Ghost of Commutes Present
It’s 8:16 am and I’m sitting at one of the many red lights along Route 206, staring at a stick figure family on the back windshield of the SUV in front of me and thinking about how great it would be to actually get coffee pumped into my system through an IV drip.
It’s about a forty-five-minute drive for me to get to work in the morning, and more than half of that drive is spent crawling through my middle-of-nowhere town to get to the highway. The town, by the way, is the one I grew up in, a piece of New Jersey farmland-turned-suburbia where I lived for eighteen years before shipping up to Boston for college. I had these idealistic notions, fueled by watching too many reruns of Friends, that immediately upon graduation I would move into some chic city apartment and never look back.
But instead, here I am, twenty-two years old and moved back into my parents’ house for the foreseeable future. I know I’m not alone; I read recently that something like 36 percent of millennials across the country moves back home after college these days. But that doesn’t stop me from blasting Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco in the car when living at home makes me feel like I’m in middle school again.
I’ve explained my commute to the friends that have asked (read: everyone I talk to) as the perfect amount of time to really wake up in the morning – a difficult task after four years of afternoon class schedules in college – and to decompress in the evening. That’s true to an extent, I suppose. But if I’m being totally honest with you, I spend almost every minute of that commute wishing I was anywhere but in my car in the middle of Jersey.
It’s impossible to get out of this town. My dad makes that comment any time we’re in the car trying to get to the highway, and he’s right, as usual (although if you ever tell him I said that, we can’t be friends anymore). The sentence crosses my mind as a hugely ironic metaphor every morning as I navigate the lines of minivans and SUVs driven by middle-aged commuters – that despite my best efforts to escape the mundanity of my hometown, I have once again become tethered to the place with a 27-mile-long rubber band leash that snaps me back home at the end of every workday.
But before you think I’m Holden Caulfield-level miserable, I have to admit what really drives me to work every day. And no, I don’t mean my Mazda – I’m talking about my job. Thinking back on some of the choices I’ve made, I could have taken an entry-level job with any company in the city just to slap the experience on my résumé, pay the bills, and be able to say I live in New York or Boston. Instead, I chose to work for a company that I truly believe in, that has a culture I fit into, where I feel like I can – and like I want to – make a difference. I’m well aware of how cheesy it sounds for me to say I love my job, but it’s the truth. And for me, that far outweighs the aggravation of the central New Jersey commute.
So whether you’re figuring out your first job or your next job, making sure you and the company click is really one of the most important things to take into account. You’ve all probably heard that an interview is a two-way street, that it’s not just for the company to get to know you but also for you to get to know the company. When I first started looking for a “real person” job, my dad reiterated that advice to me before every interview – and I regret that I largely ignored it at first.
But paying attention to factors like what the company stands for and its culture makes a huge difference, and it led me to find my equivalent of becoming Daenerys’s Hand of the Queen. And I know more people than you’d expect in my generation who feel the same way about their first jobs out of college. But when you think about it, placing such importance on the culture of a company makes sense. Our jobs are where we spend the majority of our time. Whether you’re traveling by train, car, or hoverboard, the commute is always so much more bearable when the destination is full of genuine coworkers, meaningful work, and real purpose. Why would you want to commute anywhere else?