Various Negative Reactions To My Decision To Walk To Santiago De Compostela

When writing the story of your life, don't let anyone else hold the pen.

Hand-drawn Typography by Carrie Chang. Click thru to visit her Behance page.

With my excitement, it was easy to forget that other people might not have the same amount of faith in my proposed journey as I have. That’s one of the reasons I needed to start this blog – the real life reactions were beginning to get disheartening. Since coming to terms with the fact that this trip was definitely happening, I’ve gotten a lot of confused stares, a few politely-worded questions to the basic tune of, “Why on earth would anyone want to do that?” and only a small handful of genuine expressions of interest out of everyone I’ve told.

The interested folks: my three best girlfriends, a friend’s mom, a couple of other friends, and a coworker.

The disinterested folks: my parents, the rest of my coworkers.

The people who think I’m wasting time / wasting money / otherwise making a stupid mistake / am just strange or insane: my significant other, the rest of my family, a decent chunk of friends, pretty much everyone else that I’ve told in passing.

A lot of my friends think that walking 800km is kind of crazy. I get it. Some people just don’t like being that physically active. I’m comfortable with people liking to be inactive, so why can’t they be comfortable with the alternative? I’ll probably never get it.

A couple of folks have asked me what I think I’ll accomplish. They hear “pilgrimage” and think that I’ve gone soft in the head, like I’m going to start wearing a hair shirt and toting a life-sized cross around. I wouldn’t get that reaction if I said I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail, even though plenty of people hike the Trail to find themselves and enjoy their surroundings, which is exactly what I’ll be doing. If pilgrimage is a quest to to pay homage, why can’t one use it to pay homage to the world, and in doing so, find his or her place in that world? True, I go with some religious questions in mind, but I also go to meet other seekers, to explore medieval architecture, to pit my weak body against the much stronger terrain, and to have a story to tell. Shouldn’t one of these things be enough? Why is it that I can go through the whole list without seeing a single sparkle in the other person’s eye? It’s heartbreaking to know there are people out there with such small imaginations.

A number of people are treating this like I’m talking about taking an extra-long vacation, and see me as somehow selfish for making these plans. Americans typically get two paid vacation weeks a year, compared to four weeks in most European countries. Many Americans – in the past, myself included – take their work with them on vacation, and don’t take their full vacation time each year. We’re workaholics, and it’s killing us. There’s no upside. And technically, even though I’m working 40 hours a week at an agency, I’m a freelancer, so I should be able to dictate my own work schedule. I’ve given up a higher paycheck and health insurance in order to have a job that gives me some choice in my life. Even so, there’s a good chance that I might come back to find I have no job waiting for me. But really, if they can’t hold my desk, is it really a job I want to keep?

One person, in particular, has made it clear that they don’t believe in my decision or ability to carry it out. Planning an expenditure of this scale when I don’t have the funds to begin with, especially knowing that I will surely suffer afterward, just makes them mad with me for being stupid and wasteful and willfully ignorant. This is probably the hardest burden for me to bear on a daily basis, that someone close to me plain doesn’t think I’m capable of achieving a beloved goal. They want me to do what they do – obsess about the future without ever living today. What they don’t, maybe can’t, understand is that I’ve looked at this from all angles. I know the hole I’m potentially digging for myself. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is having the faith that what I’ve decided will not only come to pass, but will be the right thing for me. I’ve decided to LIVE, even if they’re too afraid to make the same decision.

Out of everyone I’ve spoken to, only one person – my best friend – has looked at me with some understanding when I told her what I was planning. She might not have understood the compulsion, but she understands me. She understood, like I do, that this pilgrimage is not an option. It’s happening, one way or the other. As it turns out, she was one of the first that I told once I’d finally made the call that it was going to be this year. I’m so happy that she was the one, because it’s kind of painful trying to speak my soul to other people and having them write me off so easily. I don’t think I can be any clearer: this is of massive importance to me. If I were having a baby or getting married, people would drop everything to congratulate me for embarking on a new path. The irony is that here I am, literally embarking on a new path, and no one gets it.

