‘Odd’ Jobs

by Sheep Farmer

The many different ways people make a living fascinates me. Most of us who read the Totebag have predictable jobs-lawyers, professors, engineers, etc,, but what I find interesting are the unique ways that people have found to make a living. For example, DH has a friend who is an apiarist. He makes his money not only from selling the honey and the beeswax. but also from selling bees to those who want to start their own hives. DD has a classmate whose dad has a business making large fiberglass sculptures for theme parks and other road side attractions. Totebaggers, what jobs do your friends and family have that you find most interesting? Do any of you have any unusual business ideas that you hope one day to pursue?

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85 thoughts on “‘Odd’ Jobs

  1. I was thinking about this as we ended yesterday’s posts. Over the years, I know four people who left the corporate world to become an event planner, massage therapist, pastor and a park ranger respectively. These are not “odd jobs” per se, but to Tote baggers they do appear to be out of the norm. The reaction to the event planning job was one of shocked surprise but we were assured that proper career counseling and job coaching had taken place prior to the switch. We as colleagues were satisfied that proper analysis had gone into the decision and our colleague had not gone off the deep end :-).

  2. I have relatives who run a retail company – they have built it up to a $4M/year in sales from a product that is made in China for 50 or 75 cents a pop. They were previously consultants.

    I have a few friends who are professional singers and professional choir directors. Most of them make very little money; one of the directors hit the jackpot in terms of having a regular job with good benefits, retirement plan, etc.

    Other than that, I have pretty totebaggy friends and family!

  3. My larger family has done a lot of non totebaggy things, if not exactly odd jobs. I have an uncle, now retired, and a cousin by marriage who are both cantors (vocally trained prayer leaders for Jewish congregations) – both were required to work unsuccessfully in (different) family businesses, but finally were able to pursue their calling. Other cousins (none with family money or reliance on spouse) — Sculptor and midwife. Full time Socialist party organizer. Airline mechanic. French horn player who used to tour with Yanni. Labor movement photographer. Luxury travel agent. Overseas relief worker (20 years in Romanian orphanages). Sister in law who usually doesn’t work, but when she did for a few years successfully, it was creating food displays for Walmart advertising and then training the Chinese to do it and thus put herself out of a contract.

  4. I’ve always been struck by how kids are at such a disadvantage because they are often ignorant of how many of the best paying jobs involve B2B goods and services rather than consumer goods and services. Things like database software, storage area networks, gas turbines, re-insurance, hedge funds, public accounting, management consulting, big law, etc.

  5. My dad’s family has done pretty well owning a variety of businesses. My aunt, who only went to secretarial school, opened her own insurance company 30 years ago, employed a decent number of family members over the years, and then sold it for several million and retired a few years ago. Her husband owned a garden center/landscaping company and did very well. I have another uncle who owned a sprinkler installation company and also owned rental houses. He retired about ten years ago and he splits his time between Cape Cod and Florida. My mother came from a very totebaggy family (dad was a dentist) but neither she nor her siblings have done well despite having paid for college educations and a decent amount of parental help. I don’t think any of my dad’s siblings went to college and some have been very successful, others have done fine and only one seems to be a little out there/not paying his own bills (out of 9 siblings).

  6. When I lived in France, I knew a lady who had ditched her high powered attorney job to raise goats. She sold fresh goat cheese for a living. This was long before this sort of thing became trendy, and in France of that era, artisal cheese was something dominated by old geezers from families who had been in the business for 100’s of years. I would ride my bike out in the countryside sometimes, and go through the dinky village where she had her farm. One day all her goats got out and were blocking the road in front of the village church.
    The cool thing was that we got her fresh cheese delivered in the morning.

  7. The male relatives on DH’s side all do weird little hobby jobs, like building craftsman furniture by hand. Only one has been successful, being one of only a handful of people in the United States who does the very obscure craft that he specializes in. He travels all over the country in fact. The rest of the guys are hobby level only. I always wonder about that side of the family. These guys are all in laws or cousins.

  8. There are million different jobs out there. There is someone who’s job is to name the paint colors at Sherwin Williams. There is a someone who picks all the carpet and interiors for the cars at Ford. Educational consultants seem like a growth market to me. I think the hardest thing for kids is finding out what all the different opportunities are.

