OMG, I need to get away from this damn desk!
March 14, 2008 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Working in an office is destroying me! What kind of work can I do that will keep me out of one?

I am working my first office job after graduating from college last spring. I’ve been there about six months now and apparently working in an office is totally soul-crushing for me. I can just not handle sitting at a desk staring at a computer for eight hours at a time. About ten minutes after I arrive, I am already antsy to leave and by the afternoon I am often nearly in tears because I hate sitting there so much. The office itself isn’t even one of those gray, cubicle-like offices I’ve heard of, but a bright office in a cool old building with an open floor plan. But it’s the sitting in one place staring at a screen all day that really destroys me.
Of course it doesn’t help that my work is totally boring and pointless. It’s a small company and when I started I was really excited about having my first ‘real job’ and was super friendly to all my co-workers, but since then they have demonstrated a total disinterest in having anything to do with me. I do not exchange a single word with anyone all day. I really like to interact with people, and this part might be as equally devastating to me as the sitting at the desk part.
I know very well that life is too short for me to be putting up with this. Every evening I live in dread of returning to work the following morning. At this point, I am really having trouble figuring out what sort of work won’t make me feel like this. I graduated with a major in anthropology and a minor in Russian. I love books, languages, being outside, yoga, traveling and being with people. I am super active person and have sort of short attention span, so I tend to jump from one thing to another really quickly. I have a lot of difficulty even sitting through a whole movie. I know that most people don’t have a job doing what they love, but I think I should at least be able to find something that I don’t hate.
What kind of work can I do that doesn’t involve being in the office situation? If I can get something that involves using my degree that would be great, but I am certainly willing to do something that doesn’t require it. While I was in school I worked as a waitress for a year and I didn’t really care for that. I also spent some time working as a delivery driver, which I liked quite a bit, but made me feel guilty about driving all day. I live in Minneapolis and am married. My husband has a job that he likes, so I’d prefer to be able to find something that we wouldn’t have to move for.
Thanks in advance for your help. Throw-away e-mail:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (40 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure it's the office that's killing you? It sounds more like your particular job is awful. Not all office environments are equal. It is possible to find an office job where the people are nice and the work is soul-suckingly boring.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:36 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about becoming a police officer?
posted by essexjan at 8:39 AM on March 14, 2008

This is random and out-there, but my brother-in-law has worked at Lenscrafters for years and loves it. He does mostly lab work -- making lenses in the back -- but he also does a little bit of retail stuff, showing people around and helping them pick out glasses, and then fitting the new glasses to make sure the frame is adjusted properly, etc.

He's tried cubicle jobs before, but like you he's too restless to sit at a computer all day. His job at Lenscrafters lets him move around and gives him a variety of work, some of which involves people and some of which is technical, detailed work. He's an introvert, and definitely not someone who'd ever work in "Sales," but he really loves glasses and enjoys working the retail side as much as the lab work.

Anything in retail/sales will give you a chance to interact with people more, but the quality of retail jobs varies wildly. Working in a small specialty boutique (comic books, yarn, shoes -- anything you have a passion for) won't pay much, but it can be fun if you work for/with good people. And maybe check out Lenscrafters; they're in just about every mall anywhere.
posted by junkbox at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2008

teaching? very people-oriented.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:49 AM on March 14, 2008

If you love Yoga, and you love people, why not become a certified yoga instructor? You'll likely work for several different studios, and thus will have a variety of environments and students to interact with daily. You'll stay active yourself, and may even find your restlessness and short attention span calming a bit.

Yoga teacher training is offered many places, but be sure to get references and recommendations, as there have been some shady fly-by-night training programs/scams int he last few years (in my area, anyway).

Good luck to you, whatever you end up doing!
posted by minervous at 8:49 AM on March 14, 2008

I am super active person and have sort of short attention span, so I tend to jump from one thing to another really quickly. I have a lot of difficulty even sitting through a whole movie.

It isn't office work that's getting to you. It is the monotony of life at work. Look for a project-oriented job that will give you different challenges on a fairly regular basis.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:50 AM on March 14, 2008

Agreeing with the pink superhero that it might be the office, not just the office experience.

