Camino Challenge: Comparing Myself to Others

I’m back!

After a long hiatus, I’m back at a keyboard again and hopefully ready to write a bit more about my camino adventure. It’s been a long gap, I know.

Thanks for sticking around.

There are different reasons for my long silence but one of them, in particular, really caught me by surprise.

Short version: I subscribe to various camino blogs. Some of them are written by people who planned their walk for Spring/Summer this year. In some cases, it was their first camino. In others, it was their second or third. Either way, I signed up for these blogs ages ago and enjoyed reading about, and commenting on, their preparations and plans.  I still love reading about camino so the blogs are a great way for me to keep in touch with the good memories and anticipate my next walkabout.

So far, so good.

But 2-3 months ago, all at once, these people were ready to step away from the keyboards and go walk. Their bags were packed, their flights awaited, it was time to leave. All at once, my inbox was full of their updates. They wrote from France and Spain, from hostels along the way. They wrote about the friends they made, the blisters they drained, and the plates of pasta they gorged on. I empathized with their frustrations and disappointments. I smiled at their frank reports from smelly dorm rooms. I relished their photos from parts of the trail I surely passed, but didn’t remember. And then I felt bad for forgetting so much of the trail, especially when I thought I had remembered so much.

I don’t know any of these people personally but their journeys felt personal to me. I cheered them on from afar.

But surprisingly, with all the talk about *their* camino journeys, I felt less and less able to talk about mine. They blogged live from the trail and somehow, that seemed more interesting and more valuable than anything I had to say. After all, it’s nearly 2 years since I walked camino. I’ve had time to reflect but they had an immediacy that was attention-grabbing. I felt there wasn’t enough room in the blogosphere for both our voices.

So I went quiet for a while.

Oddly, I also went quiet because I knew that some of these people subscribe to this blog, and I didn’t want them receiving my updates while they walked their own journey.

Why?

Well, I subscribed to only one camino blog before, and during my camino. I enjoyed Jen’s style of writing. I enjoyed her honest accounts and vivid descriptions from the trail. It all seemed so easy. It all seemed like a lot of fun.

While I walked across Spain, my smart phone buzzed with email updates every time I found wi-fi. Some of the updates were from her blog and I couldn’t help but read them. She had finished walking by then but wrote about finding people to walk with every day. She wrote about laughter and chatter with the locals. She wrote about going at her own pace and taking early stops in charming, scenic villages.

It all seemed so easy. It all seemed like a lot of fun. But I couldn’t relate to it. Most days, I chose to walk alone. I didn’t have enough Spanish to have much chatter with the locals. I didn’t stop often enough and as time wore on, the small villages charmed me less and less.

Compared to Jen, I felt like Oscar the Grouch!

Her blog was full of insight and reflection, and she seemed to have it all figured out. Meanwhile, I felt I was dragging my sorry-ass corpse across Spain and was making everyone miserable – myself included.

Receiving Jen’s updates while I still walked my own path was a strange sort of torture. I read about all the things that went well, all the things she did right, all the things she was grateful for. I compared my experience to her experience, and felt I was failing. I felt I was “doing it” all wrong. I felt tired, over-stimulated, and very, very sore. I didn’t feel I was having any great epiphanies or profound experiences. I felt I was failing at the very act of walking a pilgrimage route, and I wasn’t having a lot of fun. As the days turned into weeks, this self-defeating criticism mounted. It brought me to a point of utter despair and I thought I couldn’t go on. I thought my entire camino journey was doomed. I thought I couldn’t walk all the way to Santiago.

I still remember the rawness of those particular days. I remember how the heaviness of my heart made my whole body feel like lead. Of course, I wasn’t just comparing myself to this one person. I compared myself to the hundreds of strangers around me, and I saw only their successes and my own failures.

It was my own, very personal form of hell.

You’ll be glad to know I found a way through it – otherwise, I couldn’t blog about camino with any kind of joy or fondness!

But still, I remember the ache as I compared myself to others and particularly, to this person at the far side of the world, on the other end of a blog post.

Somehow, these past few months, I couldn’t write about my camino while I knew there were people who might read it while they walked their own journey.

Most of them have finished walking by now and have made their way home, to reflect and recover.

And now that there’s a quietness to my inbox again, I feel it’s a bit kinder to talk about my camino. No comparisons, no judgements, but hopefully, a shared experience that is positive and good.

So on we go – and hope for the best!

