From the time you're a child, you're taught to dream big. The phrases "be whatever you want to be" and "follow your passion" are deeply ingrained in the fabric of American culture — so it's no surprise that when the real world rears its ugly head, people are left wondering why loving what they do isn't making ends meet.
The truth is that sometimes the flashiest job won't bring home the bacon in the way something a little less exciting might. If you're open to putting your passions on the back burner and focusing on those "boring" gigs you might have overlooked, your bottom line could thank you.
Click here to learn about high-paying careers that won't kill you — even if they are a bit boring.
If you're a worrier, a career as an actuary might just send you over the edge despite how well it pays. Actuaries are professionals who spend their days studying risks — using statistics, mathematics and theories to try and associate the dollar signs attached to everyone's worst nightmares.
Most actuaries work for insurance companies — they're the ones to blame for your rates rising after accidents, by the way — and typically have a bachelor's degree in actuarial studies with a strong understanding in math. The pay isn't too shabby — $100,610 as of May 2016, according to the BLS — and the industry is expected to grow about 22 percent in the next eight years.
Spending years steeped in numbers, spreadsheets and solitary calculations might sound like the definition of tediousness. But for people who enjoy the rationale of basic mathematics and who prefer to work independently rather than as part of a team, accounting can prove to be a lucrative career fit — or even a side gig that will bring in some nice money.
The top 10 percent of accountants earned more than $120,910 in 2016, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These top earners worked primarily in investment pools and funds located in metro areas like New York City, Jersey City, N.J., and San Rafael, Calif.
3. Air Traffic Controller
Air traffic controllers specialize in the safe flow of traffic. They work in control towers and approach control facilities and en route centers to keep aircraft a safe distance from one another. It might not be as exciting as the thrill of flight where you get the chance to see the world, but the salary is nothing to sneeze at. The BLS reported the median annual pay for air traffic controllers is $122,410, but the top 10 percent earn more than $172,680.
4. Branch Manager
You could learn a thing or two by following in the career footsteps of Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin's Scranton Branch Manager from NBC's "The Office."
Although being a middle manager isn't flashy — typically requiring a lot of paperwork, supervisory skills and information jockeying back and forth from corporate — you might not have realized it comes with a pretty comfortable salary. For 2016, the median pay is roughly $90,050 per year, according to the BLS, which means that $100,000 is easily within reach.
5. Budget Analyst
Everyone needs a numbers person, especially if you're not a numbers person yourself. If you can get proficient in tightening purse strings and knowing what funds go where, a career as a budget analyst might be a great fit for you. In fact, it might end up a dream career worth looking into.
Your workday will consist of "helping public and private institutions organize their finances," and "preparing budget reports and monitoring institutional spending," according to the BLS. With an entry-level education of a bachelor's degree, the highest 10 percent earned more than $111,460, according to data from 2016.
6. Claims Investigator
If you enjoy getting out of the office and want a shot at six-figures without a four-year degree, check out a future as a claims investigator.
Many claims investigators are hired sleuths for insurance companies, heading to accident scenes and checking out if an insurance company will be on the hook for paying out for a claim — and just how much. Just like most other careers, your chance for pay increases as your tenure and education do — and some of the most experienced claims investigators take a crack at that $100,000 mark.
7. Compliance Officer
If you were a tattle-tale as a kid and you get a rise out of being a whistleblower, take that gung-ho spirit for the rules and turn it into a career as a compliance manager.
This role requires the employee to "examine, evaluate and investigate eligibility for or conformity with laws and regulations governing contract compliance of licenses and permits," according to the BLS — in other words, making sure everyone is in line with the standards set for them.
Being the bad guy has its perks, particularly in the pay department — some compliance officers can score annual paychecks as high as $105,260.
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8. Construction Manager
Overseeing the construction of roads, buildings and other structures might not seem very exciting. But construction managers can earn six-figure salaries without an expensive college degree. Often dismissed as menial manual labor, construction experience can pave the way to a more lucrative management future. Top-earning construction managers can make over $158,330 per year in metropolitan areas like Winchester, Va., and Newark, N.J.
