Ask the grumpies: What would your alternate career be?

Lisa asks:

What would your first choice of alternative career be?

If I had a great answer, I’d probably bail and do it instead. But if I had tons of money and was looking for an alternative career, I’d want to do something philanthropic like run a leper hospital in India (did anyone else read that article in the NYTimes?) or work to reform long term elder care or something.

#1:  Realistically, probably a high school math teacher someplace unionized that pays a lot.  If I had tons of money I would have to do philanthropy or politics but I wouldn’t enjoy it.  I might actually enjoy being like a Headstart teacher or something (I am very good at teaching small kids and the more you do when they’re smaller, the bigger the benefit), but there’s no money in that, and I certainly don’t want to be a daycare teacher for no money.  It is not a dream or vocation, but if it paid as well as my current job I might consider it.

#2:  Got me.  We’ve joked about me being a night nanny because I love babies and staying up late, but that’s something I could do but haven’t.

Natka Says:

Unrealistic: I would be a full-time writer of science fiction :) Slightly more realistic: speech therapist. But I like my job and I like the money I am making, so no plans for career change here!


25 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: What would your alternate career be?”

  1. Mike Nitabach Says:

    Short-track speed skating!

  2. Cynthia Says:

    Great question! I retired early so I could have a second career. And, if I’m being honest, I don’t consider myself retired. I prefer self-tenured. Now I write. Like you, I write a blog. I’d love to say that it’s read by tens of thousands. It’s not. But it is definitely read by tens!

  3. Steph Says:

    The other two majors I was considering as I started college were geology and library science. My college didn’t actually have a library science major, but I was thinking about a path towards an MLS and I looked into science librarianship for grad school.

    I don’t think I would switch careers to either of those now, but I get to interact regularly with the library and with geology colleagues now, so it’s close enough for me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I spent a lot of time in grad school looking at the local MLS degree. Still, not a fan of people in the concrete (as opposed to the abstract) so probably not the best choice for me.

      • bookishbiker Says:

        I got my MLS and was a public librarian for a while. But I liked it best before the people showed up, could foresee the pay would not be enough to let me be a single homeowner, didn’t like the regular night & weekend hours, and knew job options would be very limited if I wanted to be in charge of where I lived. So I went back to technology and have been happy with the earnings & quality of life.

        If I could be a financial advisor or money counselor without having to get a painfully difficult certification, and without actually being a salesperson, that might have been my alternate career.

  4. bogart Says:

    Ooh. So, 2 things that interest me and that I have worked toward a tiny bit (for pay, as a volunteer, and in my own living spaces) are affordable housing, and accessible housing. So as I approach a point where I could consider retiring and/or cutting back my professional commitments (e.g. going part time), I am asking myself if/whether I want to get involved in these areas. The affordable part is easier — I could readily volunteer with Habitat around here, for example — though given my earning power (not huge, but not trivial) there is part of me that thinks the most useful thing I can do is just rack up earnings and donate it in good places. That this is actually more useful than being a middle-aged woman with limited skills in the construction realm, working on job sites. I do realize there are other ways to volunteer where my skills would be useful (advocating, organizing, fund raising) but am not sure I’m willing to engage with other humans enough to do those.

    The affordable/accessible goals are somewhat at odds, which is unfortunate as of course lack-of-resources and need-for-accessibility overlap — disability and poverty are positively correlated. But I haven’t figured out what if anything I want to/could do about reducing the extent to which the valuable work many in my community are already doing on affordable housing doesn’t consider the accessibility angle.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah my FIL was telling us last night about the dramas of his hunting organization which sound eerily similar to the dramas at my sisters chosen progressive organization. People man.

    • Matthew D Healy Says:

      Unfortunately, the only scalable solution for affordable housing, which isn’t likely to happen, would be to eviscerate the political clout of NIMBY opposition to building more housing close to jobs and good transit.

      NYC has a very interesting exception that shows what would be possible in the absence of NIMBY opposition: neighborhoods with high local concentrations of Orthodox Jewish people have MANY new privately built apartments because being in walking distance of the synagogue is important. They have enough local clout to overcome the NIMBYS. Each apartment has a balcony, and the balconies are arranged so that nobody’s balcony is directly under another balcony because to celebrate Sukkot they need open sky overhead.

      • bogart Says:

        Interesting. I’m definitely thinking of making a difference on the margin, not solving the problem in a systematic way — to the extent that I think about engaging in it at all.

  5. CG Says:

    Have thought about this so many times and actually seriously considered quitting and apprenticing myself to our plumber when I was on the tenure track. I think being an architect or a builder would be incredibly satisfying. The plumber option was temporarily interesting, partly because our plumber was such a great guy and enjoyed teaching me about what he was doing. But I don’t think there would be enough variety in that to keep me interested long-term.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m really not into the sewage aspect…

      • CG Says:

        Yeah, definitely a drawback.

      • Debbie M Says:

        An ex-boyfriend of mine worked in the Florida Everglades, noticed all the people with good pay had master’s degrees, and so got a master’s in environmental engineering (where I met him). He wanted to work with water and ended up working with waste water! (I toured sewage treatment plants with him!) He’s actually been in a boat in waste water, I think from a paint factory.

