When I moved to Tacoma to begin my new job last fall, one of my priorities was to live within walking distance to campus. By walking distance, I meant no more than 2 1/2 miles or so. I was fortunate to find a place that is 2.3 miles from campus and my route allows me to walk through a lovely park.
I am not a speed walker. My commute typically takes about 45 minutes. And if anyone is familiar with the University of Washington Tacoma campus, you know that it is on the bottom of big hill. From my home, that means my walk to work means going down the hill and my walk home is all uphill. Let’s just say that for the first couple of weeks, my calves were burning. I typically walk to work 3 days a week. Whenever possible, I walk on the weekends too, though often not as far.
Spending an hour and a half walking on work days might seem like a lot of time when a person is very busy acclimating to a demanding job. And in many ways I do have the privilege of being able to do this since I am no longer driving children to school or activities and I have only to manage my own time. Even so, with teaching 5 new classes this year and maintaining my research, publishing and conference activities, there were many days when I wondered if it was really worth the time to walk to work.
What changed my outlook was when I realized that walking to work was, in a way, working. Most of the time when I’m walking to work, I’m thinking about work – about my upcoming class lectures and activities; activities or meetings related to department, institutional or community service; my research; and my writing and publications.
There have been many times when I’ve felt stuck or uncertain about content for a class I’m teaching that day, and am able to work it out during my walk. I have mentally re-outlined articles I am writing or realized that I want to take something in a different direction. I’ve sorted through the pros and cons of difficult work decisions I’ve had to make.
I also sometimes listen to podcasts, my favorites this year include the Unmistakeable Creative, Teaching in Higher Ed, and The History Chicks. These podcasts are full of inspiration and information that I’ve incorporated into my work and personal lives.
This winter there were a few months when I didn’t walk to work, partly due to teaching night classes and partly due to the rain (I’ll still walk if it’s a light rain but after one experience walking in heavy rain – never again!). I didn’t realize how much of a benefit it was to my well being to walk until I stopped. I missed the exercise but more than that, I missed the undistracted thinking time. With my phone in my pocket, and just my thoughts to keep me company, I learned how important it is to have regular “thinking” time. It’s not a new concept, of course. Many others – particularly creative people – have written about the connection of walking to one’s work.
I started walking to work again the first day back after spring break and was rewarded with gorgeous cherry blossoms in the park.
My brother-in-law was the one who inspired me to walk to work. His walking commute is 3 miles, each way. Since spring quarter began I have only driven to work once and in retrospect, I could have walked that day. I remember how awkward and strange it felt those first couple of weeks, and now it’s such a habit that it seems unusual if I don’t walk to work. And I don’t think you have to devote 100% of your walking time to “the mind.” After Prince died, I spent most of my walking time listening to his music. In the past nine months, I’ve walked through grief, I’ve walked through joy, I’ve walked through anger, I’ve walked through confusion. I walked.