In Defense of the Desk Job

“I don’t want a desk job,” is one of the most common things you’ll hear today.

There’s nothing essentially wrong with that. Some people just like to do work that allows them to go around and be on the field, and they’re more effective doing just that.

What’s wrong is when what is meant by that is any of these two things:

  1. The first is this: “I don’t like a desk job because desk jobs rank lower in the work hierarchy.” Of course, no one really says it explicitly that way. But there is usually the notion that all desk jobs are generally unfulfilling and belong to the lower castes in the workplace, fit only for mindless workers.

    We should know that this isn’t true, especially when thinking about the mental rigor required of economists, lawyers, computer engineers, software developers, HR managers, etc. And as for work fulfillment, we also know that’s got less to do with how much time you spend your day behind a desk. As author Dan Pink puts it, that has more to do with whether what you do drives you towards autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  2. The second is this: “I don’t like a desk job because desk jobs require routine, and it boxes you. I don’t really keep a schedule.” My guess is that people don’t really know what they’re saying when they say this. The reality is, if you really want to be effective, you need a schedule and some form of routine whether or not your work involves a lot of traveling.

    Just think of professional athletes. Regardless of the sport, the best athletes subject themselves to rigorous routines, training, and tight schedules. A non-desk job might mean having a schedule that’s less fixed, as in the workdays might look different from one another. But they require just as much—if not more—discipline as is required in desk jobs.

In a few months, a fresh batch of graduates will enter the workforce. Some will do well in a desk job; some others will do well in a non-desk job. Whatever they choose, I hope it’s for reasons well thought of, not from a crowd that thinks only one type of work is important, fulfilling, and more challenging.

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