Update: Great news! I have posted an update to this post at the bottom.
I completed my Camino de Santiago in September 2014. Along the way, I encountered people who were at various crossroads in their lives. Some had lost children or partners. Some had just retired from long careers. Some were on a school or career break. Some needed to check out from their daily lives to reset and regroup.
I had more conversations about Camino motivations and learning along the way than I can recall. My story was boring and consistent: “It just feels like the right time in my life to do this.” I did my daily kilometres, collected my compostela, and flew home.
In April 2015, I lost my job. The government department where I worked was eliminated, my position along with it. On a sunny April morning, the first nice weather we had seen after a tough slog of a winter, my former colleagues and I streamed out of a conference room with our hand-delivered letters into blinding sunlight and uncertainty. As it turns out, receiving the compostela was the beginning of the journey, not the end of one.
The days that followed had a lot in common with my Camino planning experience:
- Making lists
- Assembling resources
- Connecting to friends, now-former colleagues, and contacts
- Identifying the knowns and unknowns
As the shock of sudden unemployment wore off and I shifted from planning to executing, the learning from Camino experience, seven months earlier, became clear as day. The simple unwritten guidelines governed the transactions and helped everyone get along better for the time they were together became my framework for surviving unemployment.
Offer help where you can
As my friends, colleagues and I were being terminated, the room filled with the full range of emotions, from overwhelming sadness to anger. The hour or so of our termination unfolded and I knew it wasn’t my time to fall apart. My friends and colleagues needed me and I did the only thing that I could do in that situation: offer hugs, pats on the back, pep talks, and launching an immediate plan to drown our sorrows and take the edge off of the day. That day was terrible. One of my of worst, but not my worst, so I hope I was somewhat successful in helping my friends just get through it.
On the Camino, it was a less traumatic version of the same thing. There are really tough days out there, whether it’s the hills or the heat, and some people need what you can offer. A smile, a wish for a “Buen Camino!” and just a little bit of support when they’re struggling. Sometimes, it’s bandages or extra water. If you have it to give, it’s the best thing you can do for your fellow peregrinos.
Graciously accept the help that is offered
As the news broke, my phone started blowing up with messages like “WTF?!” “Does that include you?!” Then, more with people saying, quite frankly, the nicest collection of things that have ever been said to me in my life. It hit me like a torrent and I was completely overwhelmed. I have yet to cry about my job loss, but I’m having lots of moments of overwhelming joy and gratitude over the kindness that has been extended to me. Most of the messages have been people assuring me I’ll be okay. Some have been inquiries about my skills and email addresses to send my résumé. Some have been offers of advice for exploring entrepreneurship. Some have been offers to be a reference. My regular haunt for food and drinks, The Stubborn Goat, offered a generous gift to help make my unemployment “FUNEMPLOYMENT!” I’ll be taking full advantage of all of these offers of help, and doing my best to pay it forward when I can. [Shameless plug: check out my Funemployment Survival Guide!]
On the Camino, some days, you’re the one who needs the help. A little motivation, bandages for a blister, and assurance the end (of the walking day) is near. Excessive pride doesn’t serve anyone well on the Camino, so when assistance is offered, take it. You may not realize how much you need it and the kindness of others will provide the fuel and energy you need.
Do not expect or assume anyone has to do anything for you
Despite the amazing world I have built around myself, I don’t expect anyone to fix this situation for me, or find me another job. Or should I. That’s on me, and, ultimately, I’ll figure something out for the next part of my life.
On the Camino, people are so gracious and friendly, it can be tempting to ask others when you can use your own resources. If you make a “Camino family” with others, do your part, whether your part is finding accommodations, translating, buying rounds of cafés con leche. Just don’t assume anyone has to do anything for you in return. Everyone is on their own journey, and as a peregrino, your purpose is to enrich the experience of yourself and others without adding to anyone’s burden. There is a freedom that comes without being dependent on or obliged to others, that builds the resilience you’ll need to weather other setbacks in life.
How the pilgrimage changed me, after the fact
Whenever I fly anywhere, I have a ritual I use to park my uncertainty and neutralize any travel anxiety. As the plane taxis for takeoff, I always close my eyes and tell myself, “Whatever happens, happens.” It’s a nothing statement, but it gives me permission to surrender control of what I can’t control and reset to experience whatever is about to happen.
On the Camino, peregrinos frequently exchange “Buen Camino!” as they go on about their days. Of equal or greater importance is the phrase “Ultreia et suseia” which translates to “Onward and even further!” It’s been used as pilgrim greeting and response for centuries, though its origin is debatable. I didn’t say it once on my Camino, but it has never had more meaning to me now that I’m navigating an uncertain path into the future.
Day by day, step by step, what I learned on the Camino carries me forward. As I finish this post, I don’t know what is next for me. In addition to looking for a job, I’m considering travelling back to Spain and walking the Camino again to work through what I want to do next. Whatever I do, I know the resourcefulness, resilience, optimism, pragmatism, and perspective I gained on the Camino will continue to propel me forward.
Update, June 2015: I’m happy to report that I’ve been successfully re-employed, as have many of my colleagues and friends who lost their jobs with me back in April. In its truest form, the journey was the lesson during this experience and I continue to be immensely grateful for the kindness extended to me during a challenging time. My new position is very interesting, with lots of nice people and challenging work ahead of me. Onward! And even further!
Whatever happens, happens. Ultreia.
Have you ever learned from a travel experience well after the fact? How have your travels changed your perspective? If you’ve already walked the Camino de Santiago, what lessons did you learn? Let me know in the comments!