  9. I know someone who is a “Flavor Developer” (actual job title) for Haagen Daz. She specializes in the European market. She has a food science degree from a local state school. She is working on her masters so that she can do more with the chemistry of the flavors.

  10. There are million different jobs out there.

    The coolest job I’ve ever heard of was I guy I met who did acceptance testing for British Airways. If BA bought a new Embraer, Boeing, Airbus, etc. he would head up the team that would put the aircraft through it’s paces to ensure all systems were working before BA formally took delivery. That would be AWESOME!

  11. One of my relatives was a pilot and mechanic. Besides shuttling people and cargo all over the Americas, he also “test drove” planes to help assess their condition. He’s told me a few harrowing stories. I was just chatting with him recently, and he now never flies commercial because he doesn’t trust most pilots. He’s a bit eccentric, actually like many other members of my family! :)

  12. he now never flies commercial because he doesn’t trust most pilots

    How does he explain that there hasn’t been a passenger fatality involving a regularly scheduled domestic airline in 6 years?

  13. He only seems to focus on anecdotes, and I have no interest in discussing it further with him because he talks my ear off as it is!

  14. I call this topic “Things they forgot to tell me about on Career Day”. Personally, I want to be the person who creates names for nail polish colors. I think they must do it drunk.

  15. “I think the hardest thing for kids is finding out what all the different opportunities are.”

    I agree, and I think the only way most will find out is after they are in the work force and gain some exposure. Some of these jobs may have a rather mundane title like CPA or marketing exec., but the actual work is not what many would consider to be mundane. I also agree that B2B services can encompass a whole unknown world of opportunities.

  16. RMS – I briefly thought I would like to write for the J. Peterman catalog, probably before the Seinfeld episodes. :) I also really like the color-name job, but not along the OPI punny line – more like the colors that have nothing to do with their names, like “Semaphore” or “Pulp”.

  17. “Personally, I want to be the person who creates names for nail polish colors. I think they must do it drunk.” @RMS, I bet they actually have a Masters Degree in product development or marketing, or color or something like that.

  18. I know of someone (friend of a friend) who started his own business baby-proofing houses. He charged quite a bit (like $1k for a multi-story house), but he’d then go and buy all of the materials and install everything from cabinet latches to gates. As I understand it, he’s now got a couple of employees and more work than he can handle.

    DH was shocked that people would pay that much, but after spending hours struggling to install the top-of-stairs gate, he totally understood why!

  19. My family has historically included lots of hog farmers but now includes more teachers and engineers. I don’t know any attorneys in person, though I know one person married to an attorney. Probably the most unusual good job is environmental consultant for mining companies. Mr. WCE’s uncle helped western mining companies ensure they were complying with federal clean air standards. He put 150,000 miles on his two business pickup trucks within the first year after purchase.

    Rhett’s comments about equipment testing for British Airways and optical sorting interested me. My brother designs and tests missile anti-defense systems and another acquaintance got out of helicopter work when several of his colleagues were killed in a crash. I find installing most optical sorters very dull (tweak this algorithm so it can identify characters/defects on as many backgrounds as possible) but one case looked interesting. I was touring a potato chip plant with SWE. Previously, they had hired low-wage workers to pull out the overdone/miscolored chips, but they had recently installed a system that identified and flipped overdone/miscolored chips off the assembly line. The whole factory (bulk potato delivery, bulk potato washing, bulk fryer oil delivery and filtration, bulk potato slicing, bulk potato frying, flavoring, quality assurance, packaging and warehousing) all interested me. That isn’t surprising, because I remember as a kid enjoying the family tour of the dog food plant my Dad worked in.

    And I concur with Rhett about business-to-business being the place to do interesting work.

  20. Another airline related occupation – a good friend of mine developed the algorithms for intelligently choosing which flights to cancel during weather and other events, for a major airline. She has a PhD in systems engineering. Evidently, it is a mathematically hard problem.

  21. Oh, man. I have to admit it. I have a friend from law school (really) who owns one of those upscale strip clubs in Houston.

