What should I be when I grow up?
February 2, 2020 7:10 PM   Subscribe

I make plenty of money, but I don't love my current job and feel trapped there. What's next? CRNA (nurse anesthetist), helicopter pilot, submarine pilot, scuba instructor, boat captain, ???. Right now I'm thinking CRNA, but I'm hoping to hear some other ideas, as well as feedback on whether working toward becoming a nurse anesthetist would be a great move or a mistake. I'm located in the USA. Help!

I'm a journeyman in a mechanical trade. I got a STEM degree in college, couldn't sit still, completed an apprenticeship because I love feeling useful and also as a way of making good money and developing a useful skill while "finding myself", and, well, here I am. I'm happy at work in bursts when I'm challenged and learning, but historically once routine sets in and I'm not on a strong learning curve anymore, I stop being able to tolerate the mind-numbing boredom of what it is that I'm doing, especially when I'm stuck at a computer.

Currently I work on the detailing side (drafting and design) in the office. I thought I might either go back into the field and get back to working with my hands, or take a fairly natural progression into engineering eventually and try to get involved in bringing more innovative, sustainable designs to life. But... I already feel trapped sitting in front of a computer all day -- engineering would only exacerbate that, right? And I feel insufficiently challenged in much of commercial construction field work. I can do this for another few years and save some money, but in the the long run, I want to try something different.

From high-risk team safety classes associated with my real passion (diving), I've learned that I'm drawn to intense activities involving careful planning, critical decision-making, and attention to detail, often in adverse environments. I read accident analysis for fun. And I like team-based environments rather than working alone in my cube. In my safety / team dynamics courses, most of the examples are drawn from aviation, diving, and surgery -- perhaps those are places to look for my next career?

I'd love to be a submarine pilot for scientific and documentary expeditions, but it feels like that phase of exploration is very much on the wane as ROVs and AUVs take over from manned subs. And all the entry-level jobs seem to be in oil and gas, which I... just can't justify working in from a moral perspective, at this point in our planet's history. From chatting with a famous sub pilot, I learned that I could get the skills to be a sub pilot/mechanic myself by taking a bunch of electronics and hydraulics classes. But even my famous sub pilot internet mentor is laid off right now. Basically it seems like this job is unrealistic and impossible to get.

I could be a boat captain for diving trips, but... I feel like that's actually a hospitality job, and probably pretty boring in the grand scheme of things? I have similar reservations about being a dive instructor. It's something I'd love to do part time, but maybe not full time.

I've thought of being a commercial diver, but those jobs are quite different than recreational and exploration-type diving, actually don't pay very well, are mostly in oil and gas, and have horrible work-life balance. I don't want to go to an expensive training program in order to take a big pay cut to do something fairly unpleasant, I can make good money doing somewhat unpleasant stuff already!

Maybe fishing in Alaska, but I'd miss a mental challenge. I want something that challenges my whole self. I thought about being a helicopter pilot, and trying to specialize in big lift operations, but the training programs are extremely expensive and the job market is fairly weak (from what I can tell) for new, inexperienced pilots.

I think I might love being a nurse anesthetist, and I could approach that from more of a gradual, apprenticeship model (as opposed to being an MD / anesthesiologist, which would be many, many expensive years of learning and not working in the field, and even if I got into medical school who knows if I'd manage to match with an anesthesiology residency). I could do an accelerated BSN in a little over a year, get my RN, do a couple years of critical care nursing, and then apply to the CRNA program. Also, the idea of working part-time in nursing appeals to me, so I could devote myself to that job during my shifts but pursue my other interests in my off-time. Plus CNRA is one of the few career-change options where I wouldn't have to take a big permanent pay cut. My salary (once I finished the CNRA) would actually go up from what I make now. And I'd work in a team-based environment, in a critical setting (surgery). And if I couldn't get into the CRNA program, maybe I could be a flight nurse, or a hyperbaric nurse, or some other speciality. But perhaps I'm being very unrealistic about the difficulties and drawbacks of nursing? And maybe my personality wouldn't like playing second fiddle to the MDs?

I've also thought of moving to a remote small town and trying to have a diversified career, instead of an intensely engaging one. Perhaps do some of my mechanical trade, run a small hydroponic/LED-based veggie farm if I'm far enough from the equator to make that cost-effective, teach diving, take seasonal work like fishing-boat gigs some seasons... but I'm not sure how realistic this is, and if it would be fulfilling or just stressful and scattered.

I know work is work and I don't mind hard, stinky, sweaty, difficult tasks, but I don't want to dread going to work and feel trapped there to the point that my brain feels blurred. Currently I work for a fantastic company that treats me really well, and I still regularly dread and resent my job. They like me and I'm doing very well at my work. But I am sufficiently stressed and drained after work that I don't feel like doing much but having a beer and watching TV. That is not the life I want to live.

