5 Resilience Lessons from the Camino Way


My wife Karen and I recently completed the Portuguese Camino Way from Porto to Santiago – a distance of 235 kilometres over 11 days. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience which covered many extraordinary sites from medieval cities, over 100 churches, and a myriad of beautiful rural areas.

It was very humbling to tread the same path that pilgrims have covered before us for over 1000 years. Their quest was to visit the Cathedral in Santiago where legend says the apostle James was buried. For the majority of the time we had no internet or phone contact which was an unexpected bonus in this distracted world.

We both lead very busy lives and the chance to have so much quality time together was a rare privilege. There were many meaningful conversations and comfortable silences. We also met some fascinating characters along the way, and loved the wonderful seafood and plentiful local wine on route.

Best of all, because we walked approximately 20+km each day, we slept beautifully, and although we ate enthusiastically, we gained no weight. We were very impressed with the relaxed lifestyle of the Portuguese and Spanish and almost adjusted to their late night lifestyle!

There were many resilience lessons that emerged from our Camino adventure which we discussed as the days evolved. These are our top 5:

  1. Just start


I’ve done a number of long walks before – including last year when I walked the 110km Kokoda Track over very challenging terrain. The section of the Camino we covered was much friendlier, however it was the longest continuous walk I have done, and was challenging in other ways which I will cover later.

Starting out, the total distance seemed intimidating. As we progressed, our feet would be sore at the end of each day. The next morning, just the thought of facing another 20+km in the following 6 hours could seem very daunting. What we eventually learnt was to not overthink the day – and just start. So often in life we can be confronted by a big problem in front of us and be paralysed by the enormity of it. The Camino taught us to just start.

  1. The blister start-up factor


What surprised us about the Portuguese Camino was how much of it was on cobblestones, asphalt, and other hard surfaces. Last year I didn’t get one blister whilst preparing for and walking the Kokoda.

These cobblestones – although quaint looking and quite beautiful to look at, were eventually brutal on our feet and we both got a number of blisters. Even though we conditioned ourselves to “just start” – the first 30 minutes were often the most painful until we warmed up and our endorphins kicked in. When we start anything new there is often discomfort when we are outside our comfort zone. The Camino taught us to allow for the start-up factor – to embrace the thrash of discomfort. Knowing that the pain would ease after 30 minutes was very reassuring – and so it is with anything new in life!!

  1. Find your rhythm


Besides the blisters there were many challenges each day including steep hills, heat, rain, finding food, and not getting lost on the Way. Should we try to finish the day as quickly as possible, or should we take it slowly and enjoy the scenery more?

In our case, we learnt to combine these approaches depending on the environment. When we started the day we would tend to walk for about 75 minutes before taking a short break, before recommencing the journey. We eventually learnt that in the morning we could average around 5 km per hour whilst in the afternoon it was more like 4 km.

On the last 2 days of the walk we found ourselves walking in torrential rain for several hours, and this led to us wanting to complete the day’s distance as soon as possible. On these days we found ourselves walking for almost 3 hours straight, with only very minor breaks for drinking water and adjusting packs. In life we have good days and challenging days also. The Camino taught us to find a rhythm that suits the conditions and how we were feeling – and so it is with life.

  1. Enjoy YOUR journey


You meet many people on the Way. Some like to camp or stay in hostels, some like to start before dawn, some like to walk 10km per day, whilst others regularly cover 30km. Some like to spend more time in cities and regional towns, whilst others prefer to stay in small villages. There is no right or wrong way to walk the Camino and the important thing is to enjoy YOUR journey. It’s also essential to remember that the journey is as important as the destination – the Santiago cathedral was covered in scaffolding and wasn’t what we imagined. Whilst we were disappointed – it in no way diminished the journey for us. In life many of us like to strive for goals. The Camino taught us the journey is just as important.

  1. Consistent small steps = big progress


Because we had to return to Lisbon to catch our plane back to Australia, we had to catch a bus back reversing the route we had already walked. What amazed us was that even though we walked the entire journey – it took us almost 4 hours by bus to retrace our steps. We couldn’t help but reflect that even though we took small steps each day – we ended covering a large distance. The Camino taught us, that small consistent steps in the right direction will eventually lead to big progress.

Although I am not Catholic, and we didn’t walk the Camino for religious reasons, those 11 days were a time for introspection and reflection. I often find that some of my most important insights come when I am undistracted and live in the moment – for that I am eternally grateful.

Graeme Cowan is an author and speaker who shows leaders how to build their resilience, mood, and performance by being their true self. To download his speaking brochure click here. If you have questions about his availability or suitability for presenting to your organisation please email Sonja@graemecowan.com.au or call +61 2 8005 0344

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