Thursday, August 14, 2014

Skill Building on the Commute

Last week proved to be revelatory as, for the first time in over five years, I was forced to drive to my workspace. The circumstances that made the drive necessary are inconsequential, but as I stared at the city skyline from the highway with the car idling in park, and being forced to breathe in exhaust fumes on a particularly smoggy summer day from all the congestion, I learned a few things.

Practice Gratitude – and math!
The first thing that occurred to me as I watched a particularly ornery man make obscene gestures and honk at a car that had changed lanes in front of him while moving at a mere 5 kilometers an hour, was that I was so thankful that this was not my life. My being on that stretch of road during rush hour was a rare inconvenience, but for so many people it is the norm. In total, I lost over 3 hours of my day in traffic. If that pattern was a daily certainty it would mean roughly 15 hours a week, 60 hours a month, and, based on a 50-week per year work cycle, 750 hours every year lost in traffic. Even if I retired early at 55, a 30-year professional career could mean as much as 22,500 hours of my life spent behind the wheel bumper-to-bumper with other cars.

This is where my mind wandered on that fateful day, wondering how different my life would be if I hadn’t developed my career in such a way as to be able to do my work from anywhere. In case anyone is doing the math, because yes, that’s the kind of time I had while in traffic, those 22,500 hours could represent and, are equal to: 937.5 days, or just over 2.5 years of your life. I wondered what my price would be to devote that much of my life to a daily commute.

Learn a Language

For a while I couldn’t get over how depressing the situation I was in was. But then I decided to look at it a little differently. Although the most important thing is to always be mindful when behind the wheel and to arrive at your intended destination safely, it’s also very possible to do something passively, and productive, while you drive. I figure most people listen to the radio just as I did, but when I heard the same song twice during just one leg of the commute I thought that the practice couldn’t be sustainable.

I’d be hard pressed to recall any of the facts from any of the courses during my four years at university, but one thing that I do recall is that lectures were always one hour and a half – much like the commute. Audio learning CDs and downloads are now available for just about any language you can think of. Bilingualism is becoming a rare skill and it’s hard to think of a better way to improve one’s marketability than by learning a foreign language. Better yet, it can be the gateway to many life altering and rewarding opportunities as languages can take you around the world.

The Learning Doesn’t Stop at Languages

Over the past decade podcasting has become an enormously popular way to share and absorb information. Anyone with an itunes account can download engaging and informative podcasts about everything from health, to history, to science and technology, sports, politics, and spirituality. There is truly no shortage of topics and ideas to stimulate your mind if you only gave them a chance. I would wager that any devoted listener to Dan Carlin’s hardcore history could easily become conversational about world history with any university tenured history professor in just a couple of months. Many podcasts are free, or cost as little as $0.99. You can even download university lectures from some of the world’s most renowned universities. You don’t get course credit, but it doesn’t set you back nearly as much as actually attending the classes.

Dictate the Next Great Novel

What an age we live in! With the right set of tools you can actually dictate all of your ideas onto a voice recorder while at the wheel and then have a computer program turn your dictation into text. A little further down the line that text can become a manuscript, and, if you play your cards right, that manuscript can become a bestseller with movie rights, and can be your ticket out of traffic forever.