The Way of St James: What the Camino Taught Me about Business
It was the middle of the summer and I was living in Valencia at the time. Spain was going through one of its toughest financial crisis in recent times and finding a job was tricky.
I was on my job #3 for that year alone (all were short-term contracts — no one was hiring permanent staff in 2009) and even these 3 jobs had been hard to get.
But still, I decided to decline the job offer that my employer was offering me.
I didn’t have much money left and wasn’t sure how I would cope in the following month but still, there was one thing that I wanted to do more than anything else.
With less than a week of preparation, I decided to do a 2-week hike in Northern Spain called The Way of St James or Camino de Santiago in Spanish.
It is a spiritual journey for some, a physical challenge for others, so here is what I learned after walking 6 hours a day for 12 consecutive days.
- Morning rituals do pay off
On a hike of this magnitude, you need to get up early. We would start walking before sunrise, which in summertime in Spain was about 5.30am. It meant that we were reaching our destination for the day around lunchtime. Having a defined schedule meant that we didn’t waste time and that we would have the whole afternoon for ourselves. I would take a nap under a tree, read a book or discover the village/hamlet we were staying in. This trip was in 2009 and I didn’t even bring a mobile phone with me so there was no distraction, just interactions with my fellow hikers and locals.
- The best tools won’t guarantee success
Having the most expensive shoes or the nicest backpack on the trail doesn’t make you get there any faster. Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to have the right tools; I would not imagine walking the Camino in sandals but sometimes on an adventure or in business, we get stuck (mentally) for not having the best tools.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”- they say.
But sometimes, you still need to go ahead with your plans, even if you only have the basics covered. As you will go along you’ll be able to either upgrade your tools/skills or learn about new ways of doing things.
- Use the Pomodoro effect
Having a clear end-goal is essential but for many, it’s still too far away to keep you motivated all day long; so by using the Pomodoro effect, your day will be organized into small manageable pieces. Split your day into smaller periods — the early wake-up, the walk before breakfast — mid-morning break then choosing the accommodation for the day, etc.
One day in one of the hostels, I saw a huge map on the wall of the rest of the trail until St James and I got scared/overwhelmed. I decided to erase that image from my mind and every day I would only concentrate on the portion I was doing that day. It was much easier to handle and that way it seemed really attainable.
- Compound effect (small things make the bigger picture)
Similar to the Pomodoro effect, the compound effect is that each individual step is getting you closer to your goal. It cannot be achieved in one go. It is the accumulation of activities that will impact your business.
For instance, one blog post will not make you a successful blogger but one post a week for one year can.
- Surround yourself with a strong team of individuals with different skills
Walking with likeminded people is great but quickly it might become a competition. You want to surround yourself with people from different horizons, who have complementary skills or even different opinions to yours.
On the walk, I created a special bond with a group of individuals from different backgrounds, different countries and even different levels of fitness but day after day, we became a very close group. Some would entertain us, some would heal our sore feet, some would be looking after us when struggling with our bag or on a particularly difficult part of the path, some would cook for the group, and some would go ahead on their bikes and welcome us in each village we would go through. Each one of them was like an accountability partner. Just like in business, you need to draw strength from people outside of your expertise to be able to grow and build a solid business.
- Stay humble and seek help if in trouble
About halfway the 300km hike, I badly sprained my ankle and the first thought that came to my mind was that I would have to give up the hike. With help from fellow walkers, I reached the refuge for that day but I didn’t want to speak to anyone as I felt ashamed (I would probably have to catch a bus to go ahead and rest for a couple of days.). Then a lady came to me and offered to look at my ankle. My first reaction was to say “thanks, I’ll be fine” but as my friend insisted; I let her look at my ankle. I didn’t know at first but she was a Chiropractor and had with her a strong topical cream for this kind of injury. She did an amazing job that saved my trip. The very next morning, the sprained ankle was only slightly swollen and I was able to put my foot on the floor. I was able to walk another 6 days and finished the rest of the hike until St James (Santiago) alongside my friends.
- Celebrate every success
On the Camino, each day is an achievement and it should be treated as such. “Reward” yourself or your team for the efforts, it will keep the moral and motivation high and reinforce the idea that it can be done. We certainly celebrated our achievements and that’s probably my best memories of the trip and why we became a very close group by the end of the adventure.
So here you go, these were few of the lessons that the Camino de Santiago taught me and I am forever grateful to my friend Kelly who allowed me to join her on her trip as this is still to this day one of my favourite adventures I embarked on (on all levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual!). I came back stronger and more determined to live life to the full —
¡Aquí y Ahora!