What say ye, internet strangers? Any opinions or ideas? What sorts of careers could I pursue that will engage me more than my current gig, without requiring me to take out $750,000 in loans and spend an additional 13 years in school? And how do I figure out what I'd be good at and enjoy on a day-to-day basis before making a big jump?
posted by octopodiatrist to Work & Money (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Shadow a CRNA if possible. I think it might be more dull than you think it is. It's a lot of literally sitting around waiting for something to go wrong. Hospital-based practitioner jobs are very active though.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 PM on February 2, 2020 [13 favorites]

I've learned that I'm drawn to intense activities involving careful planning, critical decision-making, and attention to detail, often in adverse environments. I read accident analysis for fun. And I like team-based environments rather than working alone in my cube
You should consider moving towards doing rescue, either professionally or as a volunteer, because a paragraph like this accurately describes the job. I don't know how it works in the US, but here there's official rescuers (e.g. fire and emergency services), volunteer responders (the rural firefighters you've probably seen in the news, but also flood rescuers, and community first responders) and private rescue teams specific to industries, especially mines and remote industry.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:03 PM on February 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Wild land firefighting is increasingly not a seasonal job and might be something to explore.
posted by janell at 8:07 PM on February 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

I know a couple Anesthesiologists and they are both disappointed will how boring it’s become now that they are well settled into their careers. Look into careers in federal or state parks management: active, outdoors, varied. These positions are highly sought after so you may need to be patient and persistent in your job hunt.
posted by scantee at 8:36 PM on February 2, 2020

Based on your background and interests, the Navy or Air Force might be a good fit, and there are recruiters that could explain more.
posted by katra at 8:53 PM on February 2, 2020

What about NOAA Corps?
posted by cnidaria at 8:56 PM on February 2, 2020

Can't do any military service (or anything that involves eating MREs or from a shared kitchen like wildland fire). I'm very much disqualified by my celiac disease, unfortunately.
posted by octopodiatrist at 8:59 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nursing might suit you but I would do some shadowing and also think about surgical, ICU, or cath lab nursing, which both have regular adrenaline-fueled moments and demand careful organization and prep and technical skill . There certainly are emergency moments in anesthesia, but typically CRNAs get the less complex cases. You could also think about PA school, which would qualify you to operate with a surgeon as a surgical assistant.

Also, what about emergency management? I don't know anything about it other than it exists as a field but seems like it might involve some of the same skills.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:06 PM on February 2, 2020

+1 to considering something like emergency/crisis response. My uncle did it for decades in oil & gas and I can say if I were to work in oil & gas that's one of the few jobs I would take. Any time there was an oil spill anywhere in the world, or extreme weather in a place where there was a lot of drilling, he'd be flown in to help coordinate the fix.

That said, I have no idea how you get into that - he managed to become an expert on the legal requirements for US companies responding to oil spills in a previous job and started his own consulting practice based on that expertise.
posted by potrzebie at 9:33 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, CRNA is not the thing you want (lots of passive time during surgical cases after you take the patient under until you bring them back up, punctuated by a dial twiddle here or there), but there are areas in the medical field that you could be well suited to. Emergency Departments might be your speed. There are many different roles there beyond the MDs.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:49 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

But I am sufficiently stressed and drained after work that I don't feel like doing much but having a beer and watching TV

My impression from reading nursing blogs is that nurses feel this way after work.

You might try reading nursing blogs to get a feel for the pros and cons of nursing. Here's one I liked.
posted by salvia at 10:29 PM on February 2, 2020

Peace Corps?
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:31 PM on February 2, 2020

Given your current specialty, could you start your own company and get out of the office?
posted by salvia at 10:36 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Underwater welding!

You get welding, scuba, emt, underwater emt... So many options!

Santa Barbara City College has such a program.
posted by k8t at 10:39 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

SpaceX needs great welders, help us all migrate off this planet.
posted by sammyo at 11:30 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Look into careers in federal or state parks management: active, outdoors, varied.

Not really. Managers work at desks

With your background I'd look into contruction engineering or construction management, that truly is outdoors, varied and focused on problem solving. The hours are insane but the money is good. If you don't want to spend as much time qualifying look into surveying or possibly field archeology ( you don't need a degree to get hired to survey) both of which are highly varied outdoor work usually with interesting people.
posted by fshgrl at 11:38 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

What about Physician's Assistant (PA) rather than CRNA? It's in high demand, it's busy and people-oriented, and you get a surprising amount of responsibility/patient care for about three years (I think) of study. You are vaguely supervised by an MD but not (I think) in the same way nurses are. I know a few PAs who are really pleased with their jobs, and the pay is great.
posted by caoimhe at 2:45 AM on February 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I already feel trapped sitting in front of a computer all day

If this is your main concern with your current job, do not become an NP or PA (or CRNA, but others have addressed that above, or MD but sounds like you'd ruled that out anyway).

This time-motion study focused on residents, but the numbers would be similar for any hospital-based mid-level: "Residents spent 364.5 minutes (50.6%) of their shift time using computers, compared with 67.8 minutes (9.4%) interacting with patients....Computer-based documentation activities amounted to 189.9 minutes (52.1%) of all computer-based activities time, with 128.7 minutes (35.3%) spent writing notes and 27.3 minutes (7.5%) reading notes composed by others."