9. Database Architect
It's likely that no child grows up with aspirations of becoming a database administrator. The title itself sounds like jargon pulled from the script of "Office Space," but the position is real and the pay generous, with the top 10 percent of database administrators earning more than $129,930 in 2016.
Like the title suggests, database administrators administer, test and implement computer databases. They coordinate changes to those databases and implement security measures to safeguard them. The most profitable fields of employment include securities and commodities exchanges, and the beer, wine and alcoholic beverage industry.
10. Fraud Investigation Manager
If you have a knack for sniffing out shadiness, consider a career as a fraud investigation manager. Armed with a bachelor's degree and low tolerance for funny business, fraud investigation managers oversee many aspects of a business — typically in the financial sector — and make sure that everything is functioning as it should be. In other words, fraud investigation managers can spot cooked books from a mile away.
The pay is generous, too — if you snag a spot working with the federal government in this field, you can get over $115,930 annually.
Gastroenterologists might spend much of their time performing routine procedures — think colonoscopy — but the median annual payout is $302,723. The top 10 percent take home an average of $500,000 yearly, according to the BLS. In addition to astronomical income levels, salary information website PayScale reported high levels of job satisfaction among these specialists.
12. Hospice Director
It takes a special kind of person to work with the dying — but if you have the strength and compassion, you are desperately needed in the field of hospice care.
"Hospice is a healthcare option for people of all ages who have a medical prognosis of six months or less to live due to a terminal illness, such as late-stage cancer, or a life-limiting injury, such as trauma from an accident," according to a description by the BLS. Hospice teams aren't just for the patient either — they provide emotional, psychological and spiritual support to patients and their families, too.
As a hospice director, you'd be an overseeing physician who would organize and run the care team operation — which will definitely net you over six figures annually.
13. Hotel Manager
Looking to check in to a new career? Think about overseeing everyone's spot for a home away from home — a hotel.
Hotel managers are tasked with overseeing the team responsible for making your stay at a lodging facility a pleasant one, as well as making sure the bottom line is being met.
Typically armed with a bachelor's degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management, most hotel managers are faced with a lot of strange hours and stressful work situations, thanks to the nature of the industry and the hours of operation. If you luck out in a major metro area, however, the pay will certainly reflect the hard work you put in, coming awfully close to the six-figure mark with an estimated $96,570. There's always room for growth.
14. Human Resources Manager
Dealing with other people's problems, paperwork and the minutia of employee benefit programs provide a surprisingly solid source of income for human resources managers. With a national average salary of $106,910, and the top 10 percent earning more than $193,550, the potential for six figures is well within reach for these professionals, particularly at corporations with vast employee networks to manage. The BLS estimates that employment for human resources managers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2016 to 2026.
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15. Information Technology
Sitting in a cubicle and staring at a computer all day might make some people cringe. But skilled IT professionals — programmers, network administrators, database engineers and others — are delighted to take home that six-figure salary.
Computer and information research scientists invent and design new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology. The highest 10 percent earn more than $169,680, according to the BLS.
With demand for skilled technology workers consistently on the rise, job opportunity, security and wage growth seem unlimited in this sector. In 2016, the metro areas with the highest-paying jobs in IT include Palm Bay, Fla., and Portland, Ore., in financial investments and related activities.
16. Insurance Sales Agent
A job in insurance won't likely be as entertaining as the industry's advertising icons — think Progressive's quirky Flo or GEICO's charming gecko — but the practice can still prove quite lucrative for the average Joe. The top 10 percent of insurance agents earned more than $128,070 in 2016, according to the BLS.
Some agents work for insurance companies directly, selling their company's products exclusively, such as auto policies. Some agents work for independent brokerage firms and sell products from multiple companies, and about one in seven are self-employed. For most agents, commissions are a critical source of income.
