6 Life Lessons I Learned on My Bike Commute
By William Alexander Morrison
Editor's note: May is National Biking Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. Biking, as talked about in this story, has been scientifically proven to positively affect one’s mental (and physical) health.
I don’t remember how old I was when I rode my first bike, but as a child, biking was not something I ever put much thought into. It was a low-stakes activity that allowed me to part from my Game Boy and get some fresh air. It wasn’t until high school that I really depended on biking in any tangible way. I’d ride down a third of a mile to the local park and sit by the bayou to contemplate life and process emotions. I brought my bike to college, where it eventually became a way to commute to work. I’ve commuted by bike for a little over four years now, and I’ve learned some things about life along the way. Okay, maybe I didn’t actually learn these lessons through biking, but the connections between commuting on bike and going through life certainly emphasize the importance of these points:
Keep moving forward. The only way to keep moving forward is to maintain balance. The reverse is also true: the only way to maintain balance is to keep moving forward. Moving forward means everything both in biking and in living. Just like sitting on a bike in place isn’t biking, existing in a place of personal stagnation isn’t living (I understand this analogy breaks down if we begin to consider stationary bikes, but commuting by stationary bike is impossible and I’d call using a stationary bike pedaling more than real biking anyway). Always strive to keep moving forward and maintain balance, and they will assist each other.
To keep moving forward, you need to keep looking forward. Otherwise, you might run into a parked 18-wheeler and have to pay for a chipped tooth repair… This isn’t to say that you should always be looking forward. They told us to look both ways before crossing the street. Surely, looking left AND right as opposed to only left or only right is preferable. Even more advantageous though is practicing looking behind you and in front of you too. Being aware and responsive to your surroundings in general is an invaluable and increasingly relevant life skill.
Real Texans don’t use blinkers. Of course this isn’t true, but what is true is that people don’t always state their intentions. Stay open-minded. Make no assumptions about which way the truck in front of you is going. Smile at the old man walking by. Turn around and go back to the garage sale you just passed. Leave room for people to surprise you.
Even in the most familiar of places, there will always be new things to notice, and even those things are changing every day! Traveling on the daily (rain, shine or Texas heat) gets a bit old, sure, but I still find myself often extending my commutes home and taking extra rides on my down time. I look forward to biking, in part, because the journey is different every time. The variance is usually small, like a newly trimmed hedge or a dead possum on the sidewalk, but it serves as a symbol of mutability on a larger scale. I am constantly in awe by the changing world around me, and it does wonders for my perspective to consider the complexity and potential of every individual and situation I encounter.
There will always be people who get further than you with less effort. We all commute in some way, but each of our journeys is different. Our origins, our endpoints, our journeys in between are surely unique, but what often makes the biggest difference in a commute are our varying modes of transportation. Some people are driving jacked-up trucks that lack mufflers and have a penchant for speeding. I’m biking. I am usually acutely aware of the fact that the operators of the trucks speeding past me and the cars ignoring their blinker functions are not putting in the leg power that I am. And on top of that, they are almost surely going to get where they are going before me. None of this stops me, however, from working as hard as I can to get where I want to be. It instead allows me to focus on my own journey without feeling resentful that others are further along on their own paths.
The only agent you control is you. This is why the other points are so important. Placing the bulk of reliance on anybody but yourself to keep you moving forward is an unstable plan at best and a request for pain at worst. We must focus on our own journeys and take responsibility for how we go along it because the world isn’t predictable. Or even if it is, we don’t usually have the bandwidth to calculate all of the factors that would allow us to make probable predictions. We can only prepare and respond to our environments.
William A. Morrison, a recent-ish graduate of psychology at Centenary College of Louisiana, currently lives in Waco, Texas with his ukulele and a gaggle of community cats. William takes great joy in discussing identity and its multitude of facets, intersections, origins, and impacts. In fact, he’s starting a podcast soon about this very topic! Follow him on Instagram @crossroadsthepodcast.