    I also know a fair number of actors and actresses, dancers and directors from my NYC days. A couple have had real success, but that is tough.

    The best job I know, though, is to be a judge. It is very hard to get fired and you can be really dumb and lazy (or not, but it is easier to be both dumb and lazy).

  22. The software company where I worked for many years was B2B. They sold their software to major banks, telcos, NYSE, and lots of other large businessese. At one point the CEO decided we would build a consumer application. Major fail.

  23. Previously, they had hired low-wage workers to pull out the overdone/miscolored chips, but they had recently installed a system that identified and flipped overdone/miscolored chips off the assembly line.

    I was watching America’s Test Kitchen and they were trying to answer the age of question: Dried beans or canned beans. They spoke to someone at Goya who indicated that they use optical sorters to inspect and sort each individual bean.

    I find installing most optical sorters very dull

    I was thinking more of the ones that use puffs of air to knock defective beans out of the way mid-flight.

    Oh, and canned beans are better.

  24. I knew that I wanted to work with money, but I didn’t even know my future product existed when I started in a bank training program after college. Even the totebaggy jobs in finance have lots of different products or careers.

    I have a friend that created a job of helping people select paint colors for their homes. She doesn’t offer any other decorating services, and she is fairly busy.

  25. Yet another friend was a filmmaker for many years. She made these weird cult arthouse sci-fi flicks, and was semi successful at it. After about 15 years, though, she chucked it all and went to law school. Now she is a successful ambulance chaser.

  26. I have a cousin whose job was analyzing airline disasters. Our business is B2B. We sell to processors or brokers. B2C seems to have an awful lots of transactions with relatively small payoffs.

    By the way, we work with a lot of beekeepers.

  27. I have a friend whose kid got lice at daycare. The daycare provider paid someone $90/hour to come to the daycare to inspect and treat the kids with lice.

  28. Nap, that isn’t a bad deal for lice. The lice ladies in my area have higher fees. They’re so busy right now due to camp and school that they’re asvertuding for help on my local FB moms page.

  29. My family (aunts/uncles/cousins) has several teachers, plus a lawyer, a financial adviser, a doctor and a nurse. The rest of us are engineers, and I think we’ve all had some interesting jobs. I enjoyed my former career designing site plans for new buildings, but I also think the new niche I’ve found on the business end of university research is really cool and something most people have never heard about. My uncle is a farmer with a degree in agricultural engineering. Another engineer uncle (originally an aerospace engineer who got into manufacturing) worked in a plant that made the film for Doritos bags, and my brother’s plant makes the cardboard cup sleeves for Starbucks (he’s a materials engineer).

  30. As an aside, we a growing a new for us crop this year, and harvest started today. I’m just excited and wanted to share.

  31. I have an acquaintance whose DD is a sommelier. Not exactly sure what she does, but she did have to take lots of classes and pass a very difficult test to earn that title.

  32. SF,

    This is a really good documentary about the test. They call it the hardest test you’ve never heard of.

  33. When my youngest was in preschool, one of the preschool dads was a chef. I didn’t think much of it – after all, the other class mom that year was married to a pizzeria owner, so I pictured something like that. We got invited to the kid’s birthday party, and it turned out it was in the dad’s restaurant, which is in Manhattan. And then I found out that the dad has a cookbook, was a contestant on Next Iron Chef, is a Food & WIne Magazine Star chef and has been on the Today Show and other shows many times. I have a photo of my DD being served at the bar by this would-be Iron Chef. For us adults, it was the best kiddie birthday party EVER. It featured a roast suckling pig, head and all, lots of fancy appetizers, and really good wine. The kids had spaghetti and meatballs (gourmet of course) and made cupcakes. Yum!

  34. I have a cousin who is a speaker on environmental issues, and a frequent lobbyist. I know that’s not unusual to people who live in the DC area, but it’s interesting to me. My siblings are a TV writer and a children’s book author, and my SIL is an actress. For a while my husband made custom motorcycle parts for racers and other one-off and prototype things for hobbyists. I’ve mentioned before that at one time he was a test subject for the FAA testing emergency equipment on planes.

    A childhood family friend who is very successful now initially said he was in commercial insurance. I was interested and asked a lot of questions,and subsequently found out he owns a couple of strip clubs, but wasn’t comfortable telling my parents that.

