We used to think education came in two flavors: unprofitable-but-interesting -- studying anthropology or literature -- and profitable-but-tedious -- studying medical transcription or engineering. If we only knew then what we know now....
There are hundreds of vocational schools that are nothing like those late-night truck-driving commercials. There are hundreds that have nothing to do with data processing. There are hundreds that don't lead to boring, conventional, or meaningless jobs.
You can get more from a career than just a paycheck. You can work with your favorite things -- animals, art, crafts, people, language -- in your favorite ways -- crafting, healing, performing, counseling, designing. And you can make a living doing it.
Would you like to be a horse masseuse? How about a hot-air balloon pilot or shamanic counselor? Maybe you're interested in fabric design, dog grooming, or hypnotherapy. Or you might enjoy an old-fashioned craft, like wooden boatbuilding, silversmithing, or saddlemaking.
There are vocational training programs covering all of these subjects -- and many other uncommon, interesting trades. Some programs are quick and cheap. Some are expensive and lengthy. Some offer financial aid, some include housing, and some offer free retraining. Some are accredited by professional organizations; some accredit themselves.
But they all have one thing in common: not only do they teach interesting and alternative trades, they also teach potentially profitable careers. They teach you how to make money doing what you learned, how to use your newfound skills to attract and serve clients. Sure, the chances are that you won't become the world's first billionaire bookbinder, childbirth assistant, or art appraiser, but you will be able to pay the rent -- and many of the careers taught by schools in this book can become very profitable indeed.
We included careers working with animals, art, people, crafts, food, the media, outdoor adventures, and more -- all in ways that are at least a little extraordinary, a little more interesting or less conventional than the average career.
You might wonder what criteria we used to decide which subjects to include. Well, we developed a painstaking and rigorous test to ensure that we only included the most interesting and unconventional vocations. A career passed the test if, when we got information about it, we thought, "Gee, that's interesting and unconventional!"
Which is to say that inclusion of programs in this book is not exhaustive. We didn't include listings of individual massage schools; there are hundreds of them, and they're fairly easy to find (check out your local Yellow Pages or the massage school directories we mention on page 117). Instead, we included a listing of specialized bodywork methods (such as Hellerwork, Rolfing, and reflexology), and the associations that represent them. We included a number of farrier (horseshoeing) schools that horse people might think are pretty mundane, but we're not horse people, so we think they're unusual and teach an interesting way to make a living. We included chocolate-making and animation training programs, but not cooking schools and graphic design programs. If you're looking for programs such as those, don't worry: whenever a more conventional career doesn't quite fit into a chapter, we tell you where to go for more information.
Then there are the schools themselves. We tried to include all the schools that seemed to offer, or said they offered, vocational training.
We didn't evaluate the earning potential of the various vocations. We didn't research the size of the market or the average income of practitioners. Why? Because there are people making a good living in every one of the careers listed in this book. Certainly, some are less lucrative than others, and some may even be downright difficult. But we didn't want to say, "Well, there's no way someone's gonna make a living doing cat massage," when the truth is that someone has, in fact, built a multi-million dollar business based on animal massage.
People are making a living in every one of the alternative careers mentioned in this book. We spoke to those who are working as childbirth educators, herbalists, and blacksmiths. We spoke to people who are professional animal communicators, auric healers, and sex surrogates. If you find one of the more offbeat subjects most attractive, we only have one word of advice: If you're passionate about it, your chances of making a living are greatly increased. Know that someone else is doing it, and you can, too.
Many of the schools in this book are accredited. More are not. Some are accredited by professional organizations, some by the state, some by themselves. In some fields, accreditation isn't an option, and in many others, it's entirely beside the point. In a field like Feng Shui (an ancient Chinese art of placement and design), where apprenticeship has been the traditional mode of learning for a thousand years, accreditation from some newfangled organization seems silly. And, in fact, no such organization exists. Do you need to learn saddlemaking or dog training from an accredited school? No, just from skilled and professional teachers.
Of course, there are benefits of accreditation. In some of the health-related fields, it is quite important for credibility and, increasingly, to practice legally (in a field such as hypnotherapy, for example, there's a growing movement toward state-licensed practitioner standards). In other fields, accrediting bodies offer various benefits to accredited members, such as networking, lobbying, and continuing education. But if a book that focuses on alternative careers includes only accredited schools, it becomes a pamphlet. And an unhelpful one, at that.
