[Editors note: This blog post was originally written by Hope Friedman.]
Commuting is the act of travelling from home to work, work to home, rinse and repeat. Now here are some facts about commuters in America: there are about 128 million commuters in the US and 75.7% are in a car by themselves. About 1.45% takes the subway. And for about 50% of these commuters, it takes them about 20-25 mins to get to work. Which means that most Americans who commute this takes up about 2-4% of their day. Now here are some facts about commuters in London, United Kingdom: while 75% of workers within the UK live within a half hour from their place of employment, about “half of all [Londoner] commuters [are only] able to get to work in 30 minutes or less. Within London, 40% of commuters are taking the train or the Underground and another 10% makes up walker, bicyclists and bus riders. Approx. 3.7 million work in London. I’ll let you draw your conclusions, get our your calculators, whatever you need to do, but the point is there are a lot of people spending A LOT of time commuting to their job every day in London.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I was a commuter in London, with an hour and 40 min commute every day…one-way, do you need your calculators again? That’s 3 hours and 20 mins a day, or 15% of every week day. I lived in Cambridge, UK and commuted about 60 miles each way by bike, rail, underground, and then a 15min walk into Central London. Cambridge was the only convenient solution with access to public transit for me and 40 min car ride for my husband’s job in the opposite direction. It wasn’t sustainable or ideal and most days, I think it took years off my life; however, it was a defining experience and I think it has taught me a lot about myself. And I want to share my experience because I often think daily occurrences seem mundane, ordinary or insignificant and bear no meaning on “the big picture”.
My work day started with getting up at 4:50am and getting my bike by 5:17am to make a 5:45am direct train to London from Cambridge station. Direct trains took about 50 minutes when they were on schedule and made 3 stops en-route. All other trains from London out of Cambridge took 1 hour and 20 minutes and made 7 stops. There are only direct trains from 5-8am and from 5-8pm, on the :15min and :45min mark of every hour . A direct train is the only way to survive; you needed to make that train. I would get into Kings Cross station by 6:45am most mornings and would then head down to the Tube to take the Northern line 5 stops to London Bridge station. I would get out of the Tube and walk 10 mins to my gym, get in an hour workout, get ready for work and walk another 10mins to my place of employment, putting me at arriving at work by 9am. Now, some of you might be saying that I could also take the 7:15am train from Cambridge which would allow me another of sleep…and my response to that is how many of you have been stuck in London rush hour? It’s horrendous. I think if you have grown up with that, it may not bother you, but it bothered me to see 3 tube trains go by before I could even squeeze under some person’s armpit enough to fit in there. So the 5:45am train was direct and the tube was relatively calm at 7am. I started my journey home by promptly leaving the office at 5:55pm every day to catch the 7:15pm direct train back to Cambridge, where I’d get on my bike and enter my home threshold by 8:15pm. This was on a good day. About 1-2 days every couple of weeks, I would be delayed, stuck on a train or on the tube with nothing to do but just go with it. My train route happened to one of the only rail lines in all of the UK that did not have good Wi-Fi service, so I spent most of my days reading on my Kindle or watching shows on my iPhone.
My days were long; I did this commute for a year and a half and I did it for the experience. The work experience and the chance to work in a big city was a once in a lifetime opportunity and dream of mine. Getting the chance to do something you’ve dreamed of doing doesn’t always mean that it’s going to be easy, will fit perfectly into your life, and that it won’t be without hard work or at times be a nightmare. There were several days that I came home in a bad mood and days when I felt the overwhelming pressure of always having to be somewhere at a certain time. More days than not, I got on my bike in the frigid cold, the rain, and in the dark. I didn’t always feel like the team player I wanted to be at my job from my abrupt dismissal at 5:55pm every day and I was lucky to work with a group of very understanding people…one of whom commuted an equal distance every day and had been doing so for 5 years and counting! But, when something is important you find a way to discover resiliency within yourself and the ability to celebrate something as mundane as a commute to work. I don’t expect everyone to find their commutes a life-changing experience; however, everyone does things in their daily life that might be ordinary to some and extraordinary to another. There are moments in every day that define us, help us to realize things about ourselves, and strengthen our sense of character. Make 15% of every day count for something.