    I also have a couple of friends who do hobby type stuff, but I’m not sure if it’s something you could support yourself with – designing custom greeting cards, making jewelery, and selling art/teaching art classes. Oh yeah, and one does reiki.

  35. I went through high school with a bunch of kids of representatives, senators and diplomats. The kid with the dad with the best job was White House Chef. My dad also knew the co-pilot of AF-1, although I can’t recall ever meeting him.

  36. “They call it the hardest test you’ve never heard of.”

    I’ve heard the actuary tests are pretty hard.

  37. A former boss’ boss was a statistician; even though he went into management, he was still the statistical subject matter expert in our organization and consulted on design and interpretation of experiments. I think he had a PhD in math.

    A college classmate with an MS in math also worked as a statistician, for a biotech company.

  38. I have an acquaintance who is a sommelier, he runs a local wine shop in Louisville

  39. Two relatives went to culinary school. Both were good presenters and got jobs teaching college in the culinary arts. One has opened a catering business on the side and still continues to teach. The other is now retired but pre internet his wife owned a travel agency and together they seemed to make a decent enough living. On retirement from the travel agency, the wife went back to school completed her doctorate and has got a couple of speaking engagements lined up in the Far East. So, now both travel when she has these engagements. She still has connections/knowledge from her travel agency days so they end up staying at some great hotels.

  40. What jobs would people have if they could have any job? Commercial aircraft acceptance tester would be mine.

  41. Two of my relatives were race car drivers, and one owned a track.

    Two other relatives recently retired from psychiatric social work, not really unusual but a field very distant from the world I’m most familiar with. Both are very happy not to have to deal with the pain and anxiety associated with their former line of work. One of them may start working as a hunting/fishing guide, and the other is considering match-maker and/or career consulting, both happier applications of his background experience.

  42. Two people I know lead guided tours. One leads specialized tours on the lines of “tour the area and spend time with traditional carpet weavers”.

  43. Finn, we have two master sommeliers. The term “sommelier” by itself might not mean anything more than “person in charge of wine for a restaurant”.

  44. An aunt had a dual career as oceanographic tech while at sea and artist (as in actual sales to non-family-members) while on land. She retired from the oceanographic tech part a few years ago but I don’t think she’ll ever stop the artist part. They also raise llamas, but afaik that’s not a paying gig.

  45. Friends of a family member raised llamas, until a messy divorce that ended up with the wife alone out in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of llamas to care for. In the middle of winter. It was not pretty.

    911 dispatcher — after getting a humanities degree he went to work for the city and now he’s a manager there.

  46. Fred, if you’re around today, I sent you an e-mail.

    CoC — I guess you can’t readily split up the llamas.

  47. My cousin is the regional rep for a beer company. It’s been a dream job for him.

  48. WCE, does your brother work on ground-based or ship-based missile defense?

  49. Well, his tests are all in planes that take off from the ground, but I don’t know if there’s a reason the planes couldn’t take off from an aircraft carrier. He can’t talk much about what he does (and fluidics modeling is pretty boring anyway) but he did tell us that due to a government data breach, all of us had the personal information he supplied on his security clearance released.

    I think that poor security/security breaches would be much more disturbing if I didn’t have such a boringly stable family. One of my siblings once accidentally changed something on the other’s 401(k) account because they have consecutive social security numbers and the same mother’s maiden name. Sibling 1 accidentally entered sibling 2’s social security number.

  50. My husband used to lead bike tours for a high-end active-travel company. He loved that job. The pay was pretty good, once you factored in the tips from guests.

    What job would I choose if I could have any job? Principal Dancer at a major ballet company.

  51. CoC, DH has a BIL whose hobby job involves the race car business. BIL’s brother is a driver.

  52. Principal Dancer at a major ballet company.

    That would be my ideal hidden talent or amazing random fact about myself*. Sort like Ina Garten’s husband being in the special forces (IIRC he was a Green Beret). I always wanted something like that. Or this guy:

    Currently a Hollywood super lawyer and he also played Chunk in the movie The Goonies. Some random fact that would come out at a party and people would be like – WHAT?!?

