Forum: What I found on a trail between France and Spain

By Kathy Solberg / Herald Forum

Recently, I took the time to change the course of my career while taking the time to travel and reflect. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned over the past few months.

I have run a non-profit organization for eight years and am deeply invested in both individuals and the community as a whole. With my new job, I seek to make an impact that makes full use of my gifts and skills to see and connect others.

A close friend recently called me a treasure hunter and told me that I had a knack for seeing the treasure in everyone and helping them see and share it from within. This seems imperative in a time when so many of us struggle to see our gifts and can barely handle what is in front of us.

On our trip, my intention was to hike the length of the Camino de Santiago trail beginning in France, crossing the Pyrenees and ending in Santiago, Spain. It is a reflective pilgrimage traveled by around 200,000 people each year, each with their own reasons. My husband had hiked the trail in 2016 to gain personal perspective in his own way. Although we didn’t walk all the way, we walked for seven days, crossed the Pyrenees and achieved one of my desired outcomes of reflection and enriching my outlook. What I observed on the way:

• Success should not be defined by others.

• We all need to slow down.

• Beauty is in front of you all the time.

• Americans identify with what we do.

• We have the ability to do so many things that we think we can’t.

Success should not be defined by others: Years ago, I learned that my way of doing a yoga pose would not be like the teacher’s or even the others in the class. I raised my children regularly boring them with the phrase “comparing is despairing”. My walk was a success for me. I didn’t have any Compostela or complete the 500 miles. There’s a lot of encouragement to go your own way, to create your own way. My trip was different from each of the other travelers and just as impactful; for me. For some, my trip would not be called a success. I am proud of my journey and realize that we need to define, own and revel in our own definitions of what success looks like.

We all need to slow down: Everyone rushes. Let’s move on to the next activity, place or task that has been given the perceived priority and urgency. Even on a path through rural Spain there was a sense of rush to get to the next alburga (an inn) along the trail. People from all over the world; press.

As I traveled to villages and thought back to some trips, I know that many cultures plan time to slow down. Spain and many South American cultures have modified the siesta to allow for an afternoon break. Britain encourages the ritual of an afternoon cup of tea at 4 p.m. In Swedish, the word fika means “to take a break”, a key part of Swedish culture, derived from the Swedish word for coffee. While fika breaks are often impromptu, many companies schedule fika breaks at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to encourage employees to discuss their thoughts. When I visited France, shops closed from noon to 2 p.m., and I recently found the same tradition in Portugal where small shops closed from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

We need to look at why we’re in a rush, where we’re going, and what it takes to do our best and do our best to get there.

Beauty is in front of you all the time: It only makes sense that when you’re in a rush, you miss out on a lot of the beauty in the world. As I walked the Camino, I took 20 steps, stopped, noticed my surroundings, and breathed. Part of this was initially due to the path being difficult or uphill. It then became a habit to notice beauty. I meditate for 10 minutes every morning to remind myself to notice my surroundings. People, hard lessons, your own home and our surroundings wherever they are provide beauty. We just need to take a moment regularly to notice it.

Americans identify us by what we do: I could pretty much guarantee that if someone initially asked me what I did for a living while I was traveling, they were from the United States. If someone asked me what brought me to this trip, this city or this place, chances were it was from outside the United States. This is not disrespect to our country, just an observation. I am proud to represent America when I travel. We have been conditioned to identify with what we do. Part of my personal work since leaving my position as a nonprofit manager has been to help identify who I am without being that title. I also recently sold a car that I loved that was bright orange. As I walked and reflected, I realized that I had linked my own sense of identity to these external indicators: a title and a perky car.

We tend to think others are how they vote or where they live or what church they go to. The divide created by these labels and identifiers closes us to so many things. It shuts down our country and our world by limiting us to these small indicators of what truly comprises who we are and why we believe, vote, work and live the way we do.

We have the capacity reach: Let me start by saying that I crossed the Pyrenees with a 27 pound backpack. The trip was a 4,600 foot climb, with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet above Col Napoleon.

I had never backpacked before and didn’t think I had the ability to do it. For some, it may be a day’s work. For me, I’ve overcome perceived personal barriers and thoughts of what I can and can’t do and have accomplished more than I ever imagined.

People do this daily in gyms. Writers, artists, managers, workers, and all of us in so many varied roles are capable of anything we put in our heads. Add a little grace and patience along the way and you have the ability to surprise yourself. Chances are others already believe and know you can do it!

Kathy Solberg runs a consulting firm, CommonUnity. For more information, visit