Seven Jobs That Are Worth the Stress

U.S. Navy, Getty Images

Most jobs are stressful. When you're an hour away from the deadline for that spreadsheet of "value-adding actionable items" and your boss is breathing down your neck, your anxiety level is going to be pretty high.

Luckily, there are a lot of ways to relieve stress at work. One of the best is by putting your situation into perspective. For example, ask yourself: "Is the world going to end if it takes me an extra hour to finish this project?" Answering questions like this helps to give us a more realistic perception of our stress, once we realize our Excel spreadsheet won't be saving -- or costing -- any lives.

But you have to wonder about the people who have jobs that come with so much pressure that doing them well actually is matter of life or death (or at least company livelihood). What makes it possible to cope with that kind of stress on a daily basis? While some people may just be hard-wired to revel in life's pressure cookers, it probably doesn't hurt that a lot of high-stress jobs come with an equally high paycheck.

Below, seven jobs that are -- literally -- worth the stress.

1. Surgeon

The stressors: Every day is a life or death situation for surgeons, so stress comes with the territory. Surgeons are also expected to be on call -- sometimes 24 hours a day -- and to drop whatever they are doing to get to the hospital.

The workweek: Forty-three percent of surgeons work more than 50 hours per week.*

The salary: $219,770**

2. Chief executive

The stressors: The success -- or failure -- of a company is often attributed to the CEO. Take the recent BP disaster, for example. CEO Tony Hayward took the brunt of the world's blame and criticism for his company's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, causing Hayward to resign. When things don't go well at a company, all fingers point to its chief executive.

The workweek: It's not uncommon for chief executives to work more than 50 hours per week. Frequent travel and work on evenings and weekends also come with the executive territory.

The salary: $167,280, though the compensation packages for chief executives often include stock options and bonuses, meaning total earnings can be much higher.

3. Attorney

The stressors: Long hours, public speaking, and the pressure to win their clients' cases all contribute to the high stress levels of being an attorney.

The workweek: One-third of lawyers work more than 50 hours per week.

The salary: $129,020

4. Computer and information systems managers

The stressors: These days, most companies depend on technology. It's impossible to do many jobs without an Internet connection or properly functioning computer software. Computer and information systems managers ensure that a company's computer-related functions operate efficiently and smoothly -- so if there's a computer crash or a system outage, guess who gets the frantic phone calls?

The workweek: Twenty-five percent report working more than 50 hours per week.

The salary: $120,640

5. Pilot

The stressors: From passenger safety to a smooth flight and an on-time arrival, pilots have a lot of responsibility. Add in all the "what ifs" that come with flying (remember Capt. Chesley Sullenburger, who successfully ditched U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in New York's Hudson River in January 2009, saving the lives of all 155 people on the plane?) and it's not hard to see why flying is stressful.

The workweek: Pilots spend an average of 90 hours per week away from home. Though they are not flying all 90 hours -- pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month -- they spend considerable time performing nonflight duties and are often away from their homes, staying in airport hotels between flights.

The salary: $117,060

6. Financial Manager

The stressors: Customers trust financial managers to make smart, profitable decisions with their money. A loss on an investment may mean the loss of a client or even a job.

The workweek: One in five work more than 50 hours per week.

The salary: $113,730

7. Public relations manager

The stressors: Public relations officials must constantly be aware of how their company or client is being perceived in the media, which often involves damage control. PR executives also deal with the media, answering reporters' tough questions about company layoffs or scandals. If the PR person says the wrong thing or can't smooth over a company crisis quickly enough, it can spell disaster for both his company and his job.

The workweek: More than 80 percent work more than 40 hours per week.

The salary: $101,850

* Average workweek information as of May 2009, according to the BLS.

