The average commute in the US is 25.4 minutes. In many areas, it is significantly longer.
For most people, the time spent “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes” (as that song by The Police describes it) is a colossal waste of time.
But what if that commute is actually a potential blessing in disguise? I know, I know. That seems like a stretch, but hear me out.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably have some interest in personal development. You might already be investing money into buying books, going to workshops, even working with someone like me.
But if you have a daily commute, you might be ignoring a fantastic personal growth opportunity, one that comes completely free, and that takes no extra investment in time.
Traffic as a personal growth practice
I’m firmly convinced that the time we spend in our shiny metal boxes is one of the most concentrated, focused, and ubiquitous opportunities for growth we have.
Think about it. Time in traffic takes some of our biggest obstacles to peace-of-mind and distills them into a four-wheeled, rolling learning laboratory. Impatience. A desire to control life (and frustration when we can’t). Anger. Disconnection from others. And that’s just for starters.
Sounds a bit like a living hell, doesn’t it? It does to me. And that’s exactly why it can be one of your biggest gifts.
Here’s the thing. Life is never going to cooperate 100% with what you want. And the more gracefully you learn to navigate that, the less unnecessary pain you inflict on yourself, and the more space you have to experience the full vitality of it, whether at work or elsewhere.
Driving in traffic can be like going to the gym for equinimity. It’s a chance to practice the mental muscles for dealing with the setbacks and irritations that life delivers, and do it on a regular basis. The more you train those muscles, the better equipped you are to stay grounded and not add fuel to life’s challenges.
Personal growth opportunities.
I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience, but I can share where the growth opportunities are for me when it comes to traffic. I suspect they’re similar for most people.
Resisting what is
This is probably the biggest and most destructive source of disturbance to my peace-of-mind. As Byron Katie so brilliantly puts it, “When I argue with reality, I lose – but only 100% of the time.”
Traffic – especially rush hour traffic – is the perfect opportunity to practice finding peace with what is.
“What is” doesn’t care if you resist or not. It’s still going to be what is. So the better you get at letting go of your perceived need for something to be different than it is, the more peace you’ll be able to feel.
Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. And your commute is set up to give you that practice, day after day after day. What luck!
Here’s another biggie, one that marches in lockstep with resisting what is.
If you run your life under the illusion that you are in control, a single day stuck in traffic should shine a light on just how wrong you are. Can you influence? Sure. But there is precious little in the outside world you have out-and-out control over.
Time in traffic often brings this up for me. It’s a superb opportunity to take a deep breath, let go of that desire to control, and allow what is to be, without resistance.
It’s not enough to read about how to manage difficult emotions when things are bright and sunny. To make real change, you have to actually engage them as they happen.
For most of us, time in traffic is going to bring out challenging emotions at some point. Frustration and anger are two big ones. (Ever flipped off some other “idiot driver?” Yeah, me neither. Ha!)
Watching those emotions as they come up offers a great opportunity to both get to know why and how they come up, and explore ways to both head them off before they come up and minimize their impact when they do.
There’s a spot near where I live where two lanes coming from two different directions merge into a main artial. The first merges into the second, and then that merges into the main. It happens often that the person in the first lane I have to merge into doesn’t allow me to merge. This is all the more maddening to me because they then have to merge into the main arterial. So they won’t let me merge, but then expect someone to let them merge.
It kicks up my story big-time about how people “should” be. And if I’m particularly susceptible to a foul mood, it can set me off. More than one bird has been flipped in response, I’m sorry to say.
Over the years, I’ve used it as an opportunity to both recognize and change the negative story I add to the situation. The objective picture is that one person didn’t let another person merge. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe they weren’t paying attention. I have no idea.
If I can shift out of my story about how they should be and just let it go, I experience a lot more peace. That one little irritating spot in the road has been the source of a lot of practice in changing my story to something more constructive.
Most of us have responded to people in our cars in ways that we never would if we were face-to-face.
Part of the reason for that is how anonymized others are in traffic. We don’t relate to them as individuals trying to get to their destination and feeling the same things we are. Our traffic experience becomes about “me,” rather than “we.”
In a lot of ways, that’s a micro-view of something that most of us experience to some degree in the bigger picture.
There’s a Buddhist compassion practice that starts out, “Just like me, this person…” (fill in the blank with “wants to be happy,” “wants to get home to her kids,” “sometimes feels overwhelmed by the challenges he’s facing,” etc.). It’s a way to get us out of an exclusively self-focus and recognize the commonalities we share with those around us.
Driving in traffic offers an excellent opportunity to practice “just like me…”
Wash, rinse, repeat
The great thing about traffic from a personal development perspective is that it offers an opportunity to work with these things over, and over, and over again.
So the choice is yours. Treat your commute (or any time you spend in traffic) as a necessary but irritating evil, or use it as a way to learn, grow, and open.
Which would you rather do?
[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]
Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM
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