17. Loss Control Manager
This falls under the sphere of "if the world were a perfect place, we wouldn't need it" — but sadly, loss control managers are integral to any successful retail operation. This entire role is centered around making sure everything is in the hands of the people it's supposed to be — and that nothing gets taken without paying for it first.
Loss control managers are tasked with performing inventory investigations, running systems in order to prevent loss and even identify potential loss situations before they ever even occur, according to O-Net Online.
As of 2016, you won't find your wallet at a loss for this role — the annual median wages are about $104,970 annually.
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18. Materials Engineer
Everything is made out of something, and materials engineers exist pretty early on the food chain of "how things get made."
Their day-to-day role is to "evaluate materials and develop machinery and processes to manufacture materials for use in products that must meet specialized design and performance specifications" and "develop new uses for known materials," according to a description from the BLS.
The median pay for a materials engineer is also pretty nice, with a median annual wage clocking in at $93,310 — with plenty of room to grow.
19. Mortgage Loan Officer
Owning a home is one of the major tenets of the American dream — and your mortgage loan officer can help make it a reality.
They are the gatekeepers for home loans, making sure they approve — or reject — the right people for the right amount of money, ensuring the assets of the financial institution they represent as well as making your dreams come true.
In the housing industry, the pay scale is widely dependent on the employer — sometimes it's a flat salary and other times it is commission-based — but you could earn up to $132,290.
20. Oil and Gas Engineer
Although Jed Clampett of "The Beverly Hillbillies" struck crude on a fluke, an oil and gas engineer — or petroleum engineer — tries to recreate that magic on a consistent basis.
They "design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth's surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells," according to the BLS.
If being stuck out on a drilling or well site doesn't bother you, buckle up — you could earn upward of $128,230 annually.
This might not be the most common job, but there are even odder jobs out there that pay well.
Those picture-perfect pearly whites definitely require a lot of time and money — which typically lines the wallets of the diligent orthodontists who help craft them.
Even if you have not-so-fond memories of your teenage years, those bulky metal mouth contraptions are a rite of passage for many — and making smiles beautiful is no joke.
If you choose to be an orthodontist, smile — your median salary is $228,780.
22. Quality Control Director
Human nature is to make mistakes — and quality control's job is to make those mistakes go away.
It might not seem terribly exciting to spend your days waiting for someone's mistakes, but it could definitely lend itself to a lucrative paycheck. Although those on the front lines only net about $36,780 annually, by holding a director role, the buck will stop with you. With great responsibility also comes a great increase in pay — but remember, any mistakes will cost you.
23. Sales Engineer
A sales engineer sells scientific and technological products and services to businesses, which means they need to have a deep working knowledge of what they're selling. They might not regale a cocktail party with their work stories, but their expertise can earn them a six-figure paycheck.
The median annual wage for sales engineers was $100,000, but the highest 10 percent earned more than $166,500 in 2016. Sales engineers can find top-paying jobs in data processing and hosting, as well as at business schools and in computer and management training. Metro areas like Silver Spring, Md., and San Francisco are the places to be for the top salaries. Before interviewing, learn the best ways to improve your chances of getting a job.
24. Technical Writer
As mind-numbing as equipment manuals, operational handbooks and appendices can be as reading materials, writing these informational guides can be a lucrative earning proposition. The top 10 percent of technical writers earned an average income of $111,260 in 2016, reported the BLS. Some high-paying employers include corporate giants IBM, Boeing and Google, according to PayScale.
25. Transportation and Distribution Manager
The modern world is one based off of instant gratification — look at Amazon Prime, where from the moment you press a button your purchase could be on your doorstep within mere hours.
All of those things need to get to their rightful places, which is where transportation and distribution managers come into play. This job requires someone to "plan, direct, or coordinate transportation, storage, or distribution activities" — in other words, make sure item A gets to point B in the most cost-effective and efficient manner possible.
With a mean annual wage of $97,630, you'll get compensated well for making sure the cogs of the machine keep turning.
Click through to find out how you can double your salary in two years once you find the right job for you.
Stefanie O'Connell contributed to the reporting for this article.