Walking to Work

For much of my career, I have been able to walk at least part of the way in travelling to work. The ability to do that is something that I have always factored into what makes a given role attractive or otherwise. I’ve tried the car-commute thing, and the long train ride thing, and it’s just not that pleasant. I’d much rather walk to work, just as I’d much rather live in a walkable neighbourhood, or visit a walkable city.

Having said that, it’s true that walking to work is a different type of walking. You have a destination, and usually are on a schedule so there’s often deadline pressure too. It’s walking with a purpose, a utilitarian walk rather than an exploratory or meditative one.

Walking to work is of course very different to walking from work, because walking from work often means you are walking to home. In fact the everyday language we use for this is a clue – we say we’re “walking home”, not “walking from work”. “Home” is the key word. When we talk about our travel, we use the phrase “walking to work” rather than “walking work” as we would say “walking home”. Why? The “to” gives the work-bound walk the destination, the purpose, and that makes it a utilitarian journey. I walk “to” work to accomplish something. I “walk home” because I have already accomplished something and home is my reward.

There are times when the walk to work is a trudge, a slog, a drag of the feet. You know you have to go in and yet you’re dreading it. Other times it’s kind of mindless, a repetitive act completed on autopilot. For many people, and I am one, the walk to work has become part of their exercise routine, so those morning steps clocked on my fitness tracker count towards my daily and weekly goals.

And then there are those days you savour, when the walk to work is a pleasure, a brilliant start to a day looked forward too. Sometimes that’s just the weather – who doesn’t like walking on a gorgeous spring morning or a crisp autumn day? Best of all are when it’s that lovely day plus the sheer anticipation of digging into some challenge that I’m ready to tackle. My steps are light, my stride is confident, and my energy is up.

Can you fake that? Convince yourself that all is good and the walk to work is going to be great, even when you don’t really feel it? I’m not sure, or at least I can’t do it. That’s why when I do have that feeling I relish it, to make the walk a warm-up to what I am sure will be a great day.

That’s the thing about walking to work. It’s necessary, so we take it for granted. And yet it’s going for a walk, so why can’t we bring the same eagerness to it that we bring to walking for other reasons? Why can’t walking to work also be walking for pleasure?

A walk to work is after all still a walk, and that means it’s still a chance to explore, meditate, and exercise even if it has a utilitarian purpose. Whether or not you are looking forward to what happens when you get there, the walk to work is a journey, and journeys are opportunities to learn something about the world. There have been many grey, foul-weather days when walking was not pleasant or even possible, and there may be days to come for me when perhaps I won’t be able to walk so easily or even at all. Walk when you can, while you can, because you can, even if it’s walking to work.

I tried to keep that thought in mind this morning, slip-sliding slushily in a cold, sleety rain with a hunched slog into a chill wind. “Embrace the journey”. That comes more easily some days than others.