    * I don’t have any hidden talents or amazing random facts about myself – but I sure would like some!

  53. Sort of like finding out that PTM stared as Richie Petrie on the Dick van Dyke show or something.

  54. What? Jeffrey was in the Special Forces? I never in a million years would have though that.

  55. What? Jeffrey was in the Special Forces?

    He also served in the United States Army from 1968 to 1972, holding the rank of Lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division and Captain and aide-de camp to the commanding general of the US Special Forces. In 1971 he was an adviser to the Royal Thai Army.

    I seem to recall Green Beret but I’m not sure all the details.

  56. Rhett–To clarify, there are actually thousands of sommeliers in the world but very few Master Somms (the designation awarded for passing the test showcased in the documentary).

  57. Amazing. Based on what I’ve seen of him on Barefoot Contessa he didn’t seem like the type. Then again, I have no idea what that type should be. A friend of mine was on submarines as a diver and he played football in college….he is not a tiny guy.

    What job would I choose if I could have any job? – Librarian or Detective

  58. Based on what I’ve seen of him on Barefoot Contessa he didn’t seem like the type.

    The element of surprise always served him well presumably.

  59. Rhett, that is actually something I’ve thought about. Thanks for the link. I loved Rape of Europa, Woman in Gold, and the shortrun Treasure Detectives on CNBC.

  60. Rhett – my family (ds and dh particularly) loved the movie Somm – you can almost make fun in a Portlandia kind of way of the analysis they have to do…..”this wine is from Australia, from the southern region, close to both a sheep farm and a cherry orchard, near the mouth of the Cowra River”.

    There was an article in the paper several years ago about a private detective firm in the Bay Area, and how the guy hired mom-types to work for him. A middle-aged, casually dressed upper-middle class woman is pretty invisible – we even had the most ubiquitous of cars at the time: a red Honda CRV. I definitely gave it some thought!

    Dream job: radio DJ or a writer for All My Children!

  61. Wasn’t Julia Child a spy on the side ? Speaking of B2B and spies, I dealt with a sales group which sold financial products to businesses. One sales douche (female) would come back from whatever conference, seminar or similar shindig full of information about competitor strategy. It was quite a fun group to work with.

  62. My fantasy job was beat sportswriter for the local professional baseball team.

  63. My fantasy job would either be to be a super-successful pro dancer or figure skater (What would Brian Boitano do?), a Broadway star, or (less exotic) a personal shopper.

  64. Rhett-I watched the trailer of the movie that you posted and then I looked to see if the DD of my acquaintance is in it; she is not, but one of the sommeliers listed is named Emily Wines.

  65. Julia Child worked for the OSS during WWII, as a researcher/data analyst sort of person. She was posted to Sri Lanka, and later, Yunnan Province in China. SHe met her husband while serving, and started her love of good food in those years.

  66. WCE, yes! I love all of the sports/odd couple/unlikely hero movies. Save the Last Dance, etc. I even watched the really terrible Disney movie “Ice Princess”. Have also seen Center Stage like 20 times.

  67. I’ve been to a wine tasting led by one of the guys in Somm. It was one of the more informative tastings that I’ve been to.

  68. I love hearing about different kinds of jobs. Because of my my parents’ inability to manage money, I was driven to be self-sufficient and valued security above most everything else. My accounting degree has provided very well in that regard. Happily, I found a company that likes to develop finance staff by moving us around to support different businesses, so I get some variety that way.

    Do any of you listed to the podcast named Working by Slate? Today on the way to and from work, I listened to episodes about a bail bondsman, a comedy writer/director/producer that works with Will Ferrell and Funny Or Die, and a UN official who managed relief operations in Haiti and organized their Ebola response.

  69. I remembered another one. A guy who played our mascot as part of the cheerleading team when I was in college recently retired from being a professional sports team’s mascot. He’s just an acquaintance so I don’t know him well enough to ask, “What does one do after 20 years of wearing a costume and acting silly for a living?”

  70. I was a white water raft guide on extended wilderness trips when I was in college. I loved it and always thought I would some how get back to it when I was sine training. I loved the outfitter I worked for- thought he had the best job.

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