From Office Space to The Office — or our own real-life office jobs — most of us have a pretty good frame of reference for what desk work looks like. And that’s enough to make you question whether you actually want to be stuck at a desk for eight hours a day. Even though you need to know how to make money, office life isn’t for everyone. Maybe you crave regular changes of scenery, enjoy working outdoors, or simply want an unconventional (but still high-paying) job.
Fortunately, desk work is definitely not the only path to career success and a higher income if you’re willing to think outside the cubicle. Plenty of the best jobs provide fast-paced and varied environments that can be stimulating enough to counterbalance the occasional paperwork.
To that end, we’ve rounded up a list of the best high-paying jobs that won’t chain you to a desk. We chose these jobs based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) average annual wage for the occupation, as well as the benefits of its typical work environment.
The occupations included here offer average annual pay that’s above the national average wage of $56,310 for 2020. We also aimed to include occupations in a wide range of industries, with varying skill sets, and requiring different education levels. All information is sourced from the BLS’s Occupational Employment Statistics and Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Commercial or airline pilot
Pilots fly a range of aircraft and airplanes, including police helicopters, crop dusters, medical emergency flights, and scheduled airline flights.
It’s true these high-paying (and high-flying) jobs can require that you be confined to a cockpit for long periods. But sitting to fly a plane is surely different — and much more thrilling — than sitting at a desk for hours a day.
Education: Commercial pilots typically have at least a high school diploma, as well as a commercial pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Airline pilots typically must also have experience as a commercial pilot, hold a bachelor’s degree, and become an FAA-certified Airline Transport Pilot.
Average salary: $186,870
A geoscientist can work in a range of capacities, from oceanography to resource extraction projects for oil and natural gas companies. They survey land, complete field studies, and prepare reports on their findings. This blend of responsibilities results in a nice balance of time on-site, in a lab, and in an office.
Education: With a bachelor’s in geoscience or a related field, you could qualify for an entry-level position. Some jobs require a master’s degree, though, and many geoscientists choose to earn this degree before starting their career.
Average salary: $112,110
This career field also pops up in our list of most interesting jobs in every state.
Veterinarians care for the health of furry, scaly, or feathery patients, from checkups and vaccinations to surgery and even euthanization. All of this keeps veterinarians on their feet in a range of environments, including animal clinics and hospitals, farms and ranches, or even zoos.
Education: To be a licensed veterinarian, you must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, which typically takes about four years to complete. That’s on top of the bachelor’s degree, which is often required to apply for a veterinary program. In all, veterinarians will likely spend eight years working toward this career.
Average salary: $108,350
A civil engineer works on infrastructure projects from planning and design to initial site testing, and then through to construction and maintenance. Because of this, they can work in a variety of environments and on all sorts of projects, from bridges and roads to buildings and even airports.
Education: A civil engineer will usually need a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, or a very similar specialty, to qualify for these high-paying jobs. They may also choose to pursue a professional engineer license. A master’s degree can open up opportunities for advancement in this field.
Average salary: $95,440
Whether an individual counselor or a marriage and family therapist, the work these professionals do is similar. They discuss emotions and mental health with their clients, and provide counseling, skill training, and strategies to support their clients’ well-being. The work licensed therapists do helps people make healthy decisions and cope with life experiences.
Therapists typically work face-to-face with individuals, couples, or families. Work settings can include mental health clinics, hospitals, treatment centers, or private practices. So although you might be working in an office, you’ll spend the majority of working hours providing face-to-face counseling to patients and clients.
Education: Becoming a therapist requires at least a bachelor’s degree, and most positions will also need a master’s degree in psychology, clinical social work, mental health counseling, or marriage and family therapy. Therapists should also be licensed in accordance with the laws of the state in which they intend to practice.
Average salary: $89,290
The role of nurse keeps these health professionals on their feet, monitoring patient health, administering medication and other treatments, and providing care and assistance. Many registered nurses work in hospitals, outpatient centers, or nursing and residential homes.
Registered nurses can even take advantage of travel nursing opportunities, working short-term at facilities with immediate staffing needs, to get regular changes of scenery.
Education: The first step to high-paying jobs in nursing is to complete a nursing education program. A bachelor’s of science in nursing takes around four years to complete, and an associate degree in nursing requires two-to-three years of training. Upon graduating, you’d also need to pass an exam to earn a nursing license and become a registered nurse.
