The disenchantment of working outside

Why some jobs are best kept indoors

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Originally published in The Other Press. Jun 3, 2014

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this romantic image of my work and myself outside, on a beach or in a park perhaps. I would lean up against a tree and gaze at the beautiful horizon and feel overwhelmingly inspired. Then I would turn to my work and hammer away, doing the best job possible. Many times I have tried to execute this ideal way of being productive, but my expectations never meet my reality.

I’m a writer, so my job consists of me sitting in front of my computer for long periods of time. But I have mobility. I can pick up my laptop and go to a coffee shop, the Other Press office, or I can even go to the park and do all my assignments there.

Prior to becoming a writer, I worked as a canvasser for World Vision, patrol for the PNE, and a sandwich board advertiser for a bed and breakfast off of Oak Street. Those jobs got me outside, rain or shine.

Now, I merely work from home, which is great, but I often feel like I’m missing so much. I remember seeing different neighbourhoods as a canvasser; I remember meeting different people as a patrol; and I remember being shouted at by drivers as a sandwich board guy. None of that happens anymore. Moreover, on a nice summers day, there is nothing better than being outside—but that little perk did not keep me on those career paths for long.

Often I’ll be convinced that perhaps my tedious written/research work can be done in the picturesque exterior. I’d schlep my computer, my books, my pens, my notebooks, and my coffee out with me on an adventure in productivity. What ends up happening is that I waste a couple of hours preparing and commuting to an obscure location. I’ll survey the area for a suitable place to work, perhaps a park bench, see all the bird poop on it, and quickly move on to another.

Finally, I’ll settle at a spot and hunker down. I unravel everything the way I like it and have a gust of wind blow it all away. Disheveled, but undaunted I’ll persist—that is, until a wasp, a mosquito, or a dog off leash decides to attack me. Repeatedly my focus will be broken, and ultimately, my work remains incomplete.

Feeling a sudden cold chill of Vancouver, I’ll return home to pick up the pieces of my day’s work and to see how little progress I have made in my four-to-five-hour excursion.

I try not to think of my day as wasted when I do make those attempts to work outside in our beautiful city. After all, I did get a chance to enjoy a splendid day outdoors. Not many people get a chance to do that. Some are stuck in a kitchen, some in a factory, while others are attending to clients in an office cubicle. I’m lucky enough to have a five-hour break with no major consequences except for the fact that I will have to work extra in the afternoon/evening.

Working outside is a luxury, especially in a job that is not considered blue collar. I try to take advantage of it whenever I’m motivated to, but after so many failed attempts, I know that I’m better off working a little harder and faster indoors and taking a legitimate break outside later, when I’ve accomplished my tasks and am free from my worries.

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