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Seven lessons from the trail to apply to your career path

Early in his 29-day trek along Spain's famed Camino de Santiago trail, Victor Prince saw two people who seemed ill-prepared for the journey. An experienced walker, he had carefully packed the essentials, confining them to a backpack. But this couple not only had backpacks but also shopping bags with the overflow, making their travels more cumbersome. He found himself inwardly laughing at their naïveté. Then he wondered: "Why do I have to cut someone down to feel better? Why do I have to brag?"

He had not set out on a spiritual quest, intending to meditate on life and improve himself. He likes trail walking and, since he doesn't enjoy camping, this was one of the longer challenges available to him. He had just ended a two-year stint as chief operating officer of the U.S. government's new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and had some time before he turned to consulting. He was out for physical exercise but found the passport for the journey literally was a passport to a better life for himself and others.

On the back of the passport, which is used to get stamps as each stage of the walk is completed, he noticed seven simple reminders of things pilgrims should do while on the Camino, which he used as the framework for his book The Camino Way, since they applied to work as well.

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Welcome each day, its pleasures and challenges. He learned to appreciate the pace of having a simple goal for each day, usually completing about 15 miles to reach the next place he could sleep. At work, we face a blizzard of daily to-dos. But he tries to mimic the Camino pace by picking one out as the day's centerpiece – perhaps a meeting with a client – and ensuring he does it extremely well. On the walk, meals were celebrations of achievement and he suggests adopting that outlook for your day: Breakfast, for him, marks completing his daily exercise regimen and dinner, the end of the day's work rather than simply a pause before more toil.

Make others feel welcome. On the trail, people take time to introduce themselves and find out something about others' lives. That contrasts with his previous habits when running meetings, trying to be as efficient as possible and avoiding small talk. "I learned the value of small talk. Talk is never small if it makes others feel welcome," he says in an interview. Throughout your work day, take time to make others feel welcome.

Share. Sharing is the Camino Way, as travellers help each other. But he was also taken by how, in northeast Spain, a winery has set up a wine fountain for the trekkers, allowing them to fill their water bottles. What could you – or your company – give away, at modest cost that might be memorable for others?

Live in the moment. Before the trip, he packed enough audiobooks to cover 29 days. But he never listened to one. "That changed my Camino. It opened me to others," he says. While walking he also never heard a cellphone ring, because people knew it would disturb their journey and others' peace of mind. Yes, in the evening, there would be e-mail checks and calls, but not during the walk. Similarly, rethink how you use what he calls your "weapons of mass distraction."

Feel the spirit of those who have come before you. People have been walking the Camino for thousands of years and today's pilgrims are inspired by that legacy. At work, instead of being so focused on getting data before a big decision, why not talk to others who faced a similar situation? "They can prevent you from looking like an idiot as you miss something others know," he says. And when you enter a new leadership post, respect rather than dishonour those who came before.

Appreciate those who walk with you today. Every day, he would pass a woman from France who was older and walked slowly. That daily "bonjour" to her became a cherished ritual and, at the end, when both attended a mass at a cathedral, they hugged each other joyously. Every day, we meet lots of people; nurture those relationships.

Imagine those who will follow you. There is little litter on the Camino since most people try to keep the trail pristine for those who follow them. Similarly, in your work, look at the impact on the future and others who will be affected down the road.

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You don't need to walk the Camino to take those lessons into your own life.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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