“I was very careful never to take an interesting job.”
March 19, 2019 1:46 PM   Subscribe

What sorts of jobs would pay the bills but won’t chew up and consume the best parts of me?

I’ve got this quote from Mary Oliver on my mind: “I was very careful never to take an interesting job. I took lots of jobs. But if you have an interesting job you get interested in it. I also began in those years to keep early hours. … If anybody has a job and starts at 9, there’s no reason why they can’t get up at 4:30 or 5 and write for a couple of hours, and give their employers their second-best effort of the day — which is what I did.”

My own job is a licensed skilled construction trade, and it pays well. But whether I’m out in the field or the office, my job asks a lot of me and I come home exhausted. I already get up at 4am for work, and I know my body will rebel if I try to make it get up any earlier. And after the workday grind, there simply isn’t much left of me to give toward the things that I do care about.

It’s occurred to me to work 6 months a year and live off that. But short of seasonal work, what kind of job would satisfy Mary Oliver’s criteria? For me, not being trapped at a desk might help. I’ve thought of John Prine composing songs in his head while working as a postal carrier, but it looks like that particular employment outlook might be... grim.

I’ve got a college degree in case that matters.
posted by octopodiatrist to Work & Money (14 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Kinda depends on how big your bills are. Classic jobs for people like actors and musicians are retail and waiting tables/bartending. These can be tiring of course, but you generally don't take your work home with you and the schedules are flexible. Depending on what kind of things you care about doing in your free time, overnight security or hotel reception jobs often let people basically sit quietly for hours, and you could write or study or read.
posted by greta simone at 2:13 PM on March 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I know a man (via internet) who was a poorly paid athlete until at a decision point in his life he asked a counselor to suggest a line of work that would never disappear. She suggested accounting, so he got some education in accounting and went on to be very successful. But he was never interested in accounting for it's own sake.

For some people, accounting is a soul-killing grind, but not for him. So I think the answer to your question depends very specifically on your preferences, your tolerance for poverty, and your non-work interests.

I live about an hour from some major airports. Several retired guys in know have worked as drivers to and from. If you can stand the traffic....
posted by SemiSalt at 2:43 PM on March 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I often thought about being a mailman delivering mail and not bringing any of it home with me (literally and figuratively). I did work in a warehouse from 8:00 to 16:00 for about 9 months. Not much mental energy spent there although I can get 27 pallets into the back of a UPS hauler using a forklift and some Tetris like skills.

I think there are some very high paying jobs where you can not dedicate your whole life to. I have a friend who went to med school, became a doctor and switched from ER work to radiology where he could just read film all day and not actually have to talk to very many humans. He got real down on the human race after 3 years in the ER.

As for working 6 months on and taking 6 months off, I have a good friend in the construction trades that decided that rather than do that, he would work his ass off until he was 50, save a lot of money and retire at 50. He is in his first year of not working. He seems happy. Much happier than most. YMMV.
posted by AugustWest at 2:44 PM on March 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

A singular three year enlistment; or a two if possible; stamps your affordable health care for life via the VA, and they now have a 401k-ish program towards retirement (your 4% gets 5% added to it) that you can take with you. For many; an enlistment seems to be the essence of disengagement from reality. From mild to extreme; Air Force Navy Army Marines. A lot of Air Force mirrors civilian land; except you are in a uniform at work. YMMV.
posted by buzzman at 3:19 PM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

My two classic no brain drain jobs were...

Graveyard stocker at a grocery store. Come in at 11 pm, unbox and do the receiving check, put it on a cart and out onto the shelf.

Line worker at a big-ish bagel factory. Come in, toss a couple hundred pounds of dough on a table and feed it into the machine or rack them on the other end.

Both places didn't expect anything much but being there and you could wear headphone and smoke weed on your break. Nothing to worry about once the shift was done.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Boredom can be stressful, too. I think the aim should be something pleasantly stimulating and neither overwhelming nor boring. Question: how much of a people-pleasing perfectionist are you? If you’re likely to be the only one staying late when other people go home, maybe you can tweak your approach and broaden the range of jobs. Similarly, you can do the same job at different places and may only be expected to stay late at one. Question 2: How toxic is your management?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:51 PM on March 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Boredom can be stressful, too.

this, big time. For me anyway.

A few year's back while hitchhiking, I got picked up by a guy whose job was emptying septic tanks. A shitty job, literally. But, as he put it, if you're moving, the smell is all behind you and (the kicker for this question), it was easy, good money. Because who the f*** wants to empty septic tanks? Long story short, he'd always struggled financially until one day, in a sudden moment of profoundly obvious epiphany, he realized, "I've gotta find a job that I don't particularly mind doing but nobody else wants to."

