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Confessions of a carless commuter

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Zoe Romanowsky - published on 10/06/21

14 years ago, child psychologist Jim Schroeder was in an accident that totaled his car and led to life lessons poured into a new book.

Like many working parents, Jim Schroeder, a child psychologist, commuted to work every day by car. But in spring of 2007, after escaping a serious accident with his life, he found himself car-less. This led to a lifestyle decision that unexpectedly changed his life. Schroeder, an occasional contributor to Aleteia, shares what he learned from this experience and why he decided to put it all down in a new book, Confessions of a Carless Commuter: What 40,000+ Motorless Miles Taught Me About Life.

Zoe Romanowsky: You used to commute to work by car, but then something happened in 2007 that changed your life in unexpected ways — tell us about that.

Jim Schroeder: It all began after pulling away from a green light at an intersection in St. Louis. A van came barreling through the intersection, and crashed into our car. I was unhurt, but our car was totaled and because I didn’t let the intersection clear (even though I had a green light), I was considered partially at fault, thus the insurance settlement was minimal. With limited finances, I had a friend that encouraged me to use the bus system to get to work. Reluctantly, I agreed to try, and from there came the rest of the story detailed in the book. 

After you commuted by bus for a while you began to bike and walk. How did you manage this in extreme weather? 

Managing the weather was a gradual adjustment, in multiple ways. Part of it was learning the kind of clothing to keep me warm (kind of!) while also being conducive to running and biking. Part of it was certainly an exercise in overcoming fear of the cold and developing a greater psychological openness and acceptance in managing the extremes. 

I talk more about what I learned from these rides and the thousands in between in my book. Among many lessons, I learned that through greater knowledge, good preparation, and a shift in mindset, we can not only learn to tolerate more extreme temperatures than we might think, but learn to enjoy them.   

Modern life is busy — how did you manage to fit in that extra time for commuting as a husband, father, and child psychologist?

Actually, this is one of the many great gifts of carless commuting. Although it does take a good amount of organization, preparation, and forethought, it gives back in many ways, including time. 

In a full week of biking into work, I get around 65 miles of exercise from just a little more time than it would have taken me to get to and from work anyway. My rides to work only take about 5-10 minutes more than if I drive, so I really gain time in the process to focus on other things (besides staying active). It’s definitely one of the true gifts of carless commuting.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from carless commuting?

Well, it will take a book to describe this one, which why I wrote it, but I will say that two lessons are some of the most central: One, opportunities for joy and peace abound in this world, but they’re often hidden and inaccessible when we don’t take the time and effort to consider them. Two, small changes in habit and perspective can create huge changes in health, harmony, happiness, and holiness. Never is this more evident than through my daily commutes.

Why did you ultimately want to share this with others in a book?

I shared these experiences because they’re universal. I can honestly say that every single chapter applies to every single human being on any given day. Whether or not you’ve ever biked, run, or commuted without a car, the reflections and lessons I share apply to us all. 

In a time when so many are struggling with the pandemic and other events throughout the world, I felt deeply called to write a simple book about profound experiences that was accessible for all, even our youth, in helping us feel better and increase our overall sense of resiliency and positivity. In just over a 100 pages, my goal was to share how carless commuting has really taught me 10 key lessons (hence 10 chapters) and a few overarching themes by which we all are called to live our lives every day. In many ways, the book is also an everyday practical application of our Christian faith from the lens of a husband, father, psychologist, and carless commuter. We are all called to share our story in our own unique way. This is mine.  

Do you still commute in a motorless way? What has changed about it, or remained the same?

Yes, I still commute this way on many days. However, after 10 years of only having one car (which my wife almost always had), we do now have two cars because with eight kids and five sports seasons, the logistics are quite challenging to say the least. But on days I’m going to work and coming home, I almost always commute by bike, running, or bus.  And 14 years after that fateful day in the intersection in St. Louis, I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to do so. 

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