October 22, 2010 | File under: Advice and Lessons • On the Job
One thing all my years of schooling never prepared me for was the massive amount of sitting that would be required by my entry into professional life. Eight hours or more a day, confined to a desk in front of a computer, total idleness. It’s just one of those details of a career that evades notice until you find yourself doing it all. day. long.
As a natural fidgeter, incorporating movement into my day is necessary. Throughout school, even the highly structured classroom days of high school, there was always a scheduled break mixed in with periods of immobility. Not only did these breaks allow me to stretch my legs, they also meant my attention span never surpassed forty-five minutes to an hour. In college and later in law school, rarely did a day pass when I would be required to sit for hours on end. I enjoyed a schedule with plenty of time to get up and clear my mind.
Naturally, I became used to this lifestyle. Thanks to the breaks, each day passed by at a good pace, and I was fairly productive without feeling stir-crazy. I wasn’t particularly athletic, but I spent plenty of time walking. The breaks helped me to make the most of the time I did need to concentrate.
And then, I began my job as a lawyer. School had done nothing to prepare me for the daily realities of the job, which consisted of mainly sitting for eight to twelve hours in a small room staring at a computer screen. Each moment of the day needed to be accounted for, down to the tenth of the hour. Any breaks in the day would mean my return home would be pushed back later and later into the evening, as I was constantly struggling to reach my daily billable target. Rather than getting the breaks I needed in the day, I would push ahead and attempt to maintain focus, usually failing to some degree and substituting a few minutes of internet procrastination for walking breaks because it would mean less time subtracted from the billable clock. Still, my attention span barely improved and so much sitting left me restless after just a few hours.
So many jobs require hours and hours of sitting. If one is fully engaged in what they are doing, sitting all day may not be so bad. But being completely sedentary feels especially toxic when the job you are performing fails to provide much enjoyment. Those breaks to get up and move around are essential.
There are two ways to deal with the sitting: accept it or make changes where it is possible. As a testament to skyrocketing levels of obesity, many people just adopt a lifestyle that involves very little movement. Health statistics speak to how beneficial this can be for individuals’ well-being. The other option is to compensate for the sitting by carving out time in the day to exercise. I did the latter, but it was always a struggle to make time for this important activity. While exercising allowed me to fit in bursts of activity into a day largely characterized by no activity, I still struggled with restlessness and inattentiveness during those interminable spans of sitting. I could never fully adapt.
The act of sitting at a desk may appear to be an immaterial aspect of professional life, overshadowed by other details of a career. But day-to-day activities are important, yet often overlooked, considerations when considering a career. The same can be said for careers that require a person to spend hours on his or her feet. The question one should ask themselves ahead of time is whether sitting at a desk all day long going to fundamentally affect one’s feelings about performing a certain task. Some things that may be enjoyable for limited periods are not so great if one is held captive from nine to five. Variety in the day and the freedom to move about are luxuries schooling encourages people to take for granted; the reality one faces in some careers can come as a surprising disappointment.