Taking the Stairs

I don’t use elevators anymore, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

By Austin Bryant for Five O’ Clock, a Harry’s Magazine

For a long time, I’ve had the attitude of “if you’ve got ’em, use ‘em.” I extend this philosophy to a lot of things — if you’ve got working eyes, read the instructions before asking a dumb question. If you’ve got working arms, hold that door for the person behind you. Lastly, if you’ve got working legs, take the stairs.

When I started working in my office building, I saw lives dominated by elevators. With meetings stretching across 10 or more floors, my coworkers routinely flock to our elevator bay, even when they’re traveling just one floor. There are five elevators, ringing their soft tones as doors seductively glide open, beckoning you inside for a lazy man’s ride.

I was new to the concept of relying on elevators — my old office had three floors and plenty of stairs, with one elevator for handicap access. It wasn’t self-righteousness that spurred me into action at my new office, but rather a fear of complacency. If I started taking elevators everywhere, what would I settle for next?

So, I decided to only take the stairs at work. No matter what floor my meeting is on, I allow myself an extra five minutes to walk up or down a few flights. My building’s access stairway is either ice cold or burning hot depending on the bizarre Boston weather, but it’s also quiet. With only the echoing sound of my feet on metal stairs, it’s become a strange mental reprieve between monotonous conference calls. Whether I’m thinking about my opening line for a presentation or what I have to get done after work, that time is precious.

Taking these proactive steps in my life (pun intended) hasn’t come without judgment from my peers. I frequently turn down their invitation to join them in the elevator, even as they hold the door for me. Typically, it’s a quick raise of my hand and a simple “I’m all set.” It’s not uncommon for someone to joke about me making him feel bad for taking the elevator, shading it with genuine humor or actual resentment.

The funny thing is, forcing myself to take the stairs has bled into the rest of my work, as well as my life outside it. Procrastination was usually my enemy, but now I tend to jump head first into projects. I find myself internally spouting clichés like, “The best way to get started is to get started.” Best of all, I’m usually early to everything because I have to plan my walking in advance.

Outside the office, I like to walk more and don’t avoid stairs. I really do feel lucky to have two working legs, so I believe it’s my duty to use them. On top of that, all this extra walking — along with regular visits to the gym — has led to overall better health. It all adds up to a winning combination that has me feeling fantastic, both mentally and physically.

Plus, my jeans have never fit better.


Originally published for Five O’ Clock, a Harry’s Magazine. Words by Austin Bryant. Illustration by Oscar Bolton Green.