You can try youth counseling/casework--if anything, it's likely to be more interesting than your current job. Try looking through the Minnesota Nonprofit job postings for something.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:54 AM on March 14, 2008

Also, check out these lists of careers for people whose personality types are:
(You might read descriptions of those personality types to see which one is the best match for you.)
posted by salvia at 8:55 AM on March 14, 2008

I agree with the yoga teacher bit, although I don't care much about the certification part.
posted by letahl at 8:56 AM on March 14, 2008

Based on your interests, some potential jobs for you:

Yoga instructor (this takes a while though, you'll need to do something else in the meantime)

Work in retail in one of your interest areas: REI, bookstore, yoga studio, a "youth-oriented" travel agency like STA.

Wait tables.

The last two may seem somewhat "dead-end" but it might be a good idea to get this this kind of job that will pay your bills without leaving you too physically/emotionally exhausted at the end of the day to pursue the things you really love.
posted by lunasol at 8:56 AM on March 14, 2008

also, I missed that you're in Minneapolis. Definitely check out the MNCN websites, there are lots of great entry-level jobs there.
posted by lunasol at 8:59 AM on March 14, 2008

I love books, languages, being outside, yoga, traveling and being with people.

That's pretty much everything I love (save yoga), and I'm incredibly happy as an English teacher abroad. Broadly, I think education sounds like a good way to go for you, because you seem really motivated and energetic, driven by learning, and interested in connecting with people.

Perhaps you go from school to school doing anthropology presentations as part of a local museum's education team? Perhaps you tutor local university students in Russian on the side? Or both? There's no rule that says you have to earn your entire income from one job, though it's often easier that way, and depending on you and your husband's income, perhaps working a few different gigs might be up your alley.
posted by mdonley at 9:01 AM on March 14, 2008

We can give you some random ideas based on things you've told us, but we really don't know much about you. I'd recommend going through a self assessment process such as that outlined in "What Color is your Parachute" (pay no attention to his terrible website, get the book). It's worth risking the $13. You'll find out what you're good at, what you like, and how you can find a job you'll like and at which you'll excel.
posted by beagle at 9:02 AM on March 14, 2008

Damn Dirty Ape, (the second half of) your answer is not helpful. We don't live in pre-modern society. We (meaning most of those who visit metafilter, probably including the poster) don't live in a third world country. I don't think he sounds whiny. It's fine that you do, and offering some perspective can be helpful. Insulting the poster is not.

Anyhow, anon, have you thought about grad school? While you're in school, I would think (though I don't know that much about anthro) that you could find an enjoyable research assistant position that involves plenty of field work. Interviewing and the like. Afterwards, if you pursue a career in academia, you could try to put yourself out in the field plenty as well.

Also, I agree that part of the problem seems to be specifically your job. Try finding a job somewhere where the people are friendlier (which may be highly related to the non-crapiness of the job or company). I also think it's probably worth at least making an appointment to get screened for ADD.

One last thought. I mentioned that offering perspective can be helpful. Well, it's true that plenty of people are worse off than you. That doesn't make you whiny or a bad person for disliking your job. But one thing you could try is finding a wage job and doing that for a while. That could help you find perspective on your own. It could give you time to think about what you really want. There are plenty of places to work where the jobs are somewhat crappy, but the people are nice. You could do that for a while, until you feel ready to move on to another "real job". It could help you decide if you can stand an office only job, or if you need something where you get up and about at least sometimes.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 9:14 AM on March 14, 2008

edit: It is possible to find an office job where the people are nice and the work is NOT soul-suckingly boring
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I also hate cubicle life, so I understand where you are coming from. A couple of years ago I decided to put my graphic design experience to work again, and got a job at a newspaper in a nice building with great people and interesting projects, but still quit after a year because of the sitting in one place thing. If you are able to find a job where you work from home, it might not be so bad since you'd have more control over your workspace, stretching breaks, etc.

My previous gig was sourcing and building theatrical props, which I have since returned to. Because I work for a relatively small theater, I am also responsible for shopping for furniture, props, and set dressing. Larger theaters often employ a dedicated shopper, however. With a background in anthropology and in interest in literature, a job as a dedicated prop shopper rather than prop designer might be right up your ally. The pay is not great, but the work is often interesting and you'll be on your feet, wandering around and exploring new places every day, especially if you are based out of an urban theater. You'll get to interact with all sorts of specialty vendors and artisans.

