Editor’s note: Could simply adding an enriching or challenging activity – or giving up a bad habit or dependency – really make an impact on your workday? The CareerBuilder writers decided to find out – we each picked one thing to add on or give up for one workweek to see how it affected our workplace productivity, mood and success. We’ll be blogging about our experiences throughout the next several weeks (that is, if we make it through the challenge in one piece).
So far, my co-workers have expanded their minds or decreased their coffee consumption in the name of bettering themselves—and entertaining you dear readers. I was feeling confident as my week of change approached, especially since it would only be a four-day workweek for me to get through, as we had Monday off for Labor Day.
While working here at CareerBuilder for the past three years, my commute has changed each of the five times I’ve moved. The nomad lifestyle suits me, and switching up transit options from Metra trains to subways to buses to driving my own car has always kept the trip to work interesting. So when it was my turn to add or subtract something from my workweek, I volunteered to try biking, especially since Chicago was ranked the sixth most bike-friendly city in America earlier this year. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so optimistic.
Let me start by saying that yes, I have biked in the city before, but no, I was not looking forward to joining the morning commuter cyclists—they’re an intimidating bunch with much better legs than me. And to avoid the heavy traffic that congests commuters in downtown Chicago, I left my apartment a little after 7 a.m. with a helmet strapped on my head and a bright yellow backpack to keep me highly visible.
Interestingly, I could take exactly the same route as if I were driving, thanks to the prominent bike lanes throughout the city—and my commute was actually about seven minutes shorter than if I had been driving. This wasn’t too much of a surprise to me; I had seen cyclists pass me each morning and arrive downtown ahead of me as I waited at stoplights and in traffic.
Right away, I could see the perks to a free commute that was shorter and healthier than my previous trips to work. But I wasn’t too fond of having to pack an extra change of clothes for once I arrived at work—or the hour I spent sweating at my desk afterwards. But I had gotten through Day 1.
The next morning, my biking commute already felt like old news. I knew the streets I wanted to take and how long it would take me to get to work, so my mind shifted to autopilot as I pedaled away from home. Unfortunately, I should have remained vigilant, because I got doored by a car about five minutes into my new commute.
While heading down a long road dotted with elementary and middle schools, I was trying to navigate around the parked minivans with their hazards on as parents sat in the bike lane and watched their kids cross the street to school. And as I went around one car to get back in the bike lane, a legally parked car didn’t see me approaching and swung their door wide open—and right into my bike’s path.
I was knocked down to the ground and was immediately offered help and apologies from everybody around me, though the shock of the accident had me frazzled, and my mangled bike wasn’t really calling my name to jump back on and keep going.
After some help getting myself and my bike back to my house, I checked in with work to let them know
how much I loved them that I was opting to stay home instead of finish the commute. And luckily, I am able to do my job from home, but I kept thinking about what it would have been like if my work hadn’t been understanding or offered work-from-home options.
I certainly couldn’t complain about my commute—at least I didn’t have to walk 21 miles roundtrip to work each day or lose a large chunk of my paycheck just to get to the office. But getting injured along the way reminded me of the commuters who aren’t as fortunate to have flexible work options, and who risk getting fired or losing pay if they’re not able to make it in.
It also raised my awareness as a driver; even though I regularly look over my shoulder when turning to look for cyclists, I had still felt like the superior commuter because unlike them, I at least stopped at stop signs. But I understood now why it was preferable to safely coast through an intersection: It’s really hard work to stop and get going again when you’re totally dependent on your legs doing the work, as opposed to a car’s acceleration pedal getting you moving again. And I also judged pedestrians much more for starting to cross roads earlier than their turn—it was frustrating trying to navigate around them as I dodged parked cars and meandering taxis.
Overall, I’m really glad I had the chance to try this experiment and write about it. Because when we’re all trying to share the road to get to work, it’s to everybody’s benefit to focus on safety first. A longer commute is better than a dangerous commute, and we shouldn’t ask anybody to have to choose.