May 11 2010|07.12 AM UTC

Stan Reybern

12 Fun Activities That Became Professional Careers

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , ,

The long-standing stereotype about work is that it’s necessarily a drag. In his essay How To Do What You Love, Paul Graham wrote that “grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work” and though kids went to school, “school, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.” But be that as it may, some people manage to find careers that are undeniably fun and exciting. In fact, throughout history, society has managed to turn various fun activities and hobbies into careers – and often lucrative ones, at that. Today, Billshrink looks at twelve enjoyable pursuits that somehow morphed into full-time professions.


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The idea of playing games for a living seems to defy the very concept of what it means to work. But amazingly enough, there are actually professional gaming leagues in which top notch players are signed to contracts and play competitively. ESPN interviewed a handful of professional Halo players for insight into their work lives. One of them declined to take a vacation to Fiji because just as “a sports player doesn’t take a vacation in the middle of the season”, they, too, “can’t take two weeks off not thinking about Halo.” Major League Gaming, founded in 2002, received a $10 million venture capital investment in 2007, and is run by a league president in the same way that the NBA and NFL have league commissioners. Tom Taylor, then just 19 years old, received a $250,000 contract for participating in MLG on a full-time basis (in addition to operating his own video game company.)


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Gambling is another long-time hobby that somehow became a professional career. Gamblers in any number of games (primarily poker) now compete in televised tournaments for multi-million dollar cash prizes on a regular basis. It’s not an easy career to break into, to be sure. Legions of gamblers believe themselves skilled enough to become professionals, and with only so many slots available, many of them are bound to be disappointed. Of course, some skilled gamblers simply parlay their casual casino trips into full-time incomes by living off of their winnings. In the classic Wall Street book Liar’s Poker, pro gambler-turned-broker Howie Rubin admitted that the hardest part wasn’t even the gambling itself – it was getting past casino security once they caught on to the fact that he was a consistent winner.

Social Media

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In the space of about five years, the burgeoning field of social media has produced full-time careers for all sorts of creative types. First, there are graphic designers who are paid to create infographics that get submitted to websites like Digg and Reddit. Then there are full-time article writers who populate growing websites with fresh content on relevant topics. Some blog owners produce their own content and derive a life-sustaining income from advertising and sponsorships. Finally, there are “power users” of Digg, Reddit, etc. who carry tremendous clout with story submissions and help influence what content gets seen by the community. The social media ecosystem has grown by leaps and bounds each year and, thus far, has proven to be highly recession-proof.

Professional Sports

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The textbook example of a fun activity that became a career is professional sports. For all the billions of dollars that change hands in stadium construction, ticket sales, food and merchandise, sports like baseball and football are fundamentally childhood games. When you take away the bright lights and professional uniforms, what takes place at Yankee Stadium is no different than the game being played on Little League fields across the country. That being said, professional sports are easily one of the most lucrative careers in the country. As CBS Sports reveals, the average salary of a Major League Baseball player is over $3.2 million per year. Nice work if you can get it!


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Self-absorbed people have been staring at mirrors and soliciting compliments about their appearances long before there was any money involved. Professional models, however, literally get paid to look good. Keeping yourself conditioned, wearing the latest fashions and posing for the camera is, in a nutshell, the entirety of what being a model demands. That isn’t to say models don’t take their jobs seriously, of course. We’ve all heard stories about models who starve themselves and develop eating disorders out of an obsession to remain in peak physical shape. But even still, appearing in an underwear ad is a far cry from coal mining.


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Let’s face it: deep down, we all want to be rock stars. Movies like Almost Famous pay homage to the wild ride which famous musicians all seem to enjoy: beautiful women, luxury travel, fast cars and gobs of cash. Plus, it’s tough to beat playing the music you create to adoring fans in every major city for sheer creative satisfaction. And while many (perhaps most) aspiring musicians will fall short of these heights, anything is possible. Van Halen, for instance, was founded by two brothers who immigrated to the U.S. as children and got their start playing at dive bars. Only after several years of paying their dues did Van Halen score a record deal and become the rock legends that they are today.