One caveat, however. I don't enjoy shopping as entertainment, and successful prop shoppers generally don't, since speed and efficiency are important. Every day is like playing a game of high pressure "scavenger hunt". If you have an eye for good design and a short attention span, I bet you'd enjoy the work. Since you don't have an interior design, theater, or art degree, finding a theater that offers a props internship would be your foot in the door.
posted by stagewhisper at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2008

Though it requires going back for more schooling, reference librarianship might suit you well. Lots of interaction with people (different people every day, too!), and lots of new and interesting work to do. I'm a law librarian, and you'd think that all my research would tend to be very similar, but there's a huge variety of stuff I do every day, and I never know what each day is going to bring. It's challenging but almost never boring (though I'll admit that there are some things I have to research that always my cup of tea, mezzanine financing I'm lookin' at you). I have the attention span of a gnat, so I love having a handful of projects going at once, and when something finishes there's always something new to start.

It does involve sitting at a desk and staring at a computer most of the day, but sometimes you get to sit and put stickers on books.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2008

I went from teaching to working in an office, and it is quite a change. If you decide to become a teacher, make sure that you focus on a subject area where there is an actual need (eg, math, science or chemistry, versus EFL). Teaching is fun, but being stuck in hellish teaching conditions with nowhere to go is not.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2008

It does sound as if your unfriendly colleagues might be a large part of the problem. I've worked in many offices: in some there was a hubbub of laughter and conversation all day, others were fairly quiet; but even in the duller ones people usually talked quite a bit. So maybe don't rule out another office job, perhaps of a different kind, altogether.
posted by Phanx at 9:36 AM on March 14, 2008

I know a guy who runs a business renting out jetskis on a popular lake. Six months out of the year he's on the lake, messing around on jetskis, supervising the kids who do the actual rentals. The other six months of the year, he's on the beach in Costa Rica. No office involved.
posted by mattbucher at 9:42 AM on March 14, 2008

What about sales?
posted by Oudein at 9:58 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Become a newspaper/magazine reporter/writer. You're only at your desk long enough to make calls to schedule interviews and then again to write your story. I'm desk-bound now and while my work is interesting, it's nothing like being out interviewing different folks all the time, being where the action is. I regret almost daily leaving that world behind.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2008

serious suggestion at least for the short term: quit the job you have now and sign up with a few temp agencies. you'll have a new environment pretty frequently with new people to interact. many temp jobs are about sitting at a computer, but many of them are running around filing, answering phones, or at a different desk every hour covering people's breaks and lunch hours. i think temping is a great job for someone with office add.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:12 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I liked it better before the edit, teeps.
posted by box at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2008

Have you considered putting that Anthro degree to work and trying Archaeology? Well Cultural Resource Management (CRM) is what its called these days. Doing contract work definately will satisfy your need to be outside and travelling. I should in all fairness state that if you get in deep doing this, it can (and quite possibly will) take you away from home for possibly weeks at a time, so balance that with your married life. Also, archaeology is about 3:1 office time to fieldwork so I'm afraid if you ever want to move beyond being an intinerant field grunt, some time in front of the computer is necessary. But being a field grunt is hecka fun and can pay pretty decent too, depending on where you work (Western states pay more). I know at least one company (a former employer) in your area that does this (I can give you some info if you rsvp via my profile email) but a simple Google search for "CRM" or "Environmental Consulting" will give you a bunch more options. Good luck.
posted by elendil71 at 10:15 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't have any suggestions about non-office jobs, but one thing you wrote really jumped out at me--you're just hitting the six-month mark of your first office job out of school?

At the beginning of March, so we're just starting to come out of the darkest, coldest, least-sunlight part of the year?

