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On Commuting Long Distances

Sunday, January 12, 2020

This week marks my last of long commuting to work. Since November 2015, I have been commuting for at least one hour to work each way. As you read that, you probably think the same thing that many people have over the past four years, that I’m insane. But, there are slightly less insane reasons for me doing it.

For the past nine years, I have worked in Human Resources. I started as an administrator/assistant and eventually got into roles where I still was, well, an assistant, but one when I was doing the work of more professional titles, like HR Generalist (they call that “gaining experience,” instead of just promoting me, like they probably legally should have).
In 2014, I moved to New Jersey. My boyfriend and I wanted to fulfill our dream of living next to the beach, and still be within a reasonable distance of our hometowns in Northeast, PA. Although I love living here, the job market is a bit rough. Without giving away my location too much, I live in a resort town that’s right outside of a city. If I worked in construction, nursing, or owned a breakfast joint, I would be set. HR is a reasonable field to try to get a job in, if you are looking for entry level. HR Admin/Assistant/Coordinator positions are abundant. It wasn’t a problem when I first moved there, because I was, in fact, entry level. By the time late 2015 hit, I was still working entry level, but my skill set evolved, and I was performing a lot of my manager’s duties. The company I was working for was small, and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for growth. I started looking and applying.

Since my resume was out there actively, I actually got contacted by a headhunter, and ended up working in my first professional HR role! The downside? The location was an hour and fifteen minutes away. Initially, the drive did not bother me. I had a brand new car, and a decent salary to help pay for gas/wear and tear. I even heard from my mentor that commuting around the area I lived was normal, since many professionals commuted to NYC daily (of course, they normally make 6 figures. Random fact, being an HR Generalist does not pay you that much).
In 2018, I moved to a different position and company, and shaved 20 minutes off my commute each way! But I was making less money as well, and my salary has stayed the same since I started about a year and a half ago. My commute also shifted from taking back roads and semi populated highways to construction truck inhabited back roads and 195W. My exit is right after the exit/entrance to the NJ Turnpike, and before 195W turns in 295W, so as you can imagine, I don’t just drive off my exit on normal days! At least once a week, there’s an accident. It’s stressful and terrifying.

I’m in my thirties and normally I don’t consider myself “old,” but I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I’m tired of the rat race to get to work and get home. My colleagues always joke that I’m a “pharmacy,” because I have a lot of essentials on me. This is because when you’re commuting 40 miles to work, if you forget something, you’re done. I can’t go home to get Aleve. I’m also jealous of all my work colleagues who have five minute commutes. If I have to work late, I'm also getting home super late too. I play in a community concert band on Mondays. Since it makes no sense for me to go home because my band is 16 miles away from there, I go straight from work to practice. That results in a 14 hour day. Long days for me were fine like that, in college. At this point, I just want a semi-normal work commute and life.

Four weeks ago, I interviewed for a company that was six miles away from my home. The commute, depending on traffic, would be 12-15 minutes (I timed it on my way home from the second interview). Getting to this interview has taken me my nine years of experience.
Remember when I said entry level HR dominated my home region? There’s another subset that does as well; the small company HR Generalist. There are plenty of Recruiter/HR Generalist roles in my area. Many of them want a professional certification, experience with working independently, and the ability to consult and work independently. These type of roles are, in fact, the only HR on site. In order for me to get that experience, and I had to work with an actual HR team. That required working in areas that had bigger companies, like near Philadelphia and Trenton. I was very lucky to get to work with some very knowledgeable and experienced individuals (that’s another essay for another time) and they have helped tremendously in my career growth. Because of their training, I got the job!

I try to see the positives in everything, so here is a list of all of the good things that came out of my hour+ commute.

1. Learning how to be prepared and organized. Like I mentioned above, I was
always prepared with things that I would need in case of an emergency. Over the counter medication, extra contacts, food, water, etc...All of those things I had to take into consideration, because I couldn’t just “drive home” if I forgot something.

2. I know a lot more radio music than I used to. When I started commuting long distance, I got to discover two different regions worth of radio stations. One was an alternative radio station, and another was a college radio station that played all kinds of random music, both of which are near the Philly area. I fell in love with them both. I also got to listen to top 10 countdowns, and learned all of the most popular songs out on the radio today. I also started listening to ANYTHING that came up on the radio, not limiting myself to what I was liking at the moment. My love of music has grown more since commuting.

3. I cherish my home time. Because I don’t get much of it during the work week!

4. Driving no longer scares me. Cities, highways, small roads... just give me
Google maps and I’m good! I’m truly a (good) NJ driver that can navigate all the craziness!

It will probably take a little bit of time (fine, probably three days if I’m being honest!) to get used to the shorter commute. But I feel like I earned it. I’m incredibly blessed to be back to a short commute, and thankful for the journey it took me to get there.
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