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3 Lessons in Overcoming Challenges That I Learned by Walking Across Spain

July 12, 2017

Overcoming leadership challenges

In July 2013, I walked 435 miles across Spain along the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail. Walking 15 miles a day made that month one of the toughest of my life, but it was also one of the most rewarding. Every day brought challenges that I had to overcome. By doing so, I learned a number of lessons that have helped me to meet challenges in my work life.

Meeting leadership challenges

These three lessons may help you in your leadership role:

Put difficulties into perspective. My toughest day on the Camino was the result of a mistake in planning. I had accidentally skipped a day on my itinerary, meaning I had to jam two days into one. After walking 24 miles in one day, I was grumpy and exhausted. When my next day started with a large hill that I needed to ascend under the hot July sun, I was wondering if I had bit off more than I could chew with this trip.

About halfway up the hill, however, I saw a marker to a pilgrim who had died at that spot. That memorial put my own complaints into perspective. It made me appreciate that I had the ability to continue on this journey I had chosen. I realized that when I face challenges, it’s probably because I am doing something I knew would be difficult but still wanted to pursue. When I got to the top of the hill, the view was stunning. It made me realize that the best views often come after the toughest climbs.

Get inspiration from those before you. People have been walking the Camino for over 1,000 years. Many have climbed the same hills, suffered through the same blisters, and felt the same hot sun that I did when I walked the Camino. And many of my fellow pilgrims from the 1,000 years before didn’t have the comforts of the modern technology available to me.

Every time I thought the challenge ahead was too much, I realized that others had done it. This knowledge sparked my competitive drive and inspired me to go on.

Ask for help. I was eating lunch in a tiny village about halfway through my Camino. As I looked out the window, I saw three older guys sitting across from the café in the shade. When a couple of hikers ahead of me left and went the wrong way, the three guys jumped into action and pointed them in the right direction. I realized the three had chosen their spot carefully to help lost hikers. This was the only café in town, and these guys were sitting right where one of the yellow arrows would have been. Helping lost hikers was their hobby.

After I pretended to be lost on my exit and let the men help me, I realized that I had not been especially open to help in my career. I didn’t want to impose on others. I didn’t want to appear weak. And I didn’t want to share credit. It dawned on me that I should be more welcoming of help. By letting people help me, I would be giving them the gift of feeling helpful. Beyond the value of the help I received, they would be investing in my success.

I learned many more lessons on my walk across Spain, and I have returned to do the Camino two more times.

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About The Author

Victor Prince is the author of The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain (AMACOM, 2017). He is managing director of DiscoveredLOGIC LLC, a management consulting and training firm that serves clients in the United States and overseas. He has 20-plus years of experience in corporate and government leadership positions. As a Bain & Company consultant, he led strategy engagements with clients in the U.S., UK, France, and Spain. He also has held executive positions at Capital One and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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