for a guy who could build a house, so they'd rent a berth someplace for a few months while he made bank. He's constructed resorts in Hawaii and worked on palaces in Asia. He is a tall, extremely charismatic dude who's strong as an ox.

To live this way you have to be VERY good at socializing right off the bat with people you barely know. In some economies this includes figuring out what rules can be broken, which officials to bribe, etc. That said, he definitely has never had a career per se and at this point he isn't likely to. And he's always had more money than he needed to stay alive.
posted by town of cats at 9:44 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

$100 Startup
posted by littleredwagon at 1:44 PM on August 13, 2012

How are your language learning skills? The market for freelance Korean-English translators, particularly native speakers of English with some technical expertise, is fairly strong. Barriers to entry are fairly minimal and skills-based; even if you want to get certified before starting work (as I did), it's a matter of passing a single test... Mind you, freelancing does not provide quite the level of freedom that one might always desire, but it pays OK, and you always have the last word on how much of your time it will use up. Plus, once you have the skills, you can work from pretty much anywhere.

Of course, there is always the risk that Google (or some other outfit) will finally figure out how to replace all human translators with an algorithm, but those risks apply to just about any line of work these days.
posted by shenderson at 4:23 PM on August 13, 2012

Hi, I have been thinking about the same things lately.
Here's a cool video to check out as well.
I would think about where do you see your self being (desires), rather than doing per se. What is Korea like? I am Korean American and I am planning to visit in the spring. I will be visiting Seoul and other places as well.
posted by Lillian7 at 9:32 AM on February 20, 2013

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