Yeah, I'm not at all surprised that you feel like working in an office is totally soul-crushing. I answered a question a while back from someone who was in a similar situation to you and considering going back to grad school, and I think parts of it may be helpful here as a different perspective. From that link:

I should just point out that I, along with nearly every single one of my friends, had a really hard adjustment to office life in the first year out of undergrad. For me, the absolute *worst* of it was about 6 months in. (I think this is similar for a lot of people, because for your whole academic life until now, you've only ever had to tough it out for a semester of boring work, at which point you could generally switch or drop classes. Realizing you can't--that there's no break coming after 6 months--is profoundly depressing at first.) My unhappiness in my job was completely unexpected, because no one had ever mentioned how difficult the transition between college and a 9-5 office job would be, even if you are totally suited for your job... College, particularly if you went to a good college, doesn't really prepare you for the fact that everyone starts at the bottom, and the fact that most people have to do work well below their skill level for a year or two before proving themselves and getting better stuff.

The six-month mark for the first office job hit me, all of my friends in this city, and almost every new grad who gets hired at my company, like a bag of bricks. You don't talk much about what career field your current job is in, so I'm not sure how applicable this is, but if it's in something that you really thought you would love, it might be a good idea to stick it out at least until June or July. For the vast majority of my friends (although not all of them), it really really got better by about a year in. It'd be a shame to chuck it out the window if it's something you could ultimately be happy at, because the initial adjustment is so hard.

(By about January/February of my first year on the job, I was having vivid, vivid fantasies about quitting my job and going back to school to be a masseuse--it literally seemed like the best job I'd ever heard of. I wouldn't be working in an office! I'd set my own hours! I craved sunlight and fresh air like an underfed anemic craves a steak. I am *oh so glad* that I wasn't able to put my scheme into action, because I'm pretty happy at my job now. It was just hell to get over the initial hump. I can almost guarantee April will be better, if for no other reason than the sunlight. Sweet, sweet sunlight.)
posted by iminurmefi at 10:48 AM on March 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

I also spent some time working as a delivery driver, which I liked quite a bit, but made me feel guilty about driving all day.

I don't understand why driving makes you feel guilty. I can understand how it might be boring, but what is there to feel guilty about? It sounds like you found a job that you liked and you were able to make ends meet for a time.
posted by Laugh_track at 11:22 AM on March 14, 2008

I had the first experience with my first job out of college. I worked in a small office with only three other people, all of whom were 20-40 years older than me and only spoke to me when they had to. The work was actually pretty interesting but I kept a box of tissues on top of my computer because I usually ended up in tears everyday at 3pm.

I recommend looking for a job with a younger group of people. Teach For America has an office in Minneapolis and is the most inspiring/fun/challenging place that I've ever worked.
posted by jrichards at 11:27 AM on March 14, 2008

Oh, and by working at Teach For America, you'll get a real "behind-the-scenes" look at what teaching really entails, and whether or not it's for you.
posted by jrichards at 11:28 AM on March 14, 2008

This is an issue which plagues me as well, though my situation is a little different. I have a good paying job with a friendly laid back work environment, yet I still have a hard time dragging myself out of bed in the morning and dread the thought of going in to the office. Every day my resolve grows in the belief that it is against the nature of man to spend eight hours a day sitting behind a desk.

I was ranting about this to a friend of mine when he was in town on break from school and he told me how he raised some money to pay off some of his debt. He has a skill for glasswork--stained glass and the like--and he came up with an idea. He spent a day making two-hundred small glass pieces (the description of which eludes me) and the next day he went on the New York trains and started selling them. He sold all of them for $20 apiece. You can do the math, but I could personally get by for more than two months on that.

My friend recommended the book "The 4-Hour Work Week" to me. It's a good book about finding ways to streamline your work life in such a way that you don't have to spend so much time in the office, as well as building alternate and (hopefully) automated sources of income. My personal path for alternate income is going to take a while, but it is something I enjoy doing immensely: learning about computers and hopefully eventually creating some much needed software.

In the meantime, I have developed the "F#@k it!" approach at work. This sounds counterproductive, but for me at least, throwing out any concern for keeping my job or maintaining the approval of my peers has actually improved the quality of my work and the speed with which I get it done, as well as to make my relationships with my coworkers more easy going. I don't stress out about deadlines and I take the scenic route to achieving tasks, which actually does a better job of keeping me on task. I can't say that it will work for everyone (in fact it probably won't) but maybe you should try not caring!
posted by mockdeep at 11:33 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have always thought it would be cool to get a job delivering mail for the post office. Good benefits and good job security, retire and get a government pension. Spend your days outside, walking around.

