At 18, I went about ticking boxes as was expected. I got a job, a law degree, became a lawyer, bought a house in the suburbs with my long-term boyfriend, got a new car, a dog,the whole package. This was all just part of growing up right? What I ‘should’ be doing. We are expected to conform, and at such a young age, I knew no different, nor had the courage to be any different. I ticked boxes and conformed for seven years until one day in early 2006, someone sparked something in me that made me realise this wasn’t the life I wanted at all. I didn’t know what I wanted my life to look like, but I knew it wasn’t the one I was currently living. At that point, I knew it would be harder to continue to live the life I had worked so hard to build, than to walk away and find the life I really wanted to live.
Within three months of this realisation, I had left my relationship of seven years and my life as I knew it. I was living in a new city on my own for the first time in my life. I had lost friends, and the security and familiarity of a life I was comfortable in. Three years later, with no real savings, and no plan I quit my career as a lawyer. My life now looked like a life I had never envisaged for myself, but it was closer to the life I knew I wanted to live. Over the next few years, I travelled on and off, and tried a few different things, but nothing really stuck.
For the first time since I was 18, I had no boxes to tick. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, and this was really hard to reconcile. How could I be almost thirty and have no idea what was going to make me happy? I was constantly told by everybody around me how crazy I was because I’d worked so hard to build the life I had recently dismantled. The pressure and judgement was unrelenting. I was constantly justifying myself and my decisions. People just couldn’t understand how I wasn’t happy in a life that had all of society’s ingredients for a ‘happy life’.
At times I really struggled to hold onto my truth, and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to find my way forward. It was like someone had turned all the lights out and I was left standing in the dark and my eyes just weren’t adjusting. It got to a point where I was deeply unhappy and becoming increasingly frustrated and overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness around finding the life that I knew I wanted to live. I needed to do something really big. Something that would push me to my limits, challenge me, shake me to my core with the hope it would lead me to the life I knew I was looking for. Something that would quite literally change my life. What I got was beyond anything I could have ever imagined!
At 8am on 10 April 2013, I took my first steps on the Camino de Santiago and began an 820km walk across Spain that pushed me to my absolute limits, physically, mentally and emotionally. For 35 days I walked, slept, ate, walked, ate, slept, walked and walked and walked and walked! I cried, I laughed. I experienced anguish, pain, frustration, pain, and more pain, until I experienced peace, calm, community, a level of happiness I didn’t even know existed, and a real sense of really living in the moment. I experienced my true and authentic self, and with nothing except the bag on my back, I was happier than I had ever been in my life.
I had vaguely heard of the Camino de Santiago, the ‘road to Santiago’, a sacred pilgrimage that hundreds of years ago, people would make from their homes all over Europe, all headed to Santiago de Compostela, where religious scholars believe the tomb of St James resides in the Cathedral there. I was (and am) not religious, however I knew that I needed to walk the road to Santiago. With no research other than where the best place to start from was, and with absolutely no prior history or experience of doing ‘this sort of thing’, I quit my job, booked myself a flight to Paris, bought myself a backpack and a pair of walking shoes and hit the road. Starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees, I walked up and over, crossing the border into Spain, following a series of yellow arrows that would take me across the North of the country. I quite literally walked across Spain, and with an open mind and heart, and no idea what to expect, the next 35 days set me on the path to a new way of life
Since I left the Camino I’ve kept walking and hiking. But the Camino was the walk that really changed everything. It’s where I discovered the truth of who I am. It’s where I learnt the healing nature of the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. It’s where I realised the transformative power of removing ourselves from our comfort zones and challenging ourselves beyond our can’t, beyond what we ever thought we were capable of. It’s in those moments we learn the truth of who we are.