Despite what most of us learn growing up, the college-to-career track simply isn’t suitable for everyone. Some people prefer freelancing their way through life, pursuing whatever passion excites them most at the time, rather than settling into a 30-year career plan. Even so, we can all appreciate the flexibility afforded by financial freedom, and even the happiest of wanderers still needs to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Fortunately, many of the most unusual jobs and occupations out there today — those fit for a special breed of free-spirited individual — can actually provide a strong safety net in terms of steady income.
If you’re looking for an adventurous alternative to the 9-to-5 grind, check out these seven unusual professions that can pay incredibly well.
1. Golf Ball Diver
If you’ve ever hit the links for 18 holes, you’ve probably sent a few expensive golf balls sinking to a watery grave. Even the game’s greats are known to make a splash down in the water hazard from time to time, and if it wasn’t for treasure hunters like Dick Smith of Midwest Diving Specialists, golf course ponds all across America would soon be overflowing with shanks and slices.
Smith, who was featured in a profile by ESPN.com back in 2006, estimates that more than 200 million golf balls are splashed down each year. As a professional golf ball diver, Smith and others like him don scuba suits and head down into the depths to retrieve buckets upon buckets of these lost balls. As a reward, golf ball divers can routinely earn $50,000 annually, with the best in the business taking home $100,000 per year through retrieval and resale of their sunken treasures.
If you’ve always had a refined palate and preferred a nice glass of burgundy over a bottle of Bud Light, becoming a sommelier could be the perfect way to turn your good taste into great pay.
Sommeliers work in the fine dining industry, assisting customers in selecting the right bottle to pair with their meal, while carefully curating a restaurant’s revolving menu of varietals.
You can become a certified sommelier by taking a six-month course, and the best in the business can easily take home over $80,000 per year.
3. Poker Player
Some average Joes have proven that you can play poker online for money and turn that into a big tournament payday. In 2003, an anonymous accountant by the name of Chris Moneymaker did just that, turning a fistful of dollars into a $2.5 million prize as the winner of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.
It’s been more than a decade since the “poker boom” launched by Moneymaker’s miraculous win and ESPN’s wall-to-wall coverage, but even so you’ll find poker rooms across the country packed with avid players.
With the 2016 WSOP underway in Las Vegas, another unlikely champion has put poker in the news once again. As a 29-year old finance professor at the University of Arizona, Mitchell Towner says he played the game only once or twice a year during his doctoral studies. Even so, Towner outlasted more than 6,900 opponents to win the $1,500 buy-in Monster Stack event at the WSOP, earning $1.12 million and a gold bracelet in the process.
Along with other first-time-entrants-turned-big-time winners, like Shankar Pillai and Hung Lee, Towner proved that playing poker can be quite the lucrative pastime.
4. Waterslide Tester
Nothing beats the thrill of heading to the waterpark on a hot summer day and taking as many trips as you can down the steepest, curviest waterslides. But for adults trying to earn a living, spending your days sliding into the pool and splashing around doesn’t exactly sound like a viable career option. Unless you’re Seb Smith, that is.
Back in 2013, the U.K.-based resorts marketer First Choice issued a public notice to fill one of the company’s most coveted positions: full-time waterslide tester. Smith beat out more than 2,000 other applicants to secure the dream job, and today he earns about $32,000 per year to travel the world and test out SplashWorld’s waterslide system.
5. IMAX Screen Cleaner
When you sit down to catch a flick in an IMAX theater, the main draw is obviously the massive screen on which the film is projected. And while these huge 72-by-52-foot IMAX screens are perfect for showcasing special effects and superb cinema in spectacular fashion, they’re also great at attracting dust and dirt.
Just like your television screen at home, the standard IMAX screen is eventually coated in a thin layer of airborne particles and other grime. But instead of balling up some paper towels to address the problem, IMAX theater owners rely on special screen cleaners to get the job done.
For an average annual salary of $45,000, members of an IMAX screen cleaning team climb tall ladders and wield vacuum-like devices to remove the usual dust and debris, along with Gummy bears, spit wads, and other oddities which tend to accumulate on them.
6. Food Truck Operator
The food truck fad of a few years back may not be driving full steam ahead any longer, but competent cooks capable of carving out a niche for themselves can still make a great living.
Depending on your locale and the level of demand there, opening up a food truck can be a great way to combine your culinary skills with an entrepreneurial spirit. Rather than taking the risk which comes with opening a full-fledged restaurant, first-time food truck owners can make a relatively small gamble. If things don’t work out, the truck and equipment can be resold to recoup losses, but if your food finds an audience, food truck ownership can easily produce a six-figure salary.
7. Video Game Tester
Growing up, many of us had dreams of being paid to play Nintendo games all day, battling Bowser and saving the Princess in exchange for a paycheck.
Today, with major companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Apple investing heavily in the gaming industry, demand for video game testers continues to grow. Offering an hourly wage which averages between $12 and $18 per hour, companies like EA Games devote entire teams of testers to their Quality Assurance department.
There’s no need to resign yourself to a well-paid job you dislike or take a massive pay-cut for a dream position that means you practically go pro bono. If up until this point you’ve struggled to put your finger on a profession that makes you happy, rest assured there are plenty of unconventional jobs out there that offer great opportunities to learn, grow, have fun, and be more than reasonably remunerated.
Featured photo credit: Flickr via flickr.com