13 Jobs That are Much Harder Than You Think

Some of the toughest jobs in the world aren’t always the ones you expect.
Updated April 3, 2023
worker wearing uniform and hard hat in a steel factory

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Every job has the potential to be difficult and stressful. For instance, nobody thinks being a firefighter, first responder, or member of the military is a cakewalk.

However, some “dream” occupations are much tougher than most people realize and can leave those professionals struggling to stop living paycheck to paycheck.

Here are 13 jobs that might make being stuck at your desk for eight hours seem a little better.


Gorodenkoff/Adobe talented female artist works on abstract oil painting

Median annual pay: $49,960 for craft and fine artists, but can vary.

Laboring over a painted landscape on an easel with your palette while standing in nature might be a zen ideal for you. Or perhaps it’s crafting the perfect piece of jewelry to sell.

However, making a living as an artist is anything but easy and can be an unpredictable career.

In addition to talent and training, you’ll need to study the business side, like marketing, organization, and pricing.


dimazel/Adobe Astronaut travels in space

Median annual pay: Government salary. $104,898 (GS-13) to $161,141 (GS-14) per year.

Space is, to borrow a phrase, the final frontier. As such, NASA’s spaceflight requirements have a high bar.

You need to be an American citizen, have a master's degree in a STEM field, two years of professional experience or 1,000 hours as a jet pilot, and pass a physical.

Finally, if you get chosen by NASA’s review board, you’ll have to contend with the health impacts of spaceflight, which can include increased risk to your genes and even how your brain works.


.shock/Adobe american football player holding the injured shoulder

Median annual pay: $77,300; professional contracts vary.

It’s fun to fantasize about a stadium full of people chanting your name after a game-winning home run and making millions doing it. Getting to that point, however, is a whole different ballgame.

Most players don’t grace the covers of magazines, newspapers, or websites, nor do they all make millions. And an entire career can be sidelined by a single injury.


JacobLund/Adobe Chef cooking

Median annual pay: $50,160

Cooking for family and friends can be wonderful. But cooking like your livelihood depends on it is a stressful reality for chefs.

Not only are they making perfect meals and spending hours on their feet, but they’re also overseeing the food prep in the kitchen while keeping managers and customers happy.

Disc jockey

pavel siamionov/Adobe DJ hands creating and regulating music on dj console mixer

Median hourly pay: $18.03

Hosting your own radio show and playing music sounds (no pun intended) like a great gig.

The barrier for entry is pretty low, too: a bachelor’s degree in journalism, broadcasting, or communications, and some experience.

The problem is finding an open position in the rapidly shrinking radio market. Beyond that, it’s hard to make ends meet with the wages DJs earn.

Fashion designer

New Africa/Adobe fashion designer creating new clothes in studio

Median annual pay: $77,450

If you’re into fashion and looking chic, you’ve probably daydreamed about having your own line of clothing.

From the outside, it seems like a fantasy. Models are wearing your designs on the runway and your clothes are in department stores across America for people to buy.

The reality is much different, however. Competition is fierce, breaking through is hard, the design process takes months, and growth is slow.


LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe journalist gesturing while talking with businessman

Median annual pay: $48,370.

There’s no shortage of books, movies, and TV shows that frame reporters as tireless advocates for the truth. But that ideal comes with a steep price tag due to the ecosystem of the news industry.

It includes unpredictable schedules, being on location in dangerous situations, being the target of harassment, burnout, tight deadlines, a toll on mental health, and poor compensation for the time required to do the job right.


.shock/Adobe fashion show

Median hourly pay: $15.34

Getting paid to pose seems like a good deal. You don’t need a formal education to model, but there are a lot of steps before you hit the runway, like getting signed by a modeling agency.

The career can be grueling, however, including loads of travel, meeting with clients, and spending hours on photo shoots.


Bostan Natalia/Adobe woman pilot sitting in airplane cockpit

Median annual pay: $202,180 for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers; $99,640 for commercial pilots.

Pilots don’t just spend their time flying the friendly skies and globetrotting. They’re also responsible for the cargo, crew, logistics, passengers, and the aircraft itself. Pilots also need to contend with unpredictable issues like weather and mechanical problems.

While airline pilots are tethered to a fixed schedule, commercial pilots can be called on for charter flights, aircraft maintenance, or even firefighting.


Jacob Lund/Adobe photographer taking photo standing in a studio

Median annual pay: $38,950

Anybody can take pictures. But being a professional photographer requires significantly more creativity and technical expertise, and it can be far from glamorous.

To begin with, the barrier to entry is high. Photographers generally need to buy their own equipment, which is expensive.

They also need to keep clients happy if they want to keep making money and should expect to work long hours both behind the camera and in front of the computer editing photos.

Private detective/investigator

Andrey Popov/Adobe private detective taking photos of man and woman

Median annual pay: $59,380

Private detectives have maintained a special place in American hardboiled pulp fiction since the 1920s.

Today, however, it’s less Sam Spade noir with a Colt 1911 and more digging for information by way of court records, the internet, interviews, and surveillance to gather evidence that can be used in court.

Private investigators need to be extremely careful about how they conduct investigations since they don’t have law enforcement authority. Even worse, they can have their evidence thrown out of court and run the risk of being prosecuted themselves.

Social media specialist

deagreez/Adobe smiling lady wearing orange sweater

Median annual pay: $56,770

Spending hour after hour on social media is something a lot of people do in their spare time, or possibly when they should be doing their job.

For others, however, social media is their job. Social media specialists are the public-facing side of a brand or company.

They need to know the platforms (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, etc.) be communication experts, track metrics, and understand the audience and its interests.


AntonioDiaz/Adobe female author trying to get inspired

Median annual pay: $69,510, but varies by industry and specialty.

The life of a writer is romanticized in nearly every form of media, including in the stories they create.

As with other creative fields, however, success depends on public interest and is subject to the whims of agents, publishers, or whomever else signs the checks for your content.

The field is very hit-or-miss, and most writers have to pick up side jobs to pay the bills.

Bottom line

peopleimages.com/Adobe woman in office at night

Everyone has illusions about certain careers that seem like dream jobs or promise easy ways to make income. That’s rarely, if ever, the case, however.

Even if you find yourself in the occupation of your dreams, you’re still working; you just happen to be enjoying it at the same time.

If you love what you do, that’s a wonderful thing. Just don’t let anyone’s perception overshadow the reality of your hard work.

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Author Details

Will Vitka Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.

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