Unconventional Career Paths for Unconventional Fireballs

Unconventional Careers

I have to say I let out a little (or a big) “Hurrah!” when I read Amanda’s post on Monday about why corporate jobs are shams. This is because I myself believe this 117%. It’s why I left my own corporate job in May to pursue my writing and editing full-time.

Some people just aren’t cut out for the 9-5 world. They need more freedom and independence than a standard employee handbook allows them. They get bored doing the same tasks over and over again and can’t stand having a boss peering over their shoulders.

Others don’t mind doing the traditional job thing—and there’s nothing wrong with that; to each his own. But they’re coming to realize (as Amanda’s post also pointed out) that in today’s ever-fluctuating economy, there’s no such thing as job security anymore.

Either way, one thing is clear: more and more people, for a variety of reasons, are choosing to pursue unconventional career paths. Whether you want the power to determine your own hours, pay, and work-life balance or you want something other than a system that’s looking less and less stable, the good news is that there are tons of ways to bring home the bacon outside of the standard 9-5 job. And, with the instant access and gatekeeper-less world created by the Internet, it’s easier now than ever.

Here are just a few of the options available to you if you’re looking for a less conventional way of working:

Become an Entrepreneur/Solopreneur/Whatever-preneur

Are you an ace website designer? Five-star cupcake baker? Secret Etsy phenomenon?

Whatever your skills, the World Wide Web makes it possible for you to set yourself up as self-employed business owner with a speed that would give past generations whiplash. No more sending flyers door to door, acquiring a small business loan to set up a physical shop, or competing only with the fish in your local pond before you can move up to bigger ponds. Now you can compete on a global scale, just by creating a website and learning a thing or two about marketing and finance.

Of course, starting a business isn’t nearly as simple as that last paragraph would make it sound. (If it were, everyone would start one.) It’s grueling, risky, uphill work and not for the faint of heart. You have to learn as you go and wear every hat from PR to Accounting to Customer Service. But, if you’ve got the passion and drive (and a healthy dose of stubbornness), you’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.

One way to know if it’s right for you? If phrases like “not for the faint of heart” only make you more determined to go for it, you’ve likely got what it takes to be an entrepreneur.


If you’ve got industry know-how and experience, there’s nothing to say you have to be tied down to one desk in one office to exercise your skills. You can take your knowledge and use it to help any number of clients, on your own terms and your own time, by being a consultant.

Are you a social media maven? Rather than looking for a company in your area that needs a social media manager, why not offer your services to a variety of clients on a project-by-project basis? Whether a company needs a complete from-the-ground-up education (like, they’re still not sure what Twitter is) or just someone to make their current campaigns savvier, you can use your expertise to make them more awesome while also giving yourself more freedom than a traditional position.

One benefit of consulting? As with any of these options, there’s no limit to the amount of money you can bring in if you’re willing to work for it. While a standard salaried position pays you X dollars a year, regardless of whether you work your tail off or spend your 8 hours a day reading cat memes, these options all operate on “you get what you put it into it” pay scales.

Freelance Subcontracting

The difference between owning your own business and being a freelance subcontractor is that, as a business owner, you either create a product or provide a service directly to consumers: you offer design packages for clients to choose from, you sell people cupcakes, you create made-to-order pillowcases (or what have you). When you’re a subcontractor, you’re providing a service to another company—a service they’re choosing to outsource to you to save the time and/or money of doing it themselves.

This arrangement has its pros and its cons. On the “pro” side, you don’t have to do all the startup work of creating a business model yourself, finding clients, and creating a pricing structure. You enter into a ready-made position or project whose scope is clearly defined, and you’re guaranteed to make a certain amount of money from it. (Because you will be signing a project agreement, or else you won’t be doing the work. I mean that. Get everything in writing.)

On the “con” side, you’re still reporting to a “boss” of sorts, and you’ll be asked to do things their way. If the client wants a frou-frou website with tons of popups and glittering sidebar ads, that’s what you’ll be designing, even if your personal aesthetic is pretty much anything but that. If you’re a seasoned journalist, but work is slow this month, you may find yourself writing some SEO-friendly posts for mommy blogs (whether or not you’re a mommy) to keep yourself cash-flow positive.

In other words, you have more freedom and artistic license as a business owner, but you have more security and guidelines as a subcontractor. It all depends on where your personal preferences fall.

Create-Your-Own Career Path with Part-Time Gigs

What if you’ve got a million and one interests and you don’t want to have to choose just one to pursue?

Who says you have to?

The idea of multipotentialites (people who are good at a number of different interests and refuse to settle for just one) is gaining more and more popularity. Let’s say you’re good with numbers, you love animals, and you’re always doodling something or other. Why not work part-time as a bookkeeper, pick up a couple of dog-walking clients, and start a graphic design business on the side?

I’m not saying it will be easy. You have to be a good juggler to choose a make-your-own-career path. But, it will give you the freedom to follow a number of passions, arrange a schedule that works for you, and give you the opportunity to drop a job here and pick up a job there as your interests evolve, resulting in a rich mix-and-match background that can take you pretty much wherever you want to go.

Are you following an unconventional career path? Share your story with us in the comments!

Image via Marylka Yoe Uusisaari

About Kelly Gurnett

Kelly Gurnett runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook and hire her services as a blogger extraordinaire here.

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2 Responses to Unconventional Career Paths for Unconventional Fireballs

  1. Rachael August 16, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    Kelly! You just saved my life. Hyperbolic language indeed, but you have *no* idea how much self-sabotage and meanness I’ve been slinging selfwards because of the very same issues highlighted above.

    Who knew there was a word for this?

    For NEEDING room to find the depth and breadth of knowledge in every aspect of life? For people like me who suck at “real” jobs because they can’t help feeling drained being somewhere they’ve already mastered (or stopped caring about)?

    This post, like all of your others, is a great resource, but you really offered me a small piece of salvation by sharing your battle-tested knowledge with us.

    Lady, I owe you A LOT of your favorite tipple.

    Also, Puttylike? How did I not know about this before. G-D!


    • Cordelia August 17, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

      Oh, Rachael, not only is there a word for it, but you are SO not alone. I sucked hardcore at “real” jobs and used to feel so guilty for it–like, everyone else learns how to suck up and “deal,” so why can’t I? Why I do I think I’m so special and above it.

      Then I realized: most people are just as miserable as I was, but they didn’t know how they could do anything about it. They just assumed that’s the way things are, and they kept “dealing” only because they didn’t realize there was another way.

      But there is–so many other ways, actually. The longer I spend in the blogosphere, the more I realize there’s a whole alternate reality out there of people living lives on their own terms–and the rest of the “coping” world starts to look like the town in Pleasantville, where everyone is drudging around in black & white without knowing anything is wrong, while my people keep seeing bright pops of color everywhere and trying to get them to believe it.

      Welcome to the other side! It’s lovely over here. :)

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