One thing I’m learning through this process is that I can’t afford to take too much time to be angry or hurt. I definitely can’t try to spew irritation, disgust, or misguided language back at people who try to influence me to change my mind. I truly believe that if I just keep working at this, and putting my back into it, so to speak, only good will come out of my decision. Above all, I need to stay true to the spirit of this journey, and that means staying true to my heart, inviting only the best energy in. Kind of like karma, I guess.

One way or the other, it definitely helps that I have you, kind readers. I really appreciate you all being here, and coming back to read on as I progress in my plans. You’re giving me some of the strength I need to make this journey happen.

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15 thoughts on “Various Negative Reactions To My Decision To Walk To Santiago De Compostela

  1. sueslaght says:

    I have just stumbled on your blog. Mark Twain has a famous quote that goes something like this …Twenty years from now you will be far more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by those you did. It’s basically my philosophy on life. Dream it and go do it!

    • Anna says:

      101% agreed, Sue. Up until fairly recently in my life, I’ve gone on every adventure (within moderation – nothing illegal) that I could squeeze in, and they’ve all been outstanding. Memories are worth millions, so the way I figure it, I’m filthy rich.

  2. wisemonkeysabroad says:

    We totally get you! And we completely understand what you are going through too. We are getting similar reactions & we sense some probably don’t think we are really going to go through with it. While others pretend to be fascinated but we can just tell they think we are mad!
    We hope that we do run into you along the way at some point seeing as we are there similar times! See how we are getting on walking 800 km!
    Stay positive, motivated and keep remembering that you are doing it for yourself (not for anyone else)

    • Anna says:

      As much as I don’t want you guys to go through this irritation, it’s good to know I’m not alone! Let’s keep in touch as we move closer to the date and maybe try to leave around the same time. Maybe we’ll get to share a bottle of wine and some travel stories somewhere along the path 🙂

  3. helen meikle's scribblefest says:

    I met with similar negativity (though never from family) when I decided to resign from my job, sell up in Sydney and move 500km north, where I knew no one, and throw myself into writing. I’ve never regretted it for a minute.

    You’re obviously not doing this on some airy-fairy whim, and if it’s right for you… Amazing how many people want to insist you run your life along their guidelines. I’ve always suspected that following your dream makes them uncomfortable because it reminds them of the dreams they weren’t quite game to follow.

    • Anna says:

      Thanks for sharing your story – that makes me feel better. I think you’re right. It’s not just about this particular trip; it’s about life, and those not willing to live it. I’m going to keep that in mind as I move along!

  4. Mani (A New Life Wandering) says:

    I can relate and I’m with you. A few years ago I made a decision that no one was expecting from me and it went against all of my friends and parent’s expectations for my future. I had a lot of resistance, but I don’t regret it. I didn’t lose any important relationships though, so know that eve if they oppose your decisions, know that those who love you will be there for you when you need them.
    Making a decision like this takes courage and faith. Good luck with everything!

    • Anna says:

      Thanks Mani 🙂 It certainly feels like one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. It’s funny how some people seem to have this mental list of “things that matter” vs. “things that don’t matter,” and insist on enforcing it on everyone around them. Granted, when we’re talking about worthwhile (broad) pursuits like happiness, kindness, exploration, etc. of course the lists will overlap. But with so many people in the world, it shouldn’t be all that mind blowing when we run into people who want different things out of their lives. I’m trying to embrace those differences; maybe I can influence some of my loved ones to start doing the same. Hopefully, anyway!

  5. dpincorbreuse says:

    I’m behind you all the way on this, Anna. It’s on the to-do list for my wife and I, I’m going on 60, she on 58. Of course, it’s easier for us, living in France. I think it’s great that you are willing to think outside the box and do what you feel you need to do. Too many people quickly give up their dreams as impractical or irrational and put their nose to grindstone. You go, girl! And if you have the chance to pass through Paris on your way in or out I’d be happy to welcome you and show you some of the out of the way places here.

    • Anna says:

      Thank you so much! I hope you get to walk the Camino soon. If I end up going through Paris, I’ll definitely take you up on your kind offer – but maybe we’ll meet on the road 😀

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