NEW YORK (MainStreet)There are about as many different ways to make money as there are people who make it. For most of us, getting a job comes through traditional sources like a career services office or Monster.com, but for a few people that's not good enough. Some people decide to blaze a trail. They spend hours in their garage or dorm room building the next big thing and burst onto the scene to give us Facebook or Microsoft or Thomas Edison's light bulb.
This story isn't about them. This article is about everyone else, the people who stray way, way off the beaten path. In honor of all those odd, wonderful, truly weird workers out there, here are eight (but by no means all) of the strangest ways to make a living from around the world:
#1. Professional Starcraft Player
There are a few different ways to make a living playing video games, but none of them quite captures the magic of clicking your way to success like Starcraft.
Starcraft is a real-time strategy game released by Blizzard Entertainment back in 1998. In it you control the armies of one of three interstellar races to try and bring the swift boot (or claw or psychic lance) of justice down on your enemy's neck, by annihilating him and anything he ever was foolish enough to love. If you're on the Internet, you've probably heard of it. It sold well in America.
It became a phenomenon in South Korea.
Organized leagues sprang up, and the game became a high-paying spectator sport. In 2005, a professional Starcraft match filled the 120,000 seat stadium in the Korean city of Busan. That's more people than have ever shown up for a college football game in the United States.
Like any sport, getting to the pros is brutally competitive and incredibly difficult, but for the few who make it to the top there's the ultimate prize: they get to play video games for a living.
#2. Volcano Cleaner
This job isn't quite as much fun, but I can assure you it's all too real.
On the island of Java, there's a large volcano called Mount Bromo (or Gunung Bromo in Indonesian). Back when it was particularly active, the volcano created the giant crater it sits in called simply "The Sand Sea." Happily that name is a lie; the valley is made of mostly ash.
Today the volcano is dormant enough that visitors can climb right to the top and stare down into the bubbling pit of sulfur at its heart. At the foot of the long climb, a man sells dried bundles of flowers which you can throw down the long inner slope as a traditional offering to the volcano.
Inside that slope, a steep wall of pure sand inside the volcano itself, another man wanders up and down from the rim to the sulfur pit collecting the bundles that don't quite make it. Later, he brings them back down to the foot of the mountain so that his partner can resell them to more tourists. This is the way he makes a living.
As a professional volcano cleaner.
#3. Outsourced Personal Assistant
It seems like everything can go to India these days, including the personal assistant.
In and of itself, working as someone's personal assistant isn't a particularly unusual job. Lots of people are busy, and many of them hire someone on to help out with the day-to-day. It's common enough even to become a trope in TV and movies, the harried assistant trailing behind his or her Very Important Person (both of whom will inevitably learn a valuable lesson as the film goes on). Usually, however, everyone gets to meet face-to-face.
Enter Tasks Everyday, a service that promises to offshore the personal assistant business and render it totally digital. Working for Tasks Everyday and companies like it means having someone do all the work of a personal assistant without any of the "personal." Clients contact you by e-mail, and you arrange the details of the life of somebody you've never met.
Maybe someday this will be the norm, but for now, I'm putting it at solid number three.
#4. Crocodile Wrangler
Crocodiles eat people. For the duration of this entry I strongly encourage you to remember this one, very important fact: crocodiles very happily eat people. In fact, go ahead and consider that a general life lesson.
In several parts of the world people raise crocodiles and even alligators for their leather, meat and even as tourist attractions. Conditions differ, from the pit-and-net solution of many southeast Asian farms to the sturdy fence used at places like Australia's Koorana Farm. However no matter where you work, the essential duties remain the same: feed, contain and care for enormous, carnivorous, highly aggressive reptiles.
Working as a farmer under ordinary circumstances is difficult, sometimes dangerous, time consuming work, but what about when your herd consists of 16-foot reptiles with jaw strength second only to the tyrannosaurus rex?
Then you get listed as one of the strangest jobs in the world, because that's the only way to describe the decision to raise dinosaur throwback murder lizards in your backyard.
"The art of coopering dates back centuries, and the basic trade has remained unchanged. Coopering requires skill, intelligence, and strength. The tools of the trade are often handed down for generations." The Colonial Williamsburg Almanac.
Coopers were colonial barrel makers, putting together casks for flour, tobacco, water and anything else that needed storing. Since the Industrial Revolution we tend not to make many things by hand anymore, and barrels have mostly fallen out of use. However there's one place where the old-fashioned coopers still ply their trade: Colonial Williamsburg.
At the historic recreation town, the coopers don't just play around for the crowd's amusement. They continue to make and sell working barrels using the same tools from 400 years ago, showing up for work and putting on their aprons to do a job that's been handed down for hundreds of years. The town may be fake, but the job is absolutely real, and these guys put out a finished product at the end of each day's work. It's a living, but not a normal one.
#6. Professional Sleeper
Entry number six right after I finish taking a nap...
Professional sleepers are folks who make their living off of medical experiments. In this case, however, I'm not talking about $20 and a doughnut from the campus psychology lab. For the pros, real money comes from the NASA Bed Rest Study, where they'll pay up to $17,000 to someone willing to simply lie in bed for 90 days. First day orientation doesn't get much easier than that.
From an article covering this experiment in Wired, "[p]articipants will spend 90 days lying in bed, (except for times for specific tests) with their body tilted slightly downward (head down, feet up). Every day they will be awake for 16 hours and lights out (asleep) for 8 hours." In other words, more than $5,000 a month for lying in bed.
Still, this isn't without its risks. Lying immobile for that long actually can have pretty serious consequences to your health, including muscle and bone loss that may never fully return. It's not something to do lightly, but nonetheless plenty of people still try it. Who would have thought the professional nappers would have it tougher than the crocodile wranglers?
On 424 E. 9th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, in New York City is a witch's shop. Enchantments, owned and run by professional spell caster Stacy Rapp, bills itself as New York City's oldest occult store. As the owner of Enchantments, Rapp "sells potion ingredients, incense, Wiccan books and carved candles for ready-made spells," for which she earns around $50,000 a year.
Rapp says that she's been practicing her art for her entire life, but only took over the store in 2003. As owner and operator, she prepares spells based on customer requests, most often in the form of custom carved candles.
It's not often that someone can actually sell magic in this age, or any other for that matter. Whether Rapp's customers come by because they genuinely believe in her art or just want to try something new, it's an extraordinary way to make a living.
#8. Human Scarecrow
When some people graduate from college they move back in with their parents, others get a job down at the local Starbucks. Some people, however, go in a different direction altogether and decide to become a human scarecrow.
After U.K.-native Jamie Fox graduated from Bangor University, he took a job with a local farm, scaring partridges away from a field of oilseed rape with nothing more than his trusty accordion and a cowbell. According to the owner of the field, Fox is far and away the most successful deterrent he's ever had to birds eating his crop, saving thousands of dollars worth of seed from being eaten. For his efforts, Fox collects £250 (or about $390) per week.
As to the job itself, Fox was positive: "It's not a bad job. I've read some books and listened to a few podcasts. A couple of my friends in busier, more generously-paid jobs, are slightly envious."
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.