They may be right. I know because I now have experience working in both worlds.
Having toiled at a desk, driving a mouse for most of my working life, I’ve had a chance this summer to live the life of a laborer, driving everything from nails to a backhoe.
For years, as a busy desk-bound graphic designer, I often wished I was outside just digging a ditch or something. Now, workamping on a busy guest ranch has taught me to be careful what you wish for. And given me cause to reflect on the intricacies of my life on the job, whether it be behind a desk or under a truck.
Ironically, my favorite manual labor is demolition, while I most enjoyed graphic production as a designer. Physically producing realistic packaging mock-ups with a printer and X-acto blade once gave me the gratification I now get from watching a structure fall under my sledgehammer and wrecking bar.
There is a certain satisfaction a man gets from the sound of splitting wood. And watching the crack creep down a dry log is much more fun than watching a progress bar crawl across the screen while applying a Gaussian blur to a 90 megabyte Photoshop image.
Though my tools of trade were a keyboard and mouse for over twenty years, I escaped any serious carpal tunnel injury. But within just a week of working outdoors, I may now have permanent nerve damage in my hand after gripping a screw gun and drilling hundreds of deck and roof screws.
The frequent fly fishing a ranch hand can get in makes for great therapy, however, while the desk jockey must resort to squeezing the spongy little stress ball in his top drawer.
Struggling to make a thousand words fit in a tri-fold brochure can present similar challenges to fitting a replacement storm window that is larger than the original one removed. Where to cut? How to make sure the content and structure still functions?
Both crafts take careful contemplation, and time. With a reciprocating saw, however, there is no “undo” function.
Every job comes with its share of frustration. The designer may fret over some cryptic error message indicating the loss of precious data. But the woodworker wracks his brain trying to figure out the correct angles to cut for stair runners.
Repetition can be tedious. Whether it is from painting four dozen picnic tables, or duplicating the same business card with a hundred different names. Repetition can be tedious.
My chiropractor could attest to the damage done in my shoulder, neck and lower back from sitting improperly in front of a computer for so many years. And I can affirm that one day behind a shovel can do the same amount of harm. In either case, thank goodness for Ibuprofen.
Physically fatigued, or mentally exhausted, the work will get to you. So the question becomes, would you rather work your ass off in an office chair? Or work your fingers to the bone out in the fresh air?