        Yeah, when you get a job in something, you have to work with the worst of it (as well as the fun parts, hopefully).

  6. teresa Says:

    So after watching the Great Pottery Throwdown I kind of want to be a potter. Sadly I totally lack both creativity and any kind of artistic skill.

    In terms of things I could do with my actual education and training- the WHO Sexual and Reproductive Health division has a subgroup that works on reducing unsafe abortion and increasing global access to safe abortion and modern contraception. I’m way better at synthesizing other people’s research and telling people how to implement changes than I am at doing my own. If I wasn’t doing actual patient care that would be a cool job to have. Except you probably have to do a lot of writing, which I don’t love.

  7. Lisa Says:

    Lots of interesting ideas here! Architecture is one I have also considered, I love the creativity aspect but not the client requiring aspect. I have a friend from high school who is a professional potter. I don’t think it’s as glamorous as it may seem, and in addition to the artistic skill it requires a high people tolerance to see your wares at farmer’s markets and the like. Like others, I have considered advocacy/policy angles. I don’t have enough experience to know whether I’d enjoy that or be any good at it, though. I have some interest in administration at a SLAC (a well-funded one!). I have considerable interest in DEI work in the academic realm, but haven’t been willing to fully commit to that yet. If I were starting over again, I’d seriously consider something like Mohs surgery where I could make a TON of money fairly quickly and retire young.

    • CG Says:

      Yeah, I don’t actually know how good I’d be at dealing with clients. Especially entitled or cranky ones.

    • teresa Says:

      Yeah I think it really just seems like working with clay and a wheel would be very soothing. I would not actually like a job that took that kind of people interaction. So I guess I just think it would be a fun hobby, and really, I could absolutely try it out. Maybe if there’s ever a post-pandemic…

  8. Debbie M Says:

    Ideal: working with teachers designing fun educational materials.

    Actual backup job for the first half of my working life: grocery store cashier

    Side jobs I’ve done: transcriptionist for social workers, election worker.

  9. xykademiqz Says:

    What I want to do has changed over years. When I was young, I wanted to be an MD, but then I fell in love with math and physics, but definitely did not with biology (folks who taught were pretty awful). I’ve always liked drawing and writing; I’ve also always been good at acquiring foreign languages, and loved grammar in particular. I think I’d have enjoyed being a linguist; linguistics strikes me as the math of language. I’d have liked being an editor or a translator; I’d have liked being an artist or a sculptor. But I have this talent for math and physics that would’ve been foolish not to pursue as related careers are so lucrative. However, I have to admit I am tired of the drab social aspect of working in STEM. Everyone is cerebral and socially low-skilled and everything is just so…beige. Most of my colleagues don’t have no particular interests or hobbies; they work and raise families and that’s it. I’ve done that, too, for such a long time, and living without the color that art and whimsy bring into life has made me really miserable. I would love to have a career that combines math, physics, arts, and some nice people who have a life. Oh, and it should pay well. Yeah, I know — that career doesn’t exist. So I keep my R1 professorial career, and I am building my creative writing portfolio. I’ve made a little bit of money selling short fiction, but I would like to sell some novels for some serious money. In the unlikely event I hit it big with writing, I might retire and pursue that full time, but chances of that happening are minuscule. In any case, I still have like 20 years till retirement, and I’m not going to wait till then to pursue my other passions.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sounds like you want to move to the media lab at MIT!

      • First Gen American Says:

        Wow. I have to say I’ve had the opposite experience with engineers. My former company used to be great at recruiting. Maybe I’ve been exposed to the cherry picked versions of them. But I know many well traveled, well spoken, bilingual tech people with many many hobbies, driven by a thirst for learning new stuff. It was the finance crowd that was a snooze fest in my sphere.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I suspect it’s academics at an extremely good R1 who are dull. I certainly am! And my DH has lots of interesting hobbies.

  10. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    Preface to say that after I wrote all these, I think none of these are truly alternate careers because I don’t believe I could make a real living from them. My “alternate” was my first choice until I realized I’d never make it through the science courses with my flimsy grounding in chemistry and org chem and also when I realized that I didn’t like the financial prospects of being a veterinarian (run your own small biz, or be part of a shitty corp). I’m still sad I can’t spend most of my day with animals but I changed majors for a reason.

    If I were any good at it, I would love to be a writer of fiction that I love to read but since I’m not, I’ll settle for enjoying all the books that are out and are coming out.

    I’d like to work in the library shelving books but not dealing with patrons. I also loved working at the animal shelter but I don’t know how long my heart could stand it.

    It seems to make sense to be a financial advisor to some people but I have a weird thing about not wanting to actually advise people.

    Any alternate career would have to make more money and require less contact with people than I have now.

  11. First Gen American Says:

    I am really good at problem solving of all kinds. I do a lot of coaching but it’s always free. The couple of former colleagues who now do it for money are kind of douchey or as my 16 year old would say “cringe”.

    It’s pretty fun helping people figure out when they can retire. There are folks out there who have a hard time visualizing math. A friend said it was super helpful to be told you need $x in cash to bridge you to 65. To PF geeks like us it seems like simple math but it’s so overwhelming for some to break things down.

    For now, I’m seeing if doing something similar at a new place will do the trick.

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