What if you’d hate a desk job?

What if you’d hate a desk job?

This time last year, I was in the mountains of Guatemala eating lunch with a man named Ovidio who spent 10 years working for WorldVision. It’s a prestigious international NGO that spends millions doing a variety of different projects all over the developing world.

Ovidio hasn’t been to university, but he could read and write and type, so his job was entering into the database all the data of the children who workdvision helps sponsor, through monthly donations from people in first world countries who agree to send around $25 to the hikes family to pay for school supplies and uniforms and new shoes.

It was a good job, especially considering he had neither an education nor English language skills. But still, he didn’t like it.

“At the end of the day, the muscles in my bum has practically atrophied from being sat on for eight straight hours,” he said, as we all laughed, sitting around his dining table eating tortilla con queso. “I’d go and play football at lunch for an hour, but that was about it. The rest of the time I hardly moved – just typing typing typing and staring at the screen.”

Eventually, he went back to being a farmer. Waking up at 4:45 in the morning, spending the early, cool hours of the day hacking away at maize and cauliflower plants in his fields alongside his sons and neighbours, callouses covering the blisters in his palms, feet sweating in the rubber boots worn by all the campesinos around who work the land.

Ovidio is energetic, speaks with his hands in a low voice, smiles often, has all of his teeth (a wonder in these parts). He has five children, large fingers, a wife who adores him. He’s very into his family, his community, but to my utter surprise, one day I saw him reading a magazine at lunch. People around here barely read, much less magazines meant for city folk, and the fact that Ovidio was doing so clearly shows that he’s interested in new ideas, in different and perhaps better ways of doing things. 

Still, the computer job with WorldVision didn’t suit him, and he seems far happier working in the fields, beneath the sun, constantly moving even though his back may ache. 

His story reminds me of one of my students, a guy with a lovely voice, who called me last summer from the other side of the world when I had “office hours” on the phone: 

“I’m a mud-on-the-boots, field work type;” he told me. “My ideal job is anything field based, remote and involve travel and not being welded to an office desk.”

Even realising this much is huge; if Ovidio had known how much he’d hate sitting in a desk, he could have saved himself ten years of atrophying butt muscles ! 

Eventually, with the help of an American NGO who came to town to provide training, Ovidio helped start a community tourism asociación (the local word for NGO) that takes tourists up the mountain behind his house, and brings them back down in the morning. Unlike most of the other tour guide companies, they hire local villagers, many of whom may be illiterate, uneducated, or lacking the social skills to speak to foreigners, provide them with training and mountain climbing gear, and give them a job that pays more money than they would earn working in the fields.

Ovidio is good at it – and he’s the boss, vice-president of the association – whereas at WorldVision he was simply a low-level employee
within the vast organisational hierarchy. 

Ovidio is happy – you see that straight away, whether he’s discussing capitalism at the dining table or sitting in his courtyard flicking corn off its stalk – and his association has grown purely by word-of-mouth. 

There are two things to learn from his story:

1. Your dream job may, in fact, NOT be at a desk within a prestigious international organisation like WorldVision (or the United Nations), but with a small, grassroots NGO. 

2. It might be a lot more fun than a typical desk job, too. 

What do you see in Ovidio’s story? Do you think you, too, might like a more “active” job?

P.S. Here’s a photo of us after we went mountain climbing, with Ovidio and his family:

Ovidio + his familia



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