Then there's certification. The vast majority of schools offer a certificate to students who complete their course of study. Then you can call yourself a "certified whatever." But the certification itself isn't the important thing. Being well trained, gaining the skills, knowledge, and self-confidence to do a good job and get paid a fair wage, those are the important things.
We tried to include only programs that are indeed vocationally oriented and prepare students for a profession. However, we did include some programs -- notably in the crafts field -- that teach both hobbyists and aspiring professionals. For example, while several of the wood-carving schools offer short-term classes for hobbyists, more serious students are encouraged to arrange with the instructors to develop professionally oriented projects and curriculum. Basically, if we were assured that the coursework was appropriate as career training, and the school struck us as interesting, we included it.
We covered only a few training programs offered by colleges and universities, because they're easy to find and tend not to be all that alternative. We included college-based programs only if they are in fields that don't have many training programs, or if education in the field is routinely college-based (such as in museum studies and publishing). Still, some colleges and universities offer great certificate courses: if you're looking for something a little more mainstream, check out the programs offered by your local institution of higher learning.
We also didn't include any degree programs. Although there are many excellent acupuncture and Oriental medicine programs, for example, we didn't include them because they lead to a master's degree. The same goes for a few alternative therapy careers (such as art and music therapy), and the occasional art-related degree program (in fine arts or filmmaking, for example). Although many of these careers are unconventional and can be very rewarding, we had to draw the line somewhere. But never fear, we did include information that tells you how to hunt down these programs if they're what you're interested in.
Finally, we let the schools speak for themselves as much as possible, by borrowing heavily from their brochures and catalogs when we wrote the entries. For most schools, this resulted in straightforward and understandable entries. But for some, it led to buzzwords and jargon: if you find an entry appealing but confusing, make sure you contact the school directly to clarify exactly what they teach.
First, all the information in this book was correct when we wrote it. But that was then, and this now. Schools and programs change every year -- classes are updated, new courses are added, and costs increase. And sometimes, unfortunately, schools relocate or close. Second, although we're certain that most of the training programs are excellent, we do not endorse any of them.
That said, we encourage you to jump in. Find a couple of schools that look good and call them. Get on their mailing lists. If possible, visit them. Ask them questions. These schools are operated by people who care, by people who are doing what they love for a living. They'll be thrilled to discuss their school and their coursework with you (and if they're not, that's all you need to know). They'll tell you about employment or entrepreneurial possibilities for graduates. They'll give you the names of satisfied grads. They'll tell you the inside story on the challenges and rewards of their profession. Maybe they'll even convince you that theirs is the school that will train you to make a living in your perfect career.
What's in This Book
This book is divided into two parts. Part I, which contains chapters 1 through 3, helps you select a subject, choose a career, pick a training program, and develop a plan to make money before you even start training.
Chapter 1 covers subjects. If, as you're reading these words, you haven't a clue where to find schools that teach your favorite subjects, this chapter will help you figure it out. It'll help you move from a general sense of what you like to do to a more specific understanding of which schools in this book match your preferences.
Chapter 2 covers careers and schools. First, it helps you determine the probable job satisfaction and potential income of your favorite careers. Then it explains how to evaluate the costs and benefits of all the possible training programs.
Chapter 3 covers money. This chapter prepares you to make money before you even enroll in a school. Follow the advice in chapter 3 and not only will you be happier investing your time and money in a training program, you'll also have a much easier time making a living after you graduate.
Part II, which contains chapters 4 through 14, is the meat of the book -- the school listings. Each entry tells you what you'll learn, how long the training takes, what it costs, and whom to contact for more information. Chapters 4 through 14 cover Animals, Art and Design, Bodywork and Physical Health, Consulting and Counseling, Craft and Trade, Food and Drink, Herbal and Alternative Medicine, Media, Metaphysical Healing, Outdoors and Active, and Therapy.
For more details on individual chapters, check out chapter 1, in which we provide an easy-to-browse list of the contents of this book to help you pinpoint training programs of interest.
Beyond the Book
We hope this book offers something more than the names and addresses of specific training programs, more than a snapshot of intriguing careers. We hope it opens up a whole world of unconventional, enjoyable, rewarding work and encourages you, whatever your interests, to find a life in which work and play are the same. Even if -- heaven forbid -- there is no training program for your dream career, take heart: if people are making a living with some of the more alternative careers in this book (and they are!), you can make a living doing what you love, too. Good luck.
Copyright © 1999 by Lee Naftali and Joel Naftali