(And how you can apply it to everyday working life)
Photo by Emma Thomson
Those who know me well, know that I have a soft spot for luxury resort holidays in the Caribbean. Oh, to feel the white sand under my feet, the call of the massage bed, and to sleep with the waves lapping near my window… Which is why I surprised just about everyone – not least myself – when I threw all ideas of comfort and predictability out the window and signed up for a week’s walking trip on the Spirit Trail through Italy’s Abruzzo region.
As part of an inaugural expedition, I, along with five other adventurous souls – including the wonderful journalist Emma Thomson, who has written about our experience in the Times – came together as a group of strangers to walk the sacred trail through the Majella National Park. Outside of Tibet, this region has more holy places per square kilometre than anywhere in the world, and there are ancient hermitages built into cliff faces throughout. Green, remote, beautiful and spiritual, the terrain is home to the occasional shepherd, bears and wolves.
Now, I often walk to work, but I’m no rambler, certainly not a camper, and would definitely say I am attached to my hairdryer! So why spend my precious holiday time trekking through the remote mountains of Italy? Because I knew it was time to push myself outside of my comfort zone; to use challenges to grow; and adversity to learn. And I wasn’t disappointed! When I walked out the other side, I realized that all the lessons I had learned along the way are poignantly relevant to everyday life –whether in the office, or along an ancient path through the Appenine mountain range.
Be supportive of those around you
It’s easy to zone in on the job at hand, to the exclusion of everyone around us. But sometimes an act of kindness or a word of support can make the difference to a coworker (or fellow trekker) making it through. When I hit a bad point on the walk and questioned whether I could take one more step – let alone three days’ worth of them – the people around me each helped in ways they might not realize. Cashew nuts from one person, another carrying my pack for some of the way, and yet another swapped their walking boots with mine, and I was able to continue and complete the trek. Sometimes it will be you needing the assistance, sometimes someone else, but the office is just a micro-version of the greater world, and we can all help it run a bit smoother when we look out for each other!
Prevention is better than cure
After our first day of hiking, I was surprised to see all the experienced walkers applying plasters to their feet. I found out that this is usual practice when on a long walk, and that by finding the areas that are slightly tender and covering them up, you prevent blisters forming. Simple, yet so effective! The same goes for your working day. Find out what your stress triggers are and set up practices that avoid them. If you know that you crash by 10am when you skip breakfast, make time for a proper morning meal each day. Or if a late night before a presentation spells disaster, take that into account the day before.
Break challenges down into bite-size pieces
This one was essential to getting me through the walk. At the point I felt I really couldn’t go any further, my guide walked closely behind me and got me to focus on my breathing and each step I was taking so I could get a rhythm going. By doing this, I got to think about the single steps ahead instead of the big picture, (which would have just made me give up). In coaching sessions I will often remind clients to break projects down into “bite-size chunks” when they feel they are failing, and to focus on what is in front of them right then.
Get rid of the clutter
I mean this metaphorically and literally. With no mobile phone coverage to distract us, or fast-paced scene before our eyes, we found ourselves in a situation where we could focus entirely on the person we were talking to. I was amazed at how deep the personal connections we made were during the week. I also found time and space to think clearly and came away with a refreshed vision of what I wanted to achieve when I got home. Now, I know it’s unrealistic to throw away the electronics, but it’s not unfeasible to think we can give people we are working with, instructing, or talking to, five minutes of our undivided attention. Moreover, some of our greatest moments of inspiration come when we clear away distractions, whether that be during a lunchtime swim, a walk around the block in between meetings, or five minutes spent on a daily meditation/mindfulness app.
Life doesn’t go to plan (so learn to be flexible!)
There’s a lot that can go awry when you put yourself at the mercy of nature – the weather, animals and humans – and without a doubt there were moments on the trip that I felt that I had control over nothing at all. Not an easy thing for someone used to having it. Yet everything ended up falling into place beautifully, and I honestly learnt that sometimes the way you expect things to work out isn’t always the best way. The same thing goes for our work lives. Yes, we want to be in control, have plans, and know where we are heading, but at the same time when life presents challenges and forces us to take a different direction, the ones who are flexible, work with it and find a new approach – rather than crumble when things seem out of their control – are the ones who end up succeeding.
Now, I’m not going to lie. The first gelato, first real toilet, and first coffee I had upon exiting the walk were nothing short of divine. And yes, I reacquainted myself with my shower and hairdryer like they were long-lost friends. But I also realized that amongst the greater comforts of life, there is so much to be gained for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, of venturing into the unknown and coming out the other side triumphant. And that most of that applies as much to our everyday life as it does during a week trekking through the ancient Majella National Park in Italy.