** Salary information as of May 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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My husband was a pilot for UAL for 24 yrs. The wage listed in your article was inflated, and those in the community who think pilots make $300K a year are grossly misled by the media. Only a few come close to that salary, and they have been in the left seat for many, many years. Forget the money - think about the responsibility these men and women (pilots) have: to deliver hundreds of people daily throughout the US and beyond SAFELY, and for the most part, on time with their luggage. Ask yourself this: If I were in charge of delivering a plane full of people to their destination, to their loved ones, to their important business meeting, how much would I charge? The next time you book a flight, think about it... yes, the airlines seem to charge exorbinate amounts of money, but have you compared those fees against - say, what it cost in 1945 to traverse the United States via a commercial airliner? One more thing: since my husband retired, I no longer worry with every flight he makes about who on his plane may be carrying a bomb, or wishing to make any other political statement that may affect the overall safety of those aboard. I pray for every pilot - and their loved ones - any time a plane leaves one of our airports. God bless us all, and especially these men and women who have to trust that security - through our government's programs - will deliver them and their passengers to their intended destinations.

October 19 2010 at 3:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Princess Poppycock

I have a suggestion for the list, how about any career in the mental health field? Psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, psychiatric nurses etc. These are are stressful jobs, yet ultimately very rewarding. It can be hard watching clients and patients struggle with mental illness and emotional pain. You lay there in bed at night and wonder how they are doing, and you worry when they don't show up for appointments. It can also be frustrating when it seems like they aren't putting in enough effort, or when it feels like you've reached an impasse. It's a wonderful feeling when you see them improving and living better lives. For me, that's the biggest reason why I work in this field. The stressful times are rough, but just one moment of seeing that I've helped someone makes everything worth it.

October 18 2010 at 12:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Princess Poppycock's comment

I can idenify,after being a psych. R.N. for 40 yrs.,it still makes it all worthwhile when a pt. recalls my name from contact many years earlier, and remembers something I've said to them that they say has changed their life.This is why I continue to work,long after retirement.I feel I make a difference in a person's life!

October 21 2010 at 10:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey peoples try 31 yrs as a claims adjuster. the insureds screaming for over pauyments Company puttong on the brakes then there are the agents attorneys andclaimant 30 yrs of pure hell. now have emphazema diabetis

October 17 2010 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This comment is for NONG: Sorry to all others that this is not subject-related but I just want to tell NONG to stop using this forum as a dating website. This is the third article I've clicked on today and found you trying to find a woman. Try this instead:

October 17 2010 at 9:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
scott wertzberger

suck it up solider, i missed the boat due to stupidity, i would love to be in you'r boat. live ammo, and million dollar equipment, how could it get any better? you should be glad to give you'r life for freedom. terrorists give their life in a heartbeat for what they believe in.

October 17 2010 at 9:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Iam a Engineer and stay in some of those Hotels that those Airline piloets stay and they dnt make that kind of money only after 10yrs on the job did you watch 20/20 or nightline last year they share one apartment 7-12 ppl and barley can afford to feed them selfs and as the time spent away frm home as for my profesion also it boils dwn to about 12-13 dollars ahour and they dnt pay you around the clock as your away only when you step on company property and clock in,so you can be away 38hrs at atime and only gaet paid for 24hrs that 2-12hrs days.68k ayear 6 1/2 days aweek.Poilets Dnt get paid untill that door on that plane closes stand bye and run way time dnt count.Just ask when you see one off duty if they have enough pride to tell the truth,they will

October 17 2010 at 8:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

we all need a breakkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk, please, and a vacation boyyyyyyy

October 17 2010 at 8:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nick's comment

no fnnn coment??????????

October 17 2010 at 9:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I work in construction, And its hard to come into a realistic time for completion, so im always stressed out, but now i just try my best, and thank god i have a good pay check.....

October 17 2010 at 8:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bah to the lawyers. Lawyers, liars same difference. The only stress they incur is how deep is the next pocket.

October 17 2010 at 8:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you break down the surgeons pay by the hour it only works out he is getting $25 an hour for 24/7. Not a good return I dare say.

October 17 2010 at 6:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kerry's comment

I was surprised that parent wasn't at the top of the list ... can't think of any stress more worth it for me. It's the most important job I have.

October 18 2010 at 1:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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