Average salary: $80,010
Law enforcement officer
Law enforcement officers can include police officers, detectives, agents, and criminal investigators. The duties of these jobs center on enforcing laws, preventing crime, and keeping the community safe. It can also include collecting evidence and investigating criminal activity.
Law enforcement officers or agents might work in a vehicle on patrol, respond to emergency calls or tips, or be present at crime scenes or accidents. Federal agents may also be required to travel around the country.
Education: To become a police officer, you typically need a high school diploma or equivalent certificate and to complete a police training course. Other law enforcement positions, such as a detective, game warden, or federal agent, may require a bachelor’s degree.
Average salary: $70,000
As a school teacher, you could instruct in a kindergarten class, elementary school, high school, private school, or special education program. Teachers spend some time at a desk to plan lessons and grade classwork, but more of their working hours are devoted to instruction, hands-on learning, and meeting with students and parents.
Teachers also have the opportunity to lead extracurriculars, from coaching a sport to running a school choir or theater production. And although teaching isn’t typically thought of as a high-paying job, the average pay for this profession is solid.
Education: Teachers need a bachelor’s degree in education related to their specialty. If you have a bachelor’s degree already, you may need to complete a teacher education program. All teachers must earn a license or certification to teach.
Average salary: $65,917
If you enjoy spending time outdoors, working with your hands, and are comfortable with heights, you might consider this specialized role on construction sites.
Structural ironworkers’ duties center on installing the steel and iron girders, rebar, and other structures that support buildings. Doing so can mean working outside in all types of weather, and occasionally at great heights (with appropriate safety gear).
Education: Most ironworkers qualify with a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as additional training in iron and steel work. This training can be gained on the job from an employer or through a formal apprenticeship.
Average salary: $58,650
An exercise physiologist works with clients to measure their fitness and develop an exercise plan to meet their health goals. A majority of exercise physiologists are self-employed and meet independently with clients, but many also work at hospitals or other health centers.
Education: Most exercise physiologists have at least a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, exercise science, or a similar field. Many also pursue an official professional certification to prove their qualifications.
Average salary: $54,020
As first responders, firefighters’ primary duties are to respond to emergencies in their communities, whether they work in a big city or fight wildfires. Their work could also include assisting car crash victims or helping during natural disasters. Outside of responding to emergencies, firefighters spend their work hours in fire stations, completing training and drills as well as maintaining equipment.
Education: Firefighters need at least a high school diploma or GED. Beyond that, they’ll train through their local fire department’s academy to be considered for this job. Firefighters may also need to complete an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification.
Average salary: $56,360
Chef or head cook
Chefs and head cooks work at a fast pace and spend most of their days on their feet. Work environments can include restaurants, catering businesses, private homes, and even cruise ships. Their duties can encompass supervising food preparers, designing menus and developing recipes, and maintaining a clean and well-stocked kitchen.
Education: There is no specific training or degree required to become a chef or head cook. But many employers look for someone who has trained through a technical college or culinary arts program, or who even has a bachelor’s degree.
Average salary: $58,740
Construction equipment operator
These workers operate heavy machinery that is key to many construction, maintenance, or repair projects. Construction equipment operators often work outdoors, rain or shine, at project sites such as buildings, roads, bridges, or mines.
Education: With a high school diploma or GED, you’re on your way to qualifying for this job. You might need to seek further training through a vocational school or an apprenticeship that provides on-the-job training for three to four years. Lastly, some states require additional licenses or certification to operate heavy machinery.
Average salary: $55,280
Get out from behind the desk and find the right job for you
All of these high-paying non-desk jobs have a few things in common. Many of them focus on working with people, whether providing health services, instructing a classroom, or interacting with the public to enforce laws. If you like interacting with or helping people, that interest and the related skills could be key to finding high-paying jobs outside of an office.
Besides working with people, many of these jobs require you to travel or perform on-site duties, which might make finding remote work less of a possibility. So make sure you carefully consider what you need and want out of your job. Whether you want to be outdoors, work a high-paying but low-stress job, or have the opportunity to travel, knowing how you’d like to work can help you home in on jobs that could make that possible while still paying you a good salary.
The wide range of education and experience requirements for these jobs also prove that it’s never too late (or too early) to consider your next career move. By weighing your options and personal career goals, you can find a job that fits and chart a path to get there.