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Like top athletes, big-name actors and actresses are among the most highly compensated people in the country. While the less celebrated performers do not earn nearly as much in film as in professional sports, a marquee actor can easily command $10 million or more for starring in a single movie. According to AZ Central, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe topped the list of high-earning actors last year by taking home $40.9 million. The top directors do even better, with Michael Bay raking in $126 million from Transformers. All in all, not a shabby income for what ultimately amounts to pretending to be a fictional character in front of a camera!

Book & Movie Critic

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If you’ve ever dreamed of getting paid to read books or watch movies, you’ve imagined the working life of a book or movie critic. Roger Ebert is perhaps the most famous example of someone who is paid for his opinions on the latest movie releases. Ebert’s reviews are highly anticipated and printed in newspapers around the country as soon as he writes them. Thousands of people regularly decide whether to see a film or not based on what he thought of it. Of course, like many of these positions, critiquing film or literature loses some of its luster once it ceases being a free-spirited hobby and becomes a systematic job.


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There is an entire class of working professionals who are paid to have sex. Absurd as it sounds, pornography is one of the world’s biggest and ever-expanding industries. The human appetite for sexual videos, performances and accessories is virtually limitless, which helps pornography thrive during good times and bad. It certainly isn’t the most socially acceptable profession in the world (we pity the man who has to tell his in-laws that he’s in the porn business), but you can rest assured that pornography will continue to thrive for as long as human beings walk the earth.

Talk Radio

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Like film and movie critics, talk radio hosts earn a living from simply expressing their opinions on various topics. Some hosts (such as Rush Limbaugh) field calls about political issues, arguing back and forth with callers on topics ranging from taxes to abortion to war. Others, like WFAN’s Mike Francesa, spend six hours a day discussing and debating New York sports. Top talk radio hosts command hefty salaries, loyal fans and celebrity status that is, at times, on par with the politicians and athletes they talk about on the air. Their controversial on-air statements also periodically make headlines, as the nation recently witnessed with Don Imus and Rosie O’Donnell.


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If you like being in the kitchen, few careers will prove more enjoyable than that of a professional chef. Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray are just two examples of chefs that parlayed their cooking skills into worldwide stardom. However, it’s not just TV chefs who have transformed cooking into a fun career. Anyone who has ever been to a hibachi restaurant has witnessed chefs having a blast preparing food for consumption.


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Like models, body builders are essentially paid to be in peak physical condition and show it off in public. Professional body builders appear on magazine covers, compete in sanctioned competitions like the Arnold Classic and the New York Pro, and in some cases, do paid endorsements for fitness products. A body builder’s physique is literally their sole meal ticket and income-producing asset. Luckily, the typical body builder is so obsessed with physical fitness that they would keep their bodies in stellar shape whether or not they were being paid for it.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Type6 May 11, 2010 at 11:23 am

“body builders are essentially paid to be in peak physical condition”

Bodybuilding is all about proportion, shape and size. Most bodybuilders are not in a very good physical condition especially during contest.


RFan May 11, 2010 at 11:44 am

How do you not mention Howard Stern when you list talk radio? The guy paved the way for people to make high salaries in talk radio.


Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 8:48 pm

the bodybuilding picture is so nasty, its crazy. gaming is where its at, T2 is a baller :)


joe May 18, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Cooks having a blast? Have you been anywhere n ear a kitchen that’s almost in the weeds with orders being sent back, late paychecks, sometimes working sick or injured, and for long hours? If that’s fun get your head examined or read a Bourdain book for some insight.


laura November 24, 2011 at 5:18 pm

cooking is so FUN!


Susan May 19, 2010 at 9:05 am

You forgot the “Professional Fan” guy who performed at the Olympic sporting events. He gets paid tens of thousands of dollars a night for being crazy with the crowd and giving away free tee shirts.


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