Lessons Learned While Hiking El Camino de Santiago (“The Way”)
Hike Till Your Mind Goes Empty
Planning a journey is critical to making the experience the best it can be. We sometimes, in business, take anticipatory planning lightly if we do it at all. The “whatifs” of our businesses and lives are often overlooked. We talk about what if there is an economic downturn or a recession. Even taking some action like putting some funds aside. How often have any of us held a “whatif” the unthinkable happened? It’s not the easiest planning to do. Currently, we are learning the value of this exercise as we are all turning on our heads to think differently.
America business leaders are resilient! We get scrappy and many of us can pivot on a dime. But our current state is testing every single business owner large and small, it’s testing families working from home and home-schooling our kids… it’s testing every institution, and every essential business and it’s work forces. This unimaginable “whatif” is our forcing our hands to rethink the future of our businesses.
Excerpt from Now That I Know and little background on El Camino de Santiago
Quiet engulfs me. Roosters clock in on time. The breezy overcast climate calls for my Patagonia warm pullover. The weight on my back is heavier than I ever anticipated, and everything is starting on an uphill climb. Is this a metaphor for life? Am I nuts? I have no emotions, no anxiety, no worries, no thoughts of forced mindfulness. This is just the beginning of a long journey hiking from little town to little town. Our final destination is Santiago de Compostela, Spain. My means of transportation are my two feet trekking more than eighteen to twenty miles a day. Starting my journey, I feel strangely at peace. I don’t even know why. After all I’ve been through in my life, the journey by foot up mountains and down mountains somehow feel oddly like life’s journey itself. I expected my monkey mind would take over while walking from small Spanish town to small Spanish town. But there’s not a thought bubble popping. Pilgrims, we are all pilgrims, on the search for a sense of inner peace.
There are six paths of varying distances to the cherished end, Santiago de Compostela; much like our life and entrepreneurial journeys. Each path is very different and knowing the challenges of those paths crucial to a successful trek.
I am hiking some of the most beautiful peaks and valleys I’ve ever seen through the rural parts of northern Spain. From the very start, I am in awe of the landscape, the serenity, the mooing cows, whinnying horses, barking dogs, goats bahing—a quiet, peaceful silence, with the exception of nature’s orchestra. Narrow path with markers of blue tiles painted with the emblem of a seashell points the way for pilgrims on 780 kilometers—nearly 500 miles—on the Camino de Santiago. There are six paths of varying distances to the cherished end, Santiago de Compostela; much like our life and entrepreneurial journeys. Each path is very different and knowing the challenges of those paths crucial to a successful trek. We chose the original Spanish route. This path allowed us to hike the time we had off yet still earn our Certificate of completion known as the Compostela. Our final destination would be the Saint James Cathedral. Jesus’s apostle James is said to be buried in this cathedral.
The long original journey of the Camino de Santiago path dates back to the early ninth century—814, to be exact. This is when the tomb of Saint James the Great, an evangelical apostle from the Iberian Peninsula, was discovered. The early discovery of Santiago de Compostela, which in the present day can take up to forty-five days to hike, is the journey point not just for the entire European continent but also for more than 300,000 pilgrims. Over 280,000 hikers receive Compostela certificates of completion yearly. To receive a certificate, a hiker must hike a minimum of one kilometers or cycle the last two hundred kilometers.
On the Camino journey, we rarely saw any cars but often saw herds of cows passing at any given moment. Stone walls protect the modest, ancient stone homes lined with the colors of summer: hydrangeas, roses of every color, fuchsia, bright yellow, and blue-and-pink varietal flowers. The colorful plant and animal life represent a rich history of pilgrims who have walked these trails for generations. I feel these colors represent the richness in life. Floral covered walls encircle communities keeping the cows, goats, and chickens on their own turfs welcoming strangers as we walk the historical trail running through the backyards of rural farmers of Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal.
Every step forward in the our daily lives is a step forward even though it may feel like you are jettisoned backwards!
Hiking feels wonderfully lazy though interestingly strenuous. Each day seems to go faster than imagined. Sun-filled evenings have a Spanish-linger to them, leisurely slow. Shoes are the first thing to come off! After the shoes, I peel off the salt-crusted dry-fit hiking clothes from my sweaty back, then immediately wash them and then me. After dressing in my second of the only two pairs of pants in my backpack, I enjoy an excellent glass of table rioja costing less than two dollars per glass or ten dollars per bottle, rub my feet slowly, and then hang the wash to dry on a 1950s clothesline.
