From Lawyer To Entrepreneur: How Breaking Up With My Chair Changed My Career
Kathleen Hale, CEO, Rebel Desk
I felt like I had made it.
I was a young attorney and it was my first day of work at a big city law firm. I waited in the pristine main lobby to be escorted to my new office. The Wall Street Journal, looking as if it had been ironed and starched, sat on the sparkling glass. Giant abstract artwork hung from the walls, as the receptionist quietly repeated, “Good morning. Thank you for calling.”
It wasn’t until I was taken to my office though, when I truly felt that I had arrived. Waiting for me behind the desk was a tall, gorgeous, and fully-adjustable office chair. Of course I had sat in office chairs before, but not of this caliber of cushiness - no foam seat, arm rests that moved, a reclining function, and even its own instruction manual. I picked up the manual and settled in for a good read.
Over the next couple of years, I became better acquainted with my chair than I could have ever imagined. I spent many days, long nights, and Saturday afternoons in it. I came to realize that sitting in my chair all day was contributing to the aching feeling in my back. I suspected that the inactivity of sitting for most of the day was to blame for my eyelids creeping shut around 3pm. I would try to stand up during phone calls and even pace while editing legal briefs. Still, most of my working hours were spent firmly planted in a chair, and I did not even think there was another way of getting around this.
A few years later, I became a founding partner of a new law firm and experienced the freedom to think about my work environment. I had read the articles about how sitting can be dangerous for your health and decided to start experimenting with being on my feet more. As with most introductory furniture in my life, my first standing desk was from IKEA. I remember placing my laptop on the desk, eager to try my new approach to working.
Starting the day on my feet was a positive jolt to my system. Often I would eat my breakfast while sitting at my desk, so my day would begin on a very sedentary note. Now, however, I was standing and feeling the energy. I even felt empowered. Standing tall with my spine straight and my shoulders back, I was ready to tackle that to-do list.
As I began to incorporate more standing and movement into my day, I was most surprised by my increased level of concentration. Rather than being distracted by the sixteen browser windows open on my screen and the list of things running through my mind, I was able to focus on and complete one task at a time. When it came to writing, I found that standing allowed me to more quickly and effectively create a first draft. The aching in my back that often crept in each afternoon began to disappear. I stopped feeling restless and began feeling revitalized.
There was a learning curve to working while being upright. My body had been trained to be completely listless in a chair for hours, and it took a few weeks to increase the amount of time I spent on my feet. I learned that my mother’s favorite piece of advice proved true for this situation as well: everything in moderation. I rarely sit at all during the day now, but I also do not stand still in one position all day. I move around. Being on my feet rather than in my chair makes it easier to add movement into the day. The more I move throughout the day, the more energy I have and the more I can accomplish. Our bodies were designed for movement and activity. I have found that when we take advantage of that design, the body rewards us.
The only chair in my office these days is a basic stool. It does not come with an instruction manual, yet I feel now that I truly have it made.
About the Author
Kathleen Hale is a former attorney who, after experiencing profound change from working from a standing-height desk, decided to quit her practice to start Rebel Desk that makes an adjustable-height desk with optional walking treadmill.