The Courage to Disappoint

Keep it real, I say to myself, as I’m writing this post. Keep it very real. “I’ve been plenty humbled these past few days”, I can hear my pride is trying to negotiate with me, “do we have to publish this failure on the web?”

Yes, we do, I argue. Firstly because I do not want to fear failure. Secondly, if I struggle with accepting failure maybe other people struggle with it too? We could open up the dialogue to see what this is all about. Perhaps silly Failure is just Adaptation’s ugly brother whom no one likes? He gets a bad wrap, but he shows up to all our parties anyways. He certainly showed up to mine.

Let’s consider the following:

1. If you ordered a yummy desert that you remember liking three years ago and then tasted it to find out that it was

no longer your favourite: what would you do?

2. If you felt some kind of obligation to finish a beloved art project started before and found that you no longer enjoyed creating it, would you feel bad if you stopped?

Three years ago, together with my mom, I set out on the frequented pilgrimage in Northern Spain: the Camino de Santiago. We walked about 150km of the Way. Since that time I’ve often thought that I would complete the journey. This month of May was dedicated to that purpose: I had calculated that if I started where mom and I had left off walking about 20km a day I would make it in about 30 days to Santiago de Compostella. My math skills are good, however, my gear and walk-planning and, more importantly, a lucid evaluation of my own motivations and attitudes for this pilgrimage, were far less skilled.

Firstly, gear. Big mistake: wrong shoes (runners rarely work while trekking or hiking boots do work). Within two days (16km day 1 and 23km on day 2) I had developed blisters all around and under my toes.

(my feet and legs on Day 4)

I chose to take others’ advice and popped the blisters and wrapped them up tight in tape. This allows you to continue walking with bearable pain, although in my case I had already had the time to develop hip pain and shin-splints and, what was even more unfortunate, blisters on top of blisters underneath my tape bandages. I knew I had to place my feet normally and ignore the pain otherwise I would be putting awkward stress on another body part, like ankles or knees, which could cause other injuries. Rest would solve my problem but, problem number 2, I had not accounted for any rest days in my trek. If I rested I would not be able to finish anyways. So I walked on Day 3 and 4, and I walked in a lot of pain. I walked, and I wondered what to do next.

I stopped for a moment to contemplate this pain. You see, I’ve been there before. Especially back in 2012 during my fundraiser and solo bike ride across Europe I was in a great deal of physical pain (during first 2-3 weeks of ride) and I was so determined not to disappoint my family and friends following me on my ride and those supporting the fundraiser that I muscled through all possible pain never once considering defeat. I could not let anyone down, least of all myself.

Back then it was an important lesson to learn. I needed to feel this in my body. I needed to push my limits to understand better where they are and to experience the deep satisfaction of a fight well fought and, ultimately, won. I’ll also add that, happily, no lasting physical damage was done. It was a gamble, and I got lucky.

Now, I don’t see things quite the same way. I respect my body and her limits in a different way. I am not so willing to gamble with my health. I no longer think it is a good idea to push and push until I can no longer bear the pain. In fact, I no longer see the value in unnecessary pain. I used to think that it builds character 🙂 now I feel that it is simply unnecessary. Besides, how can I be fully present for others when I am so absorbed in my own pain?

Now, the all important spiel concerning motivations and attitudes.

I feel that I went into this experience way too self-assured. What’s a few hours walking when you’re used to spending your weeks jogging, doing yoga, swimming and surfing? I was so sure I would be fine. I got a big dose of humility and reality check in answer to my over-confidence. This is a lot harder than it looks. Many pilgrims do the Camino section by section over the course of many years. Many end up taking buses to move ahead on the stages and/or take rest days to manage their foot/hip/body pain. Many, like myself, never get half as far as they had initially planned.

To add to this confidence was my sense of obligation and duty to finish what I had begun 3 years ago. If the Camino is a metaphor for life which, in many cases, it can be, this has been a poignant life lesson for me. Simply put, projects undertaken from a cold emotional space of duty allow little room for pleasure and excitement and set me up for…failure. I’m not sure why I felt such a sense of duty to finish the Camino, but I did. What I learned is that Duty doesn’t add juice and flavour to my days while lightness, flow and enjoyment do!

I could go on, but for now I’ll stop here. It has been a fascinating 5 days on the Camino. I really love walking, and Spain is as beautiful as I always remember her. It has been a short time packed with great insights. I’ve really enjoyed interacting with the pilgrims, young and old. But, for now, it’s done. The Camino (the trek) is done, while The Camino (my life) is in full bloom 🙂 Tomorrow I head back to Madrid to properly rest and heal my feet and then I’ll go to…I don’t yet know where.