Part of me would love to just keep hiking on but that second glass of Spanish rioja overtook my body, rendering me useless. Others joined at our table for some cherished storytelling. Pilgrims from all over the world traveling the same route. Slowly my thoughts and my emotions settle into the feeling of great gratitude. Every step is a step forward. Every step forward is one step closer to the goal of reaching Santiago. Every step forward in the our daily lives is a step forward even though it may feel like you are jettisoned backwards!
Without maps (paper and digital as cell service is often spotty), the right shoes, great planning, all the resources one needs for possibly miles and miles with no places to stop for any of the comforts in life you risk failure. Couple that without a real passion for the long trek ahead, you may never reach the ultimate destination or realize our personal or entrepreneur’s quest.
Metaphor for Reinvention and Entrepreneurial Life
It’s all metaphorical for life as every step is a step on our journey of life. My toenails eventually turn black and blue, my feet ache in pain the more miles I walk. My mind gets lost on what day it is. When I am reaching for big dreams on an entrepreneurial pilgrimage of sorts, my journey feels similar. Without maps (paper and digital as cell service is often spotty), the right shoes, great planning, all the resources one needs for possibly miles and miles with no places to stop for any of the comforts in life you risk failure. Couple that without a real passion for the long trek ahead, you may never reach the ultimate destination or realize our personal or entrepreneur’s quest. At least, in this case, the destination was clear. The path was already laid out for me. That is certainly not the case with most entrepreneurs. My journey has certainly taken a number of unexpected turns.
11 Points of Planning
Stop for a few minutes to contemplate the following eleven points. Savor these, then come back to review them as you go through the other exercises:
HIKING THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO OF ENTREPRENEURIAL SUCCESS
You may hike in your own backyard, or hike the Camino, or just mentally visualize your own dreamy, quiet journey! Reflect on these eleven keys to mapping a successful journey, be it a hike or a dream or starting a new business.
1. Map the way before you start. Research, research, and more research is so important. There are multiple routes to the end goal and there will be crossroads along the way. Be prepared with information to help choose the best path at the time it’s presented.
2. Define a clear endpoint. How will you know you’ve succeeded? Earning the Pilgrims Certificate, the Compostela when reaching Santiago is typically the goal for all hikers on “The Way”. As the country and the world plan to come out of sheltering in place every business is effected and most if not all of us will require new thinking and strategies to continue our long treks to new levels of success. For some, that end point may shift. As we look at the world’s greatest challenges ask yourselves, WHY AM I IN THIS BUSINESS?
- Purpose redefinition may be in order
- Social contributions for the good of humanity may be inclusive in your strategy
- You may want to shift your innovation efforts to “Innovation for relevance” or “Innovation for Good”
3. Multiple routes all lead to the same endpoint. Different teams can take each route and still end up with the same results. Or you can have different teams plan different routes and test which works to your organization’s benefit.
4. We can always go further and endure more if you have a mission. This is a big lesson for many. Are there points where we feel we just can’t take another step? Of course! Take a mental break, take a physical break then pick back up and move forward.
5. Enjoy stages in the journey! Build in your stages and celebrate those when you reach them. Stages could be critical milestones, they could be fun endeavors, they could be taking pride in accomplishments like “who knew we could all be so productive sheltering in place!
6. Technology is your friend in times of need; otherwise put it all down. I can not stress enough the value of choosing the best technologies to drive every inch of your business. Take a long hard inventory of what you have and what worked for you vs. what really hindered you these last few months. It’s time to change, improve and automate even more than before.
7. Rest is the most important thing on long journeys.
8. Meeting people from all walks of life feeds your soul and your mind.
9. The sun does not always shine—be prepared.
10. If you meet a cow, milk it; if you see a bear, stop and speak quietly while turning back the way you cam; if you hear a tractor, it’s probably fifty years old or older and still kicking.
This is so important. People from all over the world, all ages, all physical abilities walk 100’s of miles to reach Santiago. The reasons are personal but the outcomes are cherished by all. There is no age barrier, women and men walk together, there are no biases or judgements. #We’reAllInThisTogether and your businesses will be all the better for it.
11. When we are no longer sheltered in place and you choose to hike “The Way”…. stop at every bar—they are all different and unique. Each will stamp your Camino passport with a new experience. Everyone can, at minimum, log in to your life: no password required. Find the joy everywhere you can on any journey you make!