I’ll admit, this “camino thing” kind of caught me by surprise.
When I rang in the new year in 2013, I didn’t know that I would walk this ancient pilgrimage route later that year. I didn’t know I’d resign from my job either, or leave behind my new husband whom I’d married only months before.
Heeding the impulse to go walking was one of the best things I have ever done for myself.
Hand on heart, my camino experience transformed me on a fundamental level. And I’m certain it repositioned the chess pieces of my life into a healthier, happier arrangement – a repositioning that wasn’t *my* plan.
But even though my decision to uproot and go walking was sudden and impulsive, it wasn’t entirely surprising. There are 2 parts to the story that lead up to my camino journey. Overall, it’s too much to explain in just one blog post (and you’d be bored to tears reading *so much text*) so I’m splitting it into two to make for easier reading.
This is part 1: The back story.
Years ago, I was an active member of a mountaineering club and I spent every Sunday hiking cross-country. Most of the hikes were off trail, all of them required map and compass work, and the majority of my walking companions were men – so we walked fast, we climbed high, and we pushed ourselves. Every week, the open hills gave me an “escape valve” that satisfied my most primal core. It was one of the happiest times of my life.
My hiking friends were among the first people to mention the camino route in Spain. Some of them had walked parts of it, at least. Their stories planted a seed and I knew I wanted to go see for myself. Back then, I just liked the idea of a good long walk. My life felt well-balanced and I didn’t need “time out” for any particular reason. There was nothing religious or mid-life-crisis-y going on. I didn’t even care about being a tourist or experiencing “real life” Spain. I just wanted to go stretch my legs. But I also knew:
- I wanted to walk alone
- I wanted to start in the French Pyrenees
- I wanted to walk all the way from the French Pyrenees to the west coast of Spain, all in one go
I didn’t want company. I didn’t want to walk for a week here and there, spread out over years. And I didn’t want to miss out on the experience of the French Pyrenees. But otherwise, I didn’t have any sense of when I would walk, or why.
I figured I could walk any time. I figured I would walk it some other time.
And life ticked along.
In the intervening years, I got a sensible, grown-up job in an office and learned just how short the weekends sometimes feel.
People told me: Ah, but this is what it means to be a responsible adult.
I waved off friends who went to live in faraway places, and even though I drove and flew across countries to see them, the distance took its toll. Everyone was busy, everyone had other things going on, and the spontaneity of just spending time together was difficult to achieve.
People said: This is what happens when you reach a certain age and everyone goes their own way in life.
I understood what they were saying, but the idea of working a 40 hour week for the next 40 years (in an industry where people burn out after only 5 years) and losing my friendships along the way, didn’t seem like a dream life.
Things didn’t feel so promising.
On the plus side, I met Handsome Man who later became Handsome Husband, and I became a wife though I never expected to marry at all. I came to realise that my decisions weren’t just my own any more. There were two of us, and my happiness or misery, affected us both.
You have to think beyond yourself now, they advised.
I was blessed to have a steady income while others lost their jobs. Lots of grown-up things were possible and I wanted them, but my job was getting to the point where it took more from me than it gave to me. With each passing year I felt that my situation was corrosive – spiritually corrosive. I needed the job to pay for the home, but I didn’t want to commit to the home while I felt so morally uneasy in the job.
And I had to wonder:
How good was the dream home if I had to stay in a toxic job to pay the mortgage?
The job might have been a means to an end but more and more, it was also an end to my sense of self.
That didn’t feel good.
I thought it was because of the office I worked in.
I thought my job wasn’t creative enough.
I thought I was in the wrong industry.
But they quipped, You’re lucky to even have a job, quit complaining.
So I changed my attitude, re-invented my role, and carried on as best I could.
But I felt conflicted. Even though many parts of my life worked smoothly and beautifully, I often felt:
Is this it, then? Is this what the next 40 years of my life look like? Chained to a desk, stressed out about someone else’s agenda in a job that strips away my integrity, and then I die?
I didn’t know *what* needed to change but I knew something had to change – and not just my attitude any more.
All of these things bubbled through my system, persistently and not always quietly.
When I walked camino, I met people of all ages, all backgrounds, from all over the world – every day. We asked each other a lot of the same questions:
How are your feet?
How far did you walk today?
Why are you walking camino?
I had several answers to the last question, in particular. Most people reacted warmly to my story and commended me for leaving a job that no longer felt good. Others were baffled by my decision to leave my job, my husband, and go walking without a plan, so I used this story as a way of explaining what was going on:
Earlier in 2013, I reached out to a friend to meet up for a coffee or lunch. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and I wanted to catch up. She didn’t live nearby but I offered to drive and meet her, or host her in my home instead.
Whatever worked – I was flexible.
Except that she couldn’t meet for at least 6 weeks. She had plans and commitments every day, and every weekend, in the meantime. If I wanted to see her, even for an hour-long cup of coffee, I’d have to schedule it at least 7 weeks in advance.
That seemed like an awful lot of scheduling.
Her response echoed an emerging pattern in my life:
Everyone was busy. Everyone had a packed timetable. Everyone was booked out in advance – even for cups of coffee and lunch breaks.
I thought to myself:
No wonder people feel isolated in the modern world. No wonder people feel left behind and alone. No wonder so many people take their own lives and when they do, everyone is surprised by their actions. We’re too busy to really connect.
If I had wanted to share good news, or sad news, or just needed to lean on my friend’s shoulder for an hour, I would have been very upset by her response that day. In a time of celebration or grief, who can afford to be told:
“I don’t have time to listen to this right now, make an appointment to come back to me in 7+ weeks.”
I looked around and realised I was stuck on some sort of hamster wheel: I was giving my best energy to a job that brought out the worst in me, and afterwards felt too depleted to nurture my heart’s desires. My friends were too busy to connect. And things weren’t going to improve any time soon.
People told me: This is normal, this is grown-up life – get used to it.
I understood, but didn’t agree.
I felt a massive imbalance in my life and figured there had to be a better way to live.
I was surviving but not thriving.
I needed to step away from the computers and the scheduling. I needed to go back to basics, somehow. I didn’t know what to change but I knew *something* had to change and I would know what to do, and when to do it, when the timing was right…..which brought me to Part 2….