Downside is that I see you live in Minneapolis and I don't know that delivering mail in a snowstorm December would be much better than sitting in an office.

So maybe phone sex operator?
posted by charlesv at 12:10 PM on March 14, 2008

You might want to check out this book:
120 Jobs That Won't Chain You To Your Desk

Full disclosure: I work for this company but not on that book.

I've gotten the book for my little sister and a few of her recent-graduate friends who don't think they can do the office dance, and they seem to like it.
posted by rmless at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Second elendil71's excellent suggestion, but want you to keep in mind this could be a bit of season depression as suggested by iminurmefi. Try some blue lighting or a GE Reveal bulb in a desk lamp, they helped for me. Find a new job before quitting your current one.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 1:28 PM on March 14, 2008

If you won 10 million dollars and never had to work again, what would you do with your days?

(go do it.)

Otherwise, take a year and go do an Americorps position or take a year with CityYear and get some perspective. Who knows, you might find a real niche for yourself.
posted by TomMelee at 6:28 PM on March 14, 2008

I teach kids with special needs. Its work that fills up your day without ever detracting away from your 'soul' (sorry, sometimes there is no other word). Good pay, always lots of work out there. Interested?
posted by 0bvious at 3:11 AM on March 15, 2008

I made a transition from doing warehouse work to office work and am feeling the same way.

In my case though, I'm convinced it's this particular office since the position I'm in since I was warned by a staffing agent that it is a revolving door for all of the unfortunate staffing agencies charged with filling this position. Eight months in and I'm starting to see why.

Try another office job. Work absolutely sucks when you aren't getting any respect from your co-workers and you start feeling like Milton from Office Space (you're relegated to a crappy desk, have few--if any--meaningful responsibilities, get shafted out of events everybody else gets to partake in and are generally ignored).

I should just point out that I, along with nearly every single one of my friends, had a really hard adjustment to office life in the first year out of undergrad. For me, the absolute *worst* of it was about 6 months in. (I think this is similar for a lot of people, because for your whole academic life until now, you've only ever had to tough it out for a semester of boring work, at which point you could generally switch or drop classes. Realizing you can't--that there's no break coming after 6 months--is profoundly depressing at first.) - iminurmefi

Personally, I don't think it's about the semester-long work--the hardest adjustment for me was just being forced to get up at the same time every day and doing the exact same thing every single day. College does not prepare you at all for this either-- usually your classes have wacky hours and you typically don't have the same classes every day.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 6:31 AM on March 15, 2008

Hmm, I've been laid off enough and worked a lot of contract jobs that I'm the opposite of you. I don't mind routines and feel that the longer I am somewhere, the better I work.

As you get more efficient you should be able to get more done faster and find a way to spend some time thinking of your other interests at work. For instance, if the job involves a lot of waiting around for printouts and faxes, bring a clipboard with a few magazine articles from home on it so you can read. In fact, cutting and pasting and printing a few articles everyday before work is a good way to get mini breaks.

If the job involved working on graphic design, I'd do what the client wants, then make my own version of the work for my portfolio.

Hell everyone is legally supposed to get 1 hour lunch adn 2 10 minute breaks at my workplace .

Everyone gets a little bored. Just be creative and ethical.
posted by Freecola at 12:18 PM on March 15, 2008

If you enjoy nature: Park Ranger
posted by mnop at 8:33 PM on March 15, 2008

Outside sales (where you go to the clients) sounds right up your alley. If you're not comfortable with selling some random product or service, you could try a non-traditional sales-type job. For example, I work at a blood bank. Our Account Reps are rarely in the office - they spend their days meeting with businesses/churches/schools/etc, going to blood drives, etc.
posted by radioamy at 6:42 PM on March 16, 2008

I like the idea somebody said about AmeriCorps. I am an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer right now myself - but be warned, some AmeriCorps positions are 40 hours a week in an office too (mine is).
posted by at 12:41 PM on May 8, 2008

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