I hope you’ll continue to join me! 🙂

14 thoughts on “Camino Challenge: Comparing Myself to Others

  1. Hi Geraldine,
    I was happy this morning when my RSS reader showed one new post on you blog. 🙂
    And then, the text really hit home. I’m about 6 weeks away from my first camino and I feel physically and mentally exhausted. I need the break, but on the other side I fear that I might not be strong enough to carry my burden(s) all along the 800kms. I’ve been reading a lot on the forums, but lately I ceased to do so. It’s all too much, too many impressions, too many questions (all answered before), too many happy people sending quick messages from their camino.
    I’m ready to believe that MY camino could also turn into my “personal hell”.
    So, at least you post today returned a bit of calmness. I will go, I will leave to do my camino. And then: step after step to Santiago.
    BTW, I won’t be blogging from the Camino but sending a quick photo here and then. I set up a blog at http://www.camino-frances-2015.de
    cu,
    Volker

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ah I know that feeling, Volker.
    It sounds like a wise decision to stop reading everyone else’s reports for a while (maybe even mine!).
    Sometimes there’s too much noise and chatter, and you need to find your own way. And you are right: go walk *your* camino and take step after step towards Santiago – that’s the simple beauty of it all.
    Best of luck with your preparations (both outer and inner) over the coming weeks. And no matter what happens, everything will be fine. You’ll see 🙂

    Like

    • Thank you, Geraldine, for the kind words. I’ve never been good at planning things ahead and _then_ waiting for the start. Whenever there was something unpleasant or difficult to do (at school, in the army), I wanted to get over and done with it. So, part of my anxiety now is just the waiting part. I want to take on the challenge. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds like you are ready to go!
        Hopefully this won’t be something too difficult or unpleasant, and that you get to enjoy some of your journey. Buen Camino!

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  3. I love this post, Ger. That I am particularly prone to overemphasizing the good and positive was a perfect setup for your reactions. In fact, I didn’t start finding the courage to tell the harder stories from my Camino on my blog until you got back from yours! It was hardly rainbows and sunshine every day! The thing I love about the Camino is that it gives us the opportunity to do the patterns repeatedly that aren’t working in our regular lives and, if we’re mindful, we start to see them for what they are. This is key. This helped me change my post-Camino life. . . And you in yours, I’d say!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Repeated patterns….now there’s something I remember!
      Thanks for the kind words, Jen. How funny that we’re all reading each other’s work and inner thoughts, and having new experiences because of them! I think I might need another camino to process the last one!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great to hear from you Geraldine. I really enjoy your thought provoking posts. It’s almost impossible not read other people’s thoughts, especially when planning a Camino. I walked two weeks in May and did my very best to read other people’s blogs but found it difficult. It’s hard to make the Camino your own. Another thing I’ve noticed is we have a great Camino blog community. I read a lot of the blogs that you read. I even met the owner of one blog in May. That tells you we live in a small world 🙂
    Have a good Sunday, Ger!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow, that *is* a small world!
      Before Camino (and honestly, for a full year afterwards) I didn’t understand why any one wanted to blog about it at all but you are right, there’s a huge community of people wanting to share their experience. As life experiences go, I think it’s a good one 🙂
      Thanks for following and for the kind words, I’m glad to be back at the keyboard again!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the honesty and openness in your posts about the challenges as well as the wonderful aspects of walking the Camino. You mentioned in another post that I read earlier today (I am catching up on my Camino blog reading) something about how there is a general tendency for people to refrain from writing about/discussing the difficulties they encounter on the Camino; that people who write about those things tend to be branded as negative or pessimistic (I am heavily paraphrasing here).

    My perception (which is possibly completely off-base) is that people want to read about the rainbows and sunshine of the Camino, whether they’ve already walked it or not. Maybe that is part of why I stopped blogging during my Camino this year although truthfully, I also found it really difficult at the end of a long day of walking to post.

    Anyway, I appreciate and understand your need for periods of silence and enjoy your posts when you do write.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for your warm support, Elissa!
    At the time of walking, I gave myself an *awful* hard time for my struggle. Funnily, that didn’t make my heart any lighter! (as if!) Admitting to it now is still a bit tricky, to be honest & I’m never sure if it’s “blog material”. *But* I know I survived the struggles, and my negative days didn’t swallow me up and kill me, so it’s not all bad. A fully-human experience (whether a 6-week camino or a full lifetime) is full of ups and downs. I think we need to be able to talk about both to know that we can get through the rollercoaster. Plus, we’re not alone, even on down days.

    Like

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