"I hope I can leave work early so I can beat the traffic." That was probably the comment I heard most frequently during my first work internship in Dubai in the summer of 2004.
Most, if not all, of us were victims of the horrendous traffic for which Dubai was notorious, before it became known for better reasons such as the Burj Khalifa and the Palm Islands.
In those days, leaving work early to beat the traffic was probably worth sacrificing a part of your compensation plan. In a social gathering, if conversation became awkward or fell silent, all you had to do was bring up the traffic situation, and you would have made a friend forever.
But that was then. Live from 2012, things are different. Today the UAE boasts an impressive road infrastructure and transport system.
Our superstar is the Dubai Metro, the first of its kind in the region. Its development contributed to a massive reduction in traffic and an estimated saving of Dh2.5 billion over the past five years, according to studies published last year.
The Metro not only played a role in reducing road congestion, time and costs, but it also has signalled the arrival in our country of the work-commuting phenomenon with its considerable effect on Emirati society and culture.
As an Emirati who attended university in Canada, I must admit that I initially hated the commute back and forth from my home to campus. A lot of time goes to waste, taken away from your daily life.
And at the end of the day, you often have to accept the bitter taste left by all the things you have had to neglect just to make sure you caught your bus or train at the right time. (And they were, it seemed, always late).
But this daily commute can teach you a lot. It teaches you to respect time and how to manage it. You learn how to sacrifice, and the importance of humility, being just one person on the same level with other ordinary commuters.
Commuting can have a significant effect on the shape of society, and can orchestrate changes in cultural norms. For instance, the reality is that today, young female Emirati professionals are carpooling from Ras Al Khaimah to their jobs in Dubai. This would not have been accepted once, but now it is.
Moreover, an increasing number of young Emiratis, both single and married, are relocating to the cities where their jobs are. This is a reflection of changing attitudes in our culture, breaking through previous barriers.
These signs indicate that Emiratis are realising that strong family ties can be maintained even while people live autonomously.
It also helps explain the growing trend of Emiratis moving away from their home cities and migrating to more prosperous areas for the sake of their careers.
While the leaders of this country never hesitate to provide for people, today you must earn the right to receive those chances. It is clear to us that we must take ownership of our own development if we are going to truly take advantage of the opportunities that are given to us.
It is not just expatriate professionals who are engaged in the daily commute; Emiratis are increasingly getting on board as well. This is helping to destroy stereotypes that exist in our society, and the minority Emirati population is getting in sync with the rest of the community.
Emiratis who have relocated to big cities have had to make sacrifices for a better career, in terms of time or the hassle of commuting. These decisions will lead us to new experiences that will shape us, and our children.
For example, young Emiratis are discovering more about living independently, including all of those basic chores such as running errands, doing laundry and managing the bills. These tasks can be seen as minute, but they are mountainous in personal development, accountability and the development of humility.
And that is exactly what is required of us. We need more than just our natural resources to put this country on the map, if we are to have an identity beyond oil.
Individuals who are self-governed and disciplined are able to be more aware and respectful of our privileges. This allows us to treasure the precious opportunities that are available to us. We must understand that this life given to us cannot be taken for granted.
Khalifa Hamad Ahmed Al Hajeri is an analyst at an Abu Dhabi development company