I now continue sharing some of the lessons I learned from walking the historic pilgrimage route in France and Spain, the Camino Frances, over six weeks in May and June. Before we started our journey, the question in our minds was how we were going to sustain walking 20 or 25 (or even 30) kilometres a day, carrying all our belongings? We practiced hiking regularly with our backpacks loaded, but could only really manage time for walking two or maybe three days in a row. How would we walk for 35 days?
After the first two weeks–especially walking through the Pyrenees mountains–we found our legs and lungs getting significantly stronger. Climbs were making us somewhat less breathless, and we were able to cover more distance each day.
And then we reached the Meseta.
We thought the Meseta would be easy. After all, it would be just flat and straight. The Meseta, unlike our North American plains, is a plateau. Each morning we would walk from our last day’s pueblo hundreds of metres up onto the Meseta, then walk many kilometres on our trail between the fields. At the end of the day, we would walk back down off the Meseta to our next stop.
We could certainly get a good rhythm going with the walk and pick up speed, feeling quite good, but would soon learn to regret moving too fast. Sure, we could do one day at an accelerated rate. Possibly even a few days. But pretty soon we would start to experience blisters on our feet, and overworked knees and backs. Those who went down off the Meseta too fast especially regretted it with inflamed knee joints. People started visiting the farmacia (pharmacy) looking for knee braces–even the young people. Those who really overdid it stayed behind to recuperate.
We soon learned that the Meseta was a test. It seemed easy, but it took both physical and mental perseverance to get up each morning and continue on. Many people become intimidated by it before they even got to the Meseta listening to other’s stories, and skipped it altogether. Yet this may have been my favourite part of the journey. I could forget about the physical as I walked, and let my mind relax into a meditative state. And it was truly beautiful even in its sameness, with changes of light and horizon.
Our mantra soon became “don’t walk too fast on the Meseta.” The trick was to relax into it, put one foot in front of the other, enjoy the day, and not be in a rush to beat everyone. We had to let go of our competitive natures and remind ourselves this was not a race.
And of course as my mind let go, I started to realize just how much this applies to our working lives in North America. We are always in a rush to get to that next deadline, accomplish more, do more with less. Why not scale back and do less with less if we are under constraint? Always we push ourselves to go faster and get more done, even when it is not possible.
On projects I see as a consultant, people sometimes want to work quickly, get infrastructure or bare bones up and running. They end up skipping the proper planning and implementation steps, go straight to the solution. “It would be nice to put together a proper strategy, but we can’t get buy-in to budget for that. We need a quick win. We need to be agile.” But even quick wins and working agile need proper planning and processes.
Success does not just fall from heaven. Rush too far ahead, skip the necessary planning, and your project will most likely fail. And then you are further behind, possibly even from where you started. If you lose the trust or faith from others in your organization, the process will be much harder going the next time. No wonder so many are intimidated from taking leadership roles.
And no wonder, as we in our urban society push ourselves to go harder, stronger, faster, we suffer from road rage, high blood pressure and challenges with mental illness. So much stress. We may get that project done for Friday, but we may be shortening our life by years.
Before my walk I also prepared by taking private lessons with my Pilates teacher Sagrario to improve my gait, posture and knee strength. I had such good benefit from those few sessions (she is quite brilliant), I have carried on working with her one-on-one even after my camino. This past week she noticed I had reverted to an old habit when I walk: landing flat on each foot rather than properly stepping on the heel and rolling through the foot to the toes.
She told me: “You have to slow down your walk to do the foot movement properly. That way you get more power when you walk.”
Of course, I should know that: I need to slow down to get ahead.
Other posts in this series:
- Lessons From the Road: On Being Engaged (July 8, 2013)
- Lessons From the Road: A Positive Attitude Helps the Journey (August 12, 2013)
Image: “Early morning on the Meseta” on the Camino. Photo by Connie Crosby, May 2013.