“Working nine to five for a single employer bears little resemblance to the way a substantial share of the workforce makes a living today," the McKinsey Global Institute reports. “Millions of people assemble various income streams and work independently, rather than in structured payroll jobs." With the gig economy expanding, many professionals choose to veer off the traditional career path and pursue opportunities that allow flexible schedules, respect work-life balance and have them spend much less time at a desk, especially one tucked into a soul-crashing cubicle.
The McKinsey report, however, also points out that of the four segments of independent workers, two (the free agents and the casual earners) choose the lifestyle and enjoy it while the other two (the reluctants and the financially strapped) prefer a different arrangement but become freelancers out of necessity. Although freelancing is a common option for those dreading the traditional work environment, if you don't want to find yourself in “the reluctants" or “the financially strapped" segments of independent workers, you can certainly consider other options. Follow the three-step process outlined below and find a position that aligns with your interests, offers security and -- most importantly -- takes you away from the desk.
When it comes to professional development, knowing what you don't want seems important, but it does not make it easier to find a meaningful career path. Coming up with a list of what you don't want to do doesn't automatically reveal what you DO want to do. As such, you may need to clarify -- with a career coach or a trusted mentor -- what about a desk job seems unappealing to you and what the alternatives are. Is an office environment not your thing or are you simply looking for more activity in a job? Examine where the decision comes from so that you understand what motivates you to pursue a role that is not desk-bound. As you explore your aversion to desk jobs, consider the following questions:
- What do you see when you imagine yourself in a desk job?
- If you are not sitting at a desk, where are you (outdoors, open space, home, a vehicle)?
- Who out there is doing what you see yourself doing?
Not sitting at a desk is only one variable in a much longer equation and you may want to evaluate multiple variables before embarking on a specific career path. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a position that doesn't keep you behind a desk but you absolutely despise it anyway. The actual work environment doesn't necessarily matter. For example, you could have a job that comes with an office -- and a desk -- but that doesn't mean that you sit at your desk all day or even for the majority of the day. Clarifying what it means to not sit at a desk is the first step to identifying your preferences and figuring out how to express those preferences in your everyday professional life.
Certain roles -- like software developer and accountant -- may require you to sit in front of a computer for long periods of time, while others -- like event planner and construction manager -- may keep you out and about on a frequent basis. Starting with such a broad search, however, can be overwhelming. The good news is that in almost any field there are roles that require you to sit at a desk and roles that have you on your feet. For a more focused research, start with what you are studying or pursuing at the moment. You are completing a college degree for a reason. Your time in college gives you access to a plethora of different roles and engagements and you may want to check out the ones that align with your area of study or interests. Attend events, speak to guest lecturers, try out for different roles and clubs and pay attention to what keeps you engaged. As you discover areas that bring inspiration and excitement, keep track of the options available that won't keep you chained to a desk.
While figuring things out by doing helps you explore what opportunities exist in your target field, a conversation with a coach may be needed if you don't even know where to start. Some questions to consider during this step of the process include:
- What subjects excite you?
- When are you most engaged and inspired?
- What have you already done or studied that appeals to you?
Once you have an idea of what areas seem interesting to you, the next step is to take action to create your perfect opportunity. As we discussed above, you don't have to be a freelancer to escape a life behind a desk. For example, even as a career coach, although I am at my desk almost every day, I would not fully enjoy my work without the opportunity to engage with students in a variety of experiential and educational activities that take my away from my office and thus my desk. As you come across fields and opportunities that seem appealing to you, ask yourself the following questions:
- Even if the career you gravitate toward has traditionally kept people behind a desk, what are some ways in which you could challenge the tradition?
- What options exist to be more flexible and active in your chosen job function?
- Who are the employers that will allow you to perform your role outside the traditional work environment of cubicles, desks and nine-to-five workdays?
If you don't want to sit at a desk, you don't have to -- but it may take time, effort and some digging and researching to get to a position that allows for both security and flexibility.
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