When a friend asked me what my “lessons” were from walking the Camino de Santiago, an 800 km (500 mile) walk from the French Pyrenees across northern Spain to the city of Santiago, I had an answer ready: it is something I thought about along the way, and in the months following. After sharing with him the three biggest lessons I gained, one “big” lesson really came to mind.
First: One Step at a Time
People are overwhelmed even with the idea of walking so far. Even people who love to walk can’t quite fathom going that distance on foot. That’s the interesting thing; when you look at a big project as the whole it seems impossible — insurmountable.
Lao Tzu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That’s how I walked the Camino — one step at a time. I knew roughly how far I had to walk each day to complete the walk in the time frame I had given myself. I knew where I needed to end up at the end of my “month”. All I had to do was take one step at a time.
With that attitude, the trip flew by! What a sense of accomplishment I felt when I reached Santiago: 800 km disappeared as if it was nothing.
I find all projects benefit from that attitude. I may not be able to do it all in “one step”, though I can do it in “one thousand” steps. That approach sure takes the pressure off and lets me enjoy each step as I take it.
When you live with all you need on your back for a month you realize how little you really need. Well, I guess I didn’t carry all I needed on my back, since I did stop for food and lodging. I had a change of clothes, plus a few things to deal with cold and wet weather. I was quite content with the variety — the mix and match options — I designed into my wardrobe. And I loved my clothes even after wearing them regularly for a month.
I’m not advocating you have only two sets of clothes. I’m advocating that life, starting with your wardrobe, can be simpler than we westerners make it. There’s happiness to be found in having less.
Have you stopped to consider how complex you make your projects? Some get wrapped up in layers of confusion when a simple path might work as well, if not better, when you cut through the layers to just the bare bones of what needs to be done.
Third: Drop Expectations
The phrase I actually came up with on the Camino was, “expectations kill”, but modified it to share with others.
What do I mean? Relationships and happiness (or contentedness) can be the victims of expectations. When you expect people to behave or think in certain ways, you are bound to be disappointed when they don’t meet your expectations. You can push your expectations so far as to estrange the relationship. Or, worse, they may have no idea what your expectations are because so many of us just “expect” without communicating needs.
Instead of expecting people to be a certain way, talk to them and tell them what you need — assuming they are actively in your life as opposed to strangers. It’s then up to them to decide if they want to accommodate your needs.
When you expect the weather, events, or situations to be certain ways, you are bound to be upset when they’re not. Why let something you can’t control impact your happiness and peace of mind? Accept what is. Be present and adjust your thoughts to mesh with reality and move forward.
That’s not to say you should lower your standards or sights. Your standards and sights are yours, not others’. Life is much more satisfying when you manage your emotions and actions rather than let them manage you. Have goals and move toward them regardless of what people do or situations create.
The Overall Idea
After we talked about the lessons I came home with, I laughed and suggested that I simplify them a bit more.
That led to my biggest lesson: Chill, or go with the flow. With that attitude, I walked 800 km, made lifelong friends, and had experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
I’m all the richer for the lessons I gained from my Camino. I propose you will benefit, too, by adopting the attitude of Chill.
Life is a lot easier — and even more satisfying — when you go with the flow.