That's ten years ago, and I can tell you that the ratio of time spent interacting with a screen vs human has worsened since.
posted by basalganglia at 4:03 AM on February 3, 2020

OK, so you’re willing to take 5 years to become a nurse anesthetist. Most of this would be boring and indoors. What about, instead, you make as much money as you can for the next five years, pare your lifestyle down a bit so you don’t need as much money to live on, and then become a part-time diving instructor and spend as much time as possible doing the stuff you really love?

If you’re not already familiar with the FIRE (Financial Independence/Early Retirement) concept, you might like it. Your Money Or Your Life is kind of the foundational text (now outdated in a lot of the specifics), and the Mr. Money Mustache community and FIRE subreddit can be good sources of info (they can also be good sources of assholes obsessing over every last dime, so YMMV).
posted by mskyle at 4:20 AM on February 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about teaching?

Pretty much the least boring job I’ve ever had. Depending on your appetite for excitement and intensity, there are tons of options.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:16 AM on February 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I came to suggest, depending on your age, joining the military to become a pilot or backseater, but it looks like you can't do that. Instead you should look into working with the military as either a federal civilian or contractor. You'll have to find the right jobs, but some are very hands-on in the aviation industry, and in some you get the opportunity to fly as crew. You would need an FAA physical but I think you can get that with celiac. The bigger contractors are more bureaucratic and less hands-on, so look for smaller ones, or ones that work directly with federal civilians and military on a base.

Not sure what your STEM degree is in, you would probably need an engineering degree but maybe not. Or you could look into being a tech (although they don't usually get to fly, but work very hands-on on aircraft). There are also a lot of safety jobs in the industry, but a lot of those are a bit more in the office and honestly pretty boring from my perspective.
posted by sillysally at 7:34 AM on February 3, 2020

My dad (single data point) moved from 30 years of construction (outside work) to working in a hospital as a LVN, and lasted only about 2 years before he went back outside to construction. The hours, the work was pretty repetitive, staring a computer, the pay, being indoors all day - none was good for him.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:00 AM on February 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I already feel trapped sitting in front of a computer all day -- engineering would only exacerbate that, right?

What about something like field service engineering/test engineering? It's hands on, technical, think-on-your-feet work that can take place in a lot of very interesting (and not-so-interesting) locales. There's a wide amount of work involved depending on what you're interested in - I've worked with field service guys (and honestly, they're mostly dudes) who have run flight tests, at-sea tests, managed installations of new hardware on aircraft, ran site offices, installed radars in really remote corners of the earth. It's interesting, varied, and challenging.

I thought about being a helicopter pilot, and trying to specialize in big lift operations, but the training programs are extremely expensive and the job market is fairly weak (from what I can tell) for new, inexperienced pilots.

Aviation is a tough nut to crack going in with no experience. Helicopter training is roughly 3x-5x as expensive as fixed wing (which is already pricey). Jobs like the one you're describing exist, but they are rare and generally require knowing someone. You're also going to be making close to minimum wage as a fresh commercial pilot while paying off six figures of training debt.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:12 PM on February 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Adventure-travel vlogger. Not kidding!
posted by Charity Garfein at 3:45 PM on February 3, 2020

I would have a look at some actual scuba professionals. I don't know anyone who did it as a full-time job until they'd been in the field for years and years part-time with a "real" job to pay the bills in the meantime. Divemasters, as far as I can tell, don't get paid at all except in free gas and discounted gear, but even instructors are taking in something under $100 per student for open-water certifications. And the commercial dive world is oil/gas dominated and very low paid given the fatality rate.
posted by wnissen at 5:16 PM on February 3, 2020

A friend of mine is a critical care nurse and recently took on a side job as a critical care transport nurse. Seems dramatic to me!
posted by SLC Mom at 6:15 PM on February 3, 2020

Well, I'll speak to the options in my field (outdoor rec). You could take a NOLS or Outward Bound instructor course to see if you like the atmosphere and culture, then consider aiming for a technical or medical certification for your career track. For a medical outdoor track, that would look like taking a Wilderness First Responder, then a Wilderness EMT, then completing a WFR Instructor course. It's not the biggest bucks, but it is dynamic, fun, and typically involves lot of travel.

Some friends have also gone the rock climbing guide route, which requires lots of hours of practice, but is increasing in demand. If you like systems and reading accident reports, that's a good career to be in.
posted by ajarbaday at 6:26 PM on February 3, 2020

I think the takeaway here is that career changes are hard, and probably I should stick with being a journey-level [trade redacted] and making six figures for now, perhaps push to get put back in the field so I can get away from my computer screen, and throw myself into my diving outside of work. It looks like pretty much any other career I'd make less money (after training, at least) and have less freedom than construction.
posted by octopodiatrist at 6:02 AM on February 5, 2020

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