Sure it sounds cool to be a National Geographic photographer, play for the Yankees, or be the next Oprah, but you have a better chance of being bitten in your bed by a rattlesnake.
Here are some careers I find cool yet more possible to attain:
Athletic coach. Most colleges and high schools hire coaches. And coaching is a wonderful combination of mentoring, teaching, and the thrill of athletic competition. Plus, you can be a campus hero (or goat.) I'd try to break in and get trained by offering to do anything (including keep statistics for free) for local coaches who both win and are ethical, beloved mentors of their players. Learn more: The Seven Secrets of Successful Coaching.
Grantwriter. The U.S. government is transferring the greatest ever amount of GDP from the private to the government sector. Much of that money will be distributed via grant proposals. Hence, fine grantwriters should be in demand for the foreseeable future. You must be a an assiduous researcher, creative idea generator, and an engaging, diligent communicator with funders. Learn more: Non-Profit Guide to Grantwriting.
Ghostwriter. This is one of the few writing careers that offers prospects of a decent income, plus the opportunity to rub elbows with the famous and the eminent. Learn more: The Secret World of Ghostwriters.
Money Manager. Would you enjoy using other people's money to bet on which stocks or bonds will go up? There are thousands of mutual finds and thousands of additional money managers at hedge funds and wealth management firms. Remember though that most money managers' underperform the unmanaged indices, such as S&P 500. Most experts believe the smartest investments are index funds, which use portfolio managers mainly as glorified clerks. Bond-picking may be a more desirable ground for aspiring money managers. Learn more: Careers in Money Management.
Politician. Thousands of Americans make a living as politician , from city councilpeople to State Senator to POTUS. You needn't go to law school but you need the stomach to press lots of flesh, especially expensive flesh, without becoming corrupted by them. That's easier said than done. You also need good public speaking skills, intelligence, the willingness to be extremely careful in what and how you say things while not becoming a mush of politically correct pablum. You must also possess such a strong drive to serve the public that you are utterly resistant to the manifold ethical temptations. Learn more: How to Become a Politician.
Foundation Program Officer. It's hard to imagine a career more fun and rewarding than giving away other people's money to address worthy causes. You also get to help ensure the receiving nonprofit organization uses the money well. Learn more: Advice on Snaring Foundation Program-Officer Jobs.
Voice-over Artist. It's not as easy as it sounds but there certainly are tougher ways to make a living than talking into a microphone. Most of the work is in reading books aloud (e.g., books on CD, books for the blind) as well as commercials. Having a "great voice" may be less important than being a compelling actor--able to powerfully tell a story without being seen. Learn more: "I'm Looking to Get into Voiceover. Where Do I Start? "
Optometrist. Almost-physician-level prestige, six-figure salary, high cure rate, regular work hours, and low stress make this a career I often recommend. Training is much shorter than for an ophthalmologist: four years if you have a bachelor's or a seven-year combined B.S/O.D. degree. Learn more: the profile I wrote on optometry in U.S. News & World Report's Best Careers 2009.
Student Affairs Administrator. You get to plan some of the most pleasant and often most useful aspects of student life: orientation, extracurricular activities, etc. And you work on a college campus, an unusually felicitous work environment. Plus, the amazingly short school year (lasting merely 28 weeks) makes your life still more pleasant. Learn more: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Learn more: Federal Law Enforcement Jobs.
Clergy. You may be surprised to see me classify clergy as a cool career, especially if you know that I am an atheist, but I believe it is. An opportunity to give a weekly sermon, teach Bible study classes, counsel the young, and comfort the sick, strikes me as a cool career. And I've been surprised to find that most of the intelligent clerics with whom I've had substantive conversations admit to having periods of profound doubt about the presence of a deity. Nevertheless, they find that the career's other aspects make it most rewarding. Learn more: The profile of the career I wrote in U.S. News & World Report's Best Careers, 2009.
Surgical Technologist. One year of post-high school training and you can become part of the life-and-death drama of the operating room. You're the person who responds when the surgeon yells, "Scalpel!, Retractor!, Clamps!." Learn more: Mayo Clinic's Overview of Surgical Technology.
Program Evaluator. You get to immerse yourself in understanding an innovative program for a few weeks or months, whereupon you move on to a new program. Program evaluation usually requires observation, interviewing, and data collection. Then you give a report on the program's effectiveness and/or suggestions for its improvement. Learn more: My profile of a career in program evaluation in U.S. News & World Report's Best Careers, 2009.
Private School Teacher. Teaching can be an uncool career, filled with discipline problems, frustratingly slow learning rates, and ever growing paperwork and government mandates, for example, insisting that each class contain bright, average, slow, and special education children, which creates a Herculean challenge for even the most talented and hardworking teacher. Those problems are, on average, less likely in a good private school. It's worth sacrificing the 10 to 20% in salary that's typical in private schools. Learn more: Why Teach in a Private School?
Referee/Umpire. Thousands of people are employed, at least part-time as game officiators. It's a great way for a sports fan to be part of the game. What's required: ability to focus for two or three hours, willingness to learn all the game's arcane rules, physical fitness (especially in basketball and hockey), the ability to quickly make decisions, and a calm demeanor--never getting upset when players and fans do. Learn more: Successful Sports Officiating