And he found it. Seemed a very happy guy.
posted by philip-random at 5:47 PM on March 19, 2019 [17 favorites]

With construction experience, I wonder how you would do as an insurance adjuster. Plenty boring to many, and you may have special skills that makes it an easy transition for you. I believe it pays well, and if you're a desk adjuster, you won't have to necessarily go onto job sites. I think it might be a little stressful in terms of caseload, though.
posted by cacao at 5:56 PM on March 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’m a [think journeyman electrician, plumber, or sheet metal worker, exact trade obscured for anonymity] with experience both on the tools and in management/pre-construction. The fat paychecks are hard to turn down. But the union health insurance package doesn’t exactly support part-time work. But doing this full time, steeped in the dominant commercial construction culture, I feel constantly stressed and angry. I like a lot of parts of my trade, but I’m not sure I can stomach the context and also the amount of life it sucks out of me.

It appears from my internet research that becoming a postal carrier requires being a carrier assistant first, with 8-12 hour days six days a week. As much as I’d like to walk for a living, that’s... not the work-life balance I’m looking for. I have hobbies that require focus and travel. I need reliable days off.

I also fantasize about working at a hardware store but realistically I’d be making a quarter to a fifth of what I make now an hour on the check — which makes the idea of working just six months a year in the trade seem like a more attractive option.

Some of you have suggested that being trapped and bored 8 hours a day is stressful in its own way, and you’re absolutely right. Feeling trapped and bored is how I ended up running away to learn the trade in the first place. So maybe I just need to find a different niche/balance within my trade? How do I go about that? Is it even realistic? I haven’t seen any examples in my own union of people with a relationship to work that I’d like to emulate.
posted by octopodiatrist at 7:06 PM on March 19, 2019

Do you have a Commercial Driver's License? Depending on where you live, if you have a Class B CDL with a passenger certification, you could work for a paratransit or Access-A-Ride service, which is what I did during grad school. My trainer used to hold up his license and say "If you have one of these, you're never broke."

I sometimes had to get up in the pre-dawn hours depending on my shift, but you cannot possibly take the work home with you, and about half of your shift you're alone in your vehicle, so you can play the radio or podcasts, etc.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:05 PM on March 19, 2019

What about a "sideways" move to a trade-related wholesaler/supplier/equipment manufacturer? The brother of a friend of mine is a plumber, and one of the jobs he seemed to like best was working for a to-the-trade plumbing supply company. 7 - 3 M - F, spent his days discussing how many feet of schedule 80 PVC a project needed rather than crawling under houses banging on rusty valves. He eventually got lured away from that gig by the promise of higher pay working as an actual plumber (although I don't think the supply company job paid badly) but I'm pretty sure the company didn't object to him picking up some extra cash by doing plumbing in his off hours when he wanted to.

It's also not uncommon in my own general industry for folks to transition from the high-pressure odd-hours line of working concerts and events to working for equipment manufacturers in a variety of positions.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:33 AM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is a question of interest from the other side (e.g. those with boring jobs) as well, see David Graeber's entire book, Bullshit Jobs, on the existence of white-collar jobs with no particular interest. Too little interest and you can lose interest in life itself--in a boring job at a desk it's remarkably difficult to work at anything productive given the ennui and constant interruptions.

The ideal is probably something that has a lot of independence, flexible scheduling, opportunity for movement/travel (not chained to one location), and minimal oversight. Those are general characteristics, potentially found within any industry, not descriptions of one specific job. Maybe if you can figure out what characteristics, beyond that list, are most useful to you--then you can begin to assess actual jobs within your fields for those qualities.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:18 AM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I know someone who just started a job as a maintenance engineer with a large real estate company (they lease out and manage buildings / factories / facilities for various enterprises). My friend just got out of HVAC school, and he really likes this job; good pay, good hours, a wide variety of tasks (everything from plumbing to electrical), part of a team (shared workload when needed).

(I'm with the 'boredom can be incredibly stressful' camp, myself. Since you're already skilled and making good money, find a way to leverage that into a better situation for yourself. And save money hard until you've got that sweet, sweet FU money.)
posted by Bron at 10:19 AM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

This may not be applicable for your specific trade, but could you do what you're doing, only not for a union? I recently spent some time working in residential construction as a general laborer, and it seemed like the skilled laborers got paid well for 8-4 days. If you need to do the work finding the gigs, that could be stressful, but if you have the connections, or could partner with a private company, this might be easier.

I had also taken a plumbing class a couple of years ago, and the teacher (who was knowledgeable, but also a bit of a blowhard) would often talk about how areas that recently underwent natural disasters were always desperate for more skilled trades, and that local insurance companies would pay top dollar for people willing to travel and spend a few months in those areas. It seems like working part of the year would work well with something like this depending on your level of mobility.
posted by taltalim at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2019

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