(photo: enjoying beauty of Camino sunrise)

I am ultimately proud of myself for having the courage to change plans, adapt and yes, to disappoint myself and others. This wasn’t the outcome I was expecting, but it’s the outcome that happened. It’s the outcome that I chose. On the bright side I have a ton of gear, planning and life experience that will come in handy if I ever want to take up the Camino again.

I am wishing you also plenty of adaptability and capacity to let go and to go with the flow of what comes to you in your life 🙂

With blessings, from the Camino!

⁃ your tired, foot-sore, forever learning life-Pilgrim

A pretty blouse, another tear masked

Stories about appearances.

A year ago, in my day-job in Dakar, we were having a horrible time coming to terms with a jumble of various damaged rice bags belonging to different receivers. Imagine thousands upon thousands of bags, some in containers, rotting, others thrown into warehouse corners covered in cobwebs their colourful logos faded with dust and water, containing caked, dirty, wet and dusty rice in various degrees of unfit-for-human-consumption. As insurance surveyor it was my responsibility to try to determine what was what, belonged to who, and to propose depreciation rates at which the damaged goods might be sold. So far we were having limited cooperation from the handling company. Granted, I’m sure the sight of me in their warehouses drawling on about how poorly they had sorted and kept the merchandise to arrive at such a level of mess was enough to make anyone resent the sight of me. But they didn’t…they couldn’t help but like me. As the warehouses coordinator herself exclaimed the first time she met me in person, after many months of email exchanges centered around our unhappiness with mixed-up and damaged merchandise..she could not believe that her mind now had to associate the curt and cold emails my work demands of me with the young, friendly, smiling woman before her. Yet it wasn’t until I arrived in their office on a Friday morning many weeks later, dressed beautifully in a long dress of blue African material that I fully understood the importance of appearances and being well groomed. Everyone who I knew from the field was pleased to see me. Until then we had only interacted in the warehouses where I’d be wearing jeans, t-shirts and sandals, given that I’d often need to climb on top of dirty piles of rice to estimate quantities and check for additional damages. It was my practical attire for the messy field-work. Covered in dust, my hair astray, I would then cheerfully ask for the handling company’s inventory lists and be kindly refused. Of course by “refused” I mean that they would say “Yes” to everything, after which I would in reality receive nothing. That Friday, my office and well-groomed self kindly requested stock lists and received them instantly. I stepped out into the sunlight of Plateau, papers gladly in hand, a moment of business victory mine, and I marveled at the power of appearances.

Humans are such visual creatures, as predators our eyes set firmly forward, like those of a lion or tiger, a biological sign of relying so much, too much perhaps, by what we see before us. We need forward vision to hunt, to achieve, to move through the world. Knowing that we observe and are so observed by others we step out our front door and, whether or not we realize it, we tell a story of who we are today.

I wonder if this may even be more true of women than it is of men.

Six years ago I was teaching French in an elementary school and living in Granada, Spain when my long-time boyfriend and I broke up. Not for the first or the last time I’ll add since our long-distance relationship went through many ups and downs before ultimately collapsing. At the time of course I took it hard. Undying romantic that I am, I was hurt and I felt it was a clear ending to a life chapter. What better way to begin a new chapter, I reasoned, than by showing through my appearance my internal, emotional evolution. So I cut off all my hair. It had been quite long and now it was very short (I was inspired by Emma Watson who had finished filming the Harry Potter series and had cut off all of her hair too). I had left school as myself on a regular Tuesday afternoon and arrived on the Wednesday morning someone new amid shocked looks from my 10 and 11-year old students. The boys gaped and then got back to their activities. The girls just gawked at me.

I’ll add that short-hair styles for women in Spain, at least at that time, were a no-no. I can confidently say that I was one of very few white women in Granada with boy short-hair. My students’ varied reactions were unforgettable. Their beloved teacher had clearly gone mad. Some were shocked while others were impressed. “Why did you do it?” they asked me, “your hair was so beautiful”. “I wanted a change” I said. Some of the girls shook their heads and told me they did not like it. One girl, named Africa, came up to me at the end of our class and told me in whispered confidence, “Madame, je pense que vous êtes très courageuse. Et ça vous va très bien les cheveux courts”. I remember the gleam in her eyes, the look that says : do what is right for you who cares what others think. She thought me strong, courageous. Inside I was quite a mess because I missed my man. But at least the outside world had taken notice that I had turned a new page.

Last week, I chatted with one of our Senegalese secretaries about this very thing. She complemented me on a nice ensemble I was wearing. I smiled, thanked her and remarked that although it was not the case this time, it was often when I was feeling my worst inside that I dressed my best. With my hair and make-up done I could more easily access my courage to face the day. She said, a wide smile spreading across her face, “You know when I wear a simple dress and less make-up and you look at me concerned, and ask if all is well”, she asked. I nodded. I was so used to her beautiful clothes and elaborate make-up (Senegalese women in general dress beautifully and take great pride in their appearance) that I wondered if a more sober look meant that she was feeling ill or unhappy. She laughed saying that oftentimes the days of her more humble attire were the days when she felt her happiest and her best.

We women are emotional creatures. It’s easy to get caught in an internal struggle of wanting to be seen in our truth, in our depth of feeling and so too in our vulnerability…and the strong need to build walls and to protect ourselves from those who would use our openness against us. We play with appearances. We change our outfits, our hair, our colours in order to communicate something to others about our values, about who we are or how we are feeling. The feminine exists to feel. So too it makes sense we want to share some of that feeling with others too. The trick is not to get too caught up by what your eyes alone can see..

Dakar to me, like many women, is a city of appearances. I often need to look at something or someone for a long time, and closely, before starting to see its truth. Beautiful villas hide behind high, grey and rough cement walls. Just like pretty exteriors may open up to messy, uninteresting interiors. In so many ways, things are simply not as they first appear to be.

Gratitude for the Camino de Santiago

“And that’s why I have to go back
to so many places in the future,
there to find myself
and constantly examine myself
with no witness but the moon
and then whistle with joy.
ambling over rocks and clods of earth,
with no task but to live,
with no family but the road.” – Pablo Neruda

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6 tricks to living abroad and meeting new people

Funny story: I moved to Barcelona this past August. In the first weekend after moving into my new place I was checking out the city, going to language exchanges, Pilates classes and creativity workshops. One evening, I was chatting to my roommate about all of these activities. I also asked the name of one of the main streets close to our place. Cris, my roommate, told me it was called la Via Laietana and then frowned, obviously confused. I laughed and said, unashamed, “it’s impossible to know it all after only being here 3 days!” Her mouth literally fell open… I had only been in Barcelona for half a week… but how could I already have met so many people and done so many things?!

You see, after several years of rooting and uprooting myself between various spots in Europe, Canada and South America, I’ve learned how-to-meet people tricks that are second-nature to me now, but which aren’t obvious to everyone.

I was happy to share these tricks with Cris back in August and am inspired to do so again with you today.

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Barcelona TV – Info Polones, interview about the Ride to Read

***Follow this link to watch video (in Polish; subtitled Catalan)

Spent a very enjoyable evening with Aneta from Info Polones conducting an interview about the Ride to Read for the local Polish TV spot.
Thank you also to our lovely camera ladies for a very enjoyable and artsy evening!
A few photos from today…



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Santa Maria del Mar – “rzut beretem” from home

Indeed, it’s not every day that I live next door to beautiful, gothic masterpieces.

This blog post is for my mom as she has asked me to photograph both the Santa Maria del Mar and the Sagrada Familia for her, so with my keen photographers eye and the iPhone camera to the rescue, I’ve set out to accomplish my task.

Personally, I’ve nothing for, or against, the numerous old churches that dot the historic heart of Barcelona.  Some are more, or less, known, some are baroque, others gothic.  I enjoy the serenity and cool air inside, thinking to myself as I enter, that churches are one of the few places in Spain where people make an effort to be quiet.

Beautiful architecture and a reminder of a past in which we hoped to revere God through material excellence.  The glories remain, may we care for them for many generation to come, and yet…certainly, I’m not the only one thinking “let’s now spend the time and effort on building the temple within!”.  Even if that approach leaves less for the eye to enjoy.

Hope you enjoy the photos 🙂

First 10 things I look for upon moving to a new city

It’s just shy of a week since I’ve moved to Barcelona. Since this isn’t the first time the my international vagabond tendencies have placed me in a new and unfamiliar city, for the longer-term, I can yet again observe what the first « things » (places, resources, infrastructure) are that I look for when getting to know a new home.

Here, my top 10 instinctive first-timer hunts (not in any particular order)

Are your newbie instincts different? What do you look for first (besides the more obvious lodging/groceries) when settling into a new city or country? .. it’s an interesting insight into our personalities and needs!

  1. the colourful, and often green, balconies of Barcelona

    Green Space – this can be a park, piece of lawn, even the potted plants that decorate balconies put me at ease. When choosing to reside within a concrete jungle, finding the living green within is a must!

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