My morning commute reminds me of the advice one of my dearest friends gave her pre-schooler after her pre-schooler decked another kid during playtime, “You’re going to want to hit a lot of people in life, but that doesn’t mean you can do it.”
I ride public transit to work. When I first moved to San Francisco in my 20s I thought public transit was a wonderful platform in which all lines of race and class were erased – it was a commune of the masses, squashed together with preference shown only to the elderly and the infirm. The woman in a suit standing; the homeless man sitting.
Three cities and over a decade on public transit later, I’ve had it with the masses. I’ve had it with the people in backpacks that swing around as if they are unaware their bag is taking up any space. I’ve had it with the people that want you to get up while the train is moving so they can stand one foot away from where they were sitting. I’ve had it with the parents that let their children swing around on the poles and stand in the seats. I’ve had it with people on the escalator that don’t know you’re supposed to walk on the left and stand on the right, oblivious as the crowd piles up behind them. I’ve had it with people and their iPods turned up so loud they might as well not wear earphones. I’ve had it with people that refuse to move to the center of the train, causing a jam by the door. I’ve had it with people that pay no mind that they are the only ones on the entire car talking loudly enough for everyone else to hear. I’ve had it with the tourists, who always talk loudly, and who say to each other, “Is this the stop?” “No, we get off the next stop.” “We get off the next stop,” and so on down the line – like a game of telephone one speaks to the next until they’ve practically missed their stop.
You would think that after years on public transit I’d get used to it. Learn to let go of things I can’t control. Quite the opposite, says Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, “You can’t adapt to commuting, because it’s entirely unpredictable.” We do, however, adapt to the home with the extra bedroom and (in my case) the apartment with the walk-in closet. The bedroom and the closet lose their glow and commuting, happiness researchers report, remains one of our least favorite activities.
Until we can teleport to work – sign up me for that experimental research – we have to commute. And commuting cannot be separated from our experience of